Reading Time: 10 minutes
Overview: Alf Seegert’s latest game involves deck-building, but it’s unlike any other deck-building games you’ve played before. In Fantastiqa, players discover themselves in a “land of fabled beasts and fantastical quests,” subduing creatures and recruiting them as allies to fulfill quests.
Ages: 8 and up (simplified rules available)
Playing Time: 60-75 minutes
Retail: $69.99 (releases in early December)
Rating: Excellent — but maybe not for everyone. It’s somewhat eccentric and probably not what you’re used to, but it’s worth a closer look.
Who Will Like It? Gamers who like a bit of whimsy, and those who like trying out new game mechanics. Seegert’s games often use unusual blends of mechanics, and Fantastiqa carries on that tradition.
Seegert is an English professor who has an obsession with fairy tales and fantasy (and, to be sure, trolls). The game is meant to invoke the sense of the fantastic breaking through our ordinary world: a toothbrush that becomes a magic wand, a spatula that becomes a mighty sword. You can get a sense of it in the teaser video above, which doesn’t say anything about the gameplay but attempts to set the mood: quirky, yes, but also wonderful and enchanting.
The plot of the game, if you want to call it that, is that you’ve been given a rucksack with nine mundane items (plus a dog). When you are mysteriously transported to Fantastiqa, these items are transformed, and you set off on quests, subduing creatures along the way. For more about the inspiration behind the game, you can check out Seegert’s designer diary on BoardGameGeek.
Fantastiqa has a lot of components:
- 1 large game board
- 2 card supply boards
- 6 circular region tiles
- 6 wooden statues
- 60 plastic gems
- 29 Artifact cards
- 27 Beast cards
- 45 Quest cards
- 79 Creature cards
- 4 Quest Goal cards
- 16 Peaceful Dragon cards
- 4 Dog cards
- 16 Flying Carpet tokens
- 12 Reshuffle tokens
- 4 Quest tokens
- 4 player reference cards
- 4 Adventurer Kits (pawn, 9 starting cards, and placard)
The “Enchanted Edition” I received (I don’t know if there will be non-Enchanted versions) also includes a couple of expansions: some more cards that can be mixed into the game, Treasure Map cards and mystery tokens, and Special Delivery cards. (Update: The “Enchanted Edition” is simply the first edition; the expansions were available to Kickstarter backers as add-on rewards.)
The quality of the components is very good: like Gryphon Games’ Pastiche, the box itself is super-sturdy cardboard and all of the boards and cards have a linen finish. The wooden “statues” are oversized pieces: they could easily have just been cardboard tokens or something but the scale of them is impressive when you put them on the board. (See the photo at the top: those are standard-sized cards, so you can get a sense of how large the six wooden pawns are.)
The circular region tiles are like coasters: they simply have the name of the region on a little banner, with artwork covering the rest of the tile. The player pawns are cardboard standees with a small plastic base — here’s where it might have been nice to have wooden pawns instead, but each player’s Adventurer Kit has matching artwork, so the standees can share the same art as the cards and placard.
Speaking of the artwork, almost everything was done with classic paintings from the Bridgeman Art Library in New York City. It’s
public domain licensed artwork that’s meant to get you into character and into the world, However, the iconography, the text, and the multicolored borders on some of the cards is somewhat jarring when it’s juxtaposed with the paintings. Some people have complained about it as being awful graphic design; while it doesn’t prevent me from enjoying the game, I do agree that it could have been better. However, the cards are pretty easy to decipher: each card has an icon in the lower right which indicates what deck it belongs to. Other iconography will be explained below.
The full rulebook is available here, so I’ll try to keep this to a high-level overview rather than being really detailed. (Update: If you like, you can also check out this video, originally made for the Kickstarter campaign. It is a bit of advertisement, but it’s also silly and does explain gameplay. Richard Ham at BoardGameGeek has a full game walkthrough video here.)
The goal of the game is to gain points by completing Quests, with the number of points required depends on the number of players and length of game desired.
