Full disclosure: A preview copy of The Feds was provided by Dr. Finn’s 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.
Alright, this is the second of the Dr. Finn’s games that I’m reviewing ahead of the Kickstarter! I covered The Little Flower Shop Dice Game last week, and I’m looking forward to seeing what The Feds is all about. I kind of wonder if I should start writing these introductions before I actually play the game? Maybe before I write the review? Who knows; I wrote this one when I was halfway done. I write reviews in such a weird ordering. This one will likely be Pros / Mehs / Cons -> Strategy -> Player Count Differences -> Intro -> Setup -> Gameplay -> Overall. That was just how my brain flowed, this time. It’s wild, being me, I guess. Anyways, let’s get into The Feds and see what’s up.
In The Feds, you play as a variety of FBI crews who have just arrived in town to put a stop to the mob bosses overrunning it. You’ve got your work cut out for you, it looks like. You’ll need to get Agents into the field as quickly as possible, both by sending uniforms out and about and by using your undercover agents to infiltrate the seedy criminal underworld. You know, as you do. It won’t be easy, but the right sting can go a long way to making a big bust and taking a whole network of criminals down. Will you be able to bring order to this lawless city? Or will you just end up being a loose cannon that doesn’t play by the rules?
Setup depends a bit on your player count. First, you should set out the Police Board:
You’ll use the side with four locations if you’re playing with four players, and the side with three locations otherwise. Place the Locations in a column, as well. Don’t use the Club if you’re not playing with four players:
Next, put the Criminals in one of the bags! If you’re playing with fewer than 4 players, remove one of each color, first:
Similarly, place the crates in the other bag. For fewer than four players, remove one crate of each color.
Now that you’ve got the locations out, pull a random criminal and three crates for each Location and place them on the Locations. Then, if you’re playing with fewer than four players, remove all the Mob Cards with the Club on the back. Either way, shuffle the Mob Cards and place them item-side up. If you’re playing with two players, remove all the Mob Cards with three crates on them, as well.
Place the police car on the restaurant, and the tracking cube on the topmost space of the bust track:
Give each player an ability board:
Give each player four ability tokens in their color:
Finally, give each player 10 Agent Cards in their chosen color:
If you’re playing with three players, each player returns a 5-Agent to the box. If you’re playing with four players, each player returns both a 4-Agent and a 5-Agent to the box. Choose a start player and you’re almost ready to start! Each player then chooses an Agent card of their choice and places them face-down, in reverse player order, in the empty card spot of the Location of their choice. These are called the “surveillance areas”.
In The Feds, you are trying to make a name for yourself in a crime-riddled city by rounding up criminals and contraband! Along the way, you’ll have to get your Agents into the right spots if you want to take down a few of the masterminds.
A turn takes place over three phases. Let’s walk through it.
Identify Criminal Activity
To start off, flip the top card of the Mob Deck face-down to reveal a Location. Using the card on top of the Mob Deck, place the indicated pieces on the now-revealed Location. If there’s a “no” symbol, just don’t place anything.
Deploy an Agent
Next, place an Agent onto one of the Location’s surveillance spaces. If it’s currently occupied, move that Agent to the right of the Location (the field) and reveal it face-up before placing it. Some abilities may give you the ability to Infiltrate, or place an Agent face-down in the field. If you have face-down Agents in the field, you may look at yours at any time.
Move Police Car
Next, you must move the police car! You may move it spaces equal to your speed, but you must move it at least one space. If you land on a Location, you start a Sting! A Sting allows you to take a crate for each of the following conditions you satisfy:
- You have a face-up Agent in the field at that Location.
- You have a face-down Agent in the field at that Location.
- The sum of your face-up Agents’ strength at that Location is higher than the sum of any of your opponents’ face-up Agents’ strength at that Location, and there is at least one of your opponents’ Agents in the field at that location.
