Nov 162012
 

I’ve been struggling a bit here on writing this review. Not in terms of presenting the game mechanics, or talking about components. More than anything it is because Fantastiqa is not entirely like any other game I’ve played.  Sure you’ll recognize the various mechanics employed, and yes we’ve all seen boards, cards and cardboard bits before. It’s not that, it’s finding a way to talk about this game without seeming to gush with joy or appear to be to frenetically excited. There’s a lot going on here and this game manages to scratch many of my gaming itches all at once, which is a rare thing. So lets begin at the beginning and agree to move forward at a steady pace.

The Quick Review

I liked it a hell of a lot. It’s one of the few games I’ve ever given a 9 star rating to on BoardGameGeek. It’ll be in my collection forever and will be one of my go-to games for some time to come. It may not be for everyone, but if you enjoy deck-building games, with a mix of neat mechanics that feel like a euro-style game but play very fast, you’ll really enjoy this game. I played it a few days ago and I’m already looking forward to the next time I get to put it on the table.

Fantastiqa is a game of balancing your deck against the needs of the board. Do you have everything you need to complete a quest? Should you commit these cards to that quest and remove your ability to use them elsewhere? Should your aim be to get Gems to power your hand with awesome items, land on an opponent and give them a friendly (and utterly useless) dragon or subdue as many creatures as you can to give you more options? There’s a lot going on here, and it opens up many different avenues to achieve your end goal.

We’ve talked about Alf’s games here many times before, even literally talked, with the most recent being Road to Canterbury. One thing I can say for his games across the board is that he enjoys employing mechanics in interesting ways, often mixing several different game mechanics into the fray with interesting results. Fantastiqa is no exception. It’s a deck builder with a board. Or a Eurogame with deck building components – or some hybrid of the two. The game involves purchasing and collecting but relies on a set of cards you don’t build into your deck to win. Sounds like a lot, right? Here’s the clincher for me about this game – there is a lot going on, but it never feels that way. I never got the sense of clutter that some eurogames give. I was never overwhelmed by choices or struck with analysis paralysis, despite all that’s going on. Alf’s managed to hit on a wonderful combination of interesting and diverse things to do, without overwhelming players. The game is simple on the surface but deeply strategic.

Not at all in game play, but a bit in choices and strategy, this game reminds me more of Le Havre than other deck building games because of all of the options available. The deep strategies are here but they’re also combined with the steady progress of deck builders that I so enjoy. Really, this game combines the best of both worlds and packages it into a solid, fun and ultimately very replayable game. Did I mention there are simplified rules for kids as well? Heaven! This game is very much worth owning. I’ll be playing it often and I’m impressed with the mechanics, the physical components and the deep strategy in a simple looking package.

There’s my quick review, now pull up a seat and let’s dig in!

The Basics

The game is designed for 2-4 players, although I suspect it’s at its absolute best with 2. There are simplified rules for players aged 8+, with the full game being entirely accessible to ages 12+ and it plays in 60 to 75 minutes.

The game’s premise is you are whisked away from the mundane world carrying with you nine mundane items in a rucksack and your faithful dog. You arrive in a fantastical world and are immediately befriended by a peaceful dragon (who you will come to loath) and straight away handed a powerful, magical artifact. With these few possessions which have transformed in this new realm to powerful items,  it’s up to you to be the first to complete a series of quests.

Every quest you complete gives you anywhere from one to four points. Every quest that you’ve accepted but haven’t finished penalizes you by one to four points. The goal is to reach the agreed on number of points to win the game.

Components

Just after unboxing Fantastiqa!

There are a lot of components with this game, and Gryphon games has done a very nice job in ensuring they are all high quality. The cards are made from a nice, fairly thick stock and won’t bend or fray easily. The wooden components are wonderfully chunky and the rest of the cardboard bits, even the standees are nicely done as well. Even the box is made from a nice, thick cardboard – and when you first pick it up you may be surprised at the weight. Here’s what you get:

  • Game Board
  • 2 Card Supply Boards
  • 6 Circular Region Tiles
  • 6 Wooden Statues
  • 60 Gems
  • 29 Artifact cards
  • 27 Beast cards
  • 45 Quest cards
  • 79 Creature cards
  • 4 Quest Goal cards
  • 16 Peaceful Dragon cards
  • 12 1-Point Bonus Tokens
  • 4 Dog cards
  • 16 Flying Carpet Tokens
  • 12 Reshuffle Tokens
  • 4 Quest Tokens
  • 4 Player Reference Cards
  • 4 Individual Adventurer Kits (Each kit contains an Adventurer Standee, Placard, and 9 Starting Cards)
  • 1 Reference Sheet/Glossary
  • The Fantastiqa rule book (click the link for a PDF version)

