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Review of Rise of Fenris (Campaign)

Game: Rise of Fenris (Campaign)

Published: Stonemaier Games

Designed: Ryan Lopez DeVinaspre and Jamey Stegmaier

Players: 1-7

Playstyle: Engine Building

Non Spoiler Overview

Rise of Fenris captures something that many campaign based games hope to achieve, but often fall short of. It not only provides an engaging story for players to follow, but also provides unique but intuitive game play. Each of the episodes of the campaign offers a new twist on game play, but the rules changes are simple and can be explained quickly without much confusion. I especially like that the game is not a legacy game, and thus while the game is a campaign, each episode offers a new rule set. This means that players do not need to recall the rules from each prior episode which can become convoluted overtime. Instead, each episode provides players with a new challenge and new strategy to try.

While it is not a legacy game, Rise of Fenris still provides players with a sense of discovery. It is a wonderful compromise for those who dislike destroying a game after one play, but would still like to explore a campaign game. The gradual release of new components and rules provides players with something to look forward to, but nothing prevents players from playing the campaign multiple times. It strikes the perfect balance between experiencing the surprises for the first time and replayability that many campaign games struggle to achieve.

Each episode focuses around a different concept and forces players to act differently according to the strategy provided. This forces seasoned players to consider new strategies and act accordingly. That being said, with the variety of strategies offered in Fenris, players may run into certain episodes that do not fit their specific play style. Those episode may become a struggle for that player and thus be less engaging than other episodes. The good side of this is that there is an enough variety in the episodes that likely all players will be satisfied by the end of the campaign. This also levels the playing field for players, as no one strategy is favored throughout.

One divisive part of Rise of Fenris is how the campaign winner is determined. Some players have demonstrated frustration that they can win every episode of the campaign except the last one, and still lose the campaign. The only episode that matters when considering the campaign winner is the last episode. The player who has won the last episode will win the entire campaign. While this may be frustrating for players who frequently win, I do like the implementation of it. Players who may have lost frequently do not need to give up hope, as they still have a shot at winning. This keeps the campaign from feeling like a chore to players who may have lost games early.

Overall simply put, I would suggest Rise of Fenris to anyone. It has been by far my favorite experience with a board game since I came into the hobby. The campaign provided a coherent story, but did so by short snippets in each episode. This kept players attention and left them in suspense. Though I do suggest having your players read the background prior to the start of the campaign. Additionally the gameplay provides enough changes to keep players on their toes without making players feel overwhelmed keeping track of the rules. If I had to only keep one expansion in my collection for any game, Rise of Fenris would be it. It was worth every penny. If you are interested in a more in depth review looking at each of the episodes, with spoilers, you can continue reading below. If you want to avoid spoilers, please stop reading now.

Spoilers Below

In the remainder of this review, I will go over my thoughts on each of the episodes of the campaign, the two new factions, and the components included in the game. I will begin by going over the episodes and my thoughts on them. I will review them in the order that we played them, with two important notes. First, in our campaign we played episode 2B first, and I will review 2A when I discuss Episode 7. Second, our group did not play Episode 8A and therefor I do not feel comfortable giving a review on it, I may amend this post after our second campaign.

***Please note that I will be including pictures of the new factions throughout, and that the factions originally come unpainted in a teal and orange color. I have painted the miniatures for our campaign, so they do look slightly different than they do out of the box. ***

Episode 1:

The changes made to the base game rules in the first episode are very slight. In this episode players are introduced to perks, which allow a slight benefit at the beginning of an episode. Perks can only be used once in a campaign, but there are a variety to choose from. They quickly become a resource that must be managed wisely. During most episodes they cost 15 gold, but for the first episode they are offered for free.

Additionally, players are introduced to Influence Tokens. These will be used for a variety of purposes throughout the game, but in this episode the tokens are used as voting power to decide what episode is played next. I liked that players could earn more voting power during the game by earning stars, but at the end of the episode each player gets one influence token to use. This allows all players to feel as though they have a role in the outcome of the vote, but also gives an incentive for players to quickly get their stars on the board. I also enjoyed that the purpose of the influence tokens was not explained until after the episode was over. It created suspense and curiosity that may otherwise not have existed if we had known that they would be worth extra power in voting.

This episode gave a good idea of what the rest of the campaign would be like, but was also one of the more simple episodes. It provided a good introduction of how the campaign would be structured. There were only a few new rules introduced, and they were easy to keep track of and felt thematically fitting to what was happening in the story. The vote at the end also added tension to the gameplay and helped players understand how one another usually plays.

