The Judge returns from his training for his upcoming bout, takes to his gaming table and cracks open the latest Stefan Feld offering from Queen Games. Is it any good? Well, you’ll find out in a moment…
Following Rialto, Bora Bora & Strassbourg, the most successful and prolific designer of his generation, Stefan Feld, is at it again. But first, a personal message…
Dear Mr. Feld,
How do I love thee’s games, let me count the ways! Oh look at your innovative mechanisms that allow me to score a veritable salad of points. Your love of quirky, randomisation devices is so cute! So, you may be unburdened by the concerns of theme? It matters not! None of that flouncy periphery! Just cold, hard, raw game! Yay!
Lots of love! Your favourite fanboy…
(Apology to the editor – I shall use less ‘!’ from now on. I promise!)
[I’m pretty sure you won’t but we’ll let it slide. Amerigo is worth it! – Michael]
That said, Stephan Feld’s fourth and last game of 2013 (probably: who knows what magic may escape from his mysterious German laboratory before the year’s end?) is certainly more thematically slanted than much of his oeuvre. It is also perhaps both the heaviest and best entry of the 2013 ‘Feld Four’ (TM: The Judge). The game casts players as assistants to famous Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, discovering and colonising the islands of South America. Players compete by taking actions to move your ships around the large, modular map, placing settlements and expanding to take over the new world. Points are gained by planning and constructing Tetris-esque building tiles, scooping up natural resources to trade – such as coconuts, tobacco and cotton – all in the interest of scoring the most points.
The ‘hook’ that separates Amerigo from its fellow Feld Point Salads is apparent from anyone who opens the box – the presence of a large cube tower pinched from Queen Games’ successful euro-war games, Shogun and Wallenstein. In those games this tower was used to decide the outcome of battles by throwing in the troops represented by cubes and seeing who was victorious by what fell out the bottom and didn’t getting snagged up on the many shelves and compartments inside. In Amerigo, however, coloured cubes are poured inside each round, with the pool of cubes that escape revealing what actions are available for the players. Owing to the nature of the tower, cubes from the current round may be trapped away, and others from previous rounds are nudged free making offering unpredictable actions on each round.
This random element can lead to amazing situations where you pour 3 white cubes in, only to have them disappear (presumably through some kinds of portal to Narnia) and a red, a green and two blues appear… Much like the dice rolling in Bora Bora or Castles of Burgundy, these results are random, though somewhat predictable. Geoff Englestein described this as ‘Pink Noise’ on a recent episode of his excellent Ludology podcast, but put simply the opportunities created will force players to adapt.
What do I really like about Amerigo? Well, the game has a certain narrative. Sailing and claiming ports around the various islands is really important at the start of the game – but less so as the areas are colonised. Building multiple settlements on an island is an obvious winning tactic – as it multiplies the available points for covering the whole settlement with buildings. The thing is, the larger islands can be really big and a heavy drain on time / resources to complete. This forces players to co-operate to complete the islands and share the points. Alternatively, you could always highjack a single port and block the filling of an island to cost a player a ton of points.
Simply colonising the islands with buildings is fun too, offering a spatial, tetris-like puzzle where the challenge comes from making best use of your available building tiles whilst scooping up the natural resources scattered around. More so than Bora Bora and Burgundy for that matter, Amerigo is remarkably simple to learn. The mechanisms get out of the way and the actions you can select are fairly straight forward. This is not a difficult game to teach and players are able to make short, medium and long term strategies right from the start. So yes, this is more of the same point grabbing from Feld, but with a distinctly different flavour. The clever, innovative inclusion of the cube tower is an interesting and fun way of adding some light randomisation into the game’s design. The spatial elements offered by the map offers fresh challenges, and even the end-game scoring is relatively painless and obvious.
The very lovely designer has done it again. Yes, it’s not a cheap game, but it comes in a giant box that is filled with game that will last you for months – or at least until another masterwork escapes from Castle Feld.
Amerigo, designed by Stefan Feld, was released by Queen Games at Essen 2013. Between two and four people can play with games taking around an hour and a half. Expansions are also available that add even more into the game experience through the Queenies range. Should you want to grab a copy – and why wouldn’t you? You have taste! – you’ll be looking at around £50 for a copy once they become available through retail next week. Thanks as always to Stuart for his review – follow him on Twitter via @Judge1979