The Look

You’ll find the artwork quite compelling, featuring many classic works of art which lends itself well to the mythic theme of the game. There’s been some discussion about the iconography and graphic design done with the game – honestly it did nothing to diminish the game for me. I was not hindered in finding out what each card did nor did I find it jarring or out of sync with the theme of the game. Once you’ve played a few turns the iconography is easy to read without cluttering up the cards. Each card also has an icon in the bottom right to show you which deck it belongs in. I’ll let you all decide for yourselves – here’s an example of some Beast cards – the icon in the lower right matches the Beast Bazaar statue and indicates that these are from the Beast deck.

Beast cards

Setup

First, you’ll take all of the cards provided with the game and divide them up into their appropriate decks. There’s Creatures, Artifacts, Beasts and Quests decks. The Creatures deck is actually comprised of three smaller decks – you’ll include more or less creatures depending on how many players there are.

Now place the game board on the table, and place the card supply board on either side of the game board. The card supply boards hold the Quests, Beasts, Creature and Artifact decks so everyone knows which is which when they are face down.

You’ll take the six Region tiles and randomly place them on the region sections of the board. The six regions are the Wetlands, Highlands, Fields, Frozen Wastelands, Hills and Forests.

4 of the 6 Regions

On top of these you’ll randomly place the six statues – two each of the Beast Bazaar, Artifact Tower and Quest Chest.

Statues

Then each player grabs their starting deck comprised of their once-mundane objects, a Dog, a starting Artifact and a Peaceful (@#&!^!) Dragon and 3 Flying Carpet tokens, 3 Reshuffle tokens, 3 Gems, 1 Quest token, and a starting Quest card.

Players than pick one of the six randomly placed regions to start and the game board is populated. Let’s take a look at the board, and then we’ll get into how to play the game.

The board (during our first game)

You can see the circular regions are in place, along with the randomly placed statues. To finish setting up the board, you draw Creature cards and place one on each of the roads between the six regions. These represent the strange creatures you’ll have to defeat to move about the board. As you defeat them, you claim them for your own and place them into your discard pile (which will be shuffled back to your play deck when you’re out of cards to draw). You also choose 2 starting Quests and place them in the middle of the board. On these starting quests you also place a 1-point bonus token (seen above -the blue and white tokens).  Now that you’re all set up, it’s time to play!

Playing the Game

Okay, take a moment to have a few deep breathes. I’ll warn you now, this is going to seem a bit complicated. When reading the rule book I thought this game was going to be very complicated to play. After playing a few turns it is actually all quite natural though! The mechanics of this game in actual play are far, far less intrusive than they appear to be when reading about them. It’s the crux of this game – what makes it so much fun for me is that there are a really decent amount of choices available on your turn, but the game play itself moves you constantly forward avoiding analysis paralysis for the most part and leading to a  smooth game play experience.  For us, this happened around turn 4 or 5 of our first game. It’s one of those situations where you have to do it until it ‘just clicks’, but click it will and when it does, its a great experience.  Okay. Ready? Let’s proceed.

Each turn is broken down into three phases:

  1. Replenish the Board
  2. Perform one Turn Action (and any Free Actions).
  3. End your Turn

Here’s the breakdown of these three phases.

Replenish the Board

At the very start of their turn, if their are any roads without creature cards on them, the player draws Creature cards one at a time and lays them down on empty roads. There are also events which live in the Creature deck – if an event is drawn, the player reads it out loud and anyone it applies to does what the card says. This continues until all the roads have a creature on them. Some creature cards have a Gem icon on them, in which case a plastic Gem is placed on the card.  Also, if either or both of the two Quest spaces are empty, the player draws a new Quest card and places it on the board along with a +1 Point Bonus token.

Perform one Turn Action

You’ve got three choices when it comes to Turn Actions. You can go adventuring, where you move through the board, subduing creatures and adding them to your deck. You can visit the Statue in the region your standee is currently located and do a few neat things. Last, you can complete a Quest.  Lets delve a bit deeper into the three turn actions you can choose from and the free actions that are available to you.

