Full disclosure: A preview copy of Fantastic Factories was provided by the Fantastic Factories team. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
I’m told it’s good to stretch the ol’ Kickstarter pre-review muscle every now and then, so I’m back on the horse for another round with Fantastic Factories, coming to Kickstarter this week. I’ve reviewed, uh, maybe 10+ games coming to Kickstarter this year? Dang. It’s been a busy year for Kickstarter. Anyways.
Fantastic Factories pits you, a potential Titan of Industry, against other enterprising entrepreneurs attempting to build wondrous factory complexes where stuff goes in, stuff comes out, and you can’t explain that. Rather than deal with the nitty-gritty details of the factory’s internal processes (a process remarkably already covered in another alliterative factory game, Factory Funner), you focus more on the complexities of the … complex. Will your factory be fabulous or fantastic? Or will it be a frivolous failure?
There’s a decent amount to unpack for setup, so let’s get started. Give each player a player board:
And let them choose some color of dice:
The clearish translucent dice get set aside; they’re used for another thing, later:
Now, shuffle the Contractor cards:
Place four of them in a row in the center of the table, and put these tokens above each one (not the First Player token, of course):
Below the Contractors, shuffle the Factory blueprint cards and add one, making another row of four:
There are four types of tokens; set them all in the center. There’s single-good tokens:
Give each player 2 Energy and 1 Metal, along with 4 Blueprint cards to form their starting hand. You should be all ready to start!
So, setup is pretty similar, but you use four of the translucent grey dice instead of any of the colorful dice. Sad.
You are playing against the Factory Fiend, a factory-building AI that seeks to either enslave the human race or increase productivity by 50% YOY and it’s hard to tell which it is. Anyways.
You set the game up the same as normal for you, and then construct The Machine’s starting compound by flipping cards up randomly into their area:
- Easy: Add 2 cards to The Machine’s compound.
- Medium: Add 3 cards to The Machine’s compound.
- Hard: Add 4 cards to The Machine’s compound.
- Very Hard: Add 5 cards to The Machine’s compound. Good luck.
If you flip any Prestige cards (gray-bannered cards called Monument cards in the final version), remove them and keep dealing until it has the correct number of non-Prestige cards.
So, Fantastic Factories is played over a series of rounds, starting with a Market Phase and then a Work Phase. I’ll go through each in turn.
During the Market Phase, each player in turn order will be able to either:
- Take one Blueprint card from the center row. You might want to take cards with symbols that match symbols in your hand, but that’s a preemptive strategy tip. Refill the spot in the row immediately from the Blueprint deck.
- Hire one Contractor. You must discard a card from your hand with a symbol matching the symbol above the Contractor (yes, that’s what those are for) in order to hire them. Use their effect, and then discard them and immediately refill the spot in the row.
If you hate the rows, you may refresh (discard all cards in that row and draw new ones) either row (but not both) by spending 1 Energy or 1 Metal.
Once every player has completed the Market Phase, the Work Phase begins.
During the Work Phase, play proceeds simultaneously. It doesn’t super matter for like, card-drawing reasons, since you can’t take anything in the rows. That said, it’s recommended (and I agree) that if you’re playing for the first time or playing with new players, having your experienced players play through their Work Phase first as a sort of demonstration is really helpful to explain how the game works. You may want to do this for a few rounds.
Either way, all players start by rolling their Worker Dice. Then, you may do any of the following actions, depending on your dice values, in any order you wish:
- Build cards (no dice required): You may build any cards from your hand, provided you can pay their resource cost and, unless otherwise stated, you do not already have a copy of that building. You might think, “the resource cost is just Energy and Metal; no big deal”. Well, it is a big deal, because you also must discard a card of the same symbol type from your hand to build it! Remember how I told you earlier to take cards with matching symbol types? It’s all coming back around, now. Here we are. Add it to the space near your Player Board. Most Buildings have a Prestige Value in the top-right corner, which is how many end-game points the completed building is worth in your factory. You may also Activate Buildings you’ve constructed this round (more on that in a bit). If you’ve ever constructed 10 Buildings, you have triggered the end of the game. More on that later, too.
