Full disclosure: A preview copy of Fickle was provided by BARD Games. 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.
To celebrate hitting a million words on my site last week, I’ve teamed up with KOSMOS to give away some games from the EXIT series! Check out the giveaway for more details.
More Kickstarters, this week! I’m excited to see what’s coming down the pipeline from Ninja Star, and I hear next week we’ve got the new Button Shy and a new game from the designers of Assembly. Lots to do! Lots going on. Right now, we have Fickle to talk about, a game from a local designer (always exciting). Let’s dive right into that and see what’s up.
In Fickle, you are forming a fairy alliance! It’s fairly difficult, as you might imagine, because the fairies are so … capricious? Mercurial? One of those words. Even the fairy families you’re considering inviting to your alliance can change game-to-game; it’s a lot. Will you be able to unite these fairies under your wise leadership? Or will these friendly fairies frustrate you?
Not a ton, here, which I appreciate. You can turn the board to the learning side or the Moon Crown side:
The Moon Crown doesn’t explain the rounds. Useful for experienced players. If you’re using the learning side, you can also use these tokens to track the phases:
Pick five sets of fairy families to use in this game:
They’re modular, so, there are some recommended sets, but kinda knock yourself out. Go wild. I like Pariah a lot, but it keeps the scores pretty low. Shuffle the round tokens and place five face-down on the board:
Shuffle the 45 cards you chose and deal each player three.
Of those three, each player keeps two and places the other face-down in a discard pile. Reveal the ones you kept; those will form your starting alliance. Flip the first round token and you’re ready to start!
Gameplay’s not too bad! The game takes place over five rounds, each with their own phases.
To start a round, flip the topmost unflipped Round Token face-up. That tells you what direction cards are passed this round. Flip the Start Player token to match it. Also, if any cards have Delayed Effects (there don’t seem to be any in my version, though; stretch goals?), they’ll resolve now.
Now, the lineup begins, and this is half the crux of the game. Every player draws three cards, and stacks them in any order they’d like (after looking at them, of course). Pass the stack of three cards in the direction indicated by the round token. Your left or right opponent will get your stack.
When you receive a stack, you may Keep or Dismiss (Discard) one card at a time. You cannot look at all the cards; you flip the top one, and keep it or throw it away, face-down. If you keep a card, discard the other cards you didn’t look at yet face-down. Sorry, you don’t get to know. This can happen simultaneously and asynchronously, so players shouldn’t have to wait much.
Once every player has a fairy that they’ve kept, reveal and resolve. When you resolve, start with the highest-value fairy (typically 5) and go down to 1 (or -5, Pariah). If there are ties, resolve them via the player who has the Start Player token and go in the direction of the round. The kicker, here, is that certain cards can take or pass cards, and the card you played is eligible for that. Once a card has been used, it becomes inactive and gets added to your alliance (typically turn the card sideways until the end of the round). If it hasn’t been used, however, and someone steals it, they get to use the card when its number comes up. Rough.
After the last player resolves their card, give them the Start Player token. If it’s the fifth round, move on to scoring; otherwise, play continues with the next round!
Scoring is a bit interesting, so let’s dig into that a bit more. At the end of the game, you’ll have a tableau (your alliance) of fairies. Depending on how many cards you have of each family, they score points:
- 1 Card: Score that card’s value as points (if you have one 5 Coerce, you score 5 points).
- 2 Cards: Score 0 points. Rough.
- 3 / 4 Cards: The highest-value card of that family scores negative points (if you have 1 / 3 / 3 Coerce, you lose 3 points). Try to avoid this one.
- 5+ Cards: Sum the values of the fairies of this family. Take those as points, discard the rest. Effectively you’re shooting the moon. Good luck with that.
Count scores and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
At higher player counts there’s a bit less control and it becomes almost a bit more party-game-esque. One benefit is that there are more fairies in more alliances, so cards that can target other players will help you (and you may want to use them to target players you can’t influence). One drawback is, yeah, you have influence over two players regardless of the player count (so you can’t influence one or two people at higher player counts), and it’s decently likely those players will all team up against you, so, be careful. The nice thing is that the playtime doesn’t really increase that much (most play is simultaneous; not all), so it can scale pretty easily. You just need to pick the right modules for higher player counts, I think. To that end, I don’t really have a strong player count preference.
- Go wide, not deep. There’s a natural limit to this (in that you can only have five different families (usually / at most), but going wide means that you have the best chance of finishing the game with a few singleton families. Just be careful because going wide also means that any player can zero out your most valuable card (or worse) if they feel like it. And that’s going to happen a bunch. Like, it’s gonna happen a lot.
- If you can’t go wide, try to avoid getting 3 or 4 of something. That will torpedo your score in a game, especially since it always scores the most valuable fairy as negative points. Even if you manage to only get 1s and 2s, someone’s going to give you a 5 as a graceful charity at some point during the game. People can sense that kind of vulnerability.
