Fred Kater: I was quite disappointed with the new games on offer at Essen this year. In other years we always left with more than 30 games (mainly new), but this time we rummaged together just 12 until one hour before closing on Sunday when we plundered one of the flea-market booths. Some comments on the new games:
I don't understand all the enthusiasm about Ausgebremst. It is shared by all the German game magazines (the enthusiasm, not the puzzlement) but I think it's a very basic design.
Hobbits (Queen Games) is a remake of Kalahen. I played it at the show and in my book it's even slower and more boring than Kalahen and that was bad!
Das Regeln wir schon! (Moskito) is a nice idea, but a slow game.
Das Magische Hexagon (VSK) has a very nicely done board and components and is a great 2 player, basically abstract game. For people like me who can't stand memory elements in games it is best not to look up where you put each value. Just mix the wisdom pieces and put them down randomly.
Mush (White Wind) is not my cup of tea, but we only played it as a pas de deux and it might unfold its qualities in a multi-player session. However, Elfenroads will remain the best of the White Winds.
Intrige: I cannot stand games of this type. There is a major discussion in the gaming publications in Germany at the moment about this type of game. It seems that hardened gamers love them; others don't. My opinion is that games should be entertaining. How can you be entertained when it is next to unimportant whom you annoy? Personal aversions (as small as they might be) are likely to be set free and the game ends in a fight. No one can tell me that this does not happen, even in experienced groups. They might be able to swallow their anguish in order not to disturb the evening or at least the game, but I am convinced that the pain is there.
Würmeln: Another good game to start or end a gaming session. Silly, but fun.
Merlin by Julian Musgrave is a good game, but what a pity that there are so many questions left unanswered in the rules. The components are also very poor.
Maharaja is no good. Give me Britannia any time! Half the time 3 of the 4 players have next to nothing to do. Very bad planning (though possibly historically correct).
Age of Exploration has the worst organized rules I have ever seen. I went at them three times and spent all in all four hours on them AND was utterly defeated! This is something that has never happened to me before.
SWD: Yes, I know what you mean. Tom Lehmann is probably the best thing to happen on the American game scene in the last five years, but I think he was raised on a diet of those ``explanatory notes'' that bureaucrats use to keep the public at arm's length. Suzerain was another where reading the rules gave you a headache. So, can anyone help with this one? Fred would like a translation of the rules for Age of Exploration into either German or English.
Buck Rogers: Yes we still play and like it, preferably as a two player game, but it's not as good as Merchant of Venus, which we continue to play and which is definitely on our 10+ list. In fact Merchant of Venus is one of our all time favourite games for two players. Other favourite 2-player games -- this is going back to a topic that was in the letter column about a year ago -- are Abalone, Atlantis, Bali, Bazaar, Black Monday, Boggle, Claim, Conquest, Monad, Dungeonquest, Elfenroads, Hotel Life, Mai 68, Murphy, Mystic Wood, New World, Outburst, Pony Express (3 horses each), Silverton, Spanish Main (old version),Tal der Könige, Tyranno Ex (2 lines each), Um Reifenbreite/Homas Tour (2 teams each).
Kris Gould (Sumo 19) seems to have missed something with Tal der Könige. He should try playing it with my wife. She will wipe the floor with anyone who is not planning his play thoroughly. Putting all your points in one pile won't get you far with her. It really is a short, enjoyable and very tactical game with lots of possibilities. With us a game never takes longer than four rounds. Ever thought about pressing to the end of the game by acquiring lots of bricks to put in the centre pyramid? And don't necessarily try going for a high value pyramid. By the time you are nearly finished the game might be over.
Steve Kingsbury suggested that we come up with lists of games still being played after their `honeymoon'. Here is mine (recent games excluded): Acquire, Airlines, Escape from Atlantis, Boggle, Bridgette, Britannia, Buck Rogers, Conquest (Hexagames), Dallas, Elfenroads, Favoriten, Fishy(!), Lemmings(!), Letra-Mix, Merchant of Venus, Murphy (2 player version only), Playboss, Pony Express, Take it Easy, Tal der Könige, Talisman, The Great Khan Game, Warrior Knights, Wizards (AH).
SWD: The inclusion of the last of those is amusing, given your liking for Alan Moon's games. A few years ago I mentioned in a letter to Alan that I thought it was quite an entertaining game if you were in the mood for sitting around for several hours wearing dark glasses and remembering Woodstock. The reply came back with steam coming out of the envelope! Apparently Alan was working for Avalon Hill at the time the game was being considered and he had fought very hard to stop it being published.
