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Subject: Minimalist Feld rss

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Tony Chen
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Many Stefan Feld games consist of two main components: a convoluted way for triggering actions, and a victory point salad of mini scoring mechanisms corresponding to the respective actions. “Free” actions (e.g. buying jewelry and completing tasks in Bora Bora, recruiting help from characters in Notre Dame, buying tiles from the black market in Castles of Burgundy) and turn order bidding often complements the victory point salad, but usually in a supporting role.

Year of the Dragon, however, has a minimalistic action trigger mechanism, and a minimalistic victory point salad.

You don’t have to land a stone in the exact mancala pit, use a die having the exact number of pips, or draft the right cards. You simply pick one of the seven actions, paying $3 if it is blocked by another player.

The victory point salad simply involves scoring for one’s buildings, privileges, and ladies at the end of each turn, and dealing with an event.

Because the usual source of complications for other Feld games is minimalized in Year of the Dragon, the gameplay must come from elsewhere. The first source of complication comes from the “free” action of recruiting a person. Even more so than other Feld games, this “free” action makes up a significant portion of the gameplay. In fact, I’d say Year of the Dragon is roughly 50% picking the actions, and 50% recruiting the persons, who play prominent roles in boosting the actions and/or helping mitigate the events.

The second source of complication relates to turn order. The actions are randomly divided into groups each turn, and when a player takes an action from a group, he blocks all actions from said group for the rest of the players. Others can still use the blocked actions, but they must pay $3 to do so. Since money is extremely tight, going first and being able to freely choose from the actions is a huge benefit. This is where the bid for turn order comes in, which is quite innovative. Instead of bidding with money or some sort of resources, players bid for turn order by recruiting “bad” persons. This is how it works. The more powerful a person, the fewer steps it moves you on the turn order track; and the less powerful a person, the more steps it moves you on the turn order track.

In summary, the usually complicated action trigger mechanism and victory point salad are minimalized in Year of the Dragon, and the recruiting of persons, which would be a supporting mechanism in other Feld games, takes on a more prominent role by significantly impacting the minimalized actions and victory point salad, and by dictating the turn order.

Indeed, the game can be seen as an elegant interaction between four minimalized components: the action triggering mechanism, the victory point salad/engine, the recruiting of persons, and the bid for turn order. The turn order affects the availability of the actions for different players. The actions affect how a player performs in the victory salad, and there is even one action that affects the turn order. The persons affects all of the above (they dictate turn order, some boost the actions, and some help deal directly with the victory point salad).



While all four components are typical in a Feld game, the way they interact and are used to leverage each other, and their relative weight in the gameplay are atypical for a Feld game.

Personally, I find the minimalistic design in Year of the Dragon very elegant. The events and the actions are simple, but how to recruit the right persons to leverage my options is a brilliant art. I can recruit a person to give myself more options in case I do fall behind in turn order (e.g. if I have both the farmer and the tax collector, then I have at least two good actions to choose from so the possibility of being completely blocked is lower). The immediate needs of the victory point salad must also be accounted for (which events are coming up, do I need to build more floors for housing my people?) Lastly, each person I recruit also affects how much I advance on the turn order. Every component is simple in and of themselves, but calculating how they interact and using them to leverage each other can be quite challenging and complex.

For me, while most of Feld's games range from solid to great, Year of the Dragon stands out as a masterpiece.

I have only one minor criticism, regarding the scaling at different player counts. In a way the game should lend itself better to multiplayer sessions (3+), due to it being some sort of auction game in disguise, and auction games can get lame with two players. However, I believe the game is best balanced for the two player session, because buying the Privilege is a lot more punishing/dangerous in a two player session (whereas the Privilege can be too strong/easy in a multiplayer session).

You can follow me on Twitter @drunkenkoalaBGG
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Bryan Thunkd
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Quote:
You don’t have to land a stone in the exact number of pips, or draft the right cards. You simply pick one of the seven actions, paying $3 if it is blocked by another player.
The interesting thing about the action selection mechanisms in Feld's games is how they constrain your ability to take the actions you want. This is simply another form of constraint. Spending $3 is actually painful given that money can be so tight, and is something you can't often do.
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Stefano Adriani
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drunkenKOALA wrote:
For me, while most of Feld's games range from solid to great, Year of the Dragon stands out as a masterpiece.


Completely agree. Should be ranked at least in the top 50.
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Brandon Tibbetts
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I think Feld is at his best when he keeps his work simple. ItYotD is easily my favorite of his, and it's one of my top 10 favorite games of all time.

There is an excellent asynchronous implementation of ItYotD that I play regularly on http://www.mabiweb.com/
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Nicola Bocchetta
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serkelion wrote:
drunkenKOALA wrote:
For me, while most of Feld's games range from solid to great, Year of the Dragon stands out as a masterpiece.


Completely agree. Should be ranked at least in the top 50.


Probably, but I think it's OOP, so if it was reprinted I think it would rise in the charts.
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Victor Caminha
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ItYotD is Feld's greatest creation, IMHO. Sublime elegance with relentless punishment to the unwary.
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Tony Chen
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Thunkd wrote:
Quote:
You don’t have to land a stone in the exact number of pips, or draft the right cards. You simply pick one of the seven actions, paying $3 if it is blocked by another player.
The interesting thing about the action selection mechanisms in Feld's games is how they constrain your ability to take the actions you want. This is simply another form of constraint. Spending $3 is actually painful given that money can be so tight, and is something you can't often do.
Yes, which in turn makes (fighting for/dealing with) turn order a constraint. This is more interactive, both between the different parts of the game and between the players. How Year of the Dragon achieves this nuanced and subtle interaction between the turn order constraint and the rest of the game is brilliant imo. In other Feld games the constraint comes from the action trigger mechanism which is a puzzle itself, which can be a clever puzzle in its own right but not as brilliant as the simple yet dynamic interaction of Year of the Dragon's turn order constraint.

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Brandon Rothenberg
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Great review! My favorite game of all time.
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