Speaking of finales, we’ve got one last Oink title for the year. This one came down to the wire; I wasn’t sure I was even going to have this until a couple weeks ago at PAX Unplugged. But I got it. I played it, and now, I’ll review it. I believe that makes somewhere in the neighborhood of 20+ Oink Games titles that I’ve reviewed on this site, so, if you’re looking for a fairly in-depth look at their library, please feel free to check my Oink Games tag. Either way, Fafnir is the last one we’ve got, so let’s dive in and look at this weird chicken game.
Fafnir’s a chicken. And a game about a chicken. But this chicken lays gems. Weird, right? It’s usually eggs. But this time it’s gems. Why? Unclear. Either way, you crave these additional gems, and you know the only way to get them is to try and throw away your old gems and claim the valuable ones. That’s just how things work with this gem-laying chicken. Will you be able to turn your trash into treasure? Or will your failure be egg-ceptional?
Simple, as you’d expect from an Oink. Lay out the main board and the Fafnir tile:
Choose a player to be the first player and have Fafnir point towards them. Give players a player screen:
And then, you should give them gems:
The player with Fafnir pointing towards them gets 11; all other players get 10. Once you’ve done that, place three randomly below the main board in columns corresponding to their colors. Place two more on Fafnir, along with a Point Token:
After you’ve done all that, you’re ready to start!
This one’s not too bad in theory, but there are a few subtle points that can be a bit complicated. So, the game’s played over a series of rounds as players work to earn 40 points. Once a player passes that threshold and the round ends, the player with the most points wins!
So, all play happens simultaneously. Players choose any number of gems from their supply that do not match the gems currently on the tile and keep them in their hand. Once every player is ready, they reveal. The player who bid the most wins the bid. If there’s a tie, it’s broken by the player closest to the left of the player who won the last bid. Turn the tile so it’s pointing towards the winner, and they get the gems and point token on the tile. Place their bid underneath the tile in the center, so that the gems create a column moving downwards. Refill the tile with two more gems from the bag and another point token.
If the gem threshold hasn’t been reached, the round continues! The threshold does depend on your player count:
- 2 players: 6 gems
- 3 players: 7 gems
- 4 players: 8 gems
If that threshold has been reached, the round is over! Remove the gems from the main board and return them to the bag. Now, all players reveal the gems behind their player screens and figure out which gem colors (gold excluded) have the most and second-most represented among all players. The gems of the most common color are worth 3 points, the gems of the second-most common color are worth 2 points, all gold gems are worth 1 point, and all other gems are worth -1 points. So that’s a bummer. Ties for color majority are broken in color order, with red beating every color and blue losing to every color. So remember that part.
Once you’ve tabulated scores, reset the game like in Setup and start again! Play until one player has crossed 40 points; at the end of that round, the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I actually like this one, too, at pretty much all player counts (it’s been a rough week for this particular section of the reviews, let me tell you). At two, it’s a bit more intense, since you have a better ability to do a table read (and warmer colors become more useful, since you know that the best another player can do is tie you in one color). At higher player counts, you’re sort of needing to do more deduction based on bids and who is trying to spend what (what do they think is worthless) and who is actually spending what (so you can know how close the round is to ending). It’s an exciting mix of different things. I think the higher player counts interest me more because that’s more fun to balance, but I do like the two-player gameplay as well. So that would imply I have a slight preference for this at 3 – 4, but only a slight one! I’m really happy to play this one at any count.
- Try to avoid ever having more than 4 of a non-gold gem. Getting stuck with five of something (or more) and having the round end is about the worst possible outcome (beyond having -4 because you really misread a color). Not only do you almost certainly boost everyone else, but you get absolutely nothing to show for it. It’s a truly bad outcome, and it can happen even if you think you’ll be able to get rid of it. Remember, you can’t bid any of the gems on Fafnir, so if they keep coming up, you’ll keep being stuck, which is the worst outcome. To that end, try to avoid taking them in the first place.
- It’s never a bad idea to have the ability to end a round available if you need it. It’s really good to do that when you think an opponent has just taken five of a gem and you can punish them for doing so. It’s a bit mean, but all’s fair in love and gem-laying chickens, I’m pretty sure.
- Winning bids is good, but make sure you’re not just collecting junk. You don’t want to take many of every gem; it’ll just end up costing you a lot of points down the line. As a result, I sometimes bid 0 on a set of gems because I don’t want them (or can’t / should not take them because they’ll push me over 5 in a color). The only exception is gold; taking gold is pretty much always useful.
