Founding Fathers Review - Here Comes The Orator!

Wait a second? Luke from The Broken Meeple is going to review a game based on politics and history? Considering he wasn't a fan of Twilight Struggle? Yes, that is the case here and I'll give you a few minutes to whip up some popcorn if you like before I tackle the 2nd Edition reprint of Founding Fathers released in April 2016. Now I don't know what the first edition was like but I suspect that all that has changed is some cosmetic/component upgrades or very minor tweaks. Therefore I'm not doing a direct comparison as this is probably the only version you can reliably get these days anyway.

Why would I pick such a game though? Well you can blame Sam Healey for that. Yes, really! On some of The Dice Tower's older Top Ten lists, Founding Fathers has been mentioned a couple of times particularly with regards to strong theme and benefits to education. I'm not a teacher so the latter isn't important, but I'm a sucker for theme and I felt it was time that my collection attempted to gain a politically themed game - I'm like that, I like to fill in the niche's I'm missing though that does not mean I'm going to be adding an 18XX game in, nooooooooooo way!

Of course I take no interest in even British politics and I know nothing about the Constitution's history, but it's definitely one of the areas I'd be interested to know more about. The prospect of multi-use cards grabbed me by the neck and pulled me in regardless given that's one of my favourite mechanics in gaming And it allowed for more than two players. Definitely worth a look, so can it do it? Will my collection contain a political game? Here comes the Orator, with his flood of words and his drop of reason. . .



Designer: Christian Leonhard & Jason Matthews
Publisher: Jolly Roger Games
Age: 13+
Players: 3-5
Time: 90-120 min
RRP: £54.99


Liberty, When It Begins To Take Root, Is A Plant Of Rapid Growth


"Quoted From BoardGameGeek - Founding Fathers"

Newest game from the pair that made 1960: The Making of the President. The goal here is to be the founding father with the most renown at the end of the game, which consists of the making of the US constitution.
Each round, an article of the constitution is put up for consideration, which is either a Federalist, Anti-Federalist, Big State, or Small State issue. Players have a hand of three delegate cards that represent their respective states and also have a special ability. Players may use these cards' special abilities, use the cards to vote for or against the issue under consideration, or to try and claim tokens in each of the four types of issues. When a round ends, the issue either passes, or is flipped to its opposite side (Federalist/Anti or Big/Small).
Players score points for having voted with the majority, and also for having tokens matching the issue types that are voted into the constitution.

The Great Principles Of Right And Wrong Are Legible To Every Reader


An RRP of £54.99 is asking a lot and even on the cheapest websites you'll struggle to beat the mid 40's. At first glance you might wonder where it justifies this. I know that there aren't as many copies of Founding Fathers in print as many other games, but when you open the box, there doesn't appear to be a lot of components bar some chits, a board, some cards and a bag of chunky blocks (that annoyingly need stickers putting on them, but that's a small nitpick, it's not like I'd want to pay for them to be engraved).

However everything is pretty decent quality. The board itself is large and easily readable by everyone without being too busy to confuse newcomers. The artwork is good even if you can only do so much with tables and chairs, but it's very functional and fits the theme nicely. The blocks for influence markers are very chunky though, like handling solid bricks. They stack well and look good on the whole and I appreciate that they went for a large size rather than small round chits. However why oh why did they opt for the player colours they did. You've got mauve and pink followed by pale blue and light grey and dark grey. It's crazy and constantly players will be mistaking colours for each other, it's a design choice I cannot understand.

The cards themselves are nicely done, we're not talking bright colours everywhere, but you get a very nice "old" portrait of the delegate with a hint of the colonial flag behind them and easy to read text below. It's clean, it's concise and looks good when set to the theme presented here, you can tell function was a big aspect of the design of Founding Fathers. I give a lot of credit to Michael Menzel for his astonishing art, but Josh Cappel here does a good job also and his works should also be acknowledged. They're made of sturdy card stock also, but I've shoved mine in premium sleeves knowing that there is a ton of picking up, placing and moving cards in this game and there aren't that many present so it won't break your bank balance to do so.

Here Sir, The People Govern


The crux of this game is the multi-use cards. Each one has 3 potential uses for it and you only have a hand size of 3, so you're not overwhelmed with too many choices, but you certainly have plenty to make you stop and think about the best move to make. Thankfully it's not to many that you should encounter Analysis Paralysis too much. That being said, I wouldn't be as keen to play Founding Fathers with 5 players. You're thinking a lot, but the game length might just over-reach itself. In addition the game may feel a little too chaotic with 4 opponents changing the board state before it gets back round to your turn. 3 and 4 players make for a good sweet spot as per usual - seriously publishers can you stop bolting on 5th player options just to try and sell your game, it rarely works!

A common issue with many games is the power level of "event" or "ability" cards. Balancing these is notoriously difficult to do and you can't expect perfection. In Founding Fathers there's a mix of effects and some clearly have more of an impact on the board state than others. A card may give you 2 victory points for holding multiple delegates from one state and another may ban all future events or even end the round there and then. Now clearly, the latter events have a greater impact on the board, but that's because such events don't provide you with victory points, which are not just handed out for free here (see later).