- Use your Player Board. Your Player Board has three actions on it, each corresponding to a different type of die. For any Player Board action, however, you get a bonus if you use two dice of the same value for that action or a larger bonus if you use three dice of the same value. Note that you don’t need to use them all at the same time; you’ll gain the bonus after you add the second or third die. I’ll explain for each action, as we go through them.
- Research (any die value allowed): You may draw a new card from the deck. If you use two of the same value die, draw an extra card (3 total), and if you use three of the same value die, draw two extra cards (5 total).
- Mine (4 / 5 / 6 only): Take 1 Metal from the supply. If you use two of the same value die, take an extra Metal (3 total), and if you use three of the same value die, take two extra Metal (5 total).
- Generate (1 / 2 / 3 only): Take X Energy from the supply (where X is the value of the die). If you use two of the same value die, take an extra Energy (2X + 1 total), and if you use three of the same value die, take two extra Energy (3X + 2 total). That’s a lot of Energy, if you roll 3 3’s. Just saying.
- Activate Buildings (depends). Some buildings can be activated to trigger an effect of some kind. Some buildings require dice to activate, usually pairs or sets of dice according to the indicators on their cards, and you can place the dice on the buildings to indicate that you’ve activated them. Other buildings require Energy or Metal as an expense, and some even will eat some of your delicious Blueprint cards in order to perform their functions. Unless otherwise stated, you may only activate any building once per turn. The buildings give you a variety of boons, from drawing cards to gaining Metal or Energy or extra dice, to producing Goods. Goods are the mysterious output of your Factories (End Product, for you Factory Funner Fans out there) that you export on to Parts Unknown. Each Good is worth a point at the end of the game. Some Factories will even give you two Goods per activation (represented by a 2 Good token), which is … too good? I don’t think I can make that joke land. It’s usually helpful to leave the Goods on the Factory card that produced them so that other players can get a sense of how many Goods you’ve produced and how quickly, because once any player has produced 12 Goods (not in a turn, total), the end of the game is triggered.
Once every player has completed this task, the round ends. Every player must check:
- No player may have more than 10 Blueprint cards in hand.
- No player may have more than 12 Energy and Metal, combined.
Any extras of any of those must be discarded to the center. Play continues back again with the Start Player.
End of Game
Once a player has constructed 10 Buildings or produced 12 Goods, the Final Round is triggered. Perform one more Market Phase and one more Work Phase, and then the game ends. Scores are tallied by summing the Prestige Value of Buildings (in the top-right corner) and the number of Goods a player has (2 Goods count as 2 points). The player with the most points wins!
Alright, so, just like the Solo Setup, the game plays about the same, but with a special exception for The Machine. You should keep the Machine’s compound grouped by color, for everyone’s sake. After you finish the Market Phase and the Work Phase, the Machine takes its turn.
Roll a Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Purple die. The values on those determine what the Machine does next, starting with the Green die.
Green: The Machine’s Action
The number on the Green die determines what the Machine does:
- Take the first blueprint from the left in the Market and add it to the Machine’s compound.
- Take the second blueprint from the left in the Market and add it to the Machine’s compound.
- Take the third blueprint from the left in the Market and add it to the Machine’s compound.
- Take the fourth blueprint from the left in the Market and add it to the Machine’s compound.
- Reveal the top card of the Blueprint Deck and add it to the Machine’s compound. Also, discard the entire Blueprint Row.
- Reveal the top card of the Blueprint Deck and add it to the Machine’s compound. Also, discard the entire Contractor Row.
After doing the Machine’s action, refill the Marketplace as needed.
Now, look at the other dice; each corresponds to a card type: red (red Training cards), yellow (brown Utility cards [these will be yellow in the final version]), blue (blue Production cards), or purple (purple Special cards). If the value rolled is less than or equal to the number of cards of that type in the Machine’s compound, then the Machine manufactures a good for that type. As you might guess if you’re keeping score at home, as the Machine’s compound grows, they become more likely to manufacture goods on their turn (and if they have 6 or more cards of one type, they are guaranteed to manufacture goods on their turn).
