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Subject: First Impressions from the Gamescape rss

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mike hibbert
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This was orignally published on the Gamescape website, and is personalised, but I thought I would put it up here to give a flavour of how this great game plays. It was written by "Gamescape Si"

I reckon it's part review and part session, hope it's of use....

If you listened to our last podcast, this is the game that Mike had ordered but couldn’t remember the name of! I guess that as it’s a Richard Breese designed game he didn’t feel like he was taking much of a flyer by ordering it sight unseen – and I’m glad to report that after our first game yesterday he seems to have been right.The aim of the game is to move your foxes around the board and eat the various types of fowl – a pretty simple objective that is made more tricky – in a good way! – by the scoring mechanism.

There are four types of fowl in the game (chicken, ducks, geese and turkeys) and these are represented by counters that as well as showing the type of fowl also have a colour (black, white or brown) and a shape (square, circular or hexagonal). So for instance, there is a square black turkey counter, a circular black turkey counter and a hexagonal black turkey counter.

At the start of the game you are dealt a hand of four cards from a deck that includes all of the combinations and you then choose one of these to be your target fowl. You will score points at the end of the game for any surviving fowl that share characteristics with your target fowl. So for example, if you chose the circular black chicken card (which I did in our first game), you’ll be trying to save any fowl that are circular, black or chickens from the other players’ foxes.

The other scoring mechanism is that the person whose fox has eaten the most fowl with a particular characteristic (colour or shape) gets a number of points equal to the different types of fowl they have eaten with that characteristic. To give an example let’s assume your fox has eaten three brown fowl – which is more than anyone else. These fowl are two chickens and a duck. You will therefore score two points. I know this sounds complicated but it’s explained much better in the excellent rulebook, which includes many examples including a sample of end-of-game scoring that you can work through.

Each turn you’ll play a fowl card from your hand of three cards (you refresh your hand by drawing one card from the deck at the end of each round). This card shows which fowl you can move on the board – you can only move fowl that share at least one characteristic with your fowl card. You can move any combination of fowl a total of three spaces and there are rules about how closely fowl can move to foxes.

The fowl cards also dictate turn order, with the player of the lowest-numbered card going first in the round.

Choosing your fowl card is therefore an important decision because you have two goals – eat fowl with your fox and save fowl from the other players’ foxes. Do you play a card that will help you put fowl in position to be eaten or do you play a card that will help your target fowl to escape from danger? Do you want to move first, last or somewhere in the middle?

Once all players have moved the fowl it’s time to move the foxes. Each fox can move up to two spaces, which isn’t very far. However their movement is aided by the foxholes spread around the board – if you move onto one of these you can come out at any other one that isn’t already blocked by another fox.

With the foxes it isn’t just a question of eating as many fowl as you can – you have to be selective. Firstly, there’s a valuable bonus of four points if you eat one of each of the fowl types. Secondly, you don’t want to be eating a lot of fowl that share characteristics with your target fowl as this will cost you points at the end of the game. Thirdly, the scoring mechanism rewards clever rather than indiscriminate munching. Because your fox can only move two spaces, chasing fowl is time consuming so you need to do it as points-efficiently as possible. This requires careful planning to put the fowl you want to eat in positions where you can get to them without having to move too far from the foxhole you’ll emerge from or in the path you’ll be taking to the next foxhole.

Consumed fowl are placed in front of the relevant player, so it should be possible to tell from the fowl the other players are collecting what their target fowl is. I’m hopeless at this kind of thing and can honestly say I had no idea what Mike was trying to save – maybe that will come with experience!

We played Fowl Play as a two-player game and felt it worked well with that number. It was fairly easy to eat while there were lots of fowl on the board but at the end of the game it became easier to manoeuver fowl away from the other player – something Mike seemed to be particularly good at!

The game ends in one of two ways. If no fowl is eaten in a turn you flip over the first card on a special deck (there are six cards in the deck for two players and three for three or four). When you flip over the last card the game ends. Alternatively, and as happened in our game, the game ends when there are eight or fewer fowl on the board. However, we’d also got through five of the six ‘clear round’ cards, so it was a close call as to how the game would end.

The rules suggest that all players need to understand the scoring system before starting the game and I’d generally agree although Mike and I were both aware this was a learning game so weren’t too worried. Now we’ve played a game and worked through the scoring we’ve got a good grasp of it – as I say it sounds more complicated than it really is, particularly if you use the handy score sheets provided in the back of the rulebook.

Mike definitely outplayed me in the end game but I think I’d been keeping a closer eye on the scoring than he had and once we’d totalled the points I won by a decent margin – helped by the fact that Mike missed his ‘all fowl’ bonus (he was sure he’d eaten a duck somewhere along the line but it wasn’t there at scoring time!). Neither of our target fowl had survived (though this was more luck than judgement) but I’d managed to keep quite a number of circular fowl safe and this was the biggest points swing. Incidentally, it seemed to be easier to save counters by characteristic rather than by fowl type. I think this is because all fowl of a certain type start together – once Mike got in among the chickens he was like a fox in a hen house and there wasn’t much I could do. It was however much easier to move the circular or black fowl out of danger and make their square, hexagonal, brown and white friends more tempting targets.

This is a clever little game that’s made particularly fiendish by its scoring mechanisms and I feel there’s a lot of depth to explore. I really enjoyed the game and am looking forward to playing it again now that I fully understand the scoring system, and with more players. I have a feeling it will play quite a bit differently with more, as there will be less fowl to go around, more foxes to keep your fowl safe from and more blocking of fox holes.
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