If you land on a non-Location space, that’s a Training space. You raise your abilities by one, moving the cubes indicated one space to the right. If you raise them enough, you gain extra skills that you can use once. You can use abilities on the turn they’re acquired.
After doing this, check for any Busts, and then end your turn.
Check for Busts
If a certain number of Busts have occurred and there are a certain number of Agents in the field at a Location, a Bust can occur!
- 0 Busts: 5 cards at 3+ players, 4 cards at 2 players
- 1 Bust: 6 cards at 3+ players, 5 cards at 2 players
- 2 Busts: 7 cards at 3+ players, 6 cards at 2 players
When a Bust occurs at a Location, do the following:
- Flip all undercover Agents at that Location face-up. Don’t mess with their ordering!
- Sum the strength of all players’ Agents at that Location. The player with the highest sum will be referred to as the “strongest”. If there’s a tie, the player with cards further left.
- The strongest player takes a crate for free from the Location. If you’re playing with two players, the strongest player gets to take two crates, instead of one.
- From strongest to weakest, each player takes an item of their choice from the Location. This can be a criminal or a crate. Do this until the location is empty.
- Each player retires their weakest Agent. They remove their lowest-numbered Agent at that Location from the game. If there’s a tie, remove the card farther to the left. Don’t change the ordering of the remaining agents.
- Refill the Location. Draw a criminal and three crates and add them to the Location. Skip this step if this is the third Bust.
- Move the Bust Board Tracking Cube down one. Again, skip this if this is the third bust.
End of Game
The game ends immediately after the third bust! Don’t refill that Location; it won’t bust again. Instead, there’s a special Final Bust!
To start, move each agent in the surveillance area of each location to the field. Keep it face-down, and resume taking turns until all Agents have been played. Then, reveal all Agents as normal and do a Bust for each of the two remaining Locations. The strongest player takes a crate (or two, at two players) as usual. Now, from strongest to weakest, each player takes one item from each remaining Location. The remaining items are lost.
1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 Criminals of different colors are worth 1 / 3 / 6 / 10 / 15 points. You can have multiple sets of criminals, but each criminal can only be in one set.
You earn 5 points for each set of three different crates. Crates that do not belong to a complete set are worth one point each.
The player or players with the highest speed earns one point. They are the fastest and the most furious.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Area control games do tend to shift around a bit depending on player count, as there are more contingencies that can happen when you’re playing with more people. At two, The Feds is pretty tight, and there are specific changes that happen. For one, both players use all of their cards, rather than losing a few, and there’s also a five-crate limit on locations. This prevents one place from getting too stacked. The interesting thing is that if you’re not present at a location at all (you have no Agents, there), you still get to participate in the draft of tokens after a Bust, but all the tokens you draft are removed from the game! If you’re present, you just draft normally. Interesting way to mess with your opponents. You also tend to move less around the Ability Board, since there’s only two players moving between your turns. The game changes with more players, though, since now there are ways that you can get completely shut out on a location. That’s a thing to be careful about. I actually have found the higher and lower end of the player count spectrum pretty interesting, which is unusual for me (y’all know how I’m very into lower player count games). I think that it’s mostly because the abilities keep the game interesting at any player count, and I appreciate the simplicity of the area control mechanics. That’s all to say, yeah, I don’t think I have a strong preference for player count for The Feds? That’s pretty good.
- It is, generally, worth being everywhere, a little bit. At the very least, you don’t want to not be at a location that’s Busting. If you’re there, even a little bit, you get stuff. Or at least you get the opportunity to get things, which is pretty critical. If you don’t show up at all, you’re going to get nothing. At a location that’s pretty packed? That can be a disaster, since that means the remaining players will split the spoils between them, boosting both of their points without any sort of measurable increase to yours. So just try to show up where you can.
- Most players will find themselves leading in at least one location. That’s just the nature of a lot of these games, depending on your players. Some players definitely do the “be a little bit everywhere”, but as soon as someone reveals a 5, they’ve definitely planted their flag on a location, I think. It helps that there are always at least as many locations as players, so there’s also a lot of ground to cover.
