Smoke billows from a landscape dominated by chimneys, an industrial sea of factories. You’re running the show, the big boss of an empire full of conveyor belts. Now, we all know what factories do: they manufacture stuff. Some of these units produce Energy. Others churn out Metal. Others crank out Goods (ahem, you might know them by their other name: victory points!). Welcome to Fantastic Factories.
Fantastic Factories is an ‘engine-building’, or ‘tableau-building’ game. You start with a blank canvas, nothing but a business HQ and a hand of cards. But you’re not alone. You have a small workforce, in the form of dice. Can you allocate these workers to increase your factory’s efficiency? Should you hire Contractors to lighten the load? Can you fulfil Blueprints, to further increase your fantastic, mechanical empire? Let’s learn how to play Fantastic Factories…
Build An Industrial Empire! Churn Out Goods!
Fantastic Factories is a game for 2-5 players, published by Metafactory Games. It also plays solo, which is becoming a big lure for gamers in these COVID-19 times. In this tutorial, I’m going to focus on the multiplayer game. The aim, like many board games, is to earn the most points! You achieve this by having your factories produce Goods throughout the game. Some of your Blueprint cards have an end-game (Prestige) value attributed to them too. Your final points score is the sum of your Goods, plus your Prestige.
There’s no set number of rounds to Fantastic Factories. Instead, there are two different end-game conditions. One is if a player manufactures their twelfth (or more) Good. The second is if a player constructs their tenth (or more) Building. If either of them occurs, players finish the current round and then play one more full round. Then it’s time to add up scores! But let’s not race to the end. Let’s start at the beginning and learn how to play Fantastic Factories. The first step is setting up the game.
Setting Up: Save Space For Tableaus
Give each player a Headquarter player board and have them position it in front of them. Players need space to place cards into their Compound (their tableau), so make sure there’s ample room. Pass out Player Aid cards, which explain the iconography and actions they can take. Then give each player four dice in their chosen player colour.
Have the eight frosted white dice sit within arm’s reach of all players. Give each player one Metal token, and two Energy tokens. Put the rest of these tokens into main supply piles. Place the Goods tokens next to them.
Separate the cards into a Blueprint deck (74 cards) and a Contractor deck (17 cards). Give both a shuffle. Deal four Blueprint cards to each player for their starting hand. Then deal out the top four Contractor cards face-up in a row, left to right. Deal out the top four Blueprint cards face-up in a horizontal row beneath them. Now you should have eight cards face-up in the middle of the table, in two rows of four. Leave the decks face-down to the left of both these rows. Place, at random, the four circular Tool Label tokens above the four Contractor cards – one above each column.
Select a First Player. Give them the First Player Marker – the wooden factory silhouette. All sorted? You’re ready to play Fantastic Factories!
Grab A Card, Any Card (Not That One, You Have To Pay For It First)
Rounds consist of two parts. First, there’s a Market Phase, which occurs in turn order. The second half is the Work Phase; players can perform this in a simultaneous fashion.
The Market Phase is the simpler of the two. On your turn, you can perform one of two mandatory actions. Option one is you can gain a Blueprint card for free. You pick any of the four face-up Blueprint cards, adding it to your hand. Then you replenish the vacant space with the top card of the Blueprint deck. I’ll explain more about these Blueprint cards later on when discussing the Work Phase. There are a few reasons why you might pick card one over another.
Option two is to hire any one of the Contractor cards. To do this, you have to discard a Blueprint card from your hand. Remember the four different Tool Label tokens you placed at random, during set-up? The symbol on the card you discard has to match the Tool Label token that sits above the Contractor card you want. Note that some of the Contractors also require an extra payment of Energy tokens to claim them, as well as a card.
Then you get to perform the action stated on the Contractor Card. This might be something like gaining Energy or Metal for free (but your opponents gain some too). Or it might gain you access to additional frosted white dice – also known as bonus workers! (Whatever your reward, you gain it straight away, but you’ll use it during the Work Phase.) Then discard the Contractor. Replenish the empty space with the top card of the Contractor deck.
As an optional action, before taking either a Blueprint or a Contractor, you can pay one Energy or one Metal. This lets you wipe all four Contractors, or Blueprints, and replace them with four new cards. You can do this once per turn. Is the public flop of cards unappealing to you? Or, if you’re feeling devious, do you want to wipe those cards for players following you in turn order? (Of course, you’re then at the mercy of the new draw.) If a deck runs out, shuffle the discard pile to form a new deck.
Heads Down, Hard Hats On: The Work Phase
Once all players have taken a card, then the Work Phase begins. In theory, everyone can play the Work Phase simultaneously. For your first few games though, you might want to do this one at a time, so you can see what other players do on their turn. This helps you further learn the game. Plus, it demonstrates the variety of ‘engine-building’ within Fantastic Factories.
The Work Phase begins with all players rolling their own four dice. These are your workers. (If you hired a Contractor that provided extra die/dice, take those into consideration, too. Some Contractors let you pick the die face for these extra workers. This grants you a lot more of a guarantee, rather than hoping you roll what you need.)
During this Work Phase, you accomplish a lot and have flexibility-galore. Build Blueprint cards from your hand; activate built cards, and perform basic Actions in your Headquarters. You can trigger these actions in any order you choose. Many dovetail with each other, setting off chain combos. You can activate more than first meets the eye!
Anatomy Of A Blueprint Card: What Am I Looking At?
First, it makes sense to digest the anatomy of a Blueprint card layout. Blueprints have a name banner across the top. They come in five colour categories. These card types hold greater gravitas in the solo game. But understanding which cards perform what is a key part of Fantastic Factories. (I’ll explain this in greater detail in the Activating Cards section, further down.)
