Operation F.A.U.S.T. -- A Double-Take Preview

You crack the crate, hoping your intel was correct this time. After taking a deep breath, you reach in and grab a painting. Van Gogh's Dr. Gachet stares back at you, and you nearly break down.


In today's game we embark on one of the most historic treasure hunts in modern history: The recovery of legendary and important works of art that were stolen by the Nazis during WWII. Operation F.A.U.S.T. (Fine Art Underground: Stolen Treasures), is a hidden-ability game where you'll have operatives in your control who allow you to recover pieces of art. The first of the 3-8 players to recover $1 million in art is the winner. So how does it play? Is it worth playing? Let's jump in!


The Components

The components are made up of a few different kind of cards: Plot cards feature the operatives, which give you abilities. These cards each have two abilities on them, an "in hand" ability, and a "table" ability. We'll talk about that a little more in just a minute! There are also Art cards, these are simply works of art that have a value, some are labeled as "Forgery," which don't count toward your total unless you have the correct papers, and some are labeled as "Degenerate." Works of art that Hitler didn't care for (mostly modern art) were labeled degenerate; these works of art still count toward your total collection value, but also interact with certain plot card abilities as well. There's also a pile of "Intel" tokens (the currency of the game), as well as player aids describing the abilities of each plot card and the number of each one in the game.

Jeremiah--While we did get a prototype, the art and style is already set, and it's very appealing. It's steeped in historic imagery of the era and setting, and really sets the tone. I'm guessing there might be minor layout tweaks here and there. The only improvement I would like to see is maybe a different size/shape/color for the different denominations of intel tokens, they're all the same except the number of stars on them, which makes it a little hard to track. This is a very, VERY minor thing, but I noticed we would often have to ask who had how much intel throughout the game.

Firestone--I really liked the amount of historical detail that went into the game. The pictures of the people on the Plot cards are real: The Spy was a real spy; the Double Agent was a real double agent. That's cool. 

The Gameplay

Each player is going to start with two plot cards, five Intel (the currency), and there will be four art cards face down in the middle of the table: "the cache." On each turn you can take buy art for 10 Intel, buy another Plot card for 4 Intel, a Forged Document card for 3 Intel. Or play an Action on a Plot card that you may or may not be holding... A big portion of the gameplay will sound like Coup: You can do a basic Action on your turn, or you can use the ability on any card--whether you have the card or not--as long as no one calls your bluff. But there are a few pretty big differences! 

1 - There's NO player elimination! Calling someone's bluff and being wrong only means that you have to give that person half of your Intel. Conversely if you get caught red-handed you, have to discard a card and give the player who challenged you half of your Intel.

2 - Plot cards (as we said earlier) have 2 abilities on them, one that can be used turn after turn. The second ability is a table ability. You play a card (or additional cards, depending on the ability) down, claim the ability, and then you discard the card(s).

Jeremiah--You had me at Coup with no elimination! Often games of Coup become someone being forced to call a bluff that ends the game for them, or no one challenges anyone because they don't want to risk giving up HALF of their stake in the game... Don't get me wrong. I love Coup, but being able to more freely challenge players makes the game interesting and a great way to gain Intel fast! I also love that you can BUY MORE CARDS!

Firestone--I thought the two different abilities on the cards were interesting. Now instead of deciding which person you're going to claim (truthfully or not) to have, you also have to decide if you're going to choose the ability that lets you keep the card, or forces you to discard. As far as the similarity to Coup: Whether it's fair or not, the game is similar enough to Coup that it forces a comparison, and I would never choose this over Coup. Sure, the lack of player elimination is great. But Coup is short, so the elimination is a non-issue there. Not one person in the three games I played (and who has played Coup) said they would choose this over Coup. Not one.

So when you buy artwork you have to do it blindly, you can pick and choose from the 4 on the table in the Cache. Of course, there are cards that allow you to look at these with their ability, so it's not completely blind. Also if you happen to nab a counterfeit, you can buy a "Forged Document" card that will legitimize that piece of art so you can count it toward your collection. Another cool twist to the game is that some plot cards have abilities that multiply, for instance the Spy allows you to table more than one, and for each one you get a discount of 3 Intel to buy a piece of art! So instead of paying 10 Intel you could pick up a piece for 7 or 4 etc..

