FEUDUM: When Too Much Is Just Too Much
At first glance, Feudum from Odd Bird Games is an odd game in general.
This game did quite well on its Kickstarter campaign. It has a pretty strong following, no doubt partly to its distinctive art style and components. And, wow, this game looks COOL even before unboxing. On the game board and cards, you have cartoony landscapes and characters that feel new, but nostalgic, at the same time. There are strange monsters, colorful pawn cubes, flying and swimming machines, and mysterious guilds to interact with.
But, as far as story and theme, this is in standard eurogame territory, where players are collecting resources to build up outposts and landscapes to appease a grumpy-looking king, all whilst outplaying and even engaging in outright conflict with other players. The winner is the person with the most "veneration points" at game end, and, boy howdy, there are a myriad of ways to earn points. You can get VP through building outposts and "feudums," collecting royal writs, going on an "epic journey," and careful manipulations of the guilds.
On each player's turn, they will be picking four action cards from a hand of eleven. These action could allow you to move a pawn, influence or upgrade a location, engage in a conflict, interact with one of the guilds on the board, and so on. There's even a card that can repeat the action of another card, though it doesn't work with every card, and certain circumstances make it work with other.
With Feudum, get used to the phrase "certain circumstances," because there are a few of them to remember. Each action card takes up almost a whole page in the rule book, as there are "basic" actions and "advanced" action included on each card. The idea is to play the basic actions to start, then maybe add in the advanced actions on the next play. Some of these advanced actions can be played alongside the basic action, some cannot. For example, a basic action might be "move a pawn one space," but the advanced rule may add "If your pawn is a monk, move an additional space." This can also be on top of any action modifying things you've done before the turn, such a spending a saltpeter resource to add more cards or additional actions. It's getting confusing already.
Eurogames often get criticized for being like "multi-player solitaire" in that there can be little interaction between players. The meat of the game is playing the guilds. I'd argue that a great game alone is hidden right there, as player actions can influence the resources traded amongst them and be a boon or bane to others' goals.
After playing cards and actions, there are a couple of upkeep phases with, yes, feeding your pawns food or wine (which hopefully you've kept up on by collecting food and wine), then removing epoch tiles and looking up on a chart to see if the game heads into another epoch based on the tile pattern. I'd explain what this all means, but it'll take a while. The important takeaway is that the game ends after the fifth epoch.
The multi-language-enabling iconography is nice-looking but often a little confusing, somewhat between 7 Wonders and Race for the Galaxy in scope, so expect trips to the handy player reference boards or rulebook while you play. All in all, I'd expect a first 3-4 player game to last 4-5 hours with time spent in the rulebook. I think play time would be much lower with experienced players, but it would be quite the time investment to get good at this game.
The thing is, there is too much to do in Feudum and too much to mentally track for my tastes. Often it isn't that intuitive or make sense for the theme, which makes teaching this game very difficult. The actions are very synergistic, which I really like in a game, but could lead to "why would I want to DO that?" questions that are tricky to answer in a meaningful manner, unless players really have the idea locked. That is hard to do with 11 different action to choose from.
This game feels like a movie script that needed another pass before shooting, or at least re-edited down to a reasonable length. As it stands, Feudum would get little play on my table as I'm not excited about teaching it, and not sure if the people I play with would even enjoy the complex mechanisms and tons of rules contributing to a "I have no Idea what I'm doing" feeling.
There are too many options, and I haven't even cracked the rulebooks for the FOUR included expansions - even though the base game feels like it already has a ton of unnecessary content.
I came to Feudum a few years ago thinking it would be nice to have a heavier (in terms of complexity) eurogame in my collection. I've got a few that I consider light (Lords of Waterdeep, Catan) and medium (Caverna, Puerto Rico.) I considered other heavy euros like The Gallerist or Lisboa, but now wonder if I would even enjoy a heavy euro. I can see this game maintaining a strong cult following, but the massive complexity of Fuedum makes this likely never hit my table, and that's not a good life for a game in any collection.
So this isn't for me, but if you like an intense brain burn, then Feudum could be a good fit for you.