Designer Spotlight: Stefan Feld


I always used to be lukewarm on Stefan Feld’s games.  However, the more I play them, the more I like them.  Why would I keep playing his games if I wasn’t that keen?  My friend Steve is a huge fan; I think Stefan Feld is his favourite designer.  He just kept making me play them!

It’s not that I thought any of his games were bad; I always recognised that they were well-designed.  They just… lacked theme, I guess.  Theme really matters to me.  Even Steve would agree that his games lack theme.  He just doesn’t care!

So what changed my mind?  Why do I find myself enjoying his games more and more?  Let’s take a look at Stefan Feld.

Stefan FeldName: Stefan Feld

Age: 47

Nationality: German

Year of first published game: 2000

Highest ranked game on BGG: The Castles of Burgundy

Known for:

In the Year of the Dragon (2007)

Notre Dame (2007)

Macao (2009)

Luna (2010)

The Speicherstadt (2010)

The Castles of Burgundy (2011)

Trajan (2011)

Bora Bora (2013)

Bruges (2013)

Amerigo (2013)

La Isla (2014)

AquaSphere (2014)

The Oracle of Delphi (2016)

Selected Awards:

2007 Spiel des Jahres “Recommended” (Notre Dame)

2011 Spiel des Jahres “Recommended” (The Castles of Burgundy)

2013 Games Magazine Game of the Year (Trajan)

Stefan Feld’s games are Euros, through and through.  I always joke with Steve about the themes being pasted on – they certainly feel like an afterthought.  However, I do think Stefan Feld is getting better at incorporating theme into his games.  I hope that trend continues.

His games often tend to be ‘point salads’: you can do lots of different things to get points and specialising in one thing isn’t usually a good strategy.  You need to do consistently well across the range of options presented.

One of the key mechanisms that Stefan Feld employs is using dice in interesting and unusual ways, and that’s certainly evident in the three games that I’ve selected for today.

The Castles of BurgundyThe Castles of Burgundy

Players: 2 – 4

Time: 60 – 90 mins

Many people consider The Castles of Burgundy to be his best game.  It’s certainly his highest ranked game on BGG.  I honestly have no idea what the game is about as everything about it is bland.

Why is it so popular then?  The mechanisms really draw you in.  Each turn you roll two dice and have to decide how to use them.  It honestly doesn’t matter if you roll high or low: the numbers on the dice represent places where they can be used.

Typically, you’re using dice to acquire tiles from a market in the middle and then using other dice to place those tiles on an abstracted map on your player board.

You’re trying to fill up blocks of different colours on your board to obtain victory points, but you can only place a tile on a spot if you use a dice showing the right number.  This makes it much harder than it sounds to place the tiles where you want to.

There are ways to mitigate bad dice rolls, but much of the interest in the game hinges on clever use of bonus actions.  Each time you place a tile, you get a bonus action (depending on the colour of the tile).

These may allow you to obtain tiles, place tiles, provide income (which can be used to buy special tiles) or they may affect turn order.  The winner is usually the player who is able to combo these bonus actions the most effectively.

It really is so dry, but it still manages to retain your interest throughout – that’s how strong the game is.  I don’t think it’s his best game personally (see below), but it feels like a classic and it’s one that I’m happy to play again and again.

Bora BoraBora Bora

Players: 2 – 4

Time: 90 – 120 mins

Bora Bora is one of the hardest games to explain to new players because there’s just so much going on.  It’s a heavy Euro in which you are attempting to expand your primitive tribe across the islands of Bora Bora and obtain points in lots of different ways.

Thematically, it feels stronger than many of his other games.  The connection between theme and mechanisms is rather weak, but all of the actions you can take make sense in the context.  Plus I just like the theme and the artwork is attractive.

Once again you’re using dice to take actions, but this time high numbers allow you get much more value from the actions.  For example, if you use a 2 to obtain a man (who will grant extra actions), you get to pick one from 2 possibilities, but if you use a 6, you get to choose from 6 possibilities!

High dice are a two-edged sword though: you can only use actions if the die you’re placing is lower than the other dice that have been used for that action.  If anyone beats you to an action, you won’t be able to use your 6 there.  A 1 might give a weak action, but it blocks everyone else from using that action, which might be worth it.  The action-selection mechanism is ingenious.

There are objective tiles that give you a focus; there’s an area control element as you build settlements around the islands; there are two distinct forms of currency (seashells and tattoos) that allow you to score points and affect turn order; you can construct buildings for bonus actions; there are god cards that allow you break the dice placement rules; there’s just so much!

And all these elements interlink really well.  It’s one of those games where you play it and have no idea what’s going on, but by the end you finally understand how it all fits together and you want to play it again!  It’s great!

The Oracle of DelphiThe Oracle of Delphi

Players: 2 – 4

Time: 70 – 100 mins

Rather astonishingly, The Oracle of Delphi isn’t a point salad.  You’re racing in a ship around the Greek islands trying to complete the Twelve Tasks of Zeus before anyone else.

Some of the tasks involve exploring certain spaces, some involve killing mythological monsters and quite a few of them are essentially pick-up-and-deliver missions.

It’s a modular board, which adds lots of variability to the setup, but you can see where almost everything is right at the start of the game.  So you can immediately start planning the most efficient route around the islands to complete your tasks.

The way you move and take actions (like picking up or delivering items) is by using… (yep, you guessed it)… dice.  Everything in this game is coloured and you have to use a matching coloured die result to take the appropriate action.

Yes, the dice have coloured symbols on, rather than numbers.  If you want to pick up a pink statue you need to use a pink die result; if you want to deliver a yellow offering, you need to use a yellow one; if you want to fight a black monster, you need a black one.  Even the ocean spaces are coloured!  If you want to move onto a green ocean space, you need to use a green die result.

Like several of his other games, there are ways to manipulate the dice if you haven’t rolled exactly what you need, but much of the skill in the game comes from being able to adapt your strategy and route around the islands to the dice results that you roll each time.

There are special ability cards, god powers, bonus actions and the potential to combo several actions together for one stupendous turn.  It combines so many elements into a really attractive package.

I like the theme: you really feel like you’re racing around trying to complete these tasks before anyone else to obtain the favour of Zeus.  Like any Stefan Feld game, it really benefits from replay.

Usually pick-up-and-deliver games don’t involve much strategy, but the way you have to use the dice to accomplish everything removes much of the randomness from it.  An experienced player will easily beat a newbie, even with the worst luck.

I have a great time every time I play it – it’s definitely my favourite Stefan Feld game.  I highly recommend it if you like any of his other games.  I’m surprised it hasn’t ranked higher on BGG, but I think it’s because people don’t realise how much strategy is involved when they first play it.  It’s deceptive.  Deceptively good!

In my opinion, Stefan Feld’s games just keep getting better and better.  He has been refining his use of clever mechanisms over the years while gradually incorporating more theme into his games.

I love his use of dice.  I love the variety of options available on each turn.  I love all the bonus actions and the ability to combo them for super-powered turns.  His games just keep bringing me back.

Which is your favourite Stefan Feld game?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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