Go Adventuring

Here’s where you move from region to region on the game board. You do so by following the roads – but to be able to head down a road from one region to another you must be able to subdue the creature on the road. And how do you do that? Why by playing one or more cards from your hand that have an equal or greater number of matching symbols. Example time!

How it works

This graphic is more of a representation of how to use cards over time – but we’ll use it also to move three regions, subduing two creatures in the process.

The creature card on the road between two zones is “Rabbits of Unusual Size”. On the RoUS card you can see it says “Subdued by” and has the Broom icon. If you happen to have a Broom card in your hand, you can use that to subdue the RoUS. In game play this means you’d take your broom card out of your hand and place it over the RoUS Creature card. You then move from one region to the next. Continuing with your adventuring, to get to a third region, you may have to subdue some Spiders. You can see that the Spiders creature card is subdued by a Tooth icon. If you already have an RoUS card in your hand, you can use that subdue the Spiders.

You’ll also notice that the Spiders have a Gem icon on the lower left of the card. This means a plastic Gem would have been placed on this card when the Spiders were placed on the game board. Since you’ve subdued the Spiders, you claim the Gem. Gems are used to purchase Artifacts, Beast cards or pay for other actions in the game.

If that’s all the adventuring you’ll be doing this turn, you then collect the two cards you played out of your hand and the two creatures you subdued. All of these cards go to your discard pile. That’s one way of adding to your deck and increasing your options for subduing other creatures or as we’ll see in a bit, completing Quests.

Even if you don’t have the matching symbols used to subdue a creature, you can use two of the same symbols as wilds. If you need a broom to defeat the Rabbits in the above example, you could also use two Wands as wilds. What you can’t use wilds for are in the completion of Quests.

You can’ t backtrack as you go adventuring. In order to use a road, it must have a non-subdued creature on it.

Visit a Statue

The second option you have for your turn actions is to visit the statue in the region you are currently located in. When you visit a statue, you have an additional three options, of which you can choose only one.

The first is you can draw three Statue cards. If you’re at a Beast Bazaar you would draw three cards from the Beast deck. The Artifact Tower allows you to draw three Artifact cards. The Quest Chest allows you to draw three Quest cards.

In the case of Artifacts and Beasts, these cards allow you spend Gems to purchase as many of the drawn cards as you can afford. With Quests, you must accept at least one of the three Quests you’ve drawn.

The second action you could perform is to pay 2 gems and immediately teleport to a different region with the same Statue. This comes in handy if you find yourself stuck between Creatures you can’t defeat with what you have in your hand.

The last action you could perform at a Statue is releasing cards. At the cost of one Gem per card, you can removed cards in your hand from the game completely.

Complete a Quest

In order to complete a quest, you must be in the correct Region, and have enough cards with the correct symbols. Looking at the picture below, to complete the first quest, “Snare the Elusive Hill-Hamster of Ham and bring him home in time for tea” you would need to be in the Hills and have at enough cards to have two Spiderweb symbols.

Each Quest has several values to it. The Gems in the upper right indicate how many Gems you collect for completing the quest. The Cups at the top of the card indicate how many points this quest is worth when you complete it and also how many points it detracts from your score if you haven’t completed it yet. The region tells you where you need to be to complete the quest. The icons in the middle show you how many symbols you’ll need to complete the quest. Need to snare an elusive hamster? What better way to do it then with giant spiderwebs! As a note, you cannot use wilds (substituting any 2 symbols for one other) to complete quests.

Quests also come in two flavors. There are the public quests on the board which anyone can complete, and which do not detract from your points. There are also quests that each player can accept. Only that player can complete them, but while incomplete, they detract from your total score.

End your Turn

Here you can discard as many unused cards in your hand as you would like, or just keep what you have left. The sneaky part? If you’ve just landed on the same region as another player, you can discard one unused card into your opponents discard pile. Then you draw up to your full hand size of five cards. If your draw deck is ever depleted, shuffle your discard deck and that becomes your new draw deck.

And now the Free Actions

Either before you take your one Turn Action or just after, you have a number of free actions you can do. The are:

  • Commit or withdraw cards to quests
  • Use a Treasure Token
  • Use a card’s Special Power
  • Use an Artifact Card

Committing or withdrawing cards for quests involves taking the card out of your hand and placing it face down under one of your quests. While this reserves the card for that quest, it also effectively removes it from the game until you complete the quest. Or you can withdraw committed cards and put them into your discard pile to cycle them back into the game. You can also commit up to 5 cards to anything – public quests, quests that haven’t come up yet, on a whim or to remove the card from your deck. It can also be a good place to shove some of your Peaceful Dragons.