Gareth Lodge: One of the big disappointments of recent months has been ADG's World Cup Tournament Football. Quite what was wrong with it is hard to explain, but I felt it was boring, lacked atmosphere, had very little in the way of tactics and had components which, although of good quality, were most unhelpful to the players. For example, checking to see which boxes were full up was a pain in the neck, the stands for the goalkeepers a waste of time and the size of the spaces on which the cards were placed was too small. The whole business of trying to predict which of your teams would make it to the later rounds, evidenced by placing cards in those rounds, was far too unpredictable to have much of a skill level and the whole thing struck me as being only a little better than a dreaded sports replay game. However, this game has received such good reviews that I must be missing something. Anyone want to buy it?
Rette Sich Wer Kann: I too have sold this one on. One playing was enough for me to see that it had no replay value and very little skill. I suppose it could raise a few laughs if the alcohol was flowing freely.
Guerilla: I do like this game, finding its mechanisms very subtle and clever. But I do have two points to raise which spoil my enjoyment of it a little. Firstly, and this is a minor criticism, I think that the spread of combat results from +9 to -9 is too wide in comparison to defence strengths. 18 is too much and I would have preferred 6-sided dice to be used. Secondly, and this is a fundamental problem I have with the game, is the possible enforced change of sides. Now I know that it is an integral part of the game, but I find it incredibly frustrating. The timing of the Revolution card can make a huge difference to some players' knowledge and their ability to react and I suppose that changing sides is anathema to me. I know it's my problem, but I still think Guerilla to be one of the best games of recent years.
SWD: I avoided the football game. As you say, it got a lot of good reviews, but, even though I grew up in one football town and live in another, I find the real thing rather tedious -- too much running backwards and forwards and not enough scoring -- and so was not tempted by a cardboard version.
Derek Carver: The request for rules of Invasion reminded me of the excitement of the day when I bought my copy `shrink wrapped' (or it would have been if shrink wrapping had been invented). This was in the early 1940s. Not that I can help with the rules. It never really appealed that much, although it did take the prize for the best bits.
But the reason I'm writing is not an exercise in nostalgia but to mention an aspect of wartime games that might not be known to people who are not collectors of these old games. Due to restrictions on materials the boards and the components were supplied separately. This meant we had really large and very strong boards with just a single fold (Campaign was the largest I remember, whilst Milestones was certainly the heaviest) and the components were boxed separately. No different, in fact, from the way one buys boxes of draughts plus board today. This all seemed to work very well and it certainly took up a mere fraction of the space on one's game shelf. Today, boxes are bigger and boards are smaller. But this wartime method could be very attractive for privately produced limited edition games and I wish I'd remembered it before. To get a decent sized games board now involves several folds or cuts, then the box to house it all usually ends up the most costly item, and frequently the most crushable, being full of empty space. Just imagine History of the World or We The People with a board twice the size and a box less than a quarter. It had a lot to commend it.
SWD: Yes, you are right. I'd forgotten about that. When did the big, half empty boxes come in? Mid to late fifties? Certainly the forties Monopoly set that was still around when I was a child was as you describe. The other thing that I remember about it was that it had no dice. Instead you had a cardboard spinner. That too was something to do with wartime restrictions, but I could never understand what. The reason for the absence of park railings made sense. But dice? Was that what Montgomery and Rommel were doing in North Africa, chucking dice at each other? Have Avalon Hill and the rest been more right than we realised? Even in a country as secretive as this one, I think it is time we were told.
Peter Duckworth: I thought I must drop Sumo a line to add to the chorus of approval for 6 Nimmt. Traditional Christmas games went by the wayside as the eight family members shouted for 6 Nimmt each and every night. It appealed across the board, something very few games manage. I have played it numerous times now but cannot for the life of me work out any ingenious tactics beyond the most obvious ones. Nevertheless this doesn't deter whatsoever from its enjoyment -- even if there are no hidden depths to the game it is just such fun as to make that irrelevant.
Christmas is not Christmas without a good shouting match of Pit. Is it still available ? It is a classic. The set we have goes back some 35 years with a Bull & Bear so dog-eared as to be mere fragments of card. But this makes it even more lovable as players desperately attempt to hide the severely tatty Bear under their other trading cards.
I also recently dug Contraband out of my parents' cupboard. What a game! That moment when you stare in horror at the Crown Jewels is a unique feeling, and I defy even the most experienced player not to feel their heart pumping loudly as they say ``A bottle of whisky''. Or the feeling of intense relief moments later when the Customs Officer lets you through. It is another classic game which I can't find around these days. Certainly a case for R.I.P. if it truly has been deleted the world over.
Bought Quo Vadis recently. Unfortunately the popularity of 6 Nimmt has meant only a couple of playings so far but it seems an excellent game although it has been won by the least negotiating player on both occasions. I