fantastiqa

Deck-building Goes Down the Rabbit Hole Into a Wonderful New World, and I Love It!

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Introducing Fantastiqa

As children, and maybe sometimes even as adults, we’ve probably all been captivated by the world of imagination. A world where our tricycle is in fact a powerful chariot, our stick is a flaming sword, and our handful of sand is magic fairy dust. The world of the fantastic is a place I love visiting, and some of my favourite books include Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Baum’s Wizard of Oz, Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, and William Goldman’sThe Princess Bride. They bring us to imagined worlds that are whimsical, surreal, fantastic, thrilling, and sometimes even wacky, and where nothing is as it seems. When life feels mundane, and maybe even boring, wouldn’t you just love to join the characters in these books? Wouldn’t you just love to join Alice go down the rabbit hole, and see the absurd logic of the mad Hatter for ourselves? Or help Dorothy vanquish the Wicked Witch of the West by tossing a pail of water over her head? Or be a passenger with Milo as he travels through the turnpike tollbooth, and be whisked to the fantastic world of words and numbers in Dictionopolis and Digitopolis? Or join the farm boy Westley in his quest to rescue the princess Buttercup with the help of the giant Fezzik and the endearing Inigo Montoya? These are stories full to the brim with wild humour, farce, wit, and even slapstick comedy, and bring us to fantastic places. Games can do that too, especially when they take us out of the familiar, and help us cross over boundaries into places we’ve never been before. With Fantastiqa, we have a deck-building game that – just like Alice in Wonderland – takes us down the rabbit hole and into a whole new world. First of all, the theme of the game is a departure from the well-defined and traditional fantasy genre. Even the monsters have a family-friendly feel to them, and the fantastic feel is heightened by looking what you see in your ruck-suck, which contains useful items like a spatula in place of a sword, and a toothbrush that represents a magic wand. It turns out that designer Alf Seegert loves the fantastic as well, the most formative book of his childhood being The Phantom Tollbooth, and his game really does capture something of the imaginative feel of such fantastic worlds. When we arrive in Fantastica, we have nine standard household items in our rucksack, a faithful furry companion, and immediately receive a magical artifact and a new friend in the form of a peaceful dragon, and … a quest! But Fantastica takes us into a new world in other ways too, because it is quite unlike traditional deck-building games on the level of gameplay and mechanics. At this point in modern gaming, “deck-building” would have to be considered as “the familiar”. Dominion is firmly entrenched as the father of deck-builders, having begotten many children, each which adds new things of their own to the genre. From this perspective, Fantastiqa is a sharp departure from much of the standard deck-building fare, in that it incorporates a board, which you move around to subdue various creatures and complete quests; and this really takes deck-building in a direction, well, away from deck-building! Other games like Mage Knight and a Few Acres of Snow have done this too, but Fantastiqa is still in a class of its own. There, I’ve practically reviewed the game already, haven’t I? But this is a comprehensive pictorial overview, after all, so you need to see pictures! Fantastiqa is a terrific and innovative game in more ways than one, so grab your rucksack, your pet cat, your shovel, and your spatula, let’s dive in and show you what you get, how to play, and pull together some concluding thoughts. Get ready, for the fantastic!

COMPONENTS

Game box The first thing to notice about the box is the beautiful artwork. It is Caspar David Friedrich’s 1818 painting The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, and Fantastiqa’s designer Alf Seegert carefully selected it because German Romanticism and “its awe in sublime, mist-shrouded mountainscapes” is one of the influences behind the fantastic. It’s a beautiful picture that captures what the game is about. We the players, as it were, are this young man, a ready adventurer with our walking-stick in hand, peering off into a fog-enshrouded landscape, imagining some of the quests and adventures that lie before us.

Game box The back of the box features a picture of the game in play as well as an overview of the theme and concept of the game-play. I particularly like these sentences, which give you a good idea of the whimsical fun that can be had in the world of Fantastiqa: “Combine the powers of different creatures and fulfill curious quests: send forth your Rabbits of Unusual Size to Nibble Through the Violin Strings of the Violent Vampire Volnar! Or deploy a party of web-slinging Spiders to String a Bridge Across the Chasm of Chaos!” But there’s a lot more we can say about the box before we move on! First of all, the box itself is incredibly solid. It’s thick enough for an ancient Greek soldier to use as a shield, or for modern day construction workers to use in place of bricks when building a house! Maybe that sounds a bit fantastic, but really, it’s been said that this box is solid enough to kill a man! Hyperbole aside, I really don’t think I’ve seen a box as solid as this one – it’s the kind of box that you’ll put on the bottom of your pile of games, and see it actually hold up. Don’t believe me? Read what others have to say in this thread – surely it’s not too often that you come across a thread entirely devoted to the awesomeness of a game box!

Box back But that’s not all – the box insert is also incredible. Not only does it neatly house all the components with ample space, but it even has separate compartments for the different decks of cards, and has special indentations so that the card supply boards can be placed above some of the compartments, leaving the top flush for the gameboard to fit in perfectly. Now that’s what I call attention to detail and quality! The box cover indicates that this is an “Enchanted Edition” of the game, and given the lavish attention to detail and quality, that must effectively mean a “Deluxe Edition”! Component list The commitment to quality production is true of all the components in this game, and there’s a lot of them! Here’s what you get: ● 1 Game board ● 6 Region tiles ● 6 Statue tokens ● 2 card supply boards ● 4 Adventurer Kits (standee, placard, and deck of 9 Adventurer cards in each) ● Main decks: Quests (36 cards), Artifacts (24 cards), Beasts (27 cards), Creatures (79 cards) ● Starting cards (9 Quest cards, 5 Artifact cards) ● Other cards (4 Dog cards, 16 Peaceful Dragon cards, 4 Quest Goal cards) ● Tokens (16 Flying Carpet tokens, 12 Reshuffle tokens, 4 Quest tokens, 12 Bonus point tokens) ● 60 Gems ● 4 Ziplock bags & stickers ● 4 Reference cards ● 1 Reference Sheet/Glossary ● 1 Rulebook

Components from the base game There’s also some mini-expansions that are available separately, but first I’ll show you the main game. Board The main board is a large rectangular board, which folds into quarters. Just like the box, the quality is extremely thick, and feels remarkably durable. The sepia tone does give the impression of something that appears almost monochrome, which may seem somewhat disappointing at first sight. But that’s quite deliberate – the board will quickly come alive when the six brightly coloured region tiles are placed on it. When we add the coloured creature cards as well, there will soon be more than enough colour. With that it in mind, keeping the board relatively plain looking was a good choice. In terms of function, the six circular spaces are of the greatest importance. These are the spaces where the six region tiles and six statues will be placed, and we’ll be moving our adventurers from space to space, combating creatures along the way. Also note the two rectangular spaces in the center of the board – these are where two Open Quest cards will be placed face up.

