I’m a big fan of both Jason Kotarski (The Great Heartland Hauling Co.) and Philip duBarry (Revolution!, Kingdom of Solomon), so when they offered me the chance to preview their new collaboration, I jumped at the chance. This is a review of the final prototype, however, so there may still be some minor changes to gameplay and/or appearance of the game in its published version. It is currently on Kickstarter (through August 31, 2014) with a tentative publish date of January 2015.
Fidelitas is a quick card game about exerting influence over various guilds in a medieval city in order to gain the credibility you need to lead the charge against the corrupt crown. From what I gather, it’s intended to be light enough for families, deep enough for gamers to enjoy as a filler, and quick enough to keep both groups happy. So let’s see how well it succeeds in all those areas…
The basic idea of Fidelitas is that players will be using the Virtus (character) cards in their hand to manipulate which characters are present in different locations around the city, attempting to complete the conditions of their Missio (mission) cards to score points and eventually win the game.
The “board” is made up of five location cards laid out in a line. For the initial setup, one Virtus card is played to each side of these locations, then two Virtus and two Missio cards are dealt to each player. On their turn, a player follows these steps:
1) Play a Virtus Card – All of the Virtus cards belong to one of the 9 different Guilds of the city. Four of the guilds match one of the locations in the city, and cards of those types must be played to either side of their matching location. Cards from guilds that don’t have matching locations may be played anywhere. When you play a card, you also then perform the action listed on it, which usually involves moving or removing cards from that or other locations around the city. Alternatively, any Virtus card may instead be played on either side of the Tavern location, in which case its ability is not triggered, but the player may choose to discard one of their Missio cards and then draw a new one. Since it’s not ever a good idea to drink alone, any time you do this, another card is played to the other side of the Tavern from the top of the Virtus deck.
2) Score One or More Missio Cards – At this point, if the active player managed to manipulate the city in such a way that the conditions on one or more of their Missio cards have been met, they can play them to the table to score them. Missio cards are worth between 1 and 4 points depending on their difficulty, and often look for things such as having a certain number of different guilds represented on one or both sides of a location card, having a certain number of empty locations, having guild pairs (two cards of the same guild) in a number of locations, and other stuff like that. After scoring, the player then draws back up to 2 Missio cards in their hand.
3) Draw a Replacement Virtus Card – Unless the Virtus card played tells them not to (there’s a little symbol on some cards), the player then draws another Virtus card to replace the one they played. This card may either be drawn from the top of the deck, or the player can take a card from either side of the Tavern (except that players can never pick up a card they just played or moved to the Tavern on that turn). The game continues with players taking turns until someone scores a certain number of points (10 for a 2-player game, 8 points with 3, and 6 points with 4). The current round is finished, and the player with the most points then is the winner.
What I Think…
Since Fidelitas is a card game, I guess it would be a good idea to talk about the cards themselves. Now, of course, I’ve only played a prototype version, so I can’t really speak to the cardstock quality that will be in the published version. But what I can speak to, and for that matter, absolutely rave over, is the art on the cards, which are illustrated by talented artist Jacqui Davis. The pictures for both the Virtus and Missio cards are (as I heard someone else recently say) Disney quality, like something that popped right out of Beauty and the Beast or some other animated classic. And believe me, I am quite the expert at Disney princess movies, so I have pretty high standards in that department.
As for the game itself, I’m also pretty impressed. At it’s heart, it’s a puzzly little game where you’re trying to get the cards you want into the places where you want them. Your Missio cards basically tell you what to do, so you do your best to do that until you score them and get more. And I think that, especially for new or younger players, it can be played on just that level and enjoyed quite a bit, much as you can play Ticket to Ride in the same sort of way. But also like Ticket to Ride, there is also another level of play that opens up as you gain more knowledge of the game, the Missio cards, and the powers of the Virtus cards. It doesn’t take long, and once you have a good idea of what sorts of things the Missio cards look for, you can start to make some more strategic choices in using the Tavern to dig for either missions that synergize well together or that you can use to piggyback onto what someone else is already doing. And of course, if you recognize what that other player is going for, you can also begin to actively work against their plans, introducing a lot more player interaction into the game.
The game is, however, still really simple. The Virtus cards keep it pretty interesting in the manipulation you can on the table and in developing your hand (since some cards will let you expand your hand size, for example), but in the end, the main activity you’re doing is very cut-and-dried. The Missio cards make sense, but are also mostly obvious in looking for the same sorts of things just in different locations around the city. So from one point of view, it could easily be seen as overly simple and dryly mechanical. And while the mechanical bits all work and are fun to do, it’s also not exactly something that just blows you away with its originality or wows you with how uproariously fun it is.
But when you think about it with its intended purpose in mind, to mostly be a family-weight filler, I think it does exactly what it should do. It’s simplicity makes it playable by children certainly as young as 8 or 10 years old (maybe even younger, depending on the child, of course). In context with the fact that this really is a 10-30 minute long game, I feel like you get a good deal of depth for your time investment. And again, I also feel like there really is a decent learning curve with the game that gives some room for experience to move a little from the solely tactical/reactionary style of play to a more strategic/proactive approach.
Since so much of the game has to do with creating a certain “board state”, the number of players also has a pretty big impact play. With 4 players, there’s a lot more chance that someone will, either intentionally or by pure randomness, mess up whatever progress you made on your turn, therefore making it a pretty chaotic experience. But with 2, you have a lot more control and can plan a lot further out. For its weight and length, though, I don’t feel like either extreme is inappropriate, however. I did have an idea for a house rule with 2 players to benefit from this greater ability to plan, however, by increasing the hand size to 3 Missio cards. But I haven’t had the chance to try it out yet…
And in the vein, the other thing that seems pretty exciting about Fidelitas to me is the obvious room it has for further expansion and development. As of the time that I’m writing this, the Kickstarter campaign is just about to unlock its first stretch goal that will add in 4 new Virtus and Missio cards into the game. And whether you’re adding in new cards or maybe even switching out cards from one guild for alternative cards from that same guild, I could see this being a game that uses its simple chassis to provide a lot of variability in the future. And as I’ve already offered, I could also see some house rules or even an official “expert” variant or two that would push the strategic level even a little higher.
With all that being said, I like Fidelitas quite a bit. In my first few plays with other hobbyist boardgamers, I have to admit that my initial impression was a little disappointing. But after getting a little more experience with it, and then in playing it 2-player with my wife, I definitely came to appreciate it a lot more. I find the shifting puzzle style of play to be something that I enjoy a lot, and both the artwork and the (admittedly thin) theme make it attractive to me as well. In the end, Fidelitas is a game that I can see myself playing a lot with my family as my girls get a little older, so I’m happy to support and back it now on Kickstarter.
• Rules: Very simple play, but the cards introduce a more depth with their powers
• Theme: Thin but pleasant, with amazing artwork
• Downtime: Very little, unless someone is inappropriately AP prone
• Player Interaction: Some room for relatively direct interaction in messing up what other players are doing
• Length: A very appropriate 10-20 minutes for all of my plays
• GamerChris’ Rating: 7 (on my very stringent 10-point scale)
If you’re interested in backing Fidelitas on Kickstarter, the campaign will run through 11:59pm on August 31, 2014