- There are a lot of really great combos that you can pull off with certain abilities. My personal favorite is dropping 3 Agents on a location in one turn by placing an Agent to boot the other one into the Field, Transferring an Agent from another location to my location, and then Infiltrating an Agent to that location. That’s usually enough to Bust in a turn, depending on how many other Agents are there, and if all the Agents you just added were yours, you’re likely to get a huge boost and probably take control. Switch can also be handy, if you’re trying to switch an Agent for a lower-value one so that the lower-value one gets retired.
- You can also mess up your opponents with the right combo. My current favorite was Transferring my opponent’s 5 to a location that I already controlled (10 to their now 5) and activating a Bust so that they lost the location, got almost nothing, and had to retire their 5 since that was their lowest Agent at the location. Don’t get me wrong; they didn’t love that I did that, but it was a pretty great strategy move. Keep in mind that you have to retire your lowest Agent and try to throw in a 1 or 2 at places so you’re not losing out on those big guns.
- Keep in mind that having extra speed is also a great way to make sure you can get to the exact space you need to set up the combo that you want. You do end up spending a lot of time trying to land on the right space to train up and use your abilities, so speed is pretty critical. Plus, the fastest player gets an extra point at the end of the game to make up for all the Ability Points they didn’t get. Is it worth the extra single point? Hard to say, but gotta go fast, I think as they say.
- A Sting isn’t a waste of your time, as long as you meet the requirements. You can potentially get up to three crates if you have all the right requirements in place, but I might recommend going for a Sting in a different circumstance. If you see that your opponent is about to Bust a location, you can do a Sting there and pull two valuable crates before the Bust happens; this means that not only do they now have fewer options, but you basically got to get your first pick of the spot before it blew up. If you’re getting three crates from a location, that means you already would likely have gotten a big chunk of the rewards had you Busted it.
- Criminals stack in value faster than crates. If you can, always go after a criminal in a color you don’t have, rather than a crate in a color you don’t have, unless getting that crate would complete a triple (and, of course, the criminal would not give you at least 3 additional points). Since a set of 5 criminals is worth 15 points, it’s often better than the 5 points a set of three crates will give you, just, based on simple math. Plus, it’s pretty easy to get a variety of crates for other reasons, usually by being the strongest presence at a specific location.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really like how the Agent Cards are all different! I love when games invest in having unique art for cards, especially given that it portrays a fairly diverse array of folks in the game. That kind of representation is something that I think is great to see more games doing, and it makes the world of the game feel more vibrant. Plus, it creates a nice tension for players if they find that they like a particular Agent Card of theirs. What if they don’t want to send them out? I don’t particularly see that happening, but, it’s amusing to think about. I’m just generally in favor of more games doing this, so I’m specifically mentioning it in my review.
- In general, I like the art style. It does a nice job of cutting between realistic and cartoony to give the game a comic-book feel which really works for it. I think the highly-saturated locations also kind of gives the game a Monaco vibe, maybe a bit? I’m not sure. I just tend to think of Monaco when I think of high-saturation, bright colors, and crime. That’s how you cultivate an aesthetic!
- I don’t normally like area control that much, but I thought this one was fun. I think that the area control aspect feels a bit more muted since you can’t mess with someone’s control too much. A clever player can often make it so that they either activate a Bust on their turn or they insulate their own Agents with other players’ Agents, so that their control of an area can’t be messed with. That kind of bumps the game up quite a lot, for me. It’s also not a “winner take all”; it’s a “winner take first”, which I think is also gentler. Honestly, this isn’t a terrible introduction to the area control genre. It’s a bit complex, but like most of Dr. Finn’s games, it’s not that hard to pick up.
