The Eleven: Friedemann Friese

Time for a designer retrospective, and with St. Patrick’s Day coming up, who better to look at than the King of Green himself…

image by BGG user cnidius
image by BGG user cnidius

Friedemann Friese is a German designer that has been publishing games since 1992.  Over the years, he has made a reputation as being a very clever designer who is not afraid to take risks in the games he makes.  Some turn out better than others, but he’s always an interesting guy to watch.  His games tend to have several hallmarks – most of his titles begin with the letter F, there is copious amounts of green in the artwork, and his themes tend to border on the absurd.  He’s designed a bunch of games over the years, but today, we’re just going to look at eleven of them.  Usually on The Eleven, I try to pick games that I’ve played, but today’s list is a mix of games that I have played and games that I think are significant enough in Friese’s career to mention.

image by BGG user Gambiteer
image by BGG user Gambiteer

Landlord (1992) is one of Friese’s first published games, originally published by ABACUSSPIELE.  The original German title, Wucherer, more accurately translates to Profiteer, but the English edition by Rio Grande changed it to Landlord.  It’s a game about trying to become the richest through manipulation of your tenants.  Through card play, you will be building or renovating buildings, placing tenants in apartments, or taking actions such as collecting rent or buying cards.  The player with the most rent in the end is the winner.

Landlord itself is not the most popular of Friese’s games, but it is his first.  The game was republished in 2013 under the title Friese’s Landlord to fit more in line with his tendency towards the letter F.  That game has a higher ranking, but still sits outside of the top 2000 games at BGG.  Better games were on the horizon.

image by BGG user Ogma
image by BGG user Ogma

Fresh Fish (1997) is a game about being a fish trader.  In the game, you’re trying to build market stalls as close as possible to matching delivery trucks.  There’s an auction to try to acquire the best and cheapest market stalls, and try to build the shortest routes for delivery. In the end, the player with the lowest total points (number of path spaces to the trucks minus the money you have left) is the winner.

This is another game that got a new edition, published in 2014.  Fresh Fish is regarded as one of Friese’s first classics, with a quirky theme, a focus on economics, and lots of good decision making opportunities.  I have not played it myself, but it does sound intriguing (minus the auctions).

image by BGG user Werbaer
image by BGG user Werbaer

Funkenschlag (2001) is the game that really put Friese on the map, so to speak.  In the game, you are drawing routes across a map to connect cities via power plants.  In each round, you will first auction off the available power plants, then buy resources.  Each player will then be able to build power plants in various cities, paying a connection cost and drawing the connection on the board.  You then decide how many cities to power, discarding the appropriate resources to power your plants and collecting income.  After a player has connected 20 cities, the player who can power the most cities is the winner.

If this all sounds familiar, you probably are thinking of Funkenschlag’s more famous second edition, called

image by BGG user aarontu
image by BGG user aarontu

Power Grid (2004) took Funkenschlag and removed the crayon rail element, cut down the number of cities needed, and changed the payout table.  It was considerably more streamlined, and became Friedemann Friese’s highest ranking game.  When I first got into the hobby, it was #2 at BGG.  It’s now slipped to #14, but still, a very well regarded game.  I think it’s a lot of fun, and it’s even one where I don’t mind the auctions.

image by BGG user ddkk
image by BGG user ddkk

Fearsome Floors (2003) is a low-luck, kind of abstract game where players are controlling discs that are trying to escape being eaten by a monster called Furunkulus.  On your turn, you will simply move one of your discs up to a number of spaces indicated by the number on the disc, then flip it over.  Once all discs have been flipped, the monster moves using a simple AI…he moves towards the closest piece he can.  If he can’t see anything, he just goes straight until he sees someone.  Players are trying to escape the monster, as well as to try to manipulate him into going after the others.  The first player to safely get all but one of his pieces out is the winner.

This is my favorite Friedemann Friese game.  The only luck in the game is the monster’s movement, which is determined randomly from a set of seven tiles.  The monster AI is really simple to understand, yet he can still surprise you with what he does based on what other players did to thwart your plans.  It’s a great game, and one I highly recommend.

image by BGG user mmarshallmd
image by BGG user mmarshallmd

Funny Friends (2005) came out about 10 years before the life trend we’re seeing now in games like The Pursuit of Happiness and CV.  In Funny Friends, you start out as a teenager, and make choices that will affect how your life takes shape.  You can get addicted to drugs, take Bible classes, get fat, or even find yourself a lover.  You are trying to accomplish goals in your life, and you have to work out how to get from Point A to Point Z.

