What is this game about?
Fantastic Factories is an entry-level engine building/dice placement game in which players build buildings for their factories and race to produce goods. The winner is determined by who has the most victory points, and both goods and the prestige values on buildings are worth VP. The end of the game is triggered when someone has either built 10 buildings or produced 12 goods.
On a given turn, each player has a chance to draft from two market rows. You can either take a blueprint card for free, giving yourself a chance to build it later, or you can sacrifice a card with a matching symbol to hire a contractor and gain an immediate one-time bonus. After the market phase, players can perform their turns simultaneously. During play, everyone rolls four dice and then assigns those dice as "workers" based on their value. Dice can be used to draw more blueprints, gain resources, or power cards that have already been built. Ideally, you will be able to build up a nice tableau that allows you to fire off pretty impressive combos on your turn. To place new building cards in your tableau, you will need to pay the resource cost for that building, which will be one card from your hand with a matching symbol (yes, you pay for cards with other cards!) plus some combination of resources. Once everyone has done all that they can do, it's back to the market phase!
How does it play solo?
Fantastic Factories does come with a relatively simple solo variant. While your own turn will basically proceed as normal, the AI acts as a timer and has a very streamlined turn. As a solo player, you will roll four white dice included in the game. On the AI turn, you roll five colored dice—one for each type of building, plus a green die that determines the AI's build action. Based on the result of the green die, the AI will either add a building card to its tableau, or add a building and then clear one of the market rows. Each die color determines whether the AI will produce a good—and the more buildings of a given color the AI has, the more goods it is likely to produce for that building type. You can adjust the difficulty of the AI by starting the game with more or fewer buildings already in its tableau.
There is no question that Fantastic Factories is very well put-together. The components are quality. The rulebook is clear and nicely laid out. It's possible to set off some pretty cool chain reactions and feel clever, especially if the dice are in your favor.
For me, the dice in this game are a mixed bag. Fantastic Factories is partially about buying and building the right cards, but it's also a game about handling your die rolls, however they turn out. One thing I appreciate about the game is that there is always something to do with your dice, even if it's just gain another resource or blueprint card. Later on, when you've built your engine a bit, you will be better able to mitigate an unlucky roll by using cards or contractors. Still, I had a few too many turns that were boring because my dice didn't give me much to do, especially in the early game when I was trying to rev up.
My main issue with Fantastic Factories, however, is that is well-constructed, but ultimately forgettable. I felt some satisfaction in getting good combos going, but rarely full-on excitement. In an engine-building game like Splendor, which I love to teach my students, or in Gizmos, which I have played a few times and would readily play again, I find myself watching the market like a hawk, just dying to get my hands on the next perfect card for my tableau. But I didn't get that thrill from Fantastic Factories, even though the game is slick and there is nothing mechanically wrong with it. It just doesn't offer enough that is fresh and new.
Do I recommend it?
While it isn't for me, I do think this game has an audience. If you love engine builders or are absolutely dying for one that can be played solo, then Fantastic Factories might be a great match for you.
Overall Rating: 3 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.