Some Blueprints have a Worker Slot on them, which is a square die-shaped silhouette in the middle of the card. Some have a specific die face on them. A worker die of matching value needs to sit here to activate the card’s action. Others are blank; those cards state in the box below what kind of worker’s face needs to sit here. It could be any matching pair or pips that amount to a certain sum. If a Blueprint has no such Worker Slot on it, no worker die needs to sit here for you to trigger it. The action the card provides sits at the bottom of the card. The quantity of that card within the deck sits here, too.
The number of Prestige points this card’s worth sits in the top-right corner. The card’s tool symbol sits in the top-left. This is the tool type you’ll need to consider when discarding a Blueprint to claim a Contractor, remember? But this has a double-meaning…
Building A Blueprint Into Your Compound
To build this card, you’ll need to discard another Blueprint card with a tool that matches this symbol. Hand management plays a key part in Fantastic Factories. Cards themselves act like a currency. This could dictate which Blueprint you draw during the Market Phase, for example. Beneath the tool symbol sits the cost in resources (Energy and/or Metal), too. Note you can’t build duplicate Blueprints in your tableau. (The one exception is Beacons, which score in a set collection manner.)
You can build as many cards as you can afford during this phase! Once built, you can activate it straight away (if you meet the requirements, of course). You could then use the resources it provides to build another card from your hand, for example.
Keeping Things Ticking Over At HQ
Your Headquarters is a dual-layered board with nine slots in it. There are three rows of three, labelled Research, Generate, and Mine. You can send workers to vacant slots here to gain basic actions. You can send any number worker die to Research. For each worker you send here, gain one Blueprint card from the Blueprint deck into your hand.
You can only send worker dice with a face of 1, 2, or 3 to the Generate row. You gain as many Energy tokens as the pip value(s) of the dice you send here. You can only send workers with a face of 4, 5, or 6 to the Mine. Gain one Metal token per die you send here. (Note: Metal is harder to earn than Energy.) If ever you send workers with duplicate values into the same row, you get a bonus. You gain an extra card/resource (of the row type) on top of the standard return. Send a trio of dice to a row, of matching numbers? Gain two extra cards/resources (of the row type).
With regards to this dice placement, you can do it in stages. Meaning, you could place one die on your HQ to earn some resources. Use those resources to build a Blueprint. Then activate said Blueprint, using another die. Then place another die onto your HQ, and so on.
The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning
So, at any time during this turn, you can activate Blueprints. You can activate them in any order, once per turn. That is, assuming, you can meet the requirements! Does the card have a worker slot on it? If so, you’ll need to place a corresponding worker die on it, for starters. If not, there are still requirements you need to meet to activate it…
Some kinds of Blueprint cards involve paying x to receive y in return. (Often you’ll then use y to perform an action on another card!) The end-goal, remember, is you want to activate these factories so they produce Goods.
Remember I mentioned there were five different-colour Blueprint cards? Let’s learn the difference between them. Blue cards are Production buildings. These all manufacture Goods (points). They involve having to pay a quota of materials. These could be a combination of either Energy, Metal, specific worker dice, or cards. (In the case of playing cards, it can be any Blueprint cards. You don’t have to worry about matching certain symbols in this case.) Production cards are a vital way of earning points throughout the game.
Yellow cards are Utility buildings. These produce resources (Energy or Metal), often at a better exchange rate than your HQ. Red cards are Training buildings. These don’t provide end-game Prestige. They’re handy, though, for letting you tweak and mitigate your dice rolls. Some let you flip dice (turning a 1 into a 6, a 2 into a 5, a 3 into a 4, and vice versa). Others let you increase/decrease pip values by one, and so on. Make your own luck!
Grey cards are Monuments. These have no function from an activation point of view. They are worth more Prestige than other buildings, though. The Beacon, in particular, can net you a whopping 14 points if you build four of them! Last of all, purple cards are Special buildings, boasting a range of unique, fun effects. The Golem lets you pay x amount of Energy tokens to earn an extra worker die (for this round only). The pip value of this die equals the Energy quota you paid. The Robot costs one Metal to activate, but it gains you an extra die to roll (for this round only).
It goes without saying that once you’ve used a worker die in a location, you cannot use it again this turn. This is the case for sending workers to your HQ, or to a worker slot on a card.
After A Hard Day’s Work… Back To The Grindstone!
At the end of the Work Phase in Fantastic Factories, everyone returns any extra dice they gained this turn to the supply. Then all players discard down to a total of 12 resource tokens (Energy and Metal combined). You can’t stockpile too much; you might find that resources are best spent, rather than hoarded! You also have to discard down to 10 Blueprint cards at the end of the round.
After this, the First Player Marker gets passed clockwise. Now you’re ready to begin the next Market Phase. Remember to check at the end of the Work Phase: has anyone manufactured a total of 12 or more Goods? Or has anyone built 10 or more buildings in their Compound? If so, this triggers the beginning of the end-game. You play one more full round (so one more Market Phase and one more Work Phase). Then everyone adds up their Goods and their Blueprints’ Prestige. The player with the highest score wins!
Got a tie-break? The player with the most Metal tokens remaining wins. Still a tie? Then it’s determined by the most Energy. What? Still a tie? The player with the most Blueprint cards remaining in their hand wins. Still a tie? Surely you can’t be serious! Nod in serious acknowledgement at your worthy opponent (but don’t call them Shirley.) Sometimes you have to agree that you’re both fantastic…
Get To Work!
That’s it. You’ve officially learned how to play Fantastic Factories. If you don’t have a copy of the game already, you can pick one up right here at Zatu Games. For more info, check out our full review of the game or discover more great engine-building games.