Normally I am not a fan of bluffing or deduction-style games, feeling that they rarely scratch my strategy-gamer itch. Actually I am a really horrible bluffer and start trembling at the mention of the word “bluffing”. I half-jokingly call this feeling “expending one of my bluffing lives”. I only have 1 or maybe 2 of these “lives” to give up for a game like this. Ask anyone who has played that style of game with me. I become catatonic and listless. I keep on asking myself as we play “Is this game over yet?”
I went into playing Operation F.A.U.S.T. with low expectations for myself. I tempered my preconceptions in order to provide as much as a full experience for the other players as they deserved. I kept on telling myself “Don’t be a spoil-sport!” Soon after I started playing my first game, I discovered that yes, there is bluffing and deduction going on, however, I could wrap those activities into scratching that itch of building on a long-term game strategy. I silently expelled a sigh a relief.
Operation F.A.U.S.T., published by Grey Fox Games, is a game for 3-8 players. It plays in 30 minutes which holds true even at higher player counts. It was designed by Robert Burke himself who is a self-proclaimed lover of bluffing and deduction-style games.
In Operation F.A.U.S.T. (which stands for Fine Art Underground: Stolen Treasures), players act as patrons of the arts in occupied France during World War II. They are attempting to collect the most valuable art treasures by outwitting their fellow patrons. They obtain enough intelligence to acquire the art via whatever methods are at their disposal. This game is highly interactive as players sometimes need to take risks to vie for intel to uncover the whereabouts of the most valuable art before their opponents do.
Starting with the box cover and ending with the cards, the art used in the game is both eye-catching and enhances the theme of the game. Since I am a long-time fan of everything World War II, I really appreciate the use of period photography. The plot cards depict actual characters who played significant roles during this period of history. The art cards depict actual art pieces that were either stolen by the Nazis or recovered before they were stolen. The rulebook contains a historical notes section and is a very informative read that details facts about the art used on the game components.
The cards, player aids and intel tokens are of good quality, although the cards have a tendency to warp a little from play to play. The box is sturdy and I delight in the fact that there is just the right amount of space contained inside the box to hold all the components. It is not too tight or cavernous.
If I have any beef, it is with the rulebook. The section titled Plot Cards and Challenging was difficult to understand and had to be reread several times to get the gist of this important part of gameplay. I found that this part of the rulebook was missing key information or was contradicted by other parts of the rulebook. The Examples of Play and the Player Reference Sheet are good, but should be intended to be used for rules support. These items ended up being the main source of understanding the rules in order to play the game properly.
How to Play:
Players start the game with 2 plot cards and 5 intel. A starting player is selected by drawing art cards. Whomever drew the most valuable, non-forged, art piece becomes the starting player for the game. Beginning with the start player, play will continue throughout the game in clockwise order.
On a player’s turn, the player performs one of the following actions:
- Recruit: Purchase a plot card by paying 4 intel. The plot card is drawn from the top of the plot card draw deck.
- Purchase Art: Spend 10 intel and take an art card from either the top of the art pile or from one of the four art cards in the art cache. An art card taken from the art cache is replaced by another card drawn from the top of the art pile and placed face-down in the now open spot in the art cache.
- Forge: Take one of the available forged documents cards by paying 4 intel
- Plot: Claim 1 plot card ability. This can be challenged by any other player.
The central focus of the majority of gameplay revolves around performing the plot action. There are 5 different plot cards that can be played. Each of these cards has either a hand or table ability that can be claimed. Plot cards claimed for their hand ability are kept in hand. Plot cards claimed for their table ability are placed face-down in front of the claiming player. There are 2 plot cards that allow a player to claim multiple cards for their ability: French Resistance (hand ability) and Spy (table ability).
Any player at the table can challenge the player who claims a plot card ability, declaring that this player does not have the cards they claim. If challenged, a player may reveal the cards in question, thus thwarting the challenge. The challenger must give half of their intel to the claiming player if this happens. If the claiming player does not reveal the cards they claim that were challenged, they must give half of their intel to the challenger.