Randomly place the six region tiles on the six spaces on the board and the six wooden statues on the terrains. The two card supply boards are placed to either side of the board, and the appropriate decks are shuffled and placed on the four spaces: Artifact Tower, Beast Bazaar, Quest Chest, and Creature Cards. The Creature Card deck will be set up a particular way depending on number of players. Two Quest cards are placed on the board — these are Open Quests.
Each player gets a starting deck of 12 cards (9 household items, a Dog, a Peaceful Dragon, and a starting Artifact), along with 3 Flying Carpet tokens, 3 Reshuffle tokens, 3 Gems, 1 Quest token, and a starting Quest card. Each player chooses a location to start, and two more starting Quest cards are placed on the two Quest spots on the board. Each player shuffles their starting deck and draws five cards. (Note: the Peaceful Dragon is a liability, just taking up space in your hand and not doing anything useful.)
On each turn, you Replenish the Board, Perform ONE Turn Action (and any number of Free Actions), and End Your Turn.
Replenish the Board: there should always be one creature on every path between the regions, and two Open Quests on the board. The Creature deck also has Events in it: you follow the directions on the card, and then keep drawing until all the Creature spots are filled.
Perform One Turn Action: You can choose to (1) Go Adventuring, (2) Visit a Statue, or (3) Complete a Quest.
(1) Going Adventuring is the primary way you add cards to your deck and move around the board. To move to an adjacent region, you must subdue the creature on the path by playing cards with enough of the right symbols. The symbols at top left are the card’s ability (used for subduing) and the symbols at the bottom center are what’s required to subdue a Creature. Two matching symbols can be used as a wild, and count as one of anything else.
You can travel around the board as long as you can subdue the creature in the way, with no backtracking. All the creatures you subdue (plus the cards you played) go into your discard pile.
The Circle of Subduing shows which symbols can be used to subdue others: for instance, the wand subdues a sword, the sword subdues fire, and so on. It’s sort of like a Rock-Paper-Scissors circle, but you don’t really need to reference it because everything’s printed on the cards anyway.
(2) Visiting a Statue lets you choose one of the following three options: get Statue cards, release cards, or teleport. Getting Statue cards lets you get more Artifacts or Beasts by paying for them with Gems. If you’re at the Quest Chest then you draw three Quest cards and must keep at least one. Releasing cards (up to 3, paying 1 gem per card) gets them out of the game entirely — but you can’t release Peaceful Dragons. To Teleport, you pay 2 gems and move to the region with the matching statue.
The final Turn Action option is (3) Complete a Quest. You must be in the correct region shown on the Quest card, and then discard the required symbols pictured on the card. You claim the Quest card, which gets you some gems and some points. If you have acquired enough points to meet the Quest Goal, you win — but incomplete Personal Quests count against you.
Free Actions: These actions can be taken at any time during your turn, multiple times if desired.
- Commit cards to Quests: You can save up cards by tucking them under the corresponding Personal Quest card, or by placing them face-down under your Quest token for the Open Quests. Committed cards can later be used when completing Quests, or discarded.
- Use a Treasure Token: discard a Flying Carpet token to bypass a creature, or discard a Reshuffle token to immediately reshuffle your discard pile into your draw deck.
- Use a card’s special power: some cards have special abilities, like Flying Carpets, adding Peaceful Dragons to an opponent’s discard pile, collecting gems, or visiting a Statue for free.
- Use an Artifact card: Artifact cards simply give an instruction for their use and then are discarded.
End Your Turn: Discard any cards that you’ve played this turn, as well as any creatures subdued this turn. You may also discard any of your unused cards, and optionally discard one unused card from your hand onto the discard pile of an opponent if you ended your turn in the same region as them. (This is a good way to get rid of Peaceful Dragons.) Draw back up to five cards.
That’s the game! Get the required number of points to win.
There are some different rules for 4-player games, which are played in teams, and there are simplified rules to make things easier for younger kids and newer gamers.