- Giving your bad cards away can be really handy. Note the above example, but it can also be useful for clearing the way for a Share, negating an opponent’s high-scoring fairy, or for clearing your fairies if one set was going to score 0 (or negative). It’s a really handy move, if you can get the right cards for it. You can’t, always, though.
- Don’t forget that combos can happen. Taking an opponent’s card that hasn’t activated yet and then using the action is a totally legitimate strategy move. It won’t make you a lot of friends, but, that’s strategy for you, sometimes. Not the friendliest. It’s particularly useful because you can try to play to combos so that you can clear out multiple bad cards or defend against an unexpected play (taking someone’s low card so that you don’t have to pass a card you don’t want to via a Share you didn’t see coming).
- Try to get a read on how your adjacent players process the cards you give them. This is, I think, the most important part of the game. Players are going to be suspicious of anything you hand them; that’s good! But if you’re too predictable, they’ll start metagaming at you. Do you put the best card for them on the bottom of the stack? Do you put it on the top and hope they think there’s better stuff to come? It’s a tough thing to balance, but this is the core feature of the game, so feel free to come up with something wild.
- Table talk is encouraged. This is where the mind games start. Occasionally I’ll apologize to a player saying “all of these cards were just, so good” or something. Sometimes I’ll just shuffle the stack and then pass it to them saying “the best card is on the bottom you’re welcome” and see what happens. It’s all the things I like about Cake Duel, but with group-scale play.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Yeah, the art is really good. I’m not going to lie, fairies aren’t really my personal aesthetic (and that’s fine), but the art is really well done, here. If you’re into them at all you’re going to straight-up love these cards. Amy Brown‘s been doing this for a while, also, so that’s also rad.
- I was pleasantly surprised by this game. Not gonna lie, I’m a bit skeptical of Kickstarter games (in general), especially ones that have any take-that. But this game is fast, so the take-that isn’t that bad! You just end up shaking your fist at another player and cursing them until the end of your days. You know, normal board game stuff.
- Like I said, plays very quickly. We played a game with four new players in 23 minutes, I think? That’s ridiculously quick for pretty much any five-player game. It’s very pleasant.
- I always love modular games. It sounds like there may be more modules coming, as well, which would be exciting. It gives the game a lot of good opportunities to adapt to players’ playstyles and it keeps it fresh. I haven’t gotten bored with the core set yet and there are still another like, 10 modules in this preview copy. It’s definitely an interesting design challenge, as well, and I think the game succeeds on the risk it takes.
- The teaching side of the board is really helpful! It’s always nice to see games putting in scaffolding to help new players. If you don’t like it, just use the Moon Crown side.
- Since you’re not super focused on the game all the time, it’s a great game to chat over. There’s a lot of table talk anyways, so players are getting used to chatting about stuff. It’s a good warm-up game for a game day, and it very easily seats five, which is also great.
- I wouldn’t say it’s super easy to control your fate. There are a lot of games where, at the end of it, I can say “oh I should have done X or Y to win”. This isn’t always the case for this one. The thing about a fast-paced pretty short game is that sometimes you just get hosed. It doesn’t mean the game isn’t fun (far from it); it’s just often more about the journey than the specific destination, I think.
- It can be a bit annoying if someone steals your turn. You just don’t get to do anything, which is a bit of a bummer. It’s not the worst thing, though; maybe you didn’t want to play that card, so, it’s actually helpful? Mutual benefit is a real thing in this game.
- Be careful making your own sets. I think all the families are useful, but I haven’t experimented enough to see if there are combos that don’t really work. That’s sort of the ongoing problem with modular games. In Dominion, for instance, there are definitely Kingdoms you can create where several of the cards never get bought because an obviously optimal strategy exists.
- Lots of potential to gang up on players. For a game called Fickle, that’s not terribly surprising, but you might get dumped on by other players. Thankfully, they can’t just all give you cards, otherwise you’ll shoot the moon and score a ton of points. Instead, they may keep you between 2 and 4 cards for the whole game if everyone decides to be a jerk to you. That’s not good strategy, but it can happen in games that have take-that as one of their primary mechanisms. If it’s happening too much, switch up the modules.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, yeah, I was really pleasantly surprised by Fickle! When I first played it, I was like “oh, this is pleasantly novel”, but digging more into the different modules, well, there’s quite a neat little game, here! I’m always a big fan of modular games, so that helps. I love the subterfuge element of getting to choose the order of the cards your opponent gets to see and then the suspicion that follows; it’s a blast! I definitely yelled “oh no, you goofed me” at a player because they buried the worst card on the bottom and I skipped the second card, which was decently good, so I got … well, I got goofed. Add in some nice art and you’d have a pretty good game, but any game that can be played this fast is automatically going to get some points from me; I love fast games. It’s also super easy to teach, making it a really interesting modular filler, sort of similar to what Trickster does for trick-taking games, this does for light set collection (I mean, it’s almost a spin on Sushi Go Party! with more take-that and an I-cut-you-choose element in lieu of drafting, if you wanted to be particularly reductive about it). Anyways, I definitely underestimated Fickle and was surprised; I really enjoyed playing it, so hopefully if you give it a shot, you will too?