Updated: Sep 9, 2020
When we opened up Andrew Zimdahl's Feudal Endeavor, our first thought was of Dan Hallagan's Obsession (Kayenta), an excellent game that we featured on Board's Eye View back in 2018. Like Obsession, this game involves taking tiles that represent buildings and placing them out to form part of your estate. Whereas Obsession had an ostensibly Victorian setting, Feudal Endeavor is set around a century earlier: in Catherine the Great's Russia rather than Victorian England.
The similarities between the two games end with the estate-building theme. The core mechanic in Feudal Endeavor involves 2-6 players bidding in a series of blind auctions. Each round will have a number of land deeds displayed (there will usually be eight, but the starting number will depend on the number of players). Each deed shows the 'currency' that can be used to bid for it (coins, serfs, horses and knights: with serfs also being worth 2 coins, horses worth 3 and knights worth 5). Behind a screen, players place the coins or cubes (shaped wooden pieces in the planned deluxe version) on their individual boards and, for each deed, the highest qualifying bid wins. When you win a land deed, you place the tile out on your tableau where it will cover up either a reward icon (in which you case you immediately collect the reward) or negative end-game victory points ('Prestige'). There's an element of set collection and, often, the tiles' relative positioning will be important because certain tiles score points according to the tiles to which they are adjacent.
Each round, there will also be two special ability tiles available to bid on. Some of these offer additional end-game scoring possibilities, some offer a 'take that' option (stealing a land deed or a victory point from another player) but, probably most important, some offer the option to reposition tiles you've previously laid. Judicious use of this special ability can give a huge boost to a player in optimising their layout. There's strategy too in gauging the best time to trigger the game end: ideally before a rival has the chance to optimise their tableau.
Players get an income of 6 coins each round, so this is not a game where resources are scarce. You'll probably find that players will often chance their arm and try at least a minimum qualifying bid for everything if they can, on the off-chance that they might happen to be the only person bidding for a land deed. Turn order is important in this game because there will often be ties and these are resolved in favour of the player highest on the turn order track. The designer gets around the danger of this unbalancing the game by adding a proviso that every time you win a bid you go to the bottom of the track: so the track itself is quite fluid.
In addition to the land deeds, players can fulfil the Empress' Bidding – her commands not her auction bid :-) – if they meet the requirements of one of the Empress' Bidding cards on the display. This will usually require a set pattern of land deed tiles in your tableau (for example, a red tile placed north of a blue tile) and the payment of specified resources. The payoff is immediately earned victory points and, in most cases, an additional bonus. In practice, we found players tended to focus much more on winning land deeds than claiming Empress Bidding cards because the prerequisites of the latter were often quite fiddly and the cards seemed to be a relatively expensive way of buying victory points. Also, if in any round you don't claim an Empress' Bidding card, you can instead contribute a brick towards the Empress' palace renovation. At the end of the game, victory points are awarded to the players who have contributed the most bricks.
Even with the full complement of six players, Feudal Endeavor moves along at a decent place and, as the game ends when any player fills their tableau (12 tile spaces - and players all start with two of these already filled), this game is never going to outstay its welcome. The iconography is clear, so you won't be fumbling for the rule book to find out what each card does. As we're English, the spelling of Endeavor grates with us, tho' we gather that the mistaken pluralisation of Empress has been corrected where the intention is to denote possession. We'd have preferred a less generically medieval game title that better captured the Catherine the Great theme. That's just us tho'. Our one design gripe was that player boards in our preview prototype were inconsistent in their treatment of the covered squares: resources are taken when you cover them but negative victory points apply unless covered. We felt from our plays that it might have been preferable to have positive victory points on your tableau so that, like the resources, they could be taken at the point when they are covered.
It's a preview prototype of Feudal Endeavor that's shown here on Board's Eye View. The game is published by I Will Never Grow Up, with art by Alyssa Fernandez and Jared Sanford and is on Kickstarter now. Click here to check it out and back the game.