The main game board Region tiles Six heavy-duty region tiles will be randomly placed on the six spaces on the board at the start of the game. These represent six different regions, i.e. Hills, Highlands, Frozen Wastelands, Fields, Forests, and Wetlands. Our adventurers will be moving between these different regions as part of their adventures. The artwork deserves special mention, because it’s largely taken from classic works. For example, what’s pictured on the Wetlands tile is a detail from Claude Monet, the Fields tile has artwork from Vincent Van Gogh, while the Highlands tile features detail from the same Caspar David Friedrich painting on the box cover. Beautifully done!

All six region tiles Statues Each region will have one of six large wooden tokens on it, representing statues. There are two of each: blue cup-shaped Quest Chests, orange gryphon-shaped Beast Bazaars, and black tower-shaped Artifact Towers. Players will be able to visit these statues during the game, and will primarily do so in order to get extra Quest cards, Beast cards, and Artifact cards.

Quest Chest, Beast Bazaar, and Artifact Tower  Card Supply boards Alongside the main board will be several decks of cards that players have access to, including the Quest, Beast, and Artifact cards just mentioned. To help keep track of which deck is which, these decks are placed on the Card Supply boards. Here they are pictured with the cards that go on them: the Quest Chest, Creature Cards, Artifact Tower, and Beast Bazaar.

The card supply boards with the four matching decks  Adventurer kits Each player gets their own “adventurer kit”, which consists of an adventurer standee to move around the board, a placard, and a deck of cards: Adventurer standees These are the pawns that you will move around on the board, and one is provided for each of up to four players.

Adventurer placards This is what you’ll use for storing your deck. Your draw deck (“Magical Rucksack”) goes on the left hand side, while your discard pile (“Rejuvenation Tent”) goes on the right hand side. As a nice touch that testifies to the thoughtfulness of the publisher, the placards are double sided, and on the reverse side the draw and discard piles are on opposite sides, should you prefer to play with your discard pile on the left hand side.

Adventurer decks Each player will have a starting deck of 9 cards, with artwork on the reverse side corresponding to the artwork on their standees and placards.

One deck for each player There are nine cards in your starting deck, representing your starting items, and each has a corresponding icon: candle (flame), broom (broom), cat (tooth), net (web), helmet (horns), bat (club), toothbrush (wand), spatula (sword), and pail (bucket).

All nine cards in a player’s Adventurer deck Decks of cards Fantastiqa is a deck-building game, so it’s no surprise that it comes with a lot of cards – it’s actually quite a staggering pile! It should also be mentioned that all the cards in the game feature a quality linen finish, and feel extremely durable, yet are a pleasure to shuffle and hold in one’s hand. Let’s tell you something about the different cards from the main decks in the game.

Yes, that’s a big pile of cards! Quest deck These 36 cards are what you’ll get at the Quest Chest, and will earn you the points (represented by the “cup” icon) that win you the game. Quests are worth from 1 to 4 points, and there’s several important things to note about them. The location: To complete a quest, your adventurer will have to be at the location written on the card. The reward: At the top of the card is listed the number of gems and quest points you’ll get by completing that quest. The requirement: At the bottom of the card is listed the cards you’ll have to play to complete the quest. These are represented by the icons that we’ve already seen in our adventurer’s deck, and there are 9 of them altogether: club, wand, sword, flame, pail, broom, tooth, web, and horns. The quests themselves are worded very humorously, and feature lots of Alf-style alliteration!

Some sample Quest cards from the Quest Chest Creature deck These 79 cards are what will first appear on the board between regions, that you’ll be trying to “subdue” by playing cards from your deck, and thereby get them into your deck in order to use them to subdue other and perhaps more powerful creatures. There are nine different basic creatures, corresponding to the icons mentioned above: troll (club), enchantress (wand), knight (sword), baby dragon (flame), fen fairy (pail), witch (broom), rabbits of unusual size (tooth), spiders (web), and billy goat (horns).

All 9 different single-symbol Creature cards In addition, there are more powerful creatures which feature two of these icons on each card. These are: bear (club), fairies (wand), gryphon (sword), dragon (flame), water nymphs (pail), warlock’s pet (broom), vampire bats (tooth), giant spiders (web), and satyr (horns).

Double-symbol Creature cards The icons on the top left of the card represent what the card does when you play the card; the icons on the bottom middle of the card indicate what needs to be played to subdue those creatures and get them into your deck. Each creature is able to subdue exactly one other animal, a concept that the game calls “the circle of subduing”.

Some cards also have a gem icon on the lower left – that’s what you get if you subdue that creature; other cards have a special icon (e.g. key, magic carpet) on the top left; these are special abilities that you can use these cards for instead of simply for subduing creatures. In the Creature deck are also a few “Mischievous Ravens”, which are Event cards.

Beast deck More powerful beasts can be purchased at the Beast Bazaar statue. Each of these 27 cards costs three gems, and this deck features nine different beasts, i.e. all the icons, each being a powerful version with two icons at the top left. These big beasties will definitely help you subdue creatures more easily while going about adventuring and questing!

All nine different Beasts available at the Beast Bazaar Artifact deck Artifact cards can be purchased at the Artifact Tower, and when added to your deck will give you a range of effects and abilities. Their cost is shown at the bottom of the card, and ranges from 2-4 gems. For example, the Rogue’s Purse lets you steal gems from players that have more gems than you, the Bell of Summoning lets you draw three extra cards and take one into your hand, and Bitter Brew lets you put a card from your hand into an opponent’s discard pile. There are 24 cards in this deck, with 12 different artifacts altogether.