Once someone collects $1 million the game is over and they win! 

Jeremiah--The blind buying of artwork can really swing the game. Some players lean heavily on the cards that allow you to look at the facedown cards, while others just pay up and grab 'em. It seems it's a little better to have an idea of what's down, but that can also burn up a turn or two trying to find the best card to buy, and in the meantime someone might snatch it up, replacing it with another card that you don't get to see... Either way it definitely requires the employment of some thought-out strategy, and if you want to peek at those cards and don't have the ability, well, it's time to put your poker face on!

Firestone--The artwork cards are a mixed bag. Especially with more players (the game goes up to 8), there's a good chance that a card you look at won't be there by the time your turn rolls around. So here's an opportunity to put your acting skills to the test. If it's a good card, you can act like it stinks to try and throw people off the scent. Or if it's lame, you can act like it's good and hope someone grabs it. That can be fun.

But speaking of lame cards: I was SHOCKED at the end of our first game when I saw that there's an art card worth $0. That's so terrible. Someone spent an action and currency to buy it, but it's worthless, so now they have to spend actions to try and ditch it on someone else. Meanwhile, another player who spent that same amount of money and bought an art card got one worth some real money, and now can spend his or her actions doing something else. That puts the second player in a better position, and totally screws the first player. Are we playing Old Maid? I get that from a thematic standpoint it's Hitler's artwork, so should be worth nothing, but that's a case of putting theme over good gameplay. I like so many of the thematic choices made in the game, but this one was bad. 

Jeremiah--It's Hitler's artwork, so today it probably holds value to someone, but I'm surprised it survived and wasn't burned! Okay, so it's worth nothing in gameplay, and you have to either ditch it or just make up for it. What happens if you pick up a Forgery? You have to spend more money to legitimize it, but what if there are no more Forged Documents available? You just spent currency and actions on another piece that isn't worth anything... It's MUCH easier in the game to either gain Intel (the currency) and/or get a discount on your next piece of art than it seems. That's where your bluffing skills are put to the test. Is having a card worth $0 my favorite part of the game? Not really. Do I think it breaks the game? Not really.

Firestone--We weren't thrilled with the bluffing aspect of FAUST. There are so many cards that most of the time when someone claims a person, it's difficult to get a feel for whether they're lying. I wonder if you should use different numbers of cards depending on the number of players. I dunno. 

In our first game, one player didn't lie a single time in the entire 30-minute game. Not once. So he just did his thing, got accused, gained some Intel from other people, and continued doing his thing. There was nothing interesting for him to do, because not bluffing was working just fine for him. The psychological fallout of that was that people decided not to accuse him, which just gave him even more freedom. 

Jeremiah--I could see scaling the number of cards in the game depending on the amount of players. I've played several games with 3 players and it can get a little tough to track cards, but what typically ended up happening is that our bluffing scaled up as the number of players went down. We coined the term "Trip French" and would snag six Intel per turn, and so on. There are more cards in play, so buy a few Plot cards and step things up a bit. And because you don't get eliminated for challenging (like in Coup) the strategy of the challenge is WAY more involved. I would often spend some Intel because I was preparing to challenge a player with a TON of Intel. If I lost the challenge, I lose a little bit of Intel, but THEY have to discard the card that's part of their strategy, if I win the challenge--cha-ching! It just takes a little more forethought, and because your game isn't in peril of ending on one turn, you can set yourself up for those types of moves...

Final Wrap Up

Jeremiah--Wow. I'm a fan of this game! It takes some very classic mechanisms of one of my favorite genres and really puts a new spin on them. Despite taking player elimination out of the game, it doesn't cause the game to drag on. The theme, while immersive and intriguing, might not be a hit with everyone, but the gameplay is top notch! If you have even the smallest interest in bluffing/hidden ability games DO NOT PASS ON THIS GAME!

Firestone--I strongly disagree with Jeremiah on this one. The game goes on too long, has mostly uninteresting bluffing, and just wasn't fun. And then there's that awful $0 Art card. I liked the historical flair added to the game. I like the two different abilities on the Action cards. But the final question for me is: Would I choose this over Coup? The answer is no. It was the same answer for my entire group.

Sorry we couldn't agree on this one! But either way, you should definitely go and check out the Kickstarter campaign for yourself. And thanks for reading!