Solo Game End
While you can trigger the end of the game normally (either via cards in your compound or goods), the Machine can only trigger the end of the game by producing 12 goods. When that happens via either player’s actions, play one more round, as usual, and then score.
Scoring for the player remains unchanged (prestige from buildings + number of goods produced), but the Machine scores their goods, then one point for each Building they have (regardless of Prestige value), and then one additional point for each Prestige / Monument Building they have. Tough.
If you earned more points than the Machine, you win!
Player Count Differences
Honestly, there’s not a ton of difference at different player counts, as surprisingly the simultaneous play part of the game scales quite nicely to higher player counts. The solo game is pretty challenging, I will admit (not unsatisfyingly so; just pretty challenging). It’s not a huge increase in time for 5 players beyond a slightly longer Market Phase (and you might have to shuffle the Blueprint deck during the game), but that’s not a big problem. Anywhere from 1 – 5 is solid for Fantastic Factories, which is … honestly pretty great. It’s nice that it covers its player counts so well.
- Combos! You should be figuring out ways to generate combos as quickly as possible. Maybe you gain a lot of Blueprint cards and then use the Trash Compactor to get rid of the useless ones! Maybe you’re lucky on rolls and you can use the Concrete Plant to manufacture goods for cheap? Maybe you’re just going nuclear and the Nuclear Plant is your only true friend. However it works, you’ve gotta get combos if you want to win.
- Have good sources for resources. Relying on lucky rolls on the Player Board is only going to take you so far in life, unless you’re really leaning into those repeated die value bonuses. If you are and it’s working for you, more power to you, my friend. If not, well, certain cards are godsends for getting more resources of the thing that’s eluding you, like the Motherlode for Metal or the Power Plant. You do not want to be strapped for any resource type for any lengthy period of time if you’re looking to win the game.
- Don’t fear the Contractors. Sure, they’re a bit pricey, but they might just be exactly what you need to pull off a big turn, especially if you’re not doing well with resource generation.
- Also, don’t be afraid to refresh the row. Better to get a fresh look at cards than to just take a bad card that does absolutely nothing to help you or advance your strategy.
- Sometimes it’s worth just building Prestige / Monument cards. They’re worth some points, and that helps.
- Researching isn’t a bad idea. Sure, you might not get to do much on this turn, but you’ll have 3 extra cards (5 if you’re lucky) and that might be what you need to use a Contractor or get a really good card later on.
- Honestly, I love the Nuclear Plant. If you’re able to roll a 6 each round it’s just … gold. That said, dice are random, so your mileage may vary on its utility. If only there were Training cards specifically designed to help you fudge the numbers on the dice…
- Know when to build certain cards. If you’ve shifted from a Building strategy to a Production strategy (as you might when the combo engine starts to work), it might not be worth building a special card that gives you a rebate when you build! Either invest that into your burgeoning engine or build a Building that gives you some Prestige.
- Keep track of the game’s state. You can’t really affect anyone, being honest, but you should know how close people are to ending the game, lest you try to build out another engine that never sees fruition because you’re two rounds away from the end of the game.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I hope you love combos as much as I do. God, I love combo games and this game is a worker placement engine-builder game that’s low interaction and all combos! It’s super delightful to play and try out new card combinations to see if you can build a more efficient engine than your previous play. Since it’s randomized and you get different cards at different times, it’s got a lot of variety and neat paths to victory that aren’t obvious on your first play. I’d recommend trying a new strategy every time.
- The art is wonderful and fun. It’s a bright, upbeat game about factories. Honestly, it has a pretty similar sort of playfulness as Factory Funner. It kind of makes sense that they should be played together, given that. Some of the same types of buildings even have unique art between them, which absolutely sings; it makes similar compounds still seem different and interesting. That’s absolutely great for immersion and I really appreciate it, especially since that’s typically an expensive thing to have done.
- The simultaneous play bit works. I was super skeptical, but it really does prevent the game from taking a long time with more players and you don’t lose anything in particular. I think it’s a really good insight and bit of clever game design to be able to recognize that doing that part of the game serially just slows the game down without adding value.
