Been awhile since I did any game reviews, and I have several really good games to cover. Also, I am about to head to BGGcon for the second time, so I have been thinking games even more than usual. I have written previously about how much I enjoy games Jason Matthews and various partners have made. Whether the wonderful Twilight Struggle, the equally great 1960 or the recent Campaign Manager you really can't go wrong. Except for one thing – all those games are only for two players. Here follows a way too long review of their latest game.Enter Founding Fathers, same basic ideas of historical theme, card-driven gameplay with light area control elements, but now you can play up to 5 players. The game is about the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Each player is one of the Founding Fathers (Hamilton, Paterson, Sherman, Pinckney and Madison) trying to align the fledgling Constitution with your ideas.
The board represents Constitution Hall, and has a few areas you will be playing. The first is the assembly hall where each round one article is up for debate. Each article has 2 sides, one historical and the other ahistorical. Each side is aligned with one of the 4 factions (Federalist, Anti-Federalist and Large State, Small State) Obviously, each faction has an opposite. In the assembly hall, you play cards representing delegates to the convention. They are identified by the State and faction they represent (for instance, George Washington is a Federalist from Virginia.) You play cards to either the pro or con side. If a State has already declared either for or against, you have to have more delegates from that State than are currently played. (ie VA is voting yes with 1 delegate, you can play 2 delegates from VA & override the state to the no side. 7 yes votes or 6 no votes are required to decide the issue. That also ends the round, which triggers the other areas of the board.
Once the round has ended, every player who has control markers on the losing side sees those markers move to the Committee Room for later use. The winning side scores victory points for each delegate you control, and bonus points for each delegate that aligns with the issue. This is the main way you score points during the game.
The debate track has 4 columns representing the 4 factions. When you discard a delegate card (or cards) of that faction, you can place a control marker on the track. At the end of each round, the player who is farthest ahead on the track gets a token of that faction. At the end of the game, those tokens are worth bonus points based on how prevalent that faction is in the Constitution as adopted. This is the second most common way to get points.
The Committee Room only activates at the end of the round. There is another article here, randomly determined. Wh0ever has the majority of markers in the room gets to decide how the article goes into the Constitution (ie which faction it represents) They remove their markers from the room, and receive 1 point for every marker removed. All other markers remain in the room.
The gameplay is to play a card or cards from your hand. The card can be used either for the event on the card (often quite powerful) or as part of a State delegation in the Assembly room or as part of a faction in the debate room. Each player also has a card for their Founding Father. Each one is the same, it allows you to add to your stock of markers (you only start with 3.)
Once you have played your cards, you draw your hand back up. This is one of my favorite mechanics in the game, because the cards are printed so that the backs show the State & faction on them. So you know when you select a card that you are getting a Small State supporter from Delaware, for example. This is especially important because there are a few very strong cards (Washington & Franklin chiefly) that can change the game if played wisely. Also, your Founding Father card has their picture on the back. If that card is on the top of the draw pile, you automatically get it. No draw needed.
So, that's the mechanics, how is the game? It's really good. The gameplay is very strategic, and leads to all sorts of tough choices. Do I push the debate track to try to get a token in the strongest faction, or do I try to get more votes in the Assembly Room. Each card represents so many different opportunities and you want to do them all. I have found the game to be tense and close each time. Especially since you don't know exactly when the round will end.
My one qualm with the game is that the theme is definitely not as strong as in the past historical games. It's entirely possible to play the game as Alexander Hamilton and yet support Anti-Federalist articles across the board. Each of the 5 Founding Fathers is intentionally (and for game balance reasons) neutral. I see why they did it, but it bugs me. In 1960 and especially in Twilight Struggle the theme is so woven into the game that you can't imagine the mechanics working with any other theme. Not so much with Founding Fathers. Although, to the designers credit, each card has an interesting nugget about the delegate, and the rules have 4 pages of historical context as well.
But, that should not dissuade you from playing this wonderful game. It plays really well with 3-5 (ironically not so great with 2) and will probably make you fear George Washington. His Excellency can really mess up your game. Founding Fathers is a great game, well worth adding to your collection. One last important point – like Campaign Manager, it is a much faster play than 1960 or Twilight Struggle. Most games are about an hour, which is a perfect time frame for me & my friends. Highly recommended!
Last 5 posts by Ezra
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