In our game, Episode One was extremely fast paced as everyone raced to get Influence Tokens. The race to be the winner and have the most influence ended with us having our shortest game of Scythe ever, at around 45 minutes. The game was also one of our most aggressive games, and with tensions high we decided that we would vote for peace in the second episode.

Episode 2B:

This was by far my favorite episode in the entire campaign. I am a fan of games that offer cooperative elements in an overall competitive game. This episode did this very well by allowing each player a Alliance token that could be given to one other faction. That faction would then be allowed to use their faction ability as well as your own, and you gain a small monetary bonus as well. The decision must be mutual and players may only be aligned with one other faction. Players do have the option to break this alliance by attacking the other party, but it comes at cost. The player who attacks their faction alliance will lose 10 coins in the end of game scoring.

The one thing I do not like about this module is when there are an odd number of players at the table. If a player becomes an odd man out, being the only one left without an alliance they gain 5$. Some of the other players will gain that much AND an additional faction ability. While I understand that it is trying to encourage players to make smart deals quickly, it becomes really difficult for players who have their turn last. Players may only ask for an alliance on their turn, and in our game everyone had their alliance formed by the end of their first turn. The last player to go in this case could be at a significant disadvantage, especially if their faction ability is one of the less appealing ones.

In addition to the alliances, the game also includes an alternate triumph track. This triumph track is called the Peace Triumph Track and replaces some of the original ways to place stars with new ones. On this track, the places for combat stars, and the power star have been eradicated. The mech and enlistment star spaces have been combined to ensure players can get either one or the other. Then an additional space for gaining three Encounter Cards has been added, and players can also place a star for getting a Factory Card. Players may also now get a star for having 16 resources. Finally, a second space has been added for objectives. In this Episode, players are able to score two objectives. Rather than discarding their second objective once the first is met, instead players actually draw a new one to replace the one they have completed.  The alternate Triumph Track forced players to focus their attention on different things, and as a result we saw many players playing in a way which they normally wouldn’t. It kept the game from getting stale and made sure that this episode was significantly different than the first.

The Episode Rewards for 2B also introduced Infrastructure Mods. These are Mods that can be purchased to give players a one time per episode use tool that can aid players in combat or boost their economy. They came in handy during later episodes and helped jumpstart many player’s engines and allowed the game to move at a faster pace.

Episode 3:

This episode encouraged all the players to rush towards the Factory early on. Players were encouraged to find Vesna at the Factory. Each time they stepped onto the Factory they gained an Influence Token and a number of Factory Cards equal to the number of Influence Tokens the player has. The first player to draw Vesna kept her card and continued play. Players continued to gain Influence Tokens and place stars as normal once she was found. In order to make this fair for all players, Rusviet’s ability to move between villages and the Factory is altered for this episode.

The end of this episode was the first major component surprise within Box A. It revealed Vesna’s Faction. The player who found Vesna or (if no one found Vesna) the winner of that episode will play her Faction at this point. I will go into more detail with Vesna’s Faction later on in the review, but I liked how placing the box near the table created tension and interest in meeting the objectives. There was a sense of mystery throughout the episode.

Every player was also able to change factions at the end of this episode with the player who has the lowest amount of money having the option to choose a new faction first. This slight catch up mechanism is especially nice for new players who may have found that their original faction’s ability does not match their play style. The player who found Vesna however, cannot change factions at this time.

In addition to the introduction of the new faction, this episode also introduces Setup Bonuses. Players are able to get one Setup Bonus per two Influence Tokens rounded up. This bonus allows players to start with more gold, power or popularity. It is another way that gameplay can be kickstarted, and it offers players the ability to further customize their factions to their playstyle.

Episode 4:

This episode introduces Fenris Agents on the tunnels and Factory. Players’ goal is to subdue the agents and win the round. Players can subdue agents by paying power or popularity equal to a combat card drawn when the player moves on the Fenris Agent’s space. The agents will keep players workers from being able to move onto a space and can hinder movement in the early game.

However at the end of the episode players will gain a Setup Bonus for each two Fenris Agents, which is a nice prize for not being able to move around as easily. In addition to the Setup Bonus’ awarded, we unlocked Mech Mods at this point. Mech Mods allow players to pay 50 gold to purchase an ability that will replace their mech’s current ability for the episode. Players have the ability to switch mech mods before each episode which allows each faction versatility and the ability to customize their gameplay strategy to the goal of each episode. Some abilities have to do with movement like Riverwalk, and others pertain more to combat.