Some sample Artifact cards from the Artifact Tower Other cards Quest Goal cards These cards indicate how many quest points you’re trying to get in a particular game – your “target score” if you like – and range between 7 and 15 points. You’ll select the one you need based on the number of players and whether you’re playing a short, regular, or long game. It’s nice having this as a visual reminder, rather than have players keep asking throughout the game “How many points are we playing up to again?” The reverse side of one of the cards also functions as a reference card for setting up the Creature deck.

Starting Quest cards These nine cards are in addition to the regular cards from the Quest deck, and are simple one-point quests. Each player will choose one, and two random ones will be placed face-up on the main board at the start of the game. Note how the starting cards are distinguished from regular cards with the shooting star symbol.

Starting Artifact cards Just as with the starting quests, there are five starting artifacts (also marked with the shooting star symbol), from which each player will choose one for their deck at the start of the game.

Dog card & Peaceful Dragon cards Players will begin the game with 1 Dog card in their deck, and 1 Peaceful Dragon card. The dogs are useful for finding gems, and the Peaceful Dragons, well, let’s just say that they’re not really useful for anything except drinking tea! After all, this dragon is peaceful, so he’s not going to be of any help in subduing other creatures! Basically it’s a card that clogs up your hand, similar to the Curse or Province cards in Dominion. Everyone starts the game with one Peaceful Dragon in their deck, but there’s 12 additional Peaceful Dragon cards provided with the game, because there are other ways of getting these into your opponent’s decks (i.e. annoying them!)

Gems These beautiful looking gems are the “currency” that the game uses to let you buy special cards or perform special actions. You earn them by subduing creatures that have the gem icon, or by completing quests; you spend them to buy cards from the Beast Bazaar and Artifact Tower, and they can also be used to pay for removing cards from your deck or teleporting between towers. There are 60 gems in all, and their colour is not relevant to gameplay, but just adds to the aesthetics.

Tokens Treasure tokens These thick and durable cardboard tokens represent “treasure” with special abilities, and players will start the game with three of each. They represent a single-use special ability, and are flipped face-down after use. The Magic Carpet allows you to move between regions without needing to subdue creatures, while the Reshuffle token lets you reshuffle your discard pile into your deck immediately.

Quest tokens Each player will get one of these, and they let you reserve cards from your hand, tucking them away under the Quest token until you need them in order to complete a Quest.

Bonus point tokens Open Quests are more valuable than individual/personal quests. Each Open Quest will get one of these +1 bonus point tokens (a total of 12 come with the game), and players completing that quest effectively get this as a bonus point.

Storage bags & Stickers It’s not entirely unusual for games to provide zip-lock bags, although it’s usually much appreciated when publishers go the extra mile to include this. Gryphon Games has gone well beyond the call of duty, by not only providing a storage bag for the components of each player, but also individual stickers for each bag to help identify them! Now that’s what I call going to extra lengths to provide absolutely everything inside the box!

Stickers for the ziplock storage bags Reference cards For each player there’s a handy reference card, which has a Turn Summary on one side, and an overview of the Circle of Subduing on the other side, and is made of thick sturdy card.

Double sided reference card for each player Reference sheet & Glossary In addition to the player reference cards, there’s a large reference with a detailed summary of play, and a glossary of game terms on the reverse side.

Instructions The rulebook is a glossy 12 page booklet, which features a good explanation of game-play along with numerous helpful illustrations. I particularly recommend reading the introductory story on the second page, entitled “An Unexpected Way In…” It’s a marvellous introduction to the theme of the game, and really sets the tone for what entering the world of Fantastiqa is all about. One of my sons enjoyed it so much that he read it aloud, laughing regularly while doing so! It’s brilliant! The official rules can be downloaded here: English Rulebook. The designer Alf Seegert is very active on the forums in providing answers to rules and other questions, and has also provided a number of other helpful files, including Designer Variants, FAQ, and Errata, and an Expansion Guide

Sample spread from the rules

GAME-PLAY

Objective and Quest goal Before getting into the details of Fantastiqa’s world and how to play, it’s important to bear in mind the over-arching objective. In his designer diary, Alf Seegert nicely describes the concept as follows: “When you find yourself transported into the otherworldly landscape of Fantastiqa, your spatula becomes sharp as a sword, your candle ignites things like a blowtorch, and your toothbrush wields the power of a magic wand. In this way, the impossible leaks into the everyday world, and the everyday world leaks into the impossible. You begin your adventures in Fantastiqa with nine mundane items, a dog, a magical Artifact, and a Starting Quest. You must make careful use of these starting cards to subdue strange creatures on the board and thereby build up your deck, making it powerful enough to subdue more powerful creatures that appear and to fulfill Quests for victory points.

This player has 10 Quest points In game terms, what you’re trying to do is complete Quest cards, which require: 1. being in the location of the Quest; and 2. playing the required number of cards from your deck with symbols that match those on the Quest cards. You’ll get these cards into your deck in the first place by adventuring, i.e. by “subduing” creatures on the board with other cards from your hand/deck. Completing quests is how you score points, and the first to score the required number of points is the winner. The exact number of Quest points required to win the game varies, depending on the number of players, and the length of the game you wish to play, as indicated by the chart below. At the start of a game, you place the corresponding “Quest Goal” card face-up on the table, as a reminder of what this target amount of points is.

Set-up Board set-up The general set-up of the main components includes the game board and card supply boards, as well as gems and peaceful dragon cards, all of which are placed in the center of the table along with the previously mentioned quest goal card. You shuffle the Region tiles and place them randomly on the six spaces on the board, and similarly assign the six Statues randomly to these six regions – this ensures a variable set-up each game.

Early in a two player game Card setup The four main decks (Artifacts, Beasts, Quests, and Creatures) are shuffled and go on the card supply boards. Note that there are special instructions for setting up the Creature deck depending on the number of players and as described on the special reference card for this purpose – this ensures that stronger creatures don’t come out on the board too early.

Player setup Each player gets their standard adventurer kit, which includes their standee/token that they’ll place anywhere on any empty space on the board, a player mat/placard for their deck and discard pile, 3 gems, and several tokens (1 Quest, 3 Flying Carpets, 3 Reshuffles). Perhaps most importantly, they get their personalized starting deck, which includes the 9 standard Adventurer cards, a Dog, a Peaceful Dragon, and an Artifact card of their choice (selected from the special starting artifact cards marked with a shooting star). Players will also get to choose a starting quest (from the ones marked with a shooting star) that they’ll place face-up in front of them; two starting quests are also placed randomly on the board as initial “Open Quests”. Everyone draws five cards from their shuffled draw deck, and we’re ready to play!

A player’s starting deck Starting player I particularly like the rule about how to select the starting player: “The player who most recently conducted a successful short symphony for the Mountain Moles of Mu will start the game.” It’s hilarious, totally appropriate for the game, and gets everyone into the right atmosphere from the get-go. There are of course some great stories about symphonic performances for the Mountain Moles of Mu, like the time when the percussionist accidentally hit the Bell of Summoning in the middle of a performance with the Philharmonic Short Shrift Orchestra of Digitopolis, and to everyone’s great surprise the conductor’s baton was magically transformed into a spatula… but I digress. Of course, in the unlikely event nobody has actually had the pleasure of being involved with the Mountain Moles of Mu, the rules also provide an alternative suggestion: either the player who scored lowest in the last game begins, or use any other method agreeable to all the players.

A game gets underway Flow of Play

Games for four players involve special rules that we’ll explain later; what follows here are the rules for 2-3 player games. It’s easy to get lost in the details of the rules, so I won’t cover every single point in the rulebook, but instead I’ll focus on trying to give you a clear sense of what you’re trying to do and how you go about accomplishing this. Players will take turns, and the basic flow of play is as follows. At the start of your turn, you’ll already have a hand of five cards from your personal deck – much like Dominion. You then do three things: 1. Replenish the Board: Any empty places on the board that need Creature cards or Quest cards are filled. Creature cards: These go face-up on the open road spaces between regions, and have a gem placed on them if they have a gem icon. There are some “Mischievous Raven” events in the Creature deck; when these are drawn the player with the most gems (minimum of 4) loses half, as described on those cards, and then you immediately draw a new Creature card. Quest cards: There will usually be two “Open Quests” available on the board. If ever any of these have been claimed on a previous turn, you’ll draw a new one from the Quest deck to replace it, along with a +1 point bonus token. 2. One Turn Action: On your turn, you can do one of three possible turn actions, which you can choose from the following: ● Go Adventuring ● Visit a Statue ● Complete a Quest We’ll explain what these are shortly, but this is the heart of a player’s turn. Free Actions: Before and/or after your special turn action (Going Adventuring, Visiting a Statue, or Completing a Quest), you may do any number of Free Actions as you wish. These include: (a) committing cards to quests; (b) using a treasure token; (c) using a card’s special power; (d) using an artifact card. We’ll explain these shortly too. 3. End Your Turn: Unlike Dominion, you may keep some cards in hand if you wish. Discard as many cards as you wish, and then draw back up to a hand of five, and then it’s the next player’s turn.

Starting items for an adventurer Actions Now that you have a basic sense of how a turn works, let’s tell you about the actions you can choose from for your turn: ● Completing a Quest The aim of the game is to complete quests, which earn points. As the game progresses, you can complete either one of the two “Open Quests” face-up on the board, or personal quests that are face-up in front of you. To complete a quest, you need to be located in the region corresponding to the Quest card, and play the cards required by that quest. As we’ll explain later, one nice thing about the game is that you don’t need to rely on a lucky draw to get all the cards you need at the same time; as cards come up that you need for a quest, you can “commit” them to that quest, which basically involves setting them aside so that you can play them whenever you’re ready to finish that quest. So let’s say that we’re in the region corresponding to a particular quest, and we have in our hand and in our stash of committed cards the ones we need to complete that quest. We simply play all the required cards to our discard pile, and can claim that quest as complete, which means we get its points. Here’s Alf illustrating how to complete the quest pictured below: “Here’s an example of how you might fulfill a challenging 4-point Quest in the Highlands – Headbutt the Billy Goats of Mount Baranzababble. You’d need to subdue two Spider cards and commit them to the Quest (using their webs as sticky ropes to scale the daunting mountain). You’d also need to commit some Billy Goat cards and probably use a helmet of your own (to do the actual headbutting). Of course, none of these cards are going to do you any good unless you journey to the Highlands Region on the board and complete the Quest there on your turn – and unless you can subdue the creatures between here and there, you’ll be out of luck!

Using two webs and three horned helmets to Headbutt the Billy Goats of Mount Baranzbabble! Completed quests will earn you the amount of gems listed on the card, but more importantly they are worth Quest points, corresponding to the number of quest cups pictured on the card. As soon as you meet the required number of Quest points listed on the Quest Goal card, you win the game instantly! There’s a small catch though – any face-up quests in front of you personally count as minus points until you’ve completed them, so take this into consideration when calculating your current score. Note that the rules describe players keeping completed quests hidden, but since it’s trackable information I think it makes more sense just to play them face-up under your player placard, as argued here. ● Go Adventuring So how do you get the cards you need for completing quests into your deck? That’s where the adventuring comes in! You can move along the road between the regions by playing cards that will “subdue” the creatures there. To do so, you need to play cards with symbols on the top left (abilities) that match the symbols on the bottom of the card (vulnerabilities) of the creature that is on the road that you want to pass. For example, let’s say you’re located in the Fields in the picture below, and you have in your hand two Trolls, a horned Helmet, and a Broom. To travel to the Highlands, you need to subdue the Troll, which you do by playing your card which has a Helmet symbol on the top left. It’s logical really – anyone well-versed in the Billy Goats Gruff knows that this is the easiest way to take care of trolls! When you do this, both the card you play (Helmet) and the card you are subduing (Troll) will go into your discard pile – you now have recruited the Troll, which now will give you more Clubs later in the game to wack other creatures with. But we also have a Broom card in hand, and that’s exactly what we need to subdue the Rabbits of Unusual Size, and to travel to the Wetlands.

