Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Review - Felinia


Published by Matagot
Designed by Michael Schacht
For 2-4 players, aged 10 to adult

Felinia box
"There are no cats in Felinia..."

I don't like cats.

I am more of a dog person.

I actually share my home with a dog. Apparently he is quite a rare breed: A tri-colour merle border collie. The dog is an idiot, and if he is representative of the breed in general, it is no surprise they are so rare. Playing in traffic and wilfully throwing yourself off cliffs is going to thin the population out eventually.

But I love my dog. He doesn't creep me out.

Cats, on the other hand...

There is something wrong about cats. The way they move about, detaching and reattaching themselves to shadows. The way they look at you. The way they just turn up in places where they shouldn't be.

Like on the box art for Felinia.

Felinia is a game about trading in the Mediterranean. Except, it's not based in the Mediterranean, and the people doing the trading are cats.

Cats in hats.

If I had a pet goldfish he'd be quite upset.

Just take a good long look at that box art: Cats, standing upright, dressed as humans. That's pretty weird. But then look at their hands... Human hands!

You are now entering Lovecraft country, please drive carefully.

The strangest thing about the cat concept is that it has absolutely no bearing on the game. But I'll be honest, it doesn't really matter. This is one of those dry Euro games about trading, and theme is pretty much irrelevant anyway. I guess the designers thought they might as well slap some whacky cat folk on the art. At least it makes a change from stern chaps in hats.

Forgetting the odd not-quite-a-theme, this is one of those good old-fashioned games with tried and tested mechanisms that all gel together in a very slick way. It doesn't do anything exceptional, but it has a nice flow, and none of the rules are particularly tricksy. There is even a set of basic rules for people who don't feel up to the advanced rules straight away (although most gamers can safely skip the basic rules, because they are a bit... you know... basic).

The aim is simple. Players are traders trying to set up trading posts on a newly discovered island full of cat people. Of course, these cats are not interested in kitty litter and mice; they want rare books, fine wine, luxury clothing, glassware, and... precision watches?

I'm not making this up.

It's in the rules.

Precision watches.

Anyway, it doesn't matter. Forget it.

Felinia board
The big empty bit is where the boats go.

So, on your turn, you have three actions. You can use each action to acquire money, or to bid in one of several different marketplaces for a limited selection of items. That doesn't sound very exciting, but it is actually a little bit of distilled genius.

You see, players take it in turns going round the table using one action at a time. If you use your first action to gain money, you only get one coin, if you use your second action you get two coins, and if you use your third action, you get three coins. So, using early actions for money doesn't seem worth it at first, but it actually is, because you are postponing your bid in the marketplace. Postponing your bid gives you a better chance of winning the items you are interested in.


Because bids in a marketplace are resolved in reverse order, so the last person to place a bid marker in the marketplace gets first dibs, and can snatch away items that other people wanted. But here's the kicker... The price of items in the marketplace is determined by the number of bid tokens stacked at that marketplace. If you place your token on a stack of three other tokens, you get first choice, but you have to pay four coins to get the item you want. And, of course, if you postponed your bids with your early actions, you won't have four coins.

Felinia bidding
Things are getting expensive. I just don't know what the "things" are.

Do you see how cool that is?

Postpone your bids, and you get first choice, but you have less money and everything is more expensive. Bid early, using later actions to collect money, and you will be minted; but you may not be able to buy any of the products you want.

The game's central mechanism is like a precision watch.

Cats would love it.

After players have made a purchase, they have the chance to board one of several cute little three-dimensional cardboard boats. Each boat has a token on it defining requirements of goods to get on board, and if you have those goods, you can reserve your space.

Felinia boat piece
One of the boats, awaiting a new cargo token.

When the boat is full, it sets sail to the newly discovered kitty continent, where players move their meeples to a position to gather a few scoring tokens.

This second bit of the game is less interesting than the first bit. It is a combination of resource management (players can expel food items purchased at the market to move farther), exploration (drawing mysterious location cards that grant victory points, and claiming victory point tokens that score at the end of the game), and area control (grouping meeples together into a big colony scores more points).

It's all been seen before. It's all very clever. It just isn't as clever as the bidding bit.

The problem is, the bidding is tense, and every player is involved. There are genuine scuffles to get the right goods at the right prices, and being the player at the bottom of the bidding stack, watching as everyone else buys the goods you need, is agonising.

In the second part of the game, players take turns moving on the island, while the other players watch. There is a small amount of opportunity to screw with other players, by taking an area of the island they wanted, but it is much more a case of each person trying to maximise points rather than worrying what everyone else is doing.

Felinia meeples
They don't even look like cats!

The first half of the game is great, the second half is okay. And it all ends in a big points salad, as you would expect, with people counting up their tokens, working out their multipliers, and adding in points for leftover resources such as food.

I like it.

I'm not usually keen on this sort of game, but I like this one.

I can't keep it though.

In fact, I've already got rid of it.

You see, it's those five different types of resources that players are vying for throughout the game: They are colour-coded, and some idiot (possibly the same chap who decided cats would be cool), chose the colours green, rust, taupe, dark, and night time. Worse yet, the symbols on the boats reflecting which goods are required are coloured wooden crates without any kind of iconography on them.

And I'm a wee bit colour blind.

I literally cannot tell apart the resources.

Felinia tokens
I have no idea what colour these tokens are.

There is nothing more frustrating than having to stop the game each round to ask the other players on the table which goods are displayed on the boats. Not only does it grind the game to a halt, but quite often it draws attention to what goods you have, and what goods you still need, leading to a situation where everyone else does everything possible to stop you.

And that's a shame.

This is a game that does so much right. Everything, in fact, except the artwork.

Now, you'll have to excuse me. I need to scare off several cats that have gathered on the front lawn.

One of them is wearing a watch.


  1. For a quite similar mechanic, you could play Die Speicherdast. It has the same biding mechanic and... well, that's actually all it has, but it's fun.

    Nice review, disturbing artwork.

    1. Thanks for reading. In Speicherstadt I think the first player to bid gets first option, but has to pay the value of bids in the stack, whereas in Felinia, the last person to bid gets first option, but has to pay the value of the stack. That means, in Speicherstadt you can force people to pay more for something by adding late bids, while in Felinia you cannot force the price up for the people who bid early, but you can trump their bids and pay more to get the resource yourself with a late bid.

    2. Oh, right! Sorry, those cats must have confused me.

    3. You are right they are very similar - I am not sure which one I would enjoy the most. I think I like the idea of dropping a late bid to win the item at a higher price a bit more than dropping a late bid just to force someone else to pay more, but I'm not sure... I have never played Speicherstadt myself so I might have to check it out. It might give me a fun bidding mechanism where I can actually tell what I am bidding on!

      As for those cats... Don't look them in the eyes.


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