In Fief: France 1429 from Academy Games, three to six players control family dynasties during the turbulent 15th century. The board is a map of central France, with villages divided up into fiefs and bishoprics, which overlap each other.
Over the course of a round, players can contract marriage alliances between male and female family members, and elect bishops, cardinals, the Pope and the King. Players then select either Lords cards, which increase the members of a family, or fortune cards, which can give players special abilities or can result in negative effects like famine or heavy rains. Players collect coins from the villages they hold and then can spend them on fortifications, mills or military units. If certain conditions are met, players can also buy the title of Lord of a specific fief.
If players wish to expand their holdings, they can move units from village to village (always accompanied by a Lord), and if two players have units in the same village during the battle phase, battle may ensue. Assuming the two players have not called a truce, they add up the strength from their military units and roll dice to determine casualties.
At the end of a round, players check for victory points. Players gain victory points for holding the various titles. A player without an alliance can win the game with three victory points, while two players in an alliance can win a shared victory with four victory points between them.
Fief: France 1429 is a grand, epic game of intrigue and betrayal. It is a game where no one player is really strong enough to win on his own, so he or she must work with other players to further his or her goals. The marriage alliance system is really fun, as it locks players into an alliance that can only end with the death of one of the spouses (watch out for the assassination card), and rules governing diplomacy and private talks between allies bring a lot to the game as well.
Fief: France 1429 is a game that you and your friends will still be talking about for a long time after game night.
Time: 3-4 hours
A weird, wild circus is a the setting for Rattlebones, from Rio Grande Games. Two to four players attempt to build the best dice engine as they maneuver their monkey pawns around the board. The board itself is a track that features several locations with icons, and players also randomize and place various locations with icons on the board, ensuring that no two games have the same board. Each player places three of his or her monkeys on the start space, as well as a mouse pawn on the point track around the board. Each player also has three large plastic dice which feature traditional pips on five sides, but a Rattlebones icon where the “1” should be.
Over the course of the game, players roll their dice and move that number of spaces. When they land on an icon they can swap out one of the sides of their dice (using a handy little tool), and replace it with the new icon. Players can place point values on their dice, gold icons, star icons, the train icon and more. Essentially, players are building point engines with the dice, and when those icons are rolled again players get special abilities and points.
The dice building mechanic in Rattlebones is a lot of fun, but the game's simple roll and move mechanic means it will probably appeal more to younger and less experienced gamers. There is a lot in Rattlebones to like, but it is not a game for everybody.
Time: 20-30 minutes
Based on the Showtime TV series, Homeland from Gale Force Nine is a game of CIA agents battling terrorists. At the beginning of the game, three to six players receive hidden agendas. Loyal agents want to stop all terrorist attacks; political opportunists want some attacks to succeed, but ultimately want to stop the terrorists; and the terrorist mole, who wants as many attacks to succeed as possible. Despite this hidden traitor element, the game is competitive, not cooperative.
The board is a grid of various threats to the U.S. from low on the bottom to imminent on the top. Each turn, during the terrorist phase, new threats are added to the board made up of plot and organization cards. During the players' phase, each player claims a threat to investigate, then can place intel cards under various threats. The intel cards may feature blue numbers (good) and red numbers (bad). Once the threat moves off the board it is revealed and analyzed, and if the blue intel cards exceed the number of red plot, organization and intel numbers, the plot is foiled. Otherwise, it succeeds.
Players can also spend tokens to gain asset cards which give them special abilities, as well as use agent and soldier minis to help them learn more about specific threats. If too many terrorist plots succeed, the terrorist player wins. If the agency foils enough threats, loyal agents and political opportunists count up their victory points and have the opportunity to guess who the terrorist is for more points. Whoever has the most victory points wins.
Homeland is a brilliant game that takes the “crisis card” mechanic from games like Battlestar Galactica and makes an entire game out of it. Paranoia prevails as players wonder who they can trust as the threats get closer and closer to being resolved each round. Homeland succeeds in creating a tense experience that will keep players guessing right up until the end.
Time: 90 minutes
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's in history from the University of Utah and teaches at Salt Lake Community College. An avid player of board games, he blogs at thediscriminatinggamer.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org