- That said, some junk is useful to have since it allows you to have more flexible spending options. You will only ever have a maximum of two colors restricted, so if you have some of every color, you’ll always be able to make a bid. It’s not necessarily that crucial to be able to do it regularly, but it can help in a pinch if done right.
- Remember that there are only 12 of each gem. If you’re seeing upwards of five gems of that color in the garbage and you have four of another color, it’s probably not a threat for the majority. It’s still possible your opponents are sandbagging you, but that would have to be a near-coordinated effort.
- Also remember how ties break. If you’re in doubt, prefer to keep warmer colors (red and orange) and dump cooler colors (teal and blue). It’s weird to have to think about, but it also can help prevent surprises, especially at lower player counts, which is good.
- Watch what your opponents are bidding, especially at higher player counts. At higher player counts, you might be able to formulate a new strategy if you see every player bid two teals, or something. We once did that and teamed up on the player that dumped their teals.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- What an interesting blend of genres. I’ve been calling it a dedauction game, since you’re trying to figure out what everyone else is holding and then bid the unwanted trash to both gain useful items and potentially end the round as quickly as possible. Isn’t that cool, though?
- I love the theme, even though it’s kind of a mishmash of just … concepts. I have no idea why the chicken lays gems or why we even care why the chicken lays gems, beyond gems. Classic Oink.
- Plays quickly. Again, classic Oink, but you can likely finish a game in 20 minutes or less, if you’re moving quickly enough.
- You can (and should!) play a sample first round so that players can learn how to play the game, and that doesn’t really require that much additional effort. I like that it’s not necessarily going to be embedded in the game forever and you can just discard the first round with no consequences, kind of. It still has that mild irritation of Oink setting an arbitrary score limit for you to hit to pad the length of their game, but having a score threshold rather than a round threshold feels a bit more authentic.
- Again, very portable. I’ve said this 21 times and I’ve always felt pretty sure that it was a profound mention. I’ve also been wrong about 20 of those times. When all your games are roughly the same size, they’re always portable.
- Lots of nuanced rules about scoring and placement that aren’t immediately reflected on visible stuff is going to lead to a lot of player consternation. Players are going to forget that 5 of a color is too many and it will score 0 but still contribute to majorities. Then they’re going to get upset. Players are also going to forget that gold is exempt from that rule. And they’re going to forget that you cannot bid for gems with the gems that are on the tile. These are all fairly nuanced points that matter quite a bit in the long term and are also all mistakes we made during our first few games.
- The player screens are pretty mediocre. They’re very small and don’t lean terribly well; I think this is the unfortunate consequence of trying to fit them in tiny boxes. It’s pretty easy to see or hear when players are picking up or putting down pieces, so you kind of know when players aren’t bidding any gems if you’re paying enough attention. I try to ignore it during the game but twice as tall screens would help a lot.
- If you lose even one of those tiny pieces, the game becomes basically unplayable without some substitute, which can mess with a lot of things. This is the kind of thing that I would expect to have a replacement parts kit or some extra of each piece included. Either way, keep an eye on those tiny gems; they’re relatively easy to notice, but if one gets away from you the game’s basically ruined, which is a huge bummer.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I really like Fafnir! I worry sometimes that that’s not that interesting of a take, since I like most of the Oink Games titles anyways, but I think this one genuinely brings in some interesting new stuff. Like I said, the blend of auction-deduction you see in this game is interesting, since usually auction games with hidden money are just about determining who is about to run out of money so that you can grift them. This one’s kind of the opposite; you want to know who has what money left so that you can get your grimy claws into it and share in their profits. Preferably, you want to trick them into letting you exploit them, which is even better. It’s neat! I’m usually not much for auction games, but I appreciate ones where I know exactly how much everything is worth. In a sliding-scale-sort-of-way, this is definitely one of those. Plus, it’s just weird. Why does the chicken lay gems? Why does throwing your gems away make you more qualified to take Fafnir’s gems? Neither of those questions matter, and that experience is so fundamentally and unequivocally Oink that I’ve just come to expect and respect it. It’s Fafnir’s world; we just live in it. That said, it’s also got the common staples; it’s easy to learn, transports well, and is super cute. I’m just really really worried about the damage to the game if you lose even one gem. Are they easy to replace? Is Oink going to sell a replacement kit? It’s not clear. If you’re not worried about that, you love abstract chickens, or you just want to keep buying Oink Games, though, Fafnir’s likely going to be right up your alley! I’ve certainly had a blast with it.