Playing cards to subdue a Troll, Rabbits of Unusual Size, and a Billy Goat

And if you don’t have the right matching symbol you need? That’s fine, because when adventuring you can play any two cards with the same symbol as a “wild” card. So in the example above, instead of playing one card with the Web symbol to subdue the Billy Goat on the road between the Wetlands and the Hills, you could play two cards with matching symbols to defeat the Billy Goat. Fortunately we have two Trolls with Clubs in hand, so we can play both of those to subdue the Billy Goat. By playing cards in this manner from your hand and subduing creatures to recruit them into your deck, you can often move between a number of adjacent regions in succession as part of one action. The player in the above example could move from the Fields, to the Highlands, to the Wetlands, and finally to the Hills, all as one action. Some creatures have gems on them; you add these to your personal supply when you subdue these creatures. It’s often good to try to set yourself up to subdue multiple creatures in this fashion. Note that going adventuring in this fashion isn’t the only way to travel around; although typically it’s the preferred way. But as we’ll explain later under “Free Actions”, you can also get around by using your magic carpet tokens or by playing cards with the magic carpet symbol, and also by teleporting between matching statues. There’s also a special rule that if you end your turn after moving in the same region as an opponent, you can put one of your cards from your hand to your opponent’s discard pile should you wish. May I suggest that this is a particularly satisfying way to deal with those pesky tea-drinking Peaceful Dragons if ever you get the chance! ● Visit a Statue So how do you get the really cool cards, like artifacts, big beasts, or new quests? That’s where the statues come in. As your single turn action, you can draw three statue cards corresponding to the statue you’re located at; i.e. three Artifact cards if you’re at the Artifact Tower (black); three Beast cards if you’re at the Beast Bazaar (orange); or three Quest cards if you’re at the Quest Chest (blue). The number you draw can be increased by playing cards with the +S symbol first, as a “Free Action”, as we’ll explain later. The Artifact and Beast cards cost between 2-4 gems to buy, and you need not buy any if you choose not to; the Quest cards are free to draw but you must keep at least one and put it face-up (there is a limit of three such face-up quests in front of you). The main reason you’ll visit statues is to get these cards, although you can do two other things at the statue instead if you prefer: 1. Pay 2 gems to teleport to the matching statue 2. Remove from the game up to 3 cards from your hand or discard pile, at a cost of 1 gem each. (Notable exception: Peaceful Dragons can’t be removed in this way).

An adventurer visiting the Beast Bazaar ● Free Actions As mentioned already, in addition to your one chosen action (Completing a Quest, Going Adventuring, Visiting a Statue), you can do any number of free actions before and/or after your action. These free actions include the following: ● Committing cards to quests: You can place cards from your hand and place them underneath one of your personal quests. This is a great way to set aside cards you need for Quests as you draw them, until you get the full set of all the ones you need to complete it. You can also place up to five cards under your Quest token, which you can use towards fulfilling the Open Quests. You don’t have to reveal these cards first, so you can even use them to stash away unwanted cards, like the Peaceful Dragon. You just pull them out from under your Quest token when you’re ready to take a “Complete Quest” action using them. ● Using a treasure token: Each player starts with three flying carpets and three reshuffle tokens. The flying carpets let you move along a road from one region space to an adjacent one without needing to subdue the creature on the road – a handy way to travel if you don’t have the cards you need to deal with that monster on the roadway. Reshuffling is handy because it lets you shuffle your discard pile into your draw deck, which can be a great way to get newly acquired powerful cards into your hand. But you only get to do these things three times each, and to keep track of this you flip over the appropriate treasure token face down when it’s been used. ● Using an artifact: Artifact cards give you special abilities like drawing extra cards, stealing gems, exchanging creatures, and lots of other fun things; these can also be played as a free action, and will often prove remarkably useful! ● Using a card’s special power: Some creature cards give gems, but cards without a gem will usually have a special icon indicating that they have a special ability that can be used as a free action. This gives a very useful flexibility, and opens up your tactical options! The flying carpet icon gives you a free flying carpet; the peaceful dragon icon lets you put a peaceful dragon from the supply into an opponent’s discard pile; the +S icon lets you draw an extra card at a statue; and the key icon lets you visit a statue in your region as a free action – which can be terribly useful because it basically means you get an extra action that turn.

Variants Simplified rules: There are several other ways to play the game, including simplified rules for playing with children, which dispense with artifacts, peaceful dragons, and special powers on the cards, and give players extra flying carpets, and generally make the game easier to play. 4-player rules: Of special interest are the rules for 4 player games. As explained here, the designer was disinclined to create a form of the game that created significant down time, and so his preference was to come up with a form of the game that was more interactive and interesting for everyone at the table. As a result, in a four player game, players play in partnerships, sitting opposite each other, and as a free action on their turn they may trade cards from their hand with their partner, as long as they are in the same or adjacent regions. Their scores are added together, and it’s this collective total that is used to see if their “team” meets the required goal to win. While you can’t show your partner your cards, open table-talk is allowed. This trading aspect really adds a new dynamic to the game! Other variants: A file from the designer includes other variants for the base game, such as Espresso Dragons, Mischievous Dragons, and Traders of Fantastiqa.

Expansions Several small expansions have already been released for the game (with more in development), and are available from the publisher. The designer is committed to releasing games that don’t rely on expansions, so these aren’t essential. Nonetheless they are terrific add-ons that enhance the original game by adding new elements; most of which involve small additions without drastically altering the main game. The Fantastic Events expansion adds 24 event cards that can be mixed into the Creature deck and work similar to the Mischievous Raven. They introduce a variety of effects, and simply help spice things up, so you can use a selection of them according to your preference. For example, the Fairy Ring adds gems to the board that can be claimed by players moving there, Market Day lets players trade with each other when it shows up, and other cards give opportunity to get extra artifacts, beasts and quests. The Special Delivery expansion lets players become an “Adventurer for Hire”. These 18 cards come with some extra bonus tokens, and players start the game with a Special Delivery card, which they can use to earn a gem by ending a turn in the region on that card; three such completed Special Deliveries will earn a bonus +1 Quest point. The Treasure Hunt expansion is the largest of the mini-expansion, and alters the game the most. It comes with 12 Treasure Map cards, 14 Mystery tokens, and extra bonus point tokens. Using your Dog card, you can dig in a region corresponding to the Treasure Map quest that is presently face up, as a way of getting extra bonus points as well as special Mystery tokens that give you benefits like being able to get extra artifact or beast cards, or assisting with movement. Kickstarter bonus cards were provided as an exclusive to Kickstarter supporters. These two cards are the Ravenous Raven and the Beast of Burden. While it’s always nice to have extra goodies, you’re not missing too much if you don’t have the Kickstarter bonus cards.

