28 September 2018
A simple surface hides a game with plenty of spirit
Fae – named after the word for a fairy-like spirit being – is a bit like its title: short and simple at first glance, but with enough mystery and magic to draw you in deeper. Soon enough, you’ll be under its spell.
In that way, it’s perhaps a more fitting moniker than Clans, the rather plain name that the Spiel des Jahres-nominated game was originally published under back in 2002, with similarly uninspiring wooden huts and rural terrain on its board. Fae makes no changes to Clans’ gameplay, but gives its theme and visuals a modern overhaul in an effort to bring a new wave of players to the game.
It deserves the attention, too. When you first open the box, you might be surprised at how few pieces it actually contains: the board, a handful of cards, some markers and dozens of hooded plastic druids. Fae’s strength lies in how much fun and interesting gameplay it conjures up from such a modest pile of ingredients.
On the surface, it’s a straightforward game of points-scoring. Players move groups of druids between neighbouring areas, clustering the initially lone worshippers into increasingly bigger crowds – though if they grow too large, they’re unable to move. Once a group is isolated, it performs a ritual and scores points based on how many druids are present and the combination of colours. There are very few rules to actually moving the pieces around, so turns fly by quickly, with a growing momentum as the pieces magnetise together in certain spots.
Alone, this would be functional but dull. What injects it with a shot of excitement is the hidden identity of each player, who has an allegiance with a certain colour of druid (even with the max four players, one colour is neutral). Rushing to score only your own druids will encourage players to ostracise your followers on later turns, so you’ll have to hand your opponents points to keep your identity obscured until you’re ready to try and make a break for the winning score. It’s delightfully passive-aggressive, with 'all for one' until that ‘one’ seems like they might actually win instead of you.
The entertaining competition bubbling away below the surface is heated further by the scoring cards, which increase the value of rituals performed on certain terrain types and completely void those performed on others. These change over the course of the game, forcing a dynamic flow of druids around the board and presenting uproarious moments for players to stick the knife in and disrupt the plans of their opponents. It’s all great fun, with the very simple gameplay hiding a surprisingly complex amount of strategy and social interaction.
Fae had no need to make any changes to Clans’ gameplay, so it didn’t. The modernised art style – which can be a touch overwrought in places, but never slows the fast flow – will likely divide those who favour the functional clarity of its predecessor but, if the new look allows more people to discover the hidden pleasures of this unassuming treat, a return in whatever form it takes is worth celebrating.
Fae’s humble looks hide a really engaging combination of hidden identities, strategic scoring and the chance to upset your opponents’ best-laid plans. There’s no need to pick it up if you already own Clans – for everyone else, it’s a great chance to discover a game worth celebrating.
Designer: Leo Colovini
Artist: Atha Kanaani, Bree Lindsoe
Time: 20 minutes
This review originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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