It may be argued that some events are more powerful, but the deck cycles regularly allowing multiple players to see the same card. Even then just because a card has a strong game-changing effect, that doesn't mean you want to use it. I can end the round now, but wait I'm not ready, my position is too weak. I can gain victory points for every subsequent "Nay" vote I place, but I need this article to pass so that's no good. Many times you will find yourself passing on these so called powerful events just because the state delegation or faction bias is far more important. I've never felt that someone was getting "lucky" with their cards, but I can see why some people may be deterred by them.



Liberty, Once Lost, Is Lost Forever


Now I'm not a history boffin in any way, shape or form. I hated History in school, there's only so many times you can learn about Victorians before you want to drink the ink from your pen. I quit History the second our secondary school curriculum allowed me to in favour of Geography. This is why I love visiting scenic locations and walking up hills/mountains and get bored out of my brain in any castle, museum or archaeological dig site. So I'm ignorant on a lot of history, always a man of the present and the future. So naturally you can tell the history that Founding Fathers teaches doesn't make me enjoy the game more, but surprisingly it doesn't make me enjoy it less either.

Here it's fed to you in bite sized chunks. Each delegate card has a paragraph of flavour text explaining about that person. Enough for you to read and digest in between turns when you've figured out your next move, though you'll find that you'll need to be on the ball constantly to do well in case the board state takes a dramatic change. This allows even the likes of me to learn something from the theme without feeling like I'm stuck in a History lesson. And when you take the time to read that flavour text you quickly discover that the cards effect when used as an event actually bears relevance to their role in history. For example a card referenced as "Old Bore" shuts down the debate action for the round, imagine that you bored the delegates so much that the whole proceeding fell apart!

All of this helps me to understand why a card does what it says it does and even then you don't have to know the history to use the card for its state or faction bias. Ignoring the history entirely, you're still left with some entertaining mechanics and tactical play. In contrast when I played Twilight Struggle, there's no clue on any card as to what its relevance is without having to spend ages in the rule book looking it up. As a result I lose all interest in what I'm doing in the game as the tug-o-war card play wasn't enough on its own to keep me interested especially as that game takes twice as long as Founding Fathers to finish.


Enlightened Statesmen Will Not Always Be At The Helm


A good Euro game should ideally be tight in scoring. The more it comes down to the wire without anyone thinking they're pseudo-knocked out for ages (a problem associated with a few popular titles lately) the more enjoyable it is. When you look at the score track you see it only goes up to 30. That's a unique twist from the typical 100 pointer's and you should see it as a sign that points aren't just given away for free here. And by the time the game ends, I've yet to see a point spread higher than 5 between first and last place and one came down to a tiebreaker for the winner.

By the end you get a realisation that every point matters in Founding Fathers. You may scoff at a card that will only give you one or two points, but then you find out that you only won by a single point later. Suddenly that card wasn't so bad was it? The points are quite balanced also among the various ways you can obtain them. Of course you can specialise in one aspect over the others, but none are seen as more powerful than the others and typically you will achieve a balance just from spotting new opportunities that open up each round. On more than one occasion I've done a full reversal on swaying a Yay/Nay vote to improve my situation based on what the other players do and what factions the completed Constitution articles favour over time. You can have a strategy, but things can get very tactical at the right time and I love that.




Verdict on Founding Fathers


It is no surprise that Founding Fathers carries the theme and history it's based on very well. Your actions with placing votes and influencing debates all collate to a strong sense of immersion as you shape the Constitution over the course of the game. Even if you aren't interested in the history, the mechanics are solid enough by themselves to ensure a fun experience, but if you're willing to learn, all the history is there in nice bite-size chunks on the cards without being forced to read an essay on the subject, that is assuming you have a chance between turns to to do so.

The options you have are always plentiful, driven primarily by Founding Father's multi-use cards. Your goals and strategies can change dramatically as time goes on and every game will finish tight to the wire giving you a sense that every choice you made was meaningful beforehand. A nitpick flaw is you may feel some of the events are a little powerful, but then you'll commonly find that multiple players will have access to them. That being said, I do feel 5 players oversteps the acceptable time length a bit and adds a little too much chaos to proceedings so best set a limit, but it's a small issue.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but Founding Fathers has done it. This game despite its high price tag is great fun to play whether you're a history boffin or not. So much so I'm even interested in locating and trying the designers last venture "1960 - The Making of the President" if it ever pops up. Into the collection it goes and may it remain for a good long while. Ts' done. . . we have become a nation.



If you are interested in this game you can find a copy at your friendly local gaming store - http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/



YOU WILL LIKE FOUNDING FATHERS IF:


You are interested in the history surrounding the Constitution - it's packed full of it here.


You enjoy multi-use cards as a mechanic - you've always got plenty of choices to pick from.


You like really tight games - it commonly comes down to the wire, every action makes a difference.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE FOUNDING FATHERS IF:


Knowing the history is important for you to enjoy the game.


You feel some of the event cards are a little powerful in how much impact they have.


You were hoping for a political game that focused more on negotiation and voting.

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