Updated: Apr 9
I have quite a large collection of board games (over 2000). Fief (from Academy Games) is still one I keep coming back to it as among the most appealing. As is clear from the game’s sub-title, Fief is set in France in 1429. The board is made up of interconnected villages, each of which falls within both a fief and a bishopric. Players control noble families. They raise taxes on the provinces they control, they build fortifications and mills, they recruit more troops, they battle.
So far this sounds much like thousands of other games.
In this game, however, a player requires just three victory points to win. They immediately gain one victory point for laying claim to and buying a fiefdom (controlling just two or three villages). If they control all of the villages in a bishopric, they can appoint one of their family members as bishop. More likely, they will need to negotiate with and maybe even bribe other players to get an unmarried male family member elected as bishop. Bishops can go on to become cardinals and they can be elected pope, which would give another victory point. It is the bishops who vote on which fief lord should be king; worth another victory point. In this game, by the way, there is just the one pope at any one time - although, historically, the game is actually set during a period when the Church was still emerging from a schismatic split following a separate papacy having been established in Avignon to rival the pope in Rome.
Players keep their units face down when not in combat, so there is some 'fog of war' uncertainty over whether an opponent is going to be defending with men-at-arms or cavalry. Events can also have a devastating effect: plague can strike at any moment, with a 50% chance of killing each noble in the affected region.
With only three points needed to win, victory may look tantalisingly within the grasp of any player, but the third victory point is actually very hard to achieve through conquest and diplomacy alone. Players may therefore seize on the option to ally with each other through marriage. A male noble may marry another player's female noble (there are no same-sex marriages: this is the 15th Century after all). Players allied in this way need four victory points between them to win a shared victory. Being the 15th Century, marriage cannot easily be put aside. There are no quickie divorces available in Fief: a marriage, and therefore an alliance, can only be dissolved through a papal annulment or through the death of a spouse. Players are likely to find assassination easier than annulment. :-)
This perhaps gives at least a flavour of Fief. The edition shown here has been enhanced with plastic buildings and metal coins; pleasingly tactile optional extras that replace some of the cardboard tokens that come with the basic game. You may also spy in the picture the various small expansions that can be added in for further replayability.
Fief is a game that has suffered elsewhere from some lukewarrm reviews. Don’t let them put you off. This is a beautifully produced game with subtleties that make it certainly worthy of a closer look.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)