Friedemann Friese


No. of Players:
3 - 6



This stone age game by Friedemann Friese is set in the gaming family of Funkenschlag (Power Grid), but as this year the 10th anniversary of Funkenschlag can be celebrated it is designed as a new standalone game with its own twists and turns (despite the fact that it uses some of the mechanisms of Funkenschlag).

Each of the players becomes head of a stone age tribe, and the first player to get thirteen of his clan members onto the modular gameboard will be the master of all tribes and winner of the game. However, the way to this aim is quite long, since the players usually start the game with just one or two clan members on the board. As indicated, the modular board can be adjusted to match any number of players from two to six, and the different areas on the board show the different types of food which can be gathered there: berries, fish, bears and mammoths. However, in order to gather food from these spaces the players do not only need a clan member there, but in addition they also will need a matching technology card which allows them to gather (or hunt) this specific type of food. After all, do not forget we are dealing with stone age people!

Apart from additional clan member figures, each player starts the game with five units of food and one initial technology card, the herbs gatherer. Food serves as currency in this game, and the herbs gatherer technology allows its owners to gather one unit of food during the hunting phase for free. But to be honest, this one unit only can be seen as a start because each clan member on the gameboard will consume one unit of food each turn in the food consumption phase.

However, before food can be hunted and consumed, the players first need to get technology cards which enable them to get food or which might trigger other useful benefits. Before the game started, a display of eight technology cards with card order numbers from seven to fourteen has been arranged in ascending order into two rows, and for all technology cards the general rule can be given that the cards with the higher card order numbers will offer better benefits than those with lower card order numbers. So, the deck contains for example several cards for farming (gathering food without the need of clan members on the gameboard), but while the lower cards spread into the deck only allow the production/gathering of a few food units, the cards with the higher card order numbers allow a gathering of up to 10 units of food! The technology cards needed for the gathering / hunting of food from the different spaces of the gameboard are designed in the same manner, and so carrying baskets (berries), fishing rods, bows (for bears) and spears (for mammoths) with high card order numbers enable their owners to gather more food of the matching type than cards with low order numbers.

Each of the technology cards also has its price (to be paid in units of food), and once again the price is lower for cards with a low card order number. Only the first four cards may be bought at any moment, but the lowest card of the following four cards will take the free space once a card has been bought. Then a new card is revealed from the deck and added, but since only the eight initial starting cards were placed in a fixed order, the new card may have any card order number. Thus, a new card is not always placed at the end of the waiting line, but instead it is placed at the correct rank between one card with a lower and one card with a higher card order number.

The order in which players may buy these cards is depending on the player order, with the first player being the player with most clan members on the gameboard. However, a quite interesting variation of a normal buying or auctioning process can be experienced here, since although the first player will chose one card for buying, that card first will be offered to all other players in reverse player order! Only if no other player wants this card the first player will be allowed to buy it, but if it is bought by another player then the first player again has to choose one available card and offer it to the other players. However, all players who have obtained one technology card are out of this process, since each player only may acquire one technology card per turn.

This mechanism poses an interesting, speculative challenge to the player choosing the current card, since if the player desires a specific card it may be wise first to offer other cards in the hope that the other players possibly will take these. However, since the display of available technology cards is visible for everybody, all other players also may guess which card might be favoured by the active first player, and so they may keep low until the desired card is offered. And, if the first player chooses a totally unattractive card, he always has to face the danger that he might end up with this card himself!

When each player has bought one technology card, the round continues with the gathering/hunting of food. Once again going in reverse player order, the players now are allowed to use their technologies to gain food. As indicated, farming technologies will create some amount of food without the need of clan members on the gameboard, but all other types of food require both a clan member within a fitting space and the matching technology card to gain food from that space. As might be guessed, the bigger the animal the higher its food value, and so the mammoth actually has a value of four food units whereas berries only count for two food and fishes and bears for three.

The observance of the reverse player order is quite important here, since only a limited amount of the different types of food is available for gathering/hunting each round (apart from grain, since the farming stockpile is endless). Thus, the player with the biggest clan on the gameboard collects his food last and may actually run out of stocks, and this is a good example of the balancing which Friedemann Friese has found for this game since the players should follow a strategy of keeping a low profile and not simply try to enlarge their clans whatever the cost. The art of playing this game lies in avoiding a too big clan whithout falling too far behind!

When all players have received their food, they must pay one unit of food for each of their clan members on the gameboard, and afterwards they may use left over food to place more clan members onto the board. It is important to know at this space that a player only is allowed to place one of his clan members into each space, and so the players will have to cover a wider area with their clan members in order to get closer to winning. The first clan member per round costs one unit of food, but if more than one clan member is to be placed within the same round, the price to pay is stepwise increased by one for each additional clan member which the player wants to bring onto the board. In addition, the players face restrictions on the board since all figures must be adjacent to already placed figures of the same player, and so the situation will come up that a placement into an empty space is not longer possible because of other players' clan members. In this case the price for the placement is increased by one for each clan member in the same space (including the player's own one), and so a placement may get considerably more expensive.

After all players had a chance to add new clan members to the gameboard, the current round ends with a discarding of the technology card with the lowest card order number is discarded and replaced with a new card from the deck the stockpiles of available food are replenished for the next round, and a new player order is determined on basis of the sizes of the clans of the players. If two clan have the same number of members on the gameboard, the player with the higher numbered technology card will be placed prior to the other playr in the now player order.

Some other rules add additional finetuning to the game, and here the knowledge technology cards may be named which can be acquired just like any other technology card. These cards provide special abilities, so that a player who can create fire becomes immune against the spoiling of his food stockpiles (all other players loose one third of their food each round after the acquiring of new technologies), or a player who has discovered the art of speech is allowed to place his clan members for less food into already occupied board spaces. An important difference to other technology cards is that a player may hold any amount of knowledge cards, whereas the total amount of technology cards used for gathering/hunting and farming is limited to a maximum of three cards.

Once again Friedemann has created a rather challenging resource-magagement game, and even though the game uses some ideas from Funkenschlag the variation seems to be big enough to warrant the release of a full new game. The mechanisms for the acquiring of technologies and the gathering of food work rather smoothly with the reverse player order approach which is followed at many occasions, and so the players are challenged to make the most with as few clan members on the board as possible. Food is needed not only to buy and support the clan members, but also for the acquiring of new technologies, and so these different uses need to be weighted against each other. Furthermore, the players also should take their available technologies into consideration and base their future designs on them, and so a successful survival in the stone age becomes a rather tricky undertaking!

Quite surprisingly, I liked the quicker and more direct competition in Funkenschlag - Die ersten Funken even more than in the original game. However, this is partly due to the fact that the theme and the artwork much more my liking than the rather technical drawings of Funkenschlag. Still, it is a very cute feature that each technology card in the game shows its own drawing, and whereas the cards with the lower card order number show hairy Neanderthal men and women, cards with higher numbers show growing signs of settlements and civilization. If seen in order, the technology cards tell a story of their own, and so Funkenschlag - Die ersten Funken is offers some rather nice ideas even outside the filed of rules and mechanisms. Friedemann really created a very nice anniversary gift for all friends of his games!

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Copyright © 2011 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany