Mobsters are setting up in Capitol City—monitor their activities with undercover agents, and set up a bust when the time is right.
What Is The Feds?
The Feds is for 2 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 30 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $24 for a copy of the game. Dr. Finn’s Games releases 4 small games a year, and this is one of its 2022 titles; you can pledge $90 for all 4 games. The game involves some bidding and bluffing, so I think kids younger than 14 could learn it, though the strategy can be a little tricky. The theme may not be for everyone—I’ll address this more later in the review.
The Feds was designed by Stephen Finn and published by Dr. Finn’s Games, with illustrations by Rocio Ogñenovich and graphic design by Sebastián Kozine.
New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer.
The Feds Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. Kickstarter backers will also get a promo pack with some special agent cards that have additional abilities.
Here’s what comes in the game:
- 4 Location boards
- Police board
- 4 Player Ability boards
- 40 Agent cards (4 per player color)
- 16 Ability markers (4 per player color)
- 2 Cloth bags
- 20 Criminal meeples (4 each in 5 colors)
- 36 Crates (12 each in 3 colors)
- Bust cube
- Police car meeple
- 32 Mob cards
I’m not entirely sold on a game where I’m playing as the feds, but I’ll address that more in the verdict section below. For now, I’ll take a look at the components and how the game works.
One of my favorite things about the components are the agent cards. There are 10 cards in each color (with values from 1 to 5), and each one has a unique character portrait. Often in a game like this, everyone would have the same set of characters in different colors, so my 5 would be the same as your 5, so I was really impressed that this included 50 different people. I really like the drawing style, which looks a bit like something from a comic book or an animated series, and the cast is quite diverse: ethnicities, gender, and even age. Some of the portraits also appear on the player ability boards.
The meeples are little shady characters, with the wide-brimmed hats and turned-up collars, though their colors aren’t as suited for subterfuge: bright pink, lime green, and so on. The crates are medium-sized wooden cubes, a bit larger than the ones you often find in games.
The mob cards show the four different locations on the backs, and the fronts have various combinations of crates and criminals. The location illustrations, also seen on the location boards and the police board, are also nicely done, giving a hint of the various locations where the mobsters are meeting up and storing their contraband.
The player boards are dual-layered, with cut-outs to track the four abilities using the extra-large wooden cubes.
The other boards are fairly simple: the police board has a number of spaces around the outer edge, with some information about busts in the center, and the location boards have some space to place meeples and cubes on the right side, and a space for a card on the left side.
The game components barely fit into the prototype box, though I’m not sure if the finished game will come in a larger box. Most of Dr. Finn’s titles come in boxes about the size of a thick hardcover book, though the exact size varies a little from game to game. This one may need one of the slightly larger ones just to make things easier to pack.
One odd thing about the prototype rules is that the setup instructions aren’t in the rulebook, but on a separate folded card—it has the setup (with illustration) on one side, and then a game summary and game end information on the back. It can make for a handy reference card, but it did seem strange to me that the setup is only on the card (unlike the other information, which is present in the rulebook but is summarized on the card).
How to Play The Feds
The goal of the game is to score the most points by collecting criminals and crates, as well as having the fastest car.
Depending on the number of players, there are some changes to setup—for instance, you’ll omit the club, using the other side of the police board and removing any club cards from the mob deck, and you’ll use fewer criminals and crates.
Set out the police board with the location boards to the right. Put the police car on the restaurant location, and the bust cube on the first space of the bust track in the center of the board.
Put the criminals in the red bag and the crates in the black bag. Draw and place 1 criminal and 3 crates in each location. Shuffle the mob cards and place them black-side-up.
Give each player an ability board, placing the four ability markers on the far left of each track. Also give each player the agent cards in their colors (removing some depending on player count).
After choosing a starting player, in reverse turn order each player places an agent card face-down on a different location.
On your turn, you must flip a mob card, deploy an agent, and move the police car. Then you check to see if a bust happens.
First, flipping the mob card reveals a location (and a new mob action). Draw the indicated components from the bags and place them in the location. (Some cards place nothing).
Then, you add one of your agent cards to the surveillance area (on the board) of any location. If there’s already a card there, no matter who it belongs to, you flip it face-up and add it to the right of the location.
Then you move the police car clockwise at least one space, up to your maximum speed. Your maximum speed is shown on your player board; you start at 2 but you can increase it up to 6. If you end the car on a training space (the spaces showing 2 abilities), then you get to advance the cubes on both of those abilities.
If you end the car on a location, then you’ve set up a sting operation and you may confiscate some crates from that location. You get 1 crate for each of these criteria that you fulfill:
- You have at least 1 field agent (face-up card) at the location
- You have least 1 undercover agent (face-down card, not in the surveillance section) at the location
- You have the greatest strength (total of face-up cards) than everyone else, and there’s at least 1 opponent card in the field at that location
At the end of the turn, you check if there’s a bust: if there are enough agents at a single location (not counting the surveillance spot on the board) to meet the current bust requirement, then a bust happens. Here’s how it works:
- Reveal the undercover agents at the location.
- Add up every player’s strength, with cards further left winning ties.
- The strongest player takes 1 crate.
- Then, starting with the strongest player, each player takes 1 item (criminal or crate), repeating until all the items are gone.
- The lowest numbered agent from each player is retired—remove them and place them face-up nearby.
- Refill the location.
- Slide the bust cube down one space.
During your turn, if you’ve reached the end of an ability track for the first three abilities, you may trigger its effect and move the cube back to the start of the track. (The Speed ability just affects how far you may move the police car and is never reset.)