At first glance, Fantastiqa seemed weird and random, but then I started to see the strange, fairy-tale logic behind it. The creatures that correspond to the circle of subduing aren’t just randomly matched with their abilities and vulnerabilities. For instance, the enchantress enchants the knight with her wand, who defeats the baby dragon with his sword, who bests the fen fairy with fire, who defeats the witch with water.
Likewise, the symbols on the quests pertain to the fanciful flavor text: “Dice seven massive mushrooms for the Banquet of Baron Fungicide” requires that you bring two swords to — where else? — the Wetlands. On the other hand, if your quest is to “Cleanse the Putrid Stables of the Unhygienic Ogre Abernathy,” you’ll need three buckets of water and two brooms in the Fields.
Since traveling around the board means that you acquire cards (as you subdue them), it can seem like a good idea to move as many times as possible in order to collect all those creatures. However, it’s important to pay attention to the symbols you actually need to complete your quests and where you want to go, because just adventuring as far as you can each turn might not end up getting you the most points. Like Ascension, there are only so many cards available to you at any given time, but in this case you’re also limited by your place on the board — you can only subdue creatures that are adjacent to you, so if some creature appears on the other side of the board, you’ll have to figure out how to get there.
Using the “Visit a Statue” action is important, too, both to “release” cards (to weed out your deck) and to acquire the Artifacts and Beasts which will help you accomplish your goals more effectively. If you just keep adding lots and lots of creatures to your deck, you’ll find that it’s hard to get the specific symbols you need to complete Quests.
The Peaceful Dragon is pretty funny. Rather than having “wound” or “curse” cards that take up valuable space in your deck, you have these cheerful dragons who serve tea and are too peaceful to subdue anything. And they’re loyal, so they won’t leave when you “release” them — the only way to get rid of one is to find another Adventurer and send it to them. (Or, you can play the “Espresso Dragons” variant, which lets you perform additional actions whenever the Dragons are played.)
The game takes up a good deal of space, but the boards aren’t entirely necessary: all you really need is the six terrain tiles, and some way to know which decks are which. (Some small tokens to mark the Creature, Artifact, and Beast decks would have been sufficient.) But for kids and casual gamers, having the board may give a level of familiarity that makes the game less abstracted.
I do like the use of the paintings for game art, but I’m not a huge fan of the graphic design of the cards. I’m not so picky that it prevents me from enjoying the gameplay, but I do know that for some gamers it might be a deal-breaker. That’s too bad, though, because Seegert has really combined some familiar mechanics to make a deck-builder that doesn’t really feel like most deck-builders. In most deck-building games, you have one or two types of currency to purchase cards: In Fantastiqa, there are the plastic gems (which you just get to spend when you have them — you don’t have to draw the card) but then there are the nine different symbols, each of which helps you subdue a single type of card. That makes it trickier to build a deck the way I usually think about it, and instead encourages you to look specifically for the things you need to complete your quests.
Fantastiqa is pretty fun, both for adults and kids. The simplified rules take out some of more difficult aspects of the gameplay (the Peaceful Dragons, for instance) and let you focus more on subduing creatures and collecting things toward the Quests. Although the publisher’s recommendation was 8 and up, I played with my 6-year-old as well and she picked up on it pretty easily. Another of my gamer friends was skeptical at first when I started setting it up and explaining the storyline, but it grew on him and by the end he really enjoyed it.
I think because it’s more fairy-tale than the typical Tolkien-inspired fantasy you find in a lot of board games, a lot of gamers might not give this one a closer look. I’ve always been impressed with the way Seegert surprises me with his mechanics, though, and Fantastiqa can be a rewarding experience for those who venture into its realm.
Fantastiqa will be available in early December, so you may be able to put in a pre-order at your local game store. Kickstarter backers should be receiving their copies very soon. For more information you can visit the Fantastiqa website.
Wired: A different take on deck-building; whimsical fairy-tale theme is backed up with beautiful paintings.
Tired: The icons and rainbow-colored borders are a bit ugly. Super-sturdy components don’t come cheap.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of this game.