Respectable citizenry, shady societies, upstanding establishments and seedy taverns. Through these veins pulses the lifeblood of the city. And you must manipulate them all for your secret gains. Do you have the moxie and street smarts to influence the town’s beating heart? Or will you become just another puppet in someone else’s Machiavellian scheme?
How it Plays
In Fidelitas you will put the townsfolk’s loyalties to the test, persuading them to move about the city so that you can complete various goal cards – no doubt messing with their heads the entire time. While it’s all very nondescript and generically Middle Ages, it’s eerily similar to the modern head game that local politicians play with us today. Mongo only pawn in game of Fidelitas.
There are five location cards which represent the town – all laid out in a row and capped by a harbor on one end and a fort on the other. Four of these are linked to a specific guild and contain a different business on either side. For example, the Artisan guild has a butcher and a baker, but alas no candlestick maker. During the game you will play citizens to these locations. Characters may be placed to either side which will likely influence how its abilities resolve, or the completing of goals. The tavern represents the fifth spot and follows special rules.
Citizens appear in the form of Virtus cards, which comprise your hand. These characters are also associated with various guilds, but there are more than what are located in town. Each townsperson also has a special ability. On your turn, you play one Virtus card to a location and trigger its action. If the citizen’s guild matches that at a location, you must play it there. Otherwise, you can generally place them wherever. Various abilities allow you to manipulate the board by moving, swapping, picking up and discarding people.
Alternatively, you may play any Virtus card to the Tavern. When doing so, you do not apply that character’s effect. Instead, draw one card from the deck and place it on the opposite side of the Tavern and then you may discard one of your Missio cards to draw a new one.
The purpose of all this gerrymandering is to maneuver sets of citizens to various locations in order to complete the objectives on your Missio cards. These typically request that certain numbers and types of guilds be represented at particular locations. Any time conditions meet one or more goals at the end of your turn, you proclaim as much and reveal the Missio card. Trumpeting fanfare is optional. Sometimes an opponent has already conveniently completed an objective for you, in which case you simply claim it on your turn. The less effort on your part, the more satisfying the job – and the more it seems like the way actual politics works, anyway!
The first player to complete a set number of Missio points triggers the endgame. If and when everyone’s had the same number of turns, the individual with the highest score wins. It may not be plowing snow and arranging for garbage collection, but all of your machinations will soon have you feeling like a Chicago alderman in no time at all!
Tu quoque ludum ludio ludius?
I toyed with the idea of writing an entire paragraph in Latin, but then thought better of it. Despite how fitting it might have been, given the game’s title and cards, jokes aren’t very funny if you have to work at them. Unless you’re the sophisticated type, of which I am not. Speaking of jokes and working and Latin and sophisticated, that reminds of the superbly crafted graffiti scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Romani ite domum, indeed! Anyhow, the Latin references are an ironic choice in Fidelitas. The language is so organized and structured. However, this game can certainly be a bit feisty.
The first thing you’ll notice about Fidelitas is the striking artwork. It’s cartoony, yet reflective of the period – a style reminiscent of any Renaissance setting that Disney’s ever tried to interpret in their animated films. And while you never expect singing crustaceans to pop out of cooking pots, it’s still whimsical enough to give the table a thematic pluck. All-in-all, it very much looks like a commercial card game, though, because that’s what it is.
As you start playing, however, you’ll notice that Fidelitas feels comfortably familiar. It has an old soul, and strikes me as not all that dissimilar to favorite classics. While not as obviously generic as something like rummy or casino, game play is just as accessible and not structured all that differently. You’re gathering sets – just about the board, rather than in your hand. There are a number of suits, as represented by guilds. There aren’t a crazy amount of different cards per guild. And you play one card at a time.
As such, Fidelitas is a wonderful choice for casual gamers and new players – especially aimed at attracting traditional card players into the hobby at-large. The ease of play, attractive artwork and familiar feel will hook the uninitiated. But the ever-evolving town tableau will keep them engrossed. Through their eyes, you’ll see the gears working in their brain as they analyze the situation and how best to influence it through their meager resources.
This is great because beyond its introductory qualities, Fidelitas offers that extra element. While it’s simple to jump into, there is still some strategy to enjoy. That will keep serious gamers interested and invested. It’s fun employing various mixtures of Virtus abilities to mess with the town’s tableau. And it’s rewarding when you finally manipulate that last citizen required to meet a Missio card. When your opponent helps you complete an objective, it can be quite amusing. Or perhaps maddening…if you’re the one doing the setting up!
The constantly shifting citizenry can be somewhat mind-spinning, especially with four players. The chaos is manageable, for the most part, but a little more troublesome with the full count. Still, there is a risk of some frustration. To me, that’s more because people can mess with your plans from complete happenstance or as a byproduct of their own moves, rather than any direct interaction or careful planning. That would actually be more fun. But since you’re never completely certain what your opponent is trying to accomplish, you’re sort of just left hoping your own moves will interfere with theirs. Or not, if that’s not your cup of tea.
That said, one of the few downsides to this enjoyable little design is the restricted hand limit. Normally you will only have two Virtus cards and two Missio cards. That low hand count compounds the natural luck-of-the-draw inherent to a card game. There are citizen abilities that allow you to draw extra cards, so there’s that. And I do appreciate the Tavern mechanic which lets you exchange an unwanted or difficult goal. However, bear in mind that this is a tight game. It does help generate a little tension and keeps the pace brisk, but randomness will sometimes constrain your turns.
There is modest replayability with the included Manu Forti cards – an expansion of sorts with more citizens that grant point-producing characteristics. It gives some deeper options. There are also variants for solo and team play, as well as the suggestion to mix up location cards every session. Plus if you can manage to play often with different complements, the different number of players provide unique experiences. Four players lead to more chaos and a board more difficult to manage – hence the team play suggestion. Two players is a more calculated Chess-like match. With three there is a nice balance between those styles. In any iteration, the game is fast and moves quickly with nearly zero downtime.
Fidelitas may look very different, but it feels familiar. Its cartoony stylistic artwork imbues the design with a commercial verve and just enough theme. Yet game play is pretty straight-forward. The guilds act like suits, the objectives remind players of Rummy-style set collecting and the “play a card, draw a card” action strikes one as very much like traditional card game classics. It’s fast, easy-to-teach, and well-paced – a nice choice for new gamers, casual players and those reaching for a quick filler. However, the variable powers and card interactions promise a little depth for serious players to enjoy. And that makes Fidelitas a delicatus paulo ludum!
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Green Couch Games for providing a review copy of Fidelitas.