- Infiltrate: Move any agent from the surveillance area to the field at that location, keeping it face-down.
- Transfer: Move any right-most agent from any location to a new location, keeping its facing.
- Switch: Swap any two right-most agents from two locations, keeping their facings.
After the third bust, there’s a final phase. That location is not replenished and will not be busted again. If there’s a surveillance agent there, the owner gets to move it into the field at any of the other locations as an undercover agent. Then, all other surveillance agents are moved into their respective fields.
Now, in turn order, each player plays a card face-down into any of the available locations. Players do not move the police car and may not trigger abilities. Continue until all cards have been played.
Starting from the top location and moving down, trigger a special bust at each remaining location. The strongest player takes a crate, and then each player from strongest to weakest takes 1 item only. (You do not repeat until the location is empty.) Any remaining items are returned to the bags.
For criminals and crates, you score for sets of different colors: for 1/2/3/4/5 different colors of criminals, you get 1/3/6/10/15 points. For crates, you score 5 points for each set of 3, and then 1 point each for any remaining crates. You may score multiple sets of each.
Finally, the player(s) with the highest speed scores 1 point.
The highest score wins, with ties going to the player with most criminals, and then highest speed.
Why You Should Play The Feds
There are some cool things going on with this game, which is sort of a bidding game and can include a bit of bluffing, but before I talk about that, I feel like I have to touch on the theme. The game is about federal agents setting up surveillance and busting the bad guys—the rulebook refers to “organized crime” so it seems to be about mobsters, but the meeples are referred to as “criminals.” It’s never entirely clear what this syndicate is up to, nor what’s in the crates, but you’re trying to arrest as many criminals and confiscate as many crates as you can. The game was originally published in 2013 as Gunrunners (where you play special operatives disrupting an arms dealer) and The Feds is a retheming with some tweaks to the rules.
The thing is, it feels like a strange time to make a game where the feds are the heroes. No matter where you find yourself on the political spectrum, I’m pretty sure there are things the government has done in the past couple years that you’re not happy with, including how and where they spend their resources or who they consider criminals. In the game, after each big bust when the feds arrest a bunch of criminals and confiscate a bunch of goods, several agents retire—hmmm, that seems a bit suspicious, doesn’t it? And why is it that having a fast car is a goal?
Mostly I bring this up in case you’re planning to play this with your kids. In general, I’ve just gotten a bit more skeptical about the way that cops are portrayed in media for kids, because they’re almost always depicted as purely good—generally anything that would imply the existence of corrupt cops is only for older audiences, because that can be a tough conversation to have. But this past year has been filled with tough conversations, and I know not everyone will be keen on putting themselves in the role of police or federal agents. The Feds leaves some things up to your own interpretation since there aren’t a lot of specific details, but since the players are the feds, it leans toward making them the heroes (or at least the protagonists).
Okay, so what’s the game itself like?
Players are essentially bidding on the various locations, while random criminals and crates show up every turn. Crates are easier to come by (and more of the mob cards have crates than criminals), but criminals are worth a lot more points if you can get them in different colors. That means the different locations usually won’t be equally valuable. If a lot of items show up at a particular location, it will be more hotly contested, which triggers a bust sooner. But the more players are competing at a location, the less stuff each individual player collects. Since the player with the highest strength gets to take two things right at the start, you really want to win that competition if you can. On the other hand, if you’re not winning in strength, just getting in the door is better than being cut out altogether.
The surveillance spot is kind of a one-card delay on bidding, which also throws another wrinkle into things. If you want to get your agent into a location for a bust, playing your card at that location simply moves the existing surveillance agent out into the field, and you’re stuck in surveillance yourself—which means you may have just helped one of your opponents increase their strength. Do you play another card there on your next turn to get yourself into the field, or do you hope that somebody else will bump you? With the various abilities that move cards around between locations, it’s possible that you’re still working surveillance when somebody triggers a bust without you. Getting into a location early is a huge advantage, but it’s a gamble because you don’t know what criminals or crates will be there by the time the bust happens.
The “sting” operations, when you land the police car on the location, are a handy way to snag a few crates ahead of a bust, but it takes some setting up if you want to max out your take. This is one reason that working on increasing your abilities is important: increasing the car’s speed ups your chances of being able to reach your desired location, but you’ll need to use Infiltrate to get an undercover agent in place. What’s tough is that every time you do a sting, you’re giving up an opportunity to increase your abilities.
And those abilities are great. Infiltrate is the easiest one to charge up, allowing you to move a card into the field face-down, which is where the bluffing comes in. (You can use it on other players, but typically you’d use this on yourself.) Transfer and Switch take more training stops before you can use them, but they’re extremely useful, particularly because you can move anyone’s agents (as long as they’re at the end of the row). A well-timed Transfer can trigger a bust or delay it, and a Switch can create a huge shift in player strengths at a location or make somebody waste a lot of strength at a place they were already winning.
The two-player game has some twists that keep it interesting even with fewer players. If there’s only one player present when a bust occurs, the missing player still takes turns, but any items they collect are discarded from the game. It helps balance things out so nobody can totally clean out a location. It can be a little more of an intense mind game, too, because with only 2 players you can track what your opponent is doing a little more closely.
Given my initial hesitation based on the theme, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed The Feds. It’s a clever game that uses bidding in an interesting way for area control, and I like that there are some tricky decisions to make about where to put the police car each turn, whether to train your abilities or perform a sting to get some crates.
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Dr. Finn’s 2022 Games Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype of this game for review purposes.