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think? ● The MediocreThings I’m lukewarm about

If I’m really nitpicky, I could comment on the title of the game and how using a U-less Q isn’t going to help people finding the game in search results. Or I could comment on how I think completed quest cards should be face up instead of face down. Or I could comment that packing up the game can take a few minutes, because you’ll need to quickly sort through the cards you’ve played and rearrange them back into the appropriate decks. Or I could comment on a couple of small rules that needed clarification from the forums. But I won’t. These issues are genuinely insignificant, and don’t matter in the end. Actually there’s not much about Fantastiqa that I truly dislike, although there are a few things for prospective buyers be aware of, with the disclaimer that none of them are really a big deal for me. First of all, Fantastiqa’s replayability isn’t produced by variable cards, as it is in some deck-building games. In Dominion, for example, replayability is enhanced by being able to play with different combinations of cards in the game. Fantastiqa’s expansions arguably do provide this to some extent, but in the end replayability is primarily generated from different cards showing up on the board, the available quests, and cards in hand – i.e. the varied tactical choices that will vary strongly from game to game. Furthermore, the level of interaction isn’t huge, and comes primarily in terms of competing for open quests, along with special abilities that let you discard cards to your opponent or steal gems, and also the way other players affect the landscape of the board. Despite this, interaction is certainly more than it is in your typical base game of Dominion, so the increased level of interaction here may even be a draw-card for some people. The rules may also take some effort grasp, not because they’re difficult or lengthy by any means, but simply because this is a game like few others. But watch a video review or two, and you’ll manage just fine, and be off and adventuring in no time. Finally, Fantastiqa is not a cheap game, but that isn’t altogether surprising given the expense that went into giving it a lavish and quality production. So none of these points are deal-breakers, and in fact some of them may even be advantages. Will these be minuses for you? I’ll leave that for you to judge. But now that we’ve got any potential criticisms out of the way, let’s move on to the many positives and strengths of this game, and there’s plenty of those!

A player’s starting setup ● The GoodThings I’m excited about I like Fantastiqa a lot. And there’s a lot to like about Fantastiqa! Here are some things that I really like about the game:

The quality of the components. There’s only word to describe these components: outstanding. Outstanding! The quality is immediately evident when opening the box – not only does it feature a high quality linen style finish, but it is so thick and solid, that you could probably have a gorilla (or substitute your average resident gamer) stand on the box lid without breaking it; in fact you could probably wack someone over the head with it and knock them out cold, without damaging the box itself. It’s a sight to behold, really. That quality is matched by the box insert, which has ample storage room for everything, and best of all has individual compartments for all the different types of cards – and also proves incredibly sturdy. And then the cards themselves – they’re thick, high quality and extremely durable, as are the boards, and … everything really. The publisher seems to have spared no expense in making this game the absolute very best quality it could be. They didn’t just include some plastic ziplock bags for storage, but they even included stickers to put on the bags to help distinguish them, for crying out loud! The artwork might not be to everyone’s taste, but it is certainly in keeping with the whimsical theme, and features classic qualities from master artists. The component quality all round is just second to none. It says “Enchanted Edition” on the box, and that’s about right – everything gets the deluxe treatment, and this “ordinary” edition can only be classed as deluxe. The whimsical story-telling fantasy theme. The game does a terrific job of evoking an atmosphere that is whimsical, dream-like, surreal, nonsensical, and entertaining. We’ve seen lots of fantasy themed games over the years, but the vast majority of them fall into the category of “classic fantasy”. In contrast, Fantastiqa defies that categorization, and falls into the “fantastic”, a genre associated with classic novels like Alice in WonderlandThe Phantom Tollbooth, and arguably even The Princess Bride. Best of all, it all makes perfect sense, in a fairy tale story kind of way: after all, why shouldn’t you be able to subdue a Troll with a Billy Goat, and why shouldn’t you be able to Swing from the Marsh Mangroves of Myria with spider web and your makeshift spatula swords to win back the Gem of Joopolo? Why not indeed?! The designer’s favourite childhood novel was The Phantom Tollbooth – and it happens to be one of my favourites as well – and he’s done a wonderful job of creating a world where similarly fantastic things happen. The introductory story in the rulebook is a great read, and really helps sets the tone for this, and the gameplay immediately takes you into a wonderful world of adventure. What other game can you think of sees you start with a rucksack equipped with a toothbrush and a spatula as weapons? The shine would quickly wear off if this theme was merely pasted on, but it’s well supported not just by delightful artwork and delightfully well-worded alliterative quests, but also by mechanics that lend themselves to the story-telling feel of the game. A player’s turn can often be described in a story-like way, as if it were page borrowed from Lewis Caroll or Norton Juster, and it’s high praise for a board game if it can accomplish such a feat. As such it feels far more thematic than something like Dominion ever will – in Fantastiqa you really do have the feeling that you’re going on an adventure to different places, and doing more than just trading and shuffling cards. All of this is backed up by some delightful and professional looking videos on the official website that is worth taking a look at too.

