How has it taken me this long to do a list of Stefan Feld games ranked? He’s one of my favourite board game designers, with more than 30 releases to his name, so there are plenty to choose from. In fact, I haven’t done any designer profiles before. So expect this to be the start of a semi-regular feature.
For those newer to the hobby, Stefan Feld is best known for his euro games. These are a step up in complexity from family games, but still take 1-2 hours to play. And usually involve less luck and more brain power. Feld is particularly known for ‘point salad’ games. These are games that have loads of different ways to score points. So the skill is more in planning efficiently and making the best of what you have available, rather than in direct interaction.
His top games share a few other traits. They usually have a good mix of tactics and strategy. But while they’re euro games, you can normally guarantee at least one significant luck factor to keep players on their toes. But most importantly, there’s always a clever twist on a mechanism that keeps players coming back for more.
* Links on game titles below go to my full reviews.
Stefan Feld games ranked: From 10-6
10. Forum Trajanum (2-4 players, 1-2 hours, 2018)
I’ve only just started playing this one. But I expect it would’ve been close to making the Top 5 if I’d played more. The actual rules are very light, but the few decisions you need to make each round are packed with significance. It feels like you’re balancing several puzzles at once. I’m really looking forward to exploring it more. You can check it out online at Yucata.
9. Rialto (2-5*, 1 hour, 2013)
There’s no point salad in evidence here. Rialto blends basic card play with simple area majorities scoring. But I really enjoy the interaction and forward planning. Unfortunately it is a little bland to look at. And, despite my enthusiasm, I couldn’t get any of my regular groups interested. They’re not really into area control games. But then either am I, and I liked it a lot. So sadly, due to space, off in a trade it went – but I do recommend it.
8. The Speicherstadt (2-5*, 1 hour, 2010)
A little like Rialto, this has an ingenious auction/worker placement system that turns into a highly interactive puzzle. And it always feels as if it plays more diversely than its simple mechanisms should allow. It’s also free on Yucata if you want to give it a try. I should also mention it was rereleased quite recently as Jorvik, which I haven’t played – but which seems to be be poorly regarded. So you’re probably better off checking out the original.
7. In the Year of the Dragon (2-5*, 1-2 hours, 2007)
This might be Feld’s best design, but it’s a little down on my list because it isn’t my favourite style of game. It’s a battle of attrition that rewards forward planning, because it feels as if the game itself has it in for you – let alone the other players. Yet the mechanisms are so simple. Draft actions, play actions, score points – or not. Available online at Board Game Arena.
6. The Castles of Burgundy (2-4, 1-2 hours, 2011)
Considered by many to be Feld’s finest hour, I like Burgundy and play regularly live and online (again, on Yucata). It’s so far down my list because it plays a little long. You use dice to draft tiles, then add them them to your board to score points and take various bonus actions. It’s a lot of fun, but I always feel I’m done with it 20 minutes before it ends. But then I never turn down a game, so it’s doing plenty right.
The Top 5
5. Trajan (2-4, 1-2 hours, 2011)
Those who don’t think Burgundy is Feld’s best game often instead cite Trajan. The large variety in scoring methods is vintage Feld. But it may have his trickiest action selection mechanism – a personal mandala with different coloured stones. To play well, the mandala needs constant forward planning. Which will either delight or befuddle. Personally I enjoy the challenge. But the game lacks a little cohesion for me, meaning I’ve never quite elevated it to classic status. So while I’m always happy to play, I’ve never sought to own it.
4. Macao (2-4, 1-2 hours, 2009)
Macao was the first Feld I owned and played, picking it up at Christmas 2010. It’s the game of his I’ve played most times (physically at least) and is still in my collection today. It has the usual wide array of point-scoring opportunities. But the luck element can really screw you – which is why it is a little lower on the list than it might’ve been. You need to get cubes in certain combinations (via dice rolls) in particular rounds to do well. But there are less ways to mitigate this than you find in his more recent games, which can be frustrating.
3. Notre Dame (2-5, 1 hour, 2007)
Notre Dame is also closing in on 10 years in my collection. It combines his point salad approach with a little more player interaction via a tight card drafting mechanism. But also has a ‘feed your people’ style mechanism (in the form of a plague you must battle off each round) which rubs some people up the wrong way. Personally, I love it. Yes, it feels as if you’re constantly battling the game as well a your opponents. But this makes every decision seem even more tight and meaningful.
2. Bora Bora (2-4, 1-2 hours, 2013)
This is probably Feld’s highest rated (7.6, just behind Burgundy and Trajan) versus little talked about games. It’s surprisingly colourful and for me looks great on the table. While displaying all his best design traits within a tight and thinky system. You want to do everything, but simply have to let a few scoring opportunities go. It’s as heavy as Trajan, but the interconnections between mechanisms here make more sense to me. And the main mechanism is a little more forgiving, while also being more interactive.
1. Oracle of Delphi (2-4, 1-2 hours, 2016)
So, what happens if you take those Feld traits of point salad and action selection – but remove the points themselves and replace them with a straight race to complete a number of tasks? Delphi happens. For me he got everything right here, except the luck element (which can be a bit swingy). But that’s not enough to keep it from my number 1 spot. Again, it’s colourful and looks great. Interaction comes from competition for items, as some will be in better locations than others. But which to go for first? While upgrades you collect help differentiate your style of play. Overall, an absolute delight. And available free on Yucata.
Stefan Feld games ranked: ‘Not for me’ and near misses
Luna was probably my number 11. It’s a solid euro but just didn’t do it for me over repeated plays. Aquasphere and Bonfire are also pretty good, but for me overly complex without any extra payoff. They’re a pain to teach and lack the simple joy of his more approachable titles. I just think there are other designers that do meatier games better.
Bruges is the one game in his Board Game Geek Top 5 (as ranked by board gamers) that missed my list completely. I quite enjoyed it, and owned it for a while. But it was just too luck based (in the card draw) for its length to be consistently fun. I’m looking forward to trying the rebranded version, Hamburg (out in 2021), which I hope fixes the problems.
Amerigo would’ve probably made the Top 10, but unfortunately I’ve only played it once. I’ve also had my first game of Carpe Diem (again on Yucata), which I very much enjoyed – but again only have one play under my belt of so far. If I do this list again in a few years, it may sneak its way into the Top 10.
I also recently had a chance to try Castles of Tuscany – an actual reworking of Castles of Burgundy. While OK, it’s very fiddly – which really doesn’t work on Tabletopia. So I’m reserving judgement until I can play in real life (remember that?).
* NOTE: Rialto, The Speicherstadt and In the Year of the Dragon are sold as being for 2-5 players, but I wouldn’t play them with just two. For me, they really need the added interaction of at least a third player to be at their best. And I say that as someone who commonly likes games with two that others don’t.