Like many gamers, I’m excited about La Isla, the new Stefan Feld game coming from Alea. I enjoy the writing on Opinionated Gamers but I’m surprised by how many dislike the wondrous output of Stefan Feld. Like Larry Levy (who is well-known for his impeccable taste), I’m continuously fascinated by how Feld produces so many games that are deeply intriguing. They certainly don’t work for everyone but I’m in awe at how he continues to put them out and there really aren’t a bunch of clunkers out there (well, not lately). I’m always happy to try his new games and even if one of them doesn’t appeal to me, I try them a second time because I have so much faith in his ability as a designer.
Here’s my brief take on Feld’s body of work:
Die Burgen von Burgund – My favorite Feld design. The complaints about the point-salad games just can’t undermine the clean play of Burgen, the way the game has a built-in catchup (no runaway leaders because they have fewer scoring options. I always love playing it and even put it on my 2014 10 Games 10 Plays. Moreover, the game scales wonderfully and it a complete delight with two.
Trajan – Oh, the lovely Mancala rondel. The rest of the game is a series of interesting sub-systems but somehow it hangs together and allows players to sort out which paths they would like to pursue to get victory points. I find it a rich and satisfying experience.
In The Year of the Dragon – I’m usually lukewarm on “Punishment” games. That sub-genre of building up your stuff to see how well it survives often just builds frustration in an unpleasant way. But Dragon is such a sparse, tense design that works thematically (pasted-on, whatever) and move along nicely. I don’t play it nearly enough but I’m going to change that.
Bruges – After a couple of plays, I’m a fan but it might go up in my estimation with more plays. The way the cards work together with the relatively straightforward scoring immediately appealed to me.
Notre Dame – A really good middleweight game that plays well with all numbers. Excellent interaction, Feldian building danger in the form of the rats, and still multiple paths to victory. This is a really good game.
Macao – I almost love Macao but, like many Feld games, the wild ride of the card deck giving you cards that work early versus cards that work late is least attractive in this title. I still want to try it with an A/B deck sometime and see if it makes the game allow you to score too high. Still, the dice action mechanism is a delight.
Pillars of the Earth: Builder’s Duel – Hardly a perfect game but a solid one and I enjoy playing it with my wife. Plus, the rules tell you how to flip a coin! Really! To be honest, it’s a borderline Neutral.
Strasbourg – I’ve only played it once but I found the weaving purchase options interesting. It may not be worth a lot of plays but I have yet to explore that.
Bora Bora – Okay, I see how people could deeply dislike Bora Bora. It’s the epitome of Feldian complexity seemingly for its own sake. But I found Bora Bora to work well. There’s a heck of a lot going on, sure, but I’m not the kind of player that agonizes over optimal play for the whole game. I pick my strategy and try to keep to it, seeing how I do. With that attitude in mind, I’ve enjoyed a couple of plays of Bora Bora and look forward to more opportunities to explore it.
Rialto – Kind of holding on this one – the first play didn’t work out too well but I want to give it another try. It might be one of his least interesting titles or it’s an elegant masterpiece. Two or three more plays weill help.
The Speicherstadt – A game almost out of time; this title feels like a really old game that Feld designed in the late 90’s but he brought it back after he became so popular and well-known. Either way, it’s a serviceable title with an odd theme that I wouldn’t ask to play again.
Rum & Pirates – Another odd beast in the ludography and one that I will really only play when I’m running through the Alea collection. Some fun ideas but nothing to explore – just some random fun here and there.
Roma – A single play didn’t give me much. Some good ideas but I can’t make a call yet. Haven’t tried Arena: Roma II yet.
It Happens – Another Feld that looks silly and plays quickly. That’s fine but it didn’t move me.
Amerigo – The dice mechanism is pretty cool but I think the game is a bit boring. It felt like Feld was responding to all those gamers attacking him for his point salads so he served us a plate of lettuce with thousand island. I guess I’d play again but there doesn’t seem to be much to explore.
Luna – I just can’t get into Luna. It’s the one Feld title that makes me feel like I expect most anti-Feld players feel; the game is just a mess of mechanisms, tit-for-tat bidding (which I LOATHE), and partial action/timing nightmares. It’s unforgiving and has runaway leader issues in my experience. I don’t think I’d ever play Luna again.
The Name of the Rose – Didn’t care for the one play of it but I’d still give it a second try just to see if I missed the angle of its brilliance.
Stefan Feld can be a polarizing game designer. Many love his games; many love to hate his games. The Opinionated Gamers recently came together to rate all of Feld’s games that we had played over the years on our classic scale (i.e., Love it, Like it, Neutral, Note for me).