Tony Hodge
United States
Hanover
Maryland
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I know this review is a little late, 5 years late to be precise, but I thought it might be nice to have an opinion on the books from someone who has never played a Stefan Feld game before.

Stefan Feld's games have always seemed, to me, like the hipster fare of board games. They typically get high-praise but can be a little hard to find, you certainly won't find them on the shelves at a Barnes & Nobles, Toys 'R Us, or Wal-Mart. They also seem a little dry, the box covers are some nondescript oil-painting with muted colors and many of the game titles make no attempt to grab your attention, what is a "Macao" or a "Trajan"? In short, you have to want a Stefan Feld game to buy one, it's never going to be an impulse buy.

So how did I come by my first Stefan Feld game, you ask? Well, I won two games in a G4GG auction. I really wanted Le Havre and for my second choice I chose the highest rated game the guy was offering here on the Geek; In the Year of the Dragon.

The Components
The components are typically the first thing you see and gives you your first impression of a game and this one gets high marks. All the pieces are solid, nothing feels flimsy or cheap. The art is very stylish and attractive although most people are still going to find it stuffy and dry. The game really wants you to want to play it, it makes no attempt at any step to reel you in off the fence.

The Rules
This is the first point at which I started to really be impressed. For a game with both this kind of pedigree and this air of exclusivity I thought I was in for a brain-burner but no, the rules are pretty accessible. My first play we had one of our usual gamer's girlfriends tag along. You know the one, the girlfriend who wants to just be a part of the group but you know she's not going to be easy to teach and just frustrate and drag down the group. Well, she got everything pretty easily and played reasonably well. There is still a decent amount of friendliness and a lot of strategy to this game so it's not easy to play or simple by any means. The rules are just elegantly crafted and excellently written to make them easy to pick up and understand. One of the best rule sets I've ever come across.

The Game
So how did I feel about the game itself? I absolutely loved it, one that will definitely make its way to the table again, especially with how (as I said above) accessible it is.

The game is played across 12 rounds. Each round a player takes an action from one of a number of groups equal to the number of players (divided as evenly as possible). These actions are usually enhanced by the type and number of person tiles each player has in their court (of which each player starts the game with 2). Then each player chooses a new person tile by playing a card from their hand.

This stage was one of the most original and impressive mechanics of the game. The balance between the person tiles and the person track. 6 of the 9 person tiles have two versions; an older and a younger version. The younger version has a higher number but fewer symbols printed on the tile than the older version. A higher number will advance you further on the person track while more symbols will increase the result of chosen actions. The person track is how play order is determined both for choosing actions and choosing new person tiles. This elegant and reasonably simple system forces players to think very strategically and impressed me quite a bit. Add to that that you have an exact number of cards equal to the number of rounds you choose a person and that along with 2 wild cards you only have one card for each person. This means you'll have to choose each person at least once and adds another layer to this strategic planning.

But that's not all! The next phase is the event phase. A new event happens every round. The first two rounds the event is always "Peace" which means nothing happens and gives players a chance to prepare (all 12 events are revealed from beginning to end of the game so you always know which events are coming up and in what order). But two rounds is not enough to prepare for all these events. Most of them are negative and depending on what person tiles you have in your court you may be able to mitigate them. The only refuge in the game rules for this is that the same event cannot happen two rounds in a row...but it can certainly happen twice in three rounds! (there are only 2 of each event) You will never be able to completely mitigate all the negative events. You will get hit eventually and the penalty is always losing person tiles from your court.

The other aspect you have to balance in the process is scoring points. That's how you win the game, duh, so you need those points! Some actions, person tiles, and events only score you points and don't mitigate any of the negative events at all. Some of these elements score you points every turn, some only when specific actions or events happen, and some only once at the end of the game. So if you spend all your time trying your hardest to mitigate the negative events and not score points you're probably going to lose.

So it is an interesting balancing game where you're trying your best not to get your butt kicked too hard, score enough points, and position yourself to continue doing both these things in the future. I forgot to mention that if you don't go first during the action phase and another player takes the group with the action you want before you do it will cost you money to then take that action. And money is not easy to come by in this game! So all the preparation in the world would be for naught if you get blocked off from a needed action. Something crafty and cruel players may do just to spite you if they realize it and it will help them gain an advantage over you.

