Monday, 12 August 2013

Felinia, Part 1: Box Contents

A lot of the games we've taken a look at so far on Games & Tea (and which we have on our imminent review lineup) are quite mainstream as far as specialist games go.  This may sound like a contradiction in terms, but the point we're getting at is that if you visit your average specialist game store then the chances are you'll be able to pick them up without too much trouble.  We certainly don't object to this (as long as the game's good to play then we're more than happy), but our intial plan with this blog wasn't just to give you our opinions on those games, but also to shine a light on some lesser known gems which might have otherwise passed our readers by.
With this in mind, our latest review has us casting a critical eye over Michael Schacht's Felinia, from Matagot, a 2-4 player game where players compete to set up the most successful spice empire.

The first thing you'll notice about Felinia is cats.  Specifically cats in period costumes who are, in fact, the ones building the spice empires.  Now at first glance this might seem like utter madness, but here at Games & Tea we're absolutely convinced that it's a work of marketing genius.  Everyone who we've introduced the game to has been sold on the idea once they've heard the premise of 'Elizabethan cats with thumbs, trading to build a spice empire in a far-off land.'  It's a unique enough hook to get people interested, and once they're in they discover it's actually a very good little game.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves.  We've got the entirety of Part 2 to talk about how it plays, for now let's just take a look at what you'll find in the box.
As you'd expect, the first thing you'll come across upon opening this cat-covered box is the game board.  The board consists of two halves, with the auction houses of the city of Katzburg on the right hand side, and the various nations and provinces of the continent of Felinia on the left.  But there's something slightly different about this as far as game boards go...'s double-sided!  The first side of the board is used for playing with the basic ruleset, whereas the second side is for the advanced version of the game.  The gameplay is actually very easy to pick up, and so the first side is more like a tutorial board, and players will probably favour the advanced side once they've got their heads around the game.
Underneath the board you'll find a whole host of various card tokens, just waiting to be popped out of their sheets.  Felinia is a trading game, after all, and your merchant-cats are going to need a range of merchandise to keep their customers happy!
As mentioned, Felinia is a game for up to 4 players, and so there's a card for each player to keep track of their wealth during each turn.  The coins numbered 0-6 around the upper edge indicate how much money they have to spend at auction during each turn, whereas the coins along the bottom allow players to add to their wealth each turn (this will be addressed in Part 2 of the review).
The actual playing pieces of Felinia are no-frills wooden counters, each coloured to match the player cards.  Each player begins the game with 10 Merchants (top), 3 Bid Counters (middle), and 1 Money Tracker (bottom).  Opening the bag of these wooden pieces was the first (and only) moment in the unboxing of Felinia that we felt a little disappointed.  With a game about spice-trading cats we were hoping that the playing pieces would reflect the game's bizarre basis, but the Merchants do very much look like regular human beings.
Next up we have a small fleet of trading galleons.  These were amongst the card sheets of tokens, and even though there was no assembly instructions they were quick and easy to put together.  Assembly of all four ships took less than 5 minutes.  These are used to ferry the players Merchants from the auction houses at Katzburg to the provinces of Felinia, where they will set up trading outposts in the players' names.
Felinia also contains 20 Ship Tiles.  Four of these are slotted into the tops of the galleons, determining their docking location (based on the colour of the deck), departure time, Merchant capacity (represented by the number of white circles), and boarding cost (represented by the 3 crates of goods towards the rear of the deck).  The unused Ship Tiles form a deck at the side of the board.
Now that our cats have transport, they'll need items to trade!  There are 45 Merchandise Tiles in the game, of 5 different types; rare books, fine wines, precision watches, luxury clothing, and refined glassware.  These different merchandise types don't really come into effect during gameplay, and so we've only ever regarded them by colour.
One of the nice little touches to the game is the merchandise bag.  The Merchandise Tiles are assigned to the various auction houses at random at the beginning of each turn, and so the bag is used to prevent anyone from trying to sneakily rig the auctions.
Whenever a Merchant sets up a trading outpost, the player is rewarded with a Trade Token.  These tokens bear the colour of one of the nations of Felinia on the back (which will determine its starting location), and a colour and points value on the front.  The more trading outposts the player establishes, the more of these they'll collect, and the higher their final tally of victory points will be.  As you can see the values aren't fixed (ie. 1-4, 1-3 etc), and this is a clever little mechanic.  Let's take the grey one (centre) as an example, with a value of 1-3.  If at the end of the game the player has one of these, it's worth just 1 point.  If they possess two, then they're each worth 2 points, and if they possess three or more then each is worth 3 points.  This encourages players to become a little bit strategic with their outpost-building, as collecting Trade Tokens of the same type can often be a comfortable way to ensure a runaway victory!
And last but not least, we have Felinia's three different card types; spice, gold and food.  Food only comes into play in the advanced version of the game, whereas spice and gold are a staple of the game.  These can be sold to give the players extra coins for bidding, or they can be saved to score victory points at the end of the game.
Okay, they were almost last.  Finally we have the First Player card.  The first player marker is a common one on specialist games and so we normally wouldn't bother adding a photo to our box content listing, but seeing as it bears an illustration of those delightful spice-trading cats we just had to put it up here.
So that's what you'll get for your money if you choose to invest in Felinia.  This may look intimidating at first glance as it's a game with a lot of elements, but as we mentioned earlier it's very easy to pick up, and certainly rewarding to play.  Come back for Part 2 to see just how these pieces all work together, and what Games & Tea thought of Felinia overall.

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