Revealed plot cards are always discarded. Only the plot cards claimed for their hand ability are replaced by drawing from the plot card draw deck. If not challenged, the claiming player does not have to reveal the cards they claimed. The cards played for a hand ability remain in the claiming player’s hand. The cards played for a table ability are discarded face-down. At the end of a player’s turn, if that player has less than 2 plot cards in hand, they draw up to 2 plot cards.
The first player to amass a total black market value of the art they have collected that meets or exceeds the end game condition wins the game. They can declare themselves the winner even during another player’s turn.
Let me talk about the bluffing in Operation F.A.U.S.T. since it is my recurrent nemesis. For me, I found that 7 times out of 10, I did not have to bluff and could declare a plot card. This successfully provided a suitable action that I could carry out with or without challenge by the other players. That was very satisfying since I did not have to expend one of my “lives”. If someone decided to challenge my non-bluff, then more power to me (I get half their intel). The times when it was necessary for me to lose one of my “lives” I approached bluffing as a means to enhance the strategy that I was attempting to build.
Bluffing can be used in Operation F.A.U.S.T. as a tactical move, lulling the other players to sleep thinking that this player almost never bluffs. In order to best insure that bluffing may be the most successful, one must use the probabilities. For example, the French Resistance card makes up 42% of the deck of plot cards. Unless the other players are convinced that most of those cards have been played in front of your claim of wanting to play a French Resistance card, more than likely they will not challenge its claim to be played. The probabilities also work in one’s favor with plot cards like allies which make up only 8% of the deck of plot cards. If this card has not been played for a relatively long while, most likely one could claim to play it as a bluff when there is a greater chance that the other players may let it slip past.
Of course there is always a gamble that the other players will call your bluff. If that happens, the best bet tactical move that you lose may not turn out so bad after all. Playing bluffs when your intel is at its lowest (losing half of zero is zero) is a smart bet. Playing table ability bluffs with cards that you wanted to discard from your hand anyway is a smart bet.
In order to be the most effective at Operation F.A.U.S.T., one must be very watchful of what the other players are doing in order to gain as much information as possible. The information regarding what plot cards have been played and what types of art pieces that may have been collected allow one to best deduce when to challenge plot card claims and when to attempt to confiscate another player’s art. I have found that the best guessers generally win the game most often.
The one aspect of Operation F.A.U.S.T. that I found most intriguing is how a player needed to couple hand management simultaneously with maintaining hidden information. Since an average player’s hand size rarely exceeds 2 to 3 cards, a player must attempt to craft a hand of cards to maximize playing a series of cards from turn to turn that best synergize with the other available actions.
For example, using the recruit action adds cards to your hand and having more cards gives the player a psychological advantage over their opponents. Having a larger hand of cards physically demonstrates that you may have a better probability of really having a plot card you claim thus inhibiting others to challenge you. Plot cards played for their hand ability that are not challenged stay in hand thus increasing your hidden information advantage. Of course your opponents can challenge just to force plot cards to be revealed, but at risk of depleting their own pool of intel.
All-in-all Operation F.A.U.S.T. shattered my personal conception of what enjoyment I could garner from a bluffing or deduction-style game. There is enough strategic gameplay melded into the bluffing and deduction aspects of the game that threw off the shackles of fear right away. Since I found all of my plays at various player counts quite enjoyable, I can recommend this game to anyone who enjoys this style of game and to strategic gamers as well.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of Operation F.A.U.S.T. you can get it for about $20.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – An intriguing cat versus mouse strategy game supporting a very unique theme.
• Bluffing and deduction that support building game strategies
• High replay value due to the sequencing of plot card play and supporting player actions
• Quick gameplay with no downtime as players are required to pay attention to other player’s actions
• Supports up to 8 players
• Parts of the rulebook are rather poorly organized and difficult to follow at times due to missing and ambiguous information
Nice looking game…