Replayability
This is something I am a stickler for. The best game in the world would get negative marks from me if I can't play it a good number of times and still have it feeling fresh. And this game has a decent amount of replay value. Because of the number of elements and things going on and different ways to score you can play a different way each time and still have a good chance of winning. The game is very well balanced to work that way and is yet another thing that impresses me with the game's design, that's a lot of pieces to juggle for it to do it so well. The game also comes with two mini expansions if you ever want to mix things up. I have yet to play with them so I don't know if they add to or hinder the game but it is still added content so at the very worst they're there even if you don't necessarily want to use them.

I will say that this game doesn't seem like one I could play forever though. There is no variability in the game components so even with a lot of elements you play with all those elements every game and with that there is still only so many plays you can get out of the game (although with that many elements the experience is so varied that should be a distant problem).

Conclusion
High marks across the board from me. I was impressed by this game every step of the way and have given it a 9/10 here on the geek (only losing a point because I don't expect I will always always want to play it).

Stefan Feld may not want want just anybody picking up and playing his games but he can welcome me into his exclusive fold now and I highly recommend at least this game for anyone who likes original, accessible, deeply strategic, and varied games.
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Jonathan Harrison
United States
Fisher
Illinois
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I'm coming from the opposite end—a Feld player who just played ItYotD for the first time. It's not my favorite (or my wife's), but I recognize the Feldian-ness of the whole thing.

You really need to play Notre Dame. Not to replace this, but I think you'd love it, too. And Macao wouldn't be a bad third.

soccastar001 wrote:
Stefan Feld's games have always seemed, to me, like the hipster fare of board games. They typically get high-praise but can be a little hard to find, you certainly won't find them on the shelves at a Barnes & Nobles, Toys 'R Us, or Wal-Mart. They also seem a little dry, the box covers are some nondescript oil-painting with muted colors and many of the game titles make no attempt to grab your attention, what is a "Macao" ... ?

Ever seen one of these?



It's the least I could do for someone who accidentally thumbed his own posts!
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Jonathan Harrison
United States
Fisher
Illinois
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... and thanks for all the fish.
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soccastar001 wrote:
The game also comes with two mini expansions if you ever want to mix things up. I have yet to play with them so I don't know if they add to or hinder the game but it is still added content so at the very worst they're there even if you don't necessarily want to use them.

I'm pretty sure you're talking about the two expansions for ItYotD that came as part of the Alea Treasure Chest: Great Wall and Superevents. Both are good, IMO. We played with both, and they both add to the game while adding absolutely minimal rules overhead.

But they don't actually come packaged with the game—I'm guessing you just got yours from your G4GG donor.
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Michael J
United States
Folsom
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Thanks for the excellent review of what I think is Feld's best game. Most of Feld's games feel like a mishmash of different mechanics to me. But this one, with perhaps Notre Dame, feels the most cohesive of the bunch, with each action subtly affecting the whole game in different, but interrelated ways. The varied setups of the year's events keep things fresh, too. While I mostly like all of Feld's games when playing them, this one is tops for me. However, while this one is tops when I want a deep, satisfying experience, I probably have more fun playing Notre Dame. Both are games I intend to own one of these days if I find them for the right price (our group has copies already, so I won't get my own copies unless I find them cheap).
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A. B. West
United States
Beech Grove
Indiana
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Why aren't you PLAYING a game?
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HuginnGreiling wrote:




[size=1]

Now that's what I call a dead parrot.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
United States
Corvallis
Oregon
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Andy Palacio: The Garifuna Collective || Corey Harris & Henry Butler: Vu-Du Menz || Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings: Naturally || Amy Winehouse: Back to Black
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In the Year of the Dragon » Forums » Reviews
Re: Review of In the Year of the Dragon from a Stefan Feld Novice
adamw wrote:
Now that's what I call a dead parrot.

He's not dead, he's resting.
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