Fief: Chocolate and Raspberries Edition
The vanilla edition of Fief: France 1429 already contained about 76 things to keep track of at once, so it’s only natural that it should already have five expansions to round that number out to an even hundred. All including the biggest of these expansions arrive in a small package, but even the smallest wants to add a whole mess of extra things to one of the busiest games I’ve played in recent memory.
Since adding the expansions presents almost as much difficulty as learning the base game itself, let’s talk about all five, what they do, and whether they exacerbate or alleviate Fief’s madness.
This one’s the no-brainer. Where Fief’s combat was positively straightforward compared to its wealth of possibilities when it came to diplomacy and the grooming of your noble house, Tactics is the expansion that emphasizes the nitty-gritty of war. It does this by making four minor additions, each of which so successfully rounds out combat that it’s almost impossible to go back after mixing it in.
The first pair of mix-ins are new flavors of troops. Where the base game handed you Men-at-Arms and Knights, with the occasional Trebuchet during sieges, Tactics gives you Archers and Bombards. Archers pull the obvious trick of dealing damage before the actual battle commences, though they’re severely limited in number and don’t come cheap, and each Bombard lets you reroll a die in combat. Which might be lame in any other game, but in Fief, a rerolled die is solid gold.
The other two additions aren’t quite as essential. First up is the powerful Royal Guard, protecting the King and Queen and giving them a little extra punch — a nice perk for the highest-value targets in the realm, where before they were as vulnerable as any cut-rate noble. The second, mercenaries, can cause some interesting swings as players occasionally bid on their services and may deploy them to virtually any battle.
Verdict: Tactics is one of the most straightforward expansions, and adds a whole lot of good military options. And it’s so simple, I’d even say you could add this one before your first play.
The other straightforward expansion is Politics, but I’m a bit more torn on this one.
In short, it adds two things: attendants, which are basically game-opening perks for each player, and noble attributes, which make your previously generic lords more distinct.
The attendants aren’t much to consider, giving you one more thing to remember in a game that often gives you way too many things to remember. However, the real problem is that some are really powerful, like the Toll Collector getting extra income for every bridge you control, while others just stink. I’m looking at you, Minstrel. This flute-tooting punk gives you one extra vote when electing the king, but only if the king’s family had a lady noble for him to seduce. That’s going to come in handy maybe twice, while the Toll Collector’s ability is the gift that keeps on giving.
Noble attributes, the second addition, are definitely the better module, though they increase Fief’s often-overwhelming randomness by leaps and bounds. Every time you draw a noble, you draw one of these cards to go with it, and while you might end up with Barry The Storm (move through bad weather!) or The Persuasive (steal an enemy troop before each battle!), you might also wind up with a stinker like Darcy The Bastard (may never marry!) or The Unlucky (cannot play positive event cards!).
Verdict: Whether these modules appeal will probably depend on how you feel about Fief’s more random elements. I tend to like the expansions that give me more options, while this one accomplishes nearly the opposite. Apply sparingly.
TEMPLARS and TEUTONIC KNIGHTS
Both of these expansions add military orders to Fief, and I’m a big fan of their inclusion if only because they add some pretty important decisions to the game — especially if you play with both. See, any given Templar and Teutonic Knight aren’t likely to get along. They’re more likely to skewer the other on sight, probably based on their difference of fashion sense (red cross or white cross; where do you stand?). Your family therefore has to choose between one or the other.
That might not sound like the toughest decision. After all, both sides sport names beginning with the same letters, wear sweaty armor, and offer a victory point to anyone who can get themselves elected Grand Master of their order. However, both sides offer massive abilities for those willing to sacrifice a lord’s potential advancement for a life of celibacy and battle. Templar commanderies provide new sources of income — and untithable sources at that — and immunity to the plague. The Teutonic Knights, on the other hand, require some investment, but the troops they provide are some of the toughest in the game, and their beefed-up strongholds can’t be bypassed by secret passageways or uprisings.
It’s a tough call, especially considering the drawbacks, like how the Templars might get exterminated by a greedy King in order to steal their hard-earned cash, or how lords of either order lose their eligibility for most offices. But having a military order on your side can be exactly the bump your family needs to rule France.
Verdict: This is great stuff and offers some highly interesting decisions, though it adds two more sets of rules with all of Fief’s trademark exceptions and corner cases. Consider adding these once you have a handle on the ins and outs of all the game’s titles, offices, and elections.
Fief’s largest expansion, the Crusades adds a sideboard representing the overseas Crusader States, an entire belligerent army under an anachronistic Saladin, and a whole slew of ways to earn victory points.
Merely including this expansion means the victory requirements are bumped up by a point, though that gives you a pretty compelling reason to send an enormous army to the Holy Land in pursuit of glory and wealth. And to protect pilgrims, of course, of course. Surviving a Crusade isn’t a guarantee, and may well conclude with a lord in Saladin’s prisons and a veritable Horns of Hattin’s worth of casualties. Opportunistic neighbors might also take the absence of your lords and troops as an invitation to invade your holdings. Still, the Holy Land is brimming with unclaimed titles, and I’ve yet to see anyone win with this expansion in play without taking advantage of those offerings.
Verdict: This one is a bit more divisive. It’s big and complicated, distracts from the action and negotiations of the main board, and the invasion and Saladin’s counterattack are somewhat clumsily handled. Perhaps my love of the Crusades period colors my opinion, but I dig this expansion anyway, especially because sending people overseas during tense moments at home represents such a tough decision.
Meta-Verdict: In all honesty, the expansions help me enjoy Fief’s madcap randomness. With everything mixed in (other than Politics), there are so many options available to players at practically every juncture that it’s much rarer to find yourself cornered by a flubbed election or single crushing defeat. Didn’t win that election to become bishop? Dedicate your lord to the Teutonic Knights and go on a vengeance march. Upset that the local cardinal keeps tithing your mills? Join the Templars and build commanderies instead. Sick of being marginalized by larger houses? Throw everything you’ve got into a Crusade and win the game from your palace overseas. More than in the vanilla game, these options turn Fief into the 15th Century sandbox we always knew it could be.