Funny Friends is a light game, almost a party game, and one that is definitely for a more mature crowd (the age range on the box is for 16+).  It’s not one that I’ve had any desire to play because of the subject matter, but people seem to have fun with it.

image by BGG user binraix
image by BGG user binraix

Fiji (2006) is a game about trading beads in order to win shrunken heads.  In each of four rounds, a set of condition cards are laid out, then players offer a combination of 1-4 beads to try to best meet those conditions.  This occurs three times.  If, in the end, you are closest to an arrangement that is also set out at the beginning of the round, you win shrunken heads.  After four rounds, the player with the most shrunken heads wins, and the rest stay to become part of the collection.

This is one of the oddest themes I’ve seen.  The game itself is not very good, being a pure blind-bidding game.  It’s not that engaging.  But the shrunken heads are really cool, and it’s fun to look through them to see what crazy celebrities are there, including Gene Simmons, Ringo Starr, Bert and Ernie, Bart Simpson, and even Friedemann Friese himself.

image by BGG user FoxMindGames
image by BGG user FoxMindGames

Fauna (2008) is an educational game by Friedemann Friese that was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres in 2009.  Each round, an animal card is revealed and players may bid on where they think it lives, how long they think it is, how much they think it weighs, and how long its tail is.  If you are correct, or are close, you’ll score.  When a player gets 80-120 points, they win.

This is a game that definitely skews towards a younger audience than most of Friese’s games, but still seems like a good game that adults can enjoy too.  It appears to me that someone with a good head for animal facts or with a good memory can do really well in this game – I have someone I work with that would probably destroy anyone else who ever plays this.  The game was reimplemented as Terra from Bezier Games in 2014, and an America version later this year (also from Bezier Games).

image by BGG user Henning
image by BGG user Henning

Famiglia (2010) is a small, two-player card game about building a gang.  Each player starts with the same four zero-value cards (one per color), and must recruit gang members by either taking another zero-value, or trading in two cards with the same value for one of value one higher.  There are four factions – red cards are worth more points, blue cards can be used to return cards to your hand, yellow cards can be used to decrease the value of cards in the recruiting row, and green cards can be used as wilds.  After the second time through the deck, the player who has accumulated the most points worth of gang members is the winner.

This game takes a few tries to get your head around, but once you get it, you find that it’s really quite simple.  There are a number of strategies to pursue, and while you can get hampered by the luck of the draw, the faction powers can mitigate that.  This is a very good two-player game.

image by BGG user Henning
image by BGG user Henning

Friday (2011) was the second game in Friese’s so-called Freitag project, a series of four games that he only worked on on Fridays.  This is a solo card game where you are the companion of Robinson Crusoe, trying to keep him alive long enough to repel the pirates attacking the island.  It’s a deckbuilding game where you must fight hazards to gain them into your deck, all the while trying to cull bad and useless cards from the game.  If you can defeat two pirates after three rounds of fighting (with increasing difficulty), you win.  If you run out of life before this, you lose.

Friday is one of the best pure solo games out there.  In 2015, I played 52 games, one on every Friday (well, almost – I had to make up a couple on Saturdays).  It remained fresh and exciting every time, and still very challenging.  I ended up winning less than half of my games.  Another big recommendation from me.

image by BGG user friedemann
image by BGG user friedemann

Copycat (2012) was the third game in Friese’s Freitag project.  The game was billed as a mashup between a number of popular Eurogames (specifically Agricola, Dominion, and Through the Ages with a dash of Puerto Rico thrown in).  You are a politician trying to acquire enough influence and money to become President.  You do this by placing your workers (Agricola), and drafting cards (Through the Ages) into your action deck (Dominion), with untaken cards gaining some extra influence as incentive for the next round (Puerto Rico).  In the end, the player with the most points wins.

I have played this, and was pretty underwhelmed.  It was OK, and certainly very clever, but it was a little too much Agricola for me, which is a game I don’t really enjoy.  I’ve heard other people that don’t like Dominion say it was not enough like Agricola, so your tastes may vary.

Wait a second, you might say.  I thought a Friedemann Friese game had to begin with the letter F!  Well, yes, but remember that he’s German – the original title was Fremde Federn.

image by BGG user Henning
image by BGG user Henning

504 (2015) is Friedemann Friese’s latest experiment.  He designed nine modules, each with three parts.  These three parts can be combined 504 different ways, making the potential to play 504 different games.  The modules are Pick-Up-And-Deliver, Race, Privileges, Military, Exploration, Roads, Majorities, Production, and Shares.

Using the same components and a different ruleset every time, 504 has a lot of variety packed right in the box.  However, from what I hear, the result is 504 kind of mediocre games.  But it’s definitely an innovative concept, and I think that’s what really defines Friedemann Friese as a designer – he’s someone that’s willing to take risks for the sake of finding out what might happen.  He can be kind of hit or miss with his designs, but they’re always worth talking about.

That will do it for this month’s edition of The Eleven.  If people like this career retrospective, I may do more in the future – I have my eye on Vlaada, Feld, and Rosenberg as possible future subjects.  Thanks for reading!

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