While episode four was enjoyable, it was definitely not my favorite episode. It’s main purpose was to allow the Vesna faction player, and any faction player who switched the chance to adapt to the new faction. The Faction Agents ended up being a very minor part of gameplay for us, it this episode and episode six felt the most like a normal game of Scythe.

Episode 5:

During set up Influence Tokens are placed on the board. If a player walks on a Influence Token, they take it. Those are worth -1$ at the end of the game. Additionally Box C is placed on the Factory. If a player moves any unit onto the Factory, they open Box C. After seeing what Box A held, many players will rush for the Factory this time, hoping to get something just as exciting in Box C. What they don’t realize is that the box unleashes the Annihilator, which immediately goes into combat with them. Defeating it becomes another end game condition. Players may be disappointed that this does not give them an immediate benefit, and does cause some players to become more cautious in future games. It was a nice twist after Vesna.

During the end of this episode, the next new faction is revealed. The player who defeated the Annihilator or winner of the game now takes control of the Fenris Faction. This was one of my favorite moments of the campaign because the Fenris Faction mechs are visually impressive. They are large and have a great deal of table presence.

Episode 6:

This episode has no special rules or set up. It exists for the sole purpose of allowing the player who now has the Fenris Faction the ability to better understand the faction. Its abilities are very different from other factions, and can take some getting used to. The addition of Fenris for the first time made it seem as though there were special rules though. Fenris has the ability to drop Influence Tokens on the board, which players pick up if they step on them. Those tokens are worth -1$ at the end of the episode and having them on the board forced players to re-evaluate strategies they have used in the past. I truly feel that adding no other special rules was the right move here. Fenris has a steep learning curve, and adding too much to this episode may have made it too busy while learning the new faction.

The end of this episode is the second time players have the option to switch their faction. This time the winner of the game is able to choose their faction first, followed by the player who had the next highest score and so on. This provides the winner a feeling of satisfaction despite an otherwise uneventful episode.

Episode 7:

While Episode 6 was calm and relatively simple, Episode 7 is anything but. There was a lot going on during Episode 7, and it was the only episode in which I had to reread the rules several times to make sure I had not missed anything. In addition to the rules that are introduced in episode 7, I also had to use the rules in the episode we had missed earlier in the campaign.

Episode 2A focused around War and combat. It introduced a Triumph track that focused heavily on combat, combat cards and having power. Additionally, players could declare rivals at the beginning of the game by placing up to four stars on enemy bases. Players could only gain those stars back by combat, and if they won combat with the enemy the star was on, they also gain a monetary award. This heavy focus on combat was not my favorite, as I do not favor a heavily aggressive strategy but many of our players really enjoyed this. I would especially suggest this episode for players who wish that combat was a more integral part of Scythe’s gameplay.

In addition to the Episode 2A gameplay rules, Episode 7 also introduced rules for trying to find Tesla, Vesna’s father. This focused on players getting a certain number of Encounters based on the player count. If the player gets the right number of Encounters they get to open Box E and discard their Encounter Tokens. This ends the game immediately. If no one is able to get the correct number of Encounter Tokens, the game ends when the first player places their star.

Encounter Tokens that have not been discarded are worth points at the end of the game. If the player is able to open Box E, they find Tesla and continue on to Episode 8A. We never found Tesla in Episode 7, so we continued onto episode 8B.

I liked how this episode was structured. It forced players to pay attention to Encounter Tokens and the other player’s actions. In a way, players can almost play this cooperatively or competitively. During our game I was actively blocked from getting the final Encounter I would have needed to open the box. However I could see in other games players allowing one player to get the final token to curb their curiosity. However, with the addition of Episode 2A, this was by far the most confusing episode, because players had to keep track of more additional rules than in other episodes.

Episode 8B:

We didn’t save Tesla, as a result in Episode 8B he has absolutely lost his mind. He becomes an autonomous enemy, looking to rid the world of his terrible machines. His miniature begins the game in the Factory, but then will move using a dice and a tile that assigns a number to an associated direction. If he encounters a player they will go to combat where Tesla rolls a dice to determine his base combat strength and adds the last two discarded combat cards to his strength. If a player wins the combat, they subtract the difference from Mad Tesla’s power, which begins on the power tracker at 16. They also gain a popularity and a combat star, making fighting Tesla a good option for players who don’t usually fight.  When a player defeats Mad Tesla the game ends immediately after that player’s turn.