Treasure tokens consist of Flying Carpets and Reshuffle tokens. You get three of each at the start of the game. Flying Carpets allow you to skip over one road, moving from one region to another without having to encounter the Creature in between. Resuffle tokens take all of your cards in your discard pile and have you shuffle them into your draw deck.

Some cards have special powers. Rather than playing the cards for the symbols on them to subdue creatures or complete quests, you play them as free actions. They can be Flying Carpets, Peaceful Dragons which allow you to give one to an opponent, Gems for collecting a Gem, Draw or Release 1 extra card at a statue or a Key which allows you to visit a statue in your region as a free action.

Artifacts are those powerful items which do really cool things. Here are a few examples:

That’s the game as far as mechanics are concerned. Go adventuring, buy stuff, play cards, complete quests, score points, win!

Yes, but is it fun?

Oh hell yes it is! But it’s going to take a full play-through before you’ll really get it.

If you’re like me, you open the game box and spend a moment exalting in the newness of it. Take a look at all the pieces, unwrap the cards, poke out cardboard bits and generally enjoy the feeling. Then you’ll pick up the rules book and start setting up. With Fantastiqa, this is the moment where you may feel a bit overwhelmed. Trust me on this, soldier on and you’ll be happy you did.

It’s not that the rules are ill-written or badly designed – they are not. It will take you some time to get through them though and a few turns of head scratching and double checking. Once you get the hang of the turn sequences and have tried all of the available turn actions once or twice, it will suddenly all make sense. By the end of your first game you’ll be looking back and realizing where you could have done things differently to change the outcome. The game may seem a bit random at first but you’ll come to realize that everything is tied together. Of course you need 3 brooms and two wands to bemuse and befuddle witches and warlocks! What else would you use?

By the end of your second game, you’ll be just starting to realize the different strategic potentials hidden away in the varying actions and cards in the game. That’s the point where this game really starts to shine. There’s a huge potential to do things differently each time you play, based on what your opponents are doing, your favored strategy or just on trying a new way to achieve the most points. Our first two player game took nearly an hour and a half. Our second was done in 40 minutes. My third game with another player who hadn’t even heard of the game yet took less than an hour.

It’s quite clear that a lot went into creating Fantastiqa, refining the rules and honing the game play until everything meshes together. This game really just plays well in a way that’s hard to describe. It does a great job at scratching my deck building itch, but it also has the strategy components of any number of other board games. Fantastiqa combines these two aspects seamlessly.

After playing the game a few times you’ll realize there’s a lot more to the game then just adventuring around and collecting cards. Visiting the statues is just as important to acquire Beasts and Artifacts in your deck, remove extraneous cards and grab new quests.

Then there is the Peaceful Dragon. Oh how I hate this card. Not because it’s ill made, or unimportant or anything like that but because my opponents used it against me ever so successfully. Essentially it’s a non-card, it does nothing to help you and takes up space in your deck and hand. Oh, and the only way to get rid of it is to give it to another player. But it’s also a hell of a lot of fun to give your opponents these suckers and watch them squirm!

Last Words

I very much enjoyed my time playing this game. I want to play it again, as soon as possible if that is any indication as to how much I enjoyed Fantastiqa. While it may not be for everyone, I can’t think of a single person I game with who wouldn’t enjoy this game. It features intuitive game play and a lot of it going on at once, but done in a manner that doesn’t interfere with the game itself. On the surface its a simple game that inexperienced players will enjoy. Deep down inside though there are multiple strategies to employ which will get deep enough to satisfy Eurogame enthusiasts. I would highly recommend Fantastiqa – it will make a great addition to your collection.

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About Ben

I'm a geek. A nerd, a dweeb, whatever. Yes I owned garb, yes I still own medieval weaponry. And yeah, I could kick your butt in Mechwarrior the CCG. I love video games, role playing games, tactical board games and all forms of speculative fiction. I will never berate someone for wanting to be a Jedi and take everything Gary Gygax ever wrote as gospel. Well, all of this but that last bit.

  One Response to “In-Depth Review: Fantastiqa! Board meets deck in this hybrid game that impresses with a fun theme and deep strategy”

  1. […] the most recent of which is Fantastiqa.  (You can read more about Fantastiqa by checking out our review, our “Losing at Board Games” column, or the Fantastiqa homepage. […]

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