The literary background. It should be mentioned that Alf is an English professor, with a PhD in literature, and he knows his stuff. He’s taught courses on subjects like “Weird Tales and Fantastic Fiction”, and so his game has the benefit of his own academic research, and shows literary influences of The Phantom TollboothThe Wizard of OzThe Princess BrideThe Lord of the Rings, and many other classics. Quite frankly, it shows, and even the alliterative qualities of the quests show that Alf knows how to play with words and ideas. By his own admission he wanted Fantastiqa “to inform and be informed by my academic research,” and I think he’s accomplished that beautifully. To get an idea of some of the literature he draws on for the game, see this thread: A guide to the literary allusions & inside jokes of Fantastiqa. You don’t need to actually have read any of this stuff to enjoy the game, but it will help you get some of the inside jokes and references, and just appreciate all the more what Alf has brought to the game. How deck-building is integrated with a board-game. Is it a deck-builder with a board? Or is it a board-game with a deck? We’ve seen a lot of deck-builders over the years, but this one feels quite fresh and different. Everything from the whimsical theme, to the classic artwork, helps make Fantastiqa feel like we’re not in the usual deck-building world. What makes the big contribution to this fresh feel are the mechanics that use the board for moving around to subdue monsters. You’re not just shuffling and playing cards, but moving around on a board, subduing creatures, and completing quests. The board is a very important part of the game, and doesn’t at all feel like some tacked on extra. As a result, you also feel like you have way more options than you do in a typical deck-building game, where you’re largely limited by your current hand. In fact, it would be a mistake to approach Fantastiqa like a typical deck-building game. Usual strategies like deck-thinning that may seem familiar from Dominion just won’t work in the same way here, and that’s not because the game is flawed, but is a direct result of the fact that deck-building is merely one mechanic of several in the game. Players shouldn’t come in with preconceived notions about deck-building from other games (e.g. Dominion’s deckthinning “Chapel” strategy) and expect them to work in the same way here. This isn’t Dominion, after all, it’s Fantastiqa, and everything is different here! I love the way the spacial elements of the board are integrated with deck-building, and it really does work. The tactical nature of the game. While there certainly are strategic choices to make, Fantastiqa is especially a sharply tactical game. There’s a constantly changing landscape, and your plans for your next turn of adventuring may just fly out the window if your opponent decides to subdue some of the creatures currently on display. While some may find this frustrating, most of us will realize that the game forces you to go with the flow and enjoy the ride, making the most of the opportunities that present themselves, and be prepared for constantly changing circumstances – just as would be the case in a fantastic world. This also helps ensure that the game is replayable, because the story arc will vary drastically from game to game, depending on the decisions of the players, and the cards that come up on the board and in your hand. There’s a wide range of tactical choices before you at any given moment, with choices ranging from acquiring new cards from the board, seeking out new quests or purchasing new beasts or artifacts if your budget allows, or careful tactical use of the many free actions available to you, such as the flying carpets, artifacts, or even the special abilities on cards – many of which can often prove to be of critical importance in the right situation, and help make an average turn into an excellent turn. The strategic nature of the game. While tactics may be the order of the day in the world of Fantastiqa, strategy is not unimportant. New players may make the mistake of just gallivanting around the board and subduing whatever creatures they can, but they’ll quickly find that their deck may stall, and over time you’ll come to see the importance of choosing more carefully what to add or take away from the deck, especially with the help of artifacts and beasts. So there are important choices to make about what shape you want your deck to be honed into, in terms of the cards you include or the cards you thin out. You’ll also have to make careful long-term decisons about what quests to go for, as well as when to choose new ones and which ones to pick. What kinds of cards should you commit to quests, and should you focus on special strengths or try to be diverse? And how can you make the most of your position on the board to set yourself up for future turns? Which beasts should you buy at the bazaar, to really help you out later in the game? Or should you opt for artifacts that you’ll be able to use over and over to improve your position? I’ve tried several different approaches to the game, and had fun every time, even on the times where my strategy failed spectacularly!

A starting hand of cards The accessible family-friendly entry level. While there’s a lot going on, Fantastiqa isn’t really a complicated game. It’s not really that difficult to learn, nor is it difficult to play. It can also be played quite casually. Having said that, you’ll certainly get best results if you are alert and paying attention to what’s going on, optimizing all the possibilities that are at your disposal. But it still fits squarely into the camp of light-medium weight games, and for most people that’s ideal. Especially considering that a two player game can be knocked off in under an hour, that’s just perfect. My 12 year old son absolutely adored the game, both on account of the game-play as well as on account of the whimsical theme, and I think it can be a real hit with children as well as adults looking for a casual and yet thoughtful type of game.

How well it plays with just two players. The designer has stated “I developed Fantastiqa specifically to play really well for two people.” Now the game works well enough with three players, and because of the strongly tactical nature of the game, adding more players to the mix doesn’t make it feel any more chaotic. The four player game (which features two teams of two players) has quite a different feel again, by introducing trading as a new element, and most reports suggest that it also works wonderfully well. But having a game that plays well with only two players is particularly a bonus. Many of us are in a situation where we’re looking for a good game to play with our significant other, or maybe with a good friend, our son or daughter, and speaking from experience I can say that Fantastiqa works just perfectly in such situations. The exotic and aptly named quests. I’m a big fan of the humor and alliterative effort that Alf Seegert has put into the quests. They make a whole lot of sense thematically (of course we need flames to “Ignite eleven huge pipes for a hovel of Hill Giants”, and horned helmets to “Use your head to solve the riddle of the Locked Gate of Gordio”), but they’re also just a pleasure to read, and add charm and fun! Very nicely done, Alf! The circle of subduing. As Alf says, the Circle of Subduing is like a non-simultaneous game of rock-paper-scissors on a giant scale, where each creature can beat precisely one other creature, in a chain. The beauty of this is that it is a very clever and yet simple system that helps do away with any need for complex interactions between creatures, or for keeping track of attack and defense stats. It’s wonderfuly elegant! Not only does it eliminate fiddly book-keeping and avoids the need for numbers or reference charts, but it’s also incredibly thematic, and works smoothly and beautifully from a game-play perspective. The peaceful dragon. Actually he’s a nuisance, because he doesn’t do anything to help you subdue monsters, or accomplish quest. All he does is clog up your hand and drink tea! But that’s exactly what is so fun about it – you can’t help love him, even though he’s a pain. It’s whimsical, absurd, and yet charming. And there are ways to deal with a pesky peaceful dragon – like find a way to get it from your deck into your opponent’s deck – and that’s where the challenge and the fun comes in. The uniqueness. In the end, this is a game unlike any other I can think of. It’s a deck-builder like few other deck-builders. It’s got a fantasy theme like few other fantasy themes. And it’s got a quest-laden board with creatures and missions like few other board games. As an all round package, it’s a long way from having any “been there, done that” feel, and it’s not likely to duplicate anything that’s already in your gaming closet.