Another cool aspect of this episode is that players were able to choose their faction mat. Players with more money from the campaign were able to choose first and descended down to those with the lowest wealth. This could be a significant advantage in the final round. Additionally, players double their final score for this episode. This final score, added to any 25$ bonuses players may have accumulated from their Triumph Log will determine the final winner.

This round was probably my second favorite episode. The randomness of Tesla provided a unique tension from the other episode. Players had no idea when Tesla might attack them, meaning that they always had to be prepared to fight. No amount of negotiation would keep Tesla off their territory. It also made players who usually avoid combat more aggressive and mobile. Our players who generally avoid combat were actively seeking Tesla out in hopes of gaining combat stars and popularity.

New Factions

Vesna:

I had the enjoyment of playing Vesna for most of the campaign. I truly enjoyed her faction abilities and her mech abilities. This faction feels different from any of the other factions. It has a utility belt feel which adjusts easily based on the abilities drawn. However, I would not suggest Vesna for a player who enjoys a consistent gameplay experience, as much of her faction ability relies on the luck of the draw.

Mech Abilities: Vesna has a selection of mech abilities that come on a punch board. While she has two static mech abilities, any of her four can be replaced with the abilities from the punch board. These function the same as Mech Mods discovered during the game, with the exception that Vesna must select six randomly. From those six the player has the ability to select anywhere from 2-4 of these abilities to use during that game. These can be covered later by Mech Mods if the player is dissatisfied.

Faction Ability: Vesna draws three unused Factory cards. These are one time use cards that must be discarded after use. Additionally when the player draws a Factory card from the Factory, they may only use that card once and then discard it. Vesna may only take one card from the factory over the course of the game though, similarly to other players.

Vesna feels very versatile, but when players are playing her it is important to manage their resources. Her faction ability is a limited resource, meaning that using it at the proper time is important to gain the biggest benefit from it. However for players who are looking for a character that can be edited to suit their needs, I would suggest trying Vesna. It takes a lot of skill to be consistently good with the random attributes, but the mech abilities can be great for a seasoned Scythe player.

Fenris:

While Vesna is a very flexible faction, Fenris is quite the opposite. This faction will appeal most to players who are looking for an aggressive area control game. Most of Fenris’ mech abilities focus solely around combat and being able to move around the board quickly, while slowing the movement of other players.

Fenris felt very pigeon holed during the games that we played with it in it.  The player always had to be on the move to get rid of their influence tokens because each one subtracted a point at the end of the game. Their faction ability allowed them to play a influence token where ever Rasputin moved to, and then place an additional token on any other unoccupied tokenless primary terrain territory. When Rasputin was moving frequently, it was very easy for other players to be trapped by tokens or losing a lot of points.

Additionally the player can teleport to non-adjacent territories with an Influence token present, if they take that token. This means that the player can hop easily from one side of the board to the next within the span of a few turns.

Beyond this, if Fenris gets into a fight and has a significant hand of combat cards, the defender is essentially hopeless. Fenris has an ability called Death Ray that allows them to play any number of combat cards that have the same value during a fight, regardless of the number of units in combat. Luckily they have to discard them all when they win, but the other factions don’t stand much of a chance. Also if Fenris has Horrify as well, the defender may end up taking a Influence Token for each unit that was forced to retreat.

Personally, I would not want to play as Fenris. I am a passive player, and the aggressive strategy would be difficult for me to wrap my head around. However I am happy that Fenris was included with Rise of Fenris. I think that the strategy will be beneficial for players who favor an aggressive strategy in a way that other factions are not. The steps taken to balance Fenris are clear, and players who play a fast paced game can put Fenris at a significant disadvantage. The addition of Fenris to a game has to change how others play or Fenris can absolutely dominate a field.

Components:

Rise of Fenris included plenty of new components that were all high quality. In addition to the various punch board tokens that added to game play, the game also game with a total of thirteen new miniatures, 62 new wooden pieces, 2 custom dice and a guidebook that not only explains the campaign but also includes the story and a backstory.

The miniatures were high quality with plenty of detail to paint. I was especially impressed with the attention to detail on Vesna’s mechs, with the faction symbol included on the top.

The cardboard tokens and tiles were on a high quality punch board. None of mine ripped when I punched them out, and they all held up to the wear and tear of gameplay. However if players are looking to upgrade their game, Meeple Source does sell upgrades for some of the components, such as the Influence Tokens which are pictured above.

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