This past week I finally sat down and took the time to learn and play the board game Shafausa from Helvetia games.
This game has been on my personal pile of shame the longest and I was determined to get it played as part of the #LessShameMoreGame challenge.
This past Saturday we played a four player game and while the game isn’t exactly what you would expect, it’s a very solid game.
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My history with Shafausa
Shafausa has been in my pile of shame the longest. Far longer than any other game. I originally bought it off Amazon for $6 in 2015.
Besides the low price, I had heard about the game on The Dice Tower when Zee Garcia mentioned really liking it. I think it was in one of their top 10 lists, one on economic games. With a solid recommendation and a price of under $10 I couldn’t pass up the chance to get the game.
Then the game showed up and I opened it and tried to figure out the family rules and gave up. I came back to this box multiple times over the years and re-read those family rules at least three times. I even went online and looked for an FAQ or updated rulebook but with no luck. See the rules were originally written in some language over than English. Then it seems that the company put it through Google translate, as I don’t think anyone who actually speaks English could write the rules in this box.
Due to these translation issues the game sat on my pile for years. Until last week I finally decided I was going to get this game played as part of the #LessShameMoreGame challenge. I was going to sit down with these rules and figure them out, and when we couldn’t figure them out we would make up our own rules. Like we did for the Masters of the Universe Role Playing game.
Horribly translated rules
Between Friday and Saturday, I sat down with the rules for Shafausa yet again. I googled the game and read a few reviews. I watched one video. Basically, I consumed everything that was out there for this game and there wasn’t much. For a game this old (2012) there is pretty much no fan content. That’s just odd. Even terrible games have reviews and rule summaries, and translations and FAQs. There’s basically none of that for Shafausa.
One of the things I figured out is that I shouldn’t have given up at the Family Rules. See the game has a fairly thick rulebook and a leaflet. The leaflet is supposed to be the full family rules, with the big book being the much more complicated, harder “Geek Rules.” The back of the book also has the Colonial Rules which modify the Geek Rules. According to what’s in the book, for your first game you should just play the Family Rules. This time around I figured why not just read the Geek Rules, maybe they will make more sense, and sure enough they did.
It ends up the Family Rules sheet is missing a lot of the core mechanics and rules of the game that are explained in the Geek Rules. After reading the Geek Rules the Family Rules actually made sense. Mostly. The English is still rough, really rough, but I think I managed to figure everything out.
So if you happen to have this game, just skip over the Family Rules. Read the full rules, then go back and figure out what they have changed for the Family Rules. That or just skip over the Family Rules completely. That’s what we ended up doing.
So besides having a terribly translated rulebook, how was the game? I have to say, it is rather good.
Don’t judge a game by it’s cover or theme
The thing with Shafausa, which I knew going in due to the Dice Tower review, is that it looks like this awesome evocative fantasy 4x game with all kinds of fantasy races like Dark Elves, Trolls and Dwarves fighting over territory on a large overland map, but it’s really a relatively heavy economic game.
Despite coming with a ton of setting background, and yes, a fold out map, the kind you usually see in an RPG boxed set, none of that really matters. This is a game about building up your mining industry, buying and selling resources, improving your warehouses and playing the stock market.
I think this is why no one has heard of Shafausa and I was able to find a new copy for $6. I’ve never seen a game with it’s mechanics further separated from the theme. Even Hyperborea isn’t even close when it comes to pasted on themes. One of the races you can be in Shafausa are Trolls. When you think Troll do you think of big hulking monsters sitting about debating market speculation? I don’t.
The other problem with Shafausa is the production quality. It’s a real mixed bag. On one hand, they actually give you plastic trays for the different resources in the game. On the other hand, all of the counters are really thin and laminated with thin plastic that was already starting to peel before our first game. The biggest problem though is that everything it too dark. The player boards, the building tiles, the market text. It’s all almost too dark to read.
How was the actual gameplay?
Each player starts with a map board showing their territory. This is divided into five seprate cities, each which has four building spots. The game is asymmetric and each race starts with different starting buildings in their first city. Some races even start with their second city built. Some of these starting buildings will be mines. Mines produce resources every turn. There are seven different resources in the game starting with wood, going up to gold. In the center of the table is flower shaped market track showing the current buying and selling price for each of these resources. Players also have a separate board to track their number of warehouses and the amount of miners they have. Lastly players are given three cards, these represent specific faction abilities that again break the rules in some way. Each game players get to use one of their three cards. This adds even more asymmetry to the game.
Each turn players bid for turn order for a following building phase. In the building phase, players purchase buildings to later add to their territory. Each of these buildings breaks the rules in some way and gives victory points. During this phase players can also increase their warehouse space by up to two slots.
Up next is a simultaneously played Management Phase. Here players hire miners, build the buildings they purchased, found new cities, build new mines, and buy and sell resources. The fact that the biggest phase of the game is played simultaneously really speeds up gameplay. Note that there is no trading between players, everything goes through the central market.
Management is followed by an upkeep phase where new buildings enter the market and the value of any resources sold in the last phase drop in price. This is followed by the Speculation Phase. In this phase players can influence the various markets in the game. Raising and/or lowering either the buying or selling price of one good each.
Gameplay continues until one player’s territory is completely full or one player’s warehouses are all built and full.
Overall I actually enjoyed the game, quite a bit. Shafausa is a solid economic game. While I did find it odd that the price of goods doesn’t change organically, only through the speculation action, it works when actually playing. Despite the rulebook issues, I think we managed to figure out the proper way to play and once you get going it’s really not a hard to learn game. It’s surprisingly quick due to the fact that the main phase of the game, Management, can be played simultaneously by all players.
This was one of those games where when we finished playing I continued to think about the game after the fact. I kept thinking of things I would try differently during the next play through. D has already asked me to play a second time to get a better feel for the game. The game comes with six different factions, each of which have three different abilities, only one of which will get used each game. This adds a ton of replayability to the game.
Even though it took me years to get it played I actually recommend Shafausa if you dig economic games. Just realize that’s what this is. Don’t let the D&D style fantasy theme fool you. There’s no killing orcs and grabbing treasure to be found, but if you enjoy dropping the price of ore by $2, just in time to let you build that next copper mine and leave you with exactly $20 left over to buy that coal production building next round, then this game will probably be a good fit for you.