Fantastic Factories - happy dice placement with tight insert
Updated: Mar 7
Game: Fantastic Factories
Designer: Joseph Z. Chen, Justin Faulkner
Publisher: Deep Water Games
Player count: 1-4
Set-up time: ~4 min.
Play length: ~40 minutes
Win condition: win/loss depending on the AI's score
how the solo game works
In Fantastic Factories you'll play the exact same game as in multiplayer – you'll gain a blueprint or hire a contractor in the market phase, and during the work phase you'll roll and place your dice and you're building cards – but after your turn you'll roll a die of each colour for your automated opponent, the machine. The green die will tell you which blueprint to pick and if you'll need to refresh either the contractor row or the blueprint row. The rest of the dice will tell you if the machine manufactures any goods. Roll a die equal to or lower than the number of blueprints for that colour? The machine manufactures a good. Roll higher? Nothing happens.
In set-up you can determine how difficult you want your game to be, ranging from 2 starting blueprints for the machine on easy difficulty, to 5 starting blueprints on insane difficulty.
End game is triggered the same as in multiplayer, build 10 cards or manufacture 12 goods, with the exception that the bot will only trigger the end by manufacturing 12 goods.
Yes, as usual soloplay is covered after multiplay, and it makes sense here. There are no rulechanges to the sologame, so this is about the only rulebook that's allowed to tell you: "Set up the game as normal for one player." No buts! What follows is the addition of the machine, who'll need a couple of cards for set-up and then gets about one page worth of explanation.
missing in solo
I can not for the life of me think of something that's missing here, except for the extra time it takes four people to play this game. This is still an engine building dice placement with added hand management, dice rolling, card drafting and set collection.
The rules are clear and well written, and there's an appendix covering all the cards at the back of the rulebook.
The gameplay is smooth. I like games where there's not much upkeep so I can focus on my own game, and Fantastic Factories does that brilliantly. There's no clutter in unnecessary actions, no hard to remember play sequence and no timeconsuming bot-upkeep. There are two phases, the bot has two shorter phases, there are two possible end-game triggers – just one for the bot – and that is it. Go play.
I am a big fan of dice manipulation options in a dice placement game, and in this game you create your own by building your engine and deciding for yourself how many dice manipulation cards you'll need.
I love the colourful artwork. Those clean lines and clear drawings just look amazing when you've finished building your compound, it's very much a game that makes me happy through the artwork.
There is a playmat available, which I backed (since I went all in with the Kickstarter late 2020), and although it doesn't come with the basegame I want to mention the fact that it has a side dedicated to soloplay. Let me tell you again. It has one side dedicated to soloplay. Apart from a place for the blueprint deck, market and discard pile and the contractors deck, market and discard pile – including the symbols above – you'll be able to keep an eye on all of the machine's cards, there are spots to place the machine's dice, an overview of how the machine's turn is played, and there are reminders on the market side for what the different green rolls will cause.
Die rolls are as always prone to luck, so it can happen that if you'll roll on the high side for the machine, he does not produce many goods and the game might feel more beat your own score than win/loss. It's easily fixed by taking on a more difficult setting, and I don't have the same problem with my own game since there are plenty of dice manipulation options to build within the game.
The flip side is that if you consistently roll low, the machine will beat you, regardless of how you play.
Another negative: the too tight insert. I dislike inserts you'll have to put your empty cardboard under to make it snug, because why not seal the box with a raised lid so you'll have less wasted space once you punched it all? And this insert has some other missed opportunities. You might not want to get the expansions, but I did and I cannot cope with three different box sizes for one game, because my smaller boxes aren't stored next to my bigger boxes. Apart from that, the expansions pack about 50% air, so I tried to cram them in with the base game, and only barely succeeded. They could have easily fitted two more token spaces in there, in the raised part above and below player boards. Even with just the base game, you'll have 3 spaces to hold 4 different tokens, and a larger space to keep your dice, that take up about a third of that space. Kickstarting two new expansions would have been the perfect opportunity to redesign the insert and make sure it could have fitted all, but right now I'm hurting my goods trying to cram them into a too tight space. I know people have raved about the insert fitting 2 geekboxes perfectly, but an insert that needs additional inserts kind of failed in my book.
Missing on the playmat is a place to store the machine's goods, since anything else has a place. Then again, I also struggle to place my own resources, since I hace to keep track of how many I have at the end of a round – again, 10 and 12 are the magic numbers: discard your cards down to 10 and resources down to 12, which is easy enough but it means you'll have to keep your resources grouped for fast counting.
You can only trigger each of the cards in your compound once every round, and that means the cards you can't place a die on are a bit messy. The rulebook suggests moving them a bit, but it doesn't feel satisfying and I keep forgetting to put them back so my play area just looks messy. I suggest you get some unused tokens from Manufactions (or any other game) to keep track of what cards you used.
Treat yourself to the playmat, and add a nice neoprene dice tray while you're at it. Or see if you can print the old version of the playmat. There's a 300 dpi file on Boardgamegeek... although I prefer the updated version that's available, which is edited down quite a bit.
I like this game. The artwork, the mechanisms, the simple yet effective bot, the double layered player boards – hadn't even mentioned them yet! –, the dual use cards, the clean scoring, all of it. I can see this game getting a bit stale after a while: in some games there can be a lack of game arc, especially if you don't manage to build the cards you want. It might be due to the fact that you start every round with the same number of dice – if the market isn't in your favour, you'll be left with a rusty Lada. Also less solid is the fact that beating the machine will very much depend on you rolling high on the machine's turn, especially in later rounds, but with 5 dice to roll for every turn it'll usually be an ok opponent.
For now I'm still revelling in the different blueprints, and I haven't yet touched either of the two expansions (one of which has variable set-up!) or the Kickstarter promos it came with. You'll never get the same combinations in a game, because each blueprint only has 2 or 3 copies, out of 74 cards, and there's a good balance between getting your engine running and not having the game drag on. I love the constant puzzle of maximizing your dice and cards, and if you do manage to get those sought-after combinations, the engine you built will be incredibly rewarding in the end game, making beating the machine on insane difficulty a very real possibility*.
* No, I have not in fact beaten the insane machine. Still felt like I could have done it with my last brilliant end-game though.