Fantastiqa in play  What do others think? The criticism Fantastiqa is fantastic, but the fantastic isn’t for everyone. Not a lot of critics have emerged out of the woodwork just yet, unless of course they are still imprisoned in the world of Fantastiqa! One critic simply didn’t find the idea of using spatulas to defeat dragons and complete quests appealing. While the game does have its tea (especially when Peaceful Dragons are around!), the reality is that this kind of world won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Either you’ll think it’s charming, or you’ll think it’s “deckbuilding for kids”. Others have criticized the graphic design and the romantic-period artwork – which is largely a matter of personal taste. The elements of randomness in terms of the cards has come under fire from some quarters, although some of the criticism on this last point may partially be a result of first impressions or a misunderstanding of the tactical nature of the game. The praise So, now for the praise. There’s no shortage of it. First let me share some of the positive comments about the quality components:

“While the gameplay and the overall mood of the game are its biggest strengths (read the introductory story, it’s cool!), the quality of the cards, statuettes, game boards and the box itself are definitely incredible as well; truly the best-looking game on my shelf.” – Bryan M “I must say, the box is just incredibly awesome. I have never seen a game in such a thick and sturdy box … If the box wasn’t too awesome to destroy, I’d try a weight test. I think I might be able to stand on it at ~200lb.” – Kirk Bauer “Every time I bring out the game, I stare at the box for awhile. never saw anything like it … The quality and color of the game is extremely high. I love it.” – Dundy O “I am really impressed with all of the components for this game.” – David Tracy “I bought Fantastiqa today. The box and the components, wow, it was well worth the money.” – blucky “The component quality and the art of the game is outstanding.” – Jon Beall “Absolutely beautifully made. One of the nicest looking games I have ever seen.” – Shane Hockin “Top quality components, I could beat someone to death with the box.” – Damon C. “As one of the guys in my game group said, it very well may be the only game box you could kill a man with.” – Clinton Coddington “Gorgeous production values.” – Paul Beakley Fantastiqa is also lauded on account of its remarkable theme: “It is extremely well-themed, and uniquely themed: it feels like you’re a character in a nineteenth-century fantasy-novel by George MacDonald. Very dream-like, and not like any other “fantasy” game out there, at present.” – Andrew MacLeod “The theme is very fun and whimsical. I can’t wait to play again.” – Jeffrey Wilkins “Truly delightful rompous adventure.” – Hatman X “I am one of those smitten with the theme and idea behind this game.” – David Tracy “It is very thematic and has a wonderful quirky sense of humour as I usually find in Alf Seegert’s games.” – Clinton Coddington “This is a game where theme matters, and I have to say this is the first game that has ever just outright charmed me!” – Jacob Cassens “A very thematic game where you can actually believe you are questing in the game…a rare feat in deck-building games where it usually just feels like you are doing card-driven math.” – Michael Sweazey “There’s a nice antique type feeling that pervades, as well as a dreamy-like ambience that you slowly sink into while playing. Wonderful stuff.” – Dave Gruehn “It’s a beautifully surreal adventure and likely will be played many, many times in the future.” – Bryan M “I love the theme and the whimsical feel of this game.” – Kenny Owens “The board and location elements provide this with a sense of theme that’s missing from the more pure deck-builders.” – Patrick Brennan

Finally, there are many positive comments about the game-play and the game as a whole, some even comparing it favourably with games like Dominion, Mage Knight, and even Elfenland: “The best card game and best deck-building game I have ever played! It sinks Dominion without a trace.” – Andrew MacLeod “This is the most unique deck-builder I’ve ever played and extremely fun to play.” – Dundy O “It doesn’t feel like that much of a deckbuilding game, the board part here is NOT a gimmick at all. The fun factor on this game is extremely high. It’s whimsical, strategic, tactical, and feels unique.” – Jeff Hastings “A brilliant game that is such a breath of fresh air. It is a hybrid deck-builder and adventure game, but it feels nothing at all like your standard deck-builder.” – Clinton Coddington “Very similar to Mage Knight except with a human level of complexity.” – heavydisking “A genuinely charming game and a novel take on the deckbuilding genre. Lovely quirky theme, amazing component quality, moderately simple rules.” – Vivienne Raper “One of the best deck builders I’ve played- I highly prefer it over Dominion.” – Dave Gruehn “Charming, whimsical, full of theme, and…challenging. A much deeper game than it seems on the surface, making it fun to play, not only because of the wonderful theme, but also because of great mechanics and game play. Alf has hit it out of the park with this one!” – David Bailey “Deckbuilder meets Elfenland, which is a positive. Efficiency meets route-planning. I quite like this inventive mix of mechanics.” – David Tracy “Best deckbuilder I’ve played. Feels much more like a “game” than a shuffle fest. Love the theme.” – Sophie Morgan “I was expecting it to be a simplistic deck builder aimed at children. While not complicated in terms of rules, the game has a lot of think to it. It is much deeper than it first appears.” – A.T. Selvaggio “This is by far the best deck builder game I’ve played so far. It’s a deck builder that doesn’t really feel like one.” – Jeff Hinrickson “Just silly enough in theme to be fun, and just serious enough a game to be strategic.” – Evan Dunn “Doesn’t feel like anything else I can think of. ” – Travis M Spomer “If you are a fan of Dominion, or deck building games in general, you should definitely try Fantastiqa. It is the next cool thing in deck building.” – Apple Paul

Recommendation

Is Fantastiqa going to be the kind of game you hoped for? It certainly was for designer Alf Seegert. In his words: “Fantastiqa turned out to be quite a bit more than I had hoped for: a streamlined, fine-art fantasy adventure that melds deck building with a board, combining tough decisions and complex interactions, playable in about an hour … It’s a mix of Euro-style game mechanisms – deck-building, set collection, hand management, point-to-point movement on a board, and press-your-luck mechanisms – all steeped in a world of fantastical adventure.” I find myself happily in agreement. What we find in Fantastiqa is something truly unique, and a whole lot of fun. If you enjoy original deck-building games like Few Acres of Snow or Mage Knight, but are looking for something more accessible or family oriented, then Fantastiqa might be for you. Similarly, if you’re starting to tire of games in the traditional deck-building mould and are looking for something that has more story and adventure, or just a spacial element that has a genuine impact on the game, then Fantastiqa might be for you. Finally, if you just love the fantastic, and want to enjoy a game which embraces this theme, then Fantastiqa is definitely for you. Deck-building goes down the rabbit hole, and I love it!

Article and pictures by EndersGame and used with permission A new edition of Fantastiqa is currently being published and available via Kickstarter. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/167427101/games-of-art-3-beautiful-new-games-featuring-fine

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