Gaming Unplugged: Factory Fun

February 25, 2011

Dutch designer Corné van Moorsel brings Factory Fun to the US courtesy of Z-Man Games. A deceptively complex game, Factory Fun will tax your brain as you struggle to arrange machines in your factory in order to maximize your profit. This is not an easy task; by the end of the game your factory will most likely be a chaotic snarl of pipes unless you plan carefully — and are a little lucky. 

Each player (from two to five) is issued a factory board (each slightly different), three white output reservoir tiles, one of each of the four colored supply containers, and a stack of ten face-down machine tiles. Available to all players are an essentially unlimited supply of connecting pipe tiles, thirteen black end product reservoir tiles, and two spare supply tiles of each color. All players start on the 2 position of the money/score track, and the object is to have the most cash after ten rounds.

Each round begins with all players taking one of their face-down machine tiles and simultaneously revealing them in a central area. Players then get to take one of the available machines to install in their factory, but it’s not quite as simple as that. Any player can take any machine; whoever touches a given machine tile first is the one who is stuck with it, for better or worse, so you have to quickly evaluate the feasibility of actually using each machine before a rival swoops in and takes it from you. If you take a machine and do not place it you are penalized five dollars/points, unless you are the last player to select one in a given round.

Each machine has one or more colored inputs with values ranging from 1 to 3 and one output that is either a similarly-valued color or a black end product. All of these connections must be satisfied in order to install the machine. Inputs must be connected to either a supply container or an output of the same color and equal or greater value; outputs must be contained by a white reservoir, other machine’s input or equal or lower value, or a black end product reservoir. You will often need to use various pipes to meet these requirements, and a given pipe can only contain one color of product, so plan accordingly. Placing any non-machine tile costs you one dollar, calculated after you are finished with the installation; each machine is worth its printed value, with more cash being awarded for more complicated and/or demanding devices. You can also move or rotate tiles relatively freely (a move costs one dollar; you are effectively picking it up for zero and replacing it for one), although you are limited to being able to move only two preexisting machines (at a cost of two each) each time you install a new one.

Careful management of your outputs is critical. The limitation of only getting three of the white catch-all reservoirs is one major reason, as is the fact that it will be all but impossible to have all of your inputs satisfied by your supply containers, but connection bonuses are the most important factor. Whenever you connect an output of one machine with an input of another (bearing in mind that you have to meet the input’s requirements), you earn an end of game bonus of five times the value of the connected input (5 for a 1 value, 10 for a 2, and 15 for a 3). With skilled pipe work you can even combine or split outputs in order to make the numbers work: a 3 output can be split to feed a 2 and a 1 input, or three 1 outputs could merge to satisfy a hungry 3 input. Bonus points are often the difference between winning and losing.

Being aware of what outputs you have available to you is key when determining what machine to take each round, but there are a couple of other factors to keep in mind. Certain tiles award you a bonus supply container of one color (one even lets you choose which color), which can be a life-saver in tight situations. Machines that produce the black end product are often worth a lot of cash, but the trade-off there is the fact that the black reservoirs are dead ends and can’t be combined. Perhaps the most important skill to develop is knowing when to forfeit constructing a machine; it can be worth taking a loss if you’re generating bonus payoffs, but sometimes the cost will simply be too much given your current layout.

The amount of thinking and manipulation required to manage your ever-sprawling network of pipes and machines makes Factory Fun seem like less fun than advertised, but successfully surviving the entire ten rounds often changes the overall impression to that of a good mental workout. My only real complaint is the difficulty in keeping track of the cost of extensive remodels towards the later rounds, but that could jut be relative inexperience. The factory boards are double sided, with the reverse “expert” side containing more difficult layouts for advanced play. Factory Fun retails for around $50, which feels about right for the sheer amount of cardboard contained within. As mentioned, it’s a serious brain burner, but even with all of that work a game still plays out in the space of about forty-five minutes to an hour.