I thought about doing this entire review with words that begin with the letter F. Unfortunately, alliteration is not my strong suit. So, I’ll let Friedemann Friese do it for me.
It was fabulous! Fearlessly, you found the 3 fetishes in the Finnish fjord. With light-footed and foxy feints you ferry the fetishes to prince Fieso in France to free the fascinating faerie Fabula. But Fieso is not fond of foreigners, what a fiasco! You land freezing and foolishly find yourself trapped in a frightful fortress with sinister corridors. Now you must flee Fiesos trap. Furunkulus, the monster, is a frightening freak, especially fond of foolish foreigners. He will feed on you if he is able. So you want to fool Furunkulus and flee to freedom.
Fearsome Floors is a 2003 game from designer Friedemann Friese, published in the US by Rio Grande. I believe the game is currently out of print, but it is playable online at yucata.de. The game is for 2-7 players, and takes around an hour to play. The basic idea of the game is that you are trying to get four (with 2-4 players) or three (with 5-7 players) tokens through a labyrinth without being caught by the monster Furunkulus. Furunkulus is kind of stupid, but very ravenous.
The game comes with a board, 17 floor tiles (double-sided), 8 monster movement tiles, a starting player tile, 25 player discs with stickers, and a monster building kit. That’s right – you get to build Furunkulus yourself, so he can be different every single time. The initial set up of the board involves placing the floor tiles according to a preset map, or players can take turns placing various elements (blood pools, stones, teleporters, crystals, and turning points). Furunkulus is placed at the exit, and all players begin outside the entrance.
On your turn, you move on of your 3-4 pieces. The distance you can move is shown on the face up side of each token. You can only move orthogonally. You can’t land on another piece, and you can’t move through Furunkulus or teleporters or stones (though you can push stones if nothing is on the other side). If you step on a blood pool, you slide all the way across it in a straight line. Once you have completed your move (you don’t have to move as many spaces as are possible), flip your token over to its other side. This will reveal a new number (the two numbers always add up to seven) and a new shading on the sticker (to help you know which pieces have already moved).
Once all players have moved all of their pieces (only two in the first round), Furunkulus moves. Flip over the top movement token to see how many steps he takes. This can be anywhere from 5-10 steps, or until he eats one token, or until he eats two tokens. Furunkulus always moves the same way. He takes a step, then looks left and right. If he sees someone in one of those directions, he turns and starts moving towards that token. If tokens are equidistant away, he becomes confused and continues in his current direction. He can’t look through stones, but can see through crystals and teleporters. He follows the same movement rules as the tokens with some exceptions. He can always push stones, even if there is something on the other side. If he steps on a teleporter, he moves to the other teleporter that matches it. If he walks off the edge of the map, he appears at the matching spot on the other side (all spaces are marked with a letter). If he lands on a token, that token is eaten. If it’s the first time through the movement tokens, that token just goes back to the start. If it’s the second time through, the token is eaten and removed from the game.
As soon as one player has moved all but one of his tokens out of the fortress, he wins.
COMPONENTS: For the most part, I give the components a thumbs up. The board is mostly a rectangular grid of squares with two of the corners shaved off. In between each square is a column – this prevents people from saying “Why can’t I move diagonally?” “Because there’s a column in the way.” There is a letter on each wall segment for easy reference when Furunkulus goes off the board – he simply reappears at the identical letter on the other side. There are also bloodstains around the floor, but nothing too gruesome.
The tiles for obstacle are pretty clear, and it’s nice that they are double sided – one side is the basic stone and the other is one of the more advanced options. I like that there are several different styles you can use for Furunkulus with several heads, torsos, arms, and legs. They all fit together well. The movement tiles are gravestones, and it’s pretty clear what they are – those with a number mean the monster travels that many steps, and those with a cross (of crosses) mean that the monster travels until he gets a certain number of hits.
My only component complaint is a minor one, and it’s with the player discs. The discs themselves are fine, made of wood and in different colors. It’s the stickers. I hate stickers. And I hate having to do them myself. Maybe it’s just me. Overall, the components are good.
THEME: Fearsome Floors is all about running away from a monster. If you think about most monster movies, there’s usually the point in the movie where someone is running away and the pursuit is just relentless. The monster doesn’t stop, or slow, or change his pace at all. He’s just coming, and you can’t get away. He knows all the shortcuts, and you don’t. Often, your only hope is that he gets distracted by someone else. It stinks to be them, but at least you’re safe(r). I think this game does a marvelous job of simulating that. Furunkulus may be dumber than a bag of hammers, but he’s not going to stop, and sometimes that’s even more scary. I always appreciate psychological suspense over the cheap tricks to make you jump out of your seat. This game doesn’t rely on surprises or gore to get across the tension – it’s just that relentless chase that makes this one of my favorite games in the horror genre.
MECHANICS: Fearsome Floors is actually a very simple game, mechanically. It’s a race to the exit, and players are not rolling dice or drawing cards to move – they just move a certain number of spaces. You always know exactly how far a piece will be able to move, and you always know what the next move will be. This means there’s a lot of forward planning in the game.
My favorite thing in the game is the artificial intelligence Friedemann Friese created for Furunkulus. It’s very strict, so you know exactly how the monster will move. And yet, he always seems to surprise people, even those who are familiar with the game. It’s brilliant, and it’s the central mechanism that keeps the game from getting stale.
STRATEGY LEVEL: There’s is practically no luck at all in Fearsome Floors. The only bit of randomness in the game is the movement tiles for Furunkulus. Other than that, it’s all strategy, trying to position your pieces in safe spots, or how to send Furunkulus at your opponents without endangering yourself. That little bit of randomness serves to amp up the tension (I’ll be all right as long as he doesn’t draw the two hit tile…aaaaaand he did).
One of the most subtle strategic points in the game is turn order. As the game is turn-based, players will be moving one piece at a time with other players in between. This means that you may want to hold off on moving some of your more vulnerable pieces to see what others are doing before committing. Of course, if they do the same, you’re just going to have to roll with it.
ACCESSIBILITY: This game is very simple to learn. The strategy may take a while, but anyone can figure out how to move a piece, and then figure out how Furunkulus moves. The art is not terribly graphic – the worst thing is the pools of blood, which do have some little chunks of bone and guts in them. Most of the art, however, is very silly – Furunkulus isn’t really that scary to look at – so I’d say this game could be used with a wide range of people, young and old, experienced and inexperienced alike.
REPLAYABILITY: When a game has very little luck, people will often say that it is solvable and not very replayable. That doesn’t apply in this case. With the variable board set-up, as well as the alternate movement tiles for the monster, this game will hardly ever feel the same. I highly doubt there is one prevailing strategy – just run for the exit. Very replayable.
SCALABILITY: You can play with up to seven players, and I tend to think the more the merrier. Two is not as fun, and seven can get very chaotic. 4 or 5 is probably the best, but I’d play this with any number.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? YES. Fearsome Floors is my favorite Friedemann Friese game by far. (Hey, I can do alliteration when I want to!) I hope this game gets another reprint because I still don’t have it in my collection. It’s an annual tradition to play this at our game group’s Halloween get-together, but it’s a great game to play any time. Do check it out on yucata.de if you’ve never played, and hopefully we’ll see it again in the future.
Thanks for reading!