- It’s an engine builder without all the stress! Nobody can really break your engine, which is excellent! You can tinker away and optimize all you’d like without having to worry about take-that polluting your pristine engine. That’s something I really appreciate.
- The press-your-luck element of the High Roller card is a lot of fun. I managed to roll 5 in a row before my Risk Aversion kicked in hard and I took what I got. A lot of the Contractors are fun, but, the High Roller has the exact level of “this is a bad idea; let’s go for it” that I love in a board game.
- Puzzley, in a satisfying way. Trying to figure out how you can make a combo work from the dice you have and the cards in your hand is interesting and a bit thinky in a good way. I don’t ever feel like there’s an overwhelming amount of information, either, usually because you’re limited to only a few dice, maximum. If you had like, 6 – 8+ dice each turn (in a Roll for the Galaxy way), I could see this game being a bit much to think through.
- The symbology isn’t too confusing, which I appreciate. Everything makes a fair bit of sense — I think having standard dice helps a lot with that, rather than customized dice or something. That would be a nice stretch goal, sure, but it would add a lot of symbol overhead for new players to try and learn, which would make the game a bit more difficult.
- There seem to be a lot of scaffolds to help new players learn the game. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the rules trying to make the game clear for new players and encouraging certain playstyles and actions to make the game flow easily for new players. I find that in a lot of writing (technical writing and game rulebooks, too) that the person doing the writing makes the (often fallacious) assumption that the reader knows what they know, so they’re writing it for themselves. That doesn’t really … work. Here, they not only assume no prior knowledge, but they include tips for teaching the game and helping new players out, which is really nice.
- Another game that could benefit from a playmat. There are a lot of cards and you’re pretty frequently placing things onto cards and moving cards around and having a playmat would probably make that all a lot easier to process. Just something I’d like to see.
- Generally speaking, the Contractors don’t see a lot of use in games I play. I think people feel like there’s a huge opportunity cost to playing them since you not only lose a Blueprint but you also pass up on an opportunity to gain one. Blueprints are often a resource that people don’t have much of in the game, so I can see why people don’t engage with this part of it, but it is disappointing. Hopefully my experience isn’t the norm, so, adding this as a Meh.
- Given how important the icons are to the game, they’re pretty small on the cards. Hopefully they’re planning to fix that up before the Kickstarter launches, but it’s worth noting in case that doesn’t happen.
- The lack of interaction is going to disappoint some people. It doesn’t concern me, but I know there are people who really enjoy highly interactive games, whereas this is kind of a puzzler. The more interactive factory game is still Factory Funner, sure, but word on the street is that the team is looking into ways to add in player interaction in a way that stays true to the core of the game (originally, there was an Attack Pack, but that’s been cut since it didn’t quite match the feeling of the game itself).
- New players are going to have to read a lot of cards. The main issue with this is that all the cards are fairly unique (not too many duplicates), which is cool and awesome, but increases the overhead for new players learning the game for the first time significantly. Allow for a bit of time in your first game or two for players to read the cards and be ready to explain their functionality. Once you get how the cards mesh together, you’ll be good, but it definitely takes a game for new players to get there, usually.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, Fantastic Factories is, well, uh, … fantastic! It’s one of a proud history of Kickstarter previews that I am reluctant to give up (along with Mars Open: Tabletop Golf, which I miss every day), which is some of the highest praise I can give it. I think part of it is that the core is really solid — it manages to get the best parts of engine building and worker placement and mix them together into a satisfying product, while still offering places to extend the game further with expansions, which I really like. There will be some people that overlook this one because it’s dice and placing dice and rolling the dice and building cards based off the dice rolls, sure, but I’d caution you to look a bit closer than that before you write it off — there really is a neat game, here. Many paths to victory, a lot of replay value from trying to build a new engine each time, and a solo game that’s … surprisingly difficult are all great things to see from a new Kickstarter, and I was pretty impressed by it. Add in some really delightful art and you’ve got yourself a game that I’m crossing my fingers for, hoping that it’s as successful as I think it should be after getting a chance to play it a few times. Anyways, if you’re interested in engine building, or you can’t get enough worker placement, or you just like rolling dice sometimes and building factories, I’d highly recommend giving Fantastic Factories a shot!