- I think that I particularly like that most everyone gets something, provided that they have Agents on that location. I think that kind of balances out the thing I dislike about area control which is investing into something and getting nothing out of it is frustrating to me. You might still get nothing (depending on how much stuff is at a place), but it’s more likely that you’ll be able to at least pull a crate or arrest a criminal or something, and that blunts the disappointment of losing the fight for control.
- The fastest player getting a bonus point made for a lot of “Fast and Furious” jokes, which were a nice distraction during the game. They can be fast! And possibly furious! We have no idea how furious you need to be to earn any extra points.
- Most of Dr. Finn’s games aren’t terribly hard to learn, and this is another game that we learned pretty smoothly. I think this might be the “heaviest” one I’ve played (maybe Mining Colony), just in terms of complexity, but it wasn’t much harder to learn than the other titles I’ve played. I do kind of like the consistency of expectations; even if the game wasn’t my favorite game, Dr. Finn’s games usually end up being firmly in the “oh, this was a nice time”-zone of my experiences.
- The note that Speed increases your range on the Ability Board makes it seem like “range” is an ability, which can be a bit confusing (rather than just letting you move additional spaces per turn). I think this is just a graphic design issue, honestly. It’s fixable; it might just be worth getting rid of the “increases range” snippet; I think it’s more confusing than helpful, personally.
- I’m kind of neutral-negative on games about cops / the FBI, as a theme. Just … not my favorite. I would potentially be more into it if it were kind of a lampooning / funny theme, but given how straight this plays the genre, it’s just not really … my thing. Theme’s a lot of how I get invested in a game, and it kind of drives my enthusiasm for telling other people about it, so a theme that’s more of a miss for me is always a bummer.
- You can get decently unlucky if you essentially lock down a location but the cards aren’t on your side. The cards somewhat mitigate this (if it were dice, it’s theoretically possible that you would never roll a location; cards can be randomized but still, there are only 8 of each color), but they run into a different problem, which we saw in a couple of our games. What would happen is, finally, after waiting for a location to come up, it finally appears, only to be paired with the “add nothing to this location” Mob Card. If you’ve invested in that location, you’ve just gotten screwed, again, and that can be a bummer. Not much to do about it, per se, but it’s definitely a tiny bit of swinginess that can happen in an otherwise mostly player-driven game.
- Alright, why aren’t the setup instructions in the rulebook? There’s a separate double-sided foldout with setup instructions on there, and the rulebook specifically recommends referring to that when setting up. That’s another thing to lose, which is frustrating, but also I had it flipped to the wrong side when I was looking at it and I didn’t notice that it was setup instructions, so I felt like a fool when I finally figured it out. It’s part of the game, isn’t it? So just … add it to the rulebook.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by The Feds! As I mention on a somewhat-regular basis, I’m not super into area control games, so I always am at a gentle crossroads when I try them. Will I like this one, or will I find the potential for mean behavior to be too much for me? Thankfully, The Feds is pretty simple and straightforward, as far as area control games go. I like that you’re just placing Agent Cards face-up (and occasionally face-down); it’s very easy to see who controls what. Plus, the Agent Cards are also superb! I like both the comic-book-esque art and the variety of different folks. Making each Agent Card unique is a small touch, but a nice one; it makes me actually want to look at the Agents and pick my favorite group, rather than just picking my preferred player color. I’m not the biggest fan of “law enforcement” as a game theme, but I do like the art style, so it kind of washes out, I suppose. My main gripes are that there’s a bit of luck to how locations are filmed, and it’s very possible as a result for the location you invested heavily in to go pretty dark, making it difficult for you to get more stuff there. If that happens, I mean, go somewhere else, but it can still be a bit frustrating. The “Setup is a separate rulebook from the rulebook” seems like it’s hopefully not the plan for the full edition, but what do I know? Beyond that, I mean, this is an area control game that I ended up enjoying, so that alone is worth my praise, which I enjoy. If you’re looking for a low-commitment area control game that scales well with player count, though, I enjoyed The Feds! You might as well!
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