Freya’s Folly is a family strategy board game by Don Bone. It was released back in 2005 to very little fanfare from small publisher Sagacity Games; so why the review now?
Firstly, the game is currently available from online store BoardGameGuru (linked above) for just £4.99 plus postage. Secondly, I bought it on a whim at this price and have thoroughly enjoyed it.
Freya’s Folly will take three to five players about an hour to play. It has something of Ticket to Ride about it (set collection), with the route building replaced by a pick-up-and-deliver mechanism.
While the cover image may leave a lot to be desired, the component quality is otherwise OK. The board is both nicely drawn and functional, while the cards and various wooden chits are adequate (although not ideal for the colour blind). One minor complaint would be with the player boards, which feel like thick paper rather than thin cardboard; but despite this they comfortably serve their purpose.
This works because not only does it get a laugh, it shows you know the game has god awful box art but you still want to play it. It’s also useful as it shows the Brisingamen (her necklace) is gold and has four sections (more on that later).
Freya’s is definitely a little heavier on rules than Ticket to Ride, but I’d be confident anyone who had played it would easily pick this up too – and the rulebook is both clear and concise. There are two actions each per round instead of one, plus a few (simple) special powers for your dwarves to use, but otherwise the game feels instantly familiar.
A player’s turn largely revolves around sending dwarves (each player has four to six, depending on player numbers, represented by round wooden discs) into the mine to gather gems, bringing them back, then taking/completing jewellery settings. The game rewards clever tactical and strategic play, while both a cautious or gung-ho attitude can prevail.
Set-up is a little fiddly, but once done you can explain the rules very easily as players can see the whole game in front of them. It may take 15 minutes first time, but you should have very few questions once you get going.
The four sides
These are me, plus three fictitious amalgams drawn from observing my friends, and their respective quirks and play styles.
- The writer: I love a good pivot game and this ticks that box for me. You’re sending dwarves into the mine, but they can leap frog up to two others on their way – making timing of the essence. You can quickly head down a shaft with the help of others, but if you get stranded it can take several horribly slow turns to get back out. And if another player decides to finish the game fast, going for small value cards, you can be left with some serious egg on your beardy face.
- The thinker: While there are some interesting decisions and fun to be had, there is too much luck here for a serious strategist to fully enjoy. There are two ways for the game to end; one player must complete a piece of jewellery with each of their dwarves, or between them complete four pieces of the Brisingamen. This would be OK, if it were not for the random fashion in which the Brisingamen pieces arrive from the draw pile. It makes perfect planning impossible, leaving too much to chance.
- The trasher: First, Freya’s Folly’s tactical nature gives it a thumbs-up – good tactical play can definitely win this game, even over a strong strategist. It also has a great fear inducing ‘thief’ card – but only three of them, which can be anti-climactic if they don’t come up or are used in a cold war style (several players have them and sit on them as security). This means you can’t guarantee a great 60-minute game experience, but the chances are something memorable will happen each game.
- The dabbler: The game doesn’t quite have the personality of Ticket to Ride, but it makes up for this a little with the ‘power’ cards. These let you give your dwarves a bit of character; a pet bat (fledermaus!), speed or stealth, for example. It’s quite a thinky game but there’s also a lot of randomness, which can be disheartening if you feel out of the running through no fault of your own. But like most good family games you don’t have to think much between turns, so you can at least keep chatting!
The reward for completing Brisingamen pieces is tokens. These can be used as extra turns, which can be hugely handy – or saved for victory points. If the Brisingamen is completed, they’ll be worth 6 points per token – but if it isn’t they’ll only be worth three. This can really add to decision making near the end of the game.
But this tallies with one of the games commonest criticisms – the nature of its randomness. The way the cards come out can completely scupper a strategy that seemed perfectly viable the turn before, which is a nightmare if you’re on the receiving end. I personally find this chaos fun; but a first time player could easily see the game as strategic as it begins to play out, only to find the end game a disappointing crapshoot.
Another common criticism is balance, in particular with the powerful ‘thief’ card; but also with the possibility for someone to suddenly win easily by completing all low scoring cards if a bunch suddenly show up.
But this also feels more like an issue born of the card draw rules. It’s fair to say Freya’s Folly could’ve done with some further refinement.
Finally, some lay serious smack down on the art – the box, the board and the rest. It is pretty dry, but also functional – which I’d take ahead of overproduced and busy every time. However, if you’re the kind of gamer who needs Fantasy Flight polish to get you heart racing, you may want to look elsewhere.
Let’s get one thing straight: Freya’s Folly isn’t the best game in the world, nor will it make it into my top 10. But it still deserves a place in my gaming collection. It’s a fun family game that doesn’t outstay it’s welcome; and has interesting mechanics well explained in a tight rulebook.
So far Freya’s Folly has been a satisfying play every time, while offering plenty of chaos and randomness – which also means it’s certainly not for everyone.
But while some players haven’t been overly keen, all have said they’d play again. for a £5 game, I’ll take that as a win. And who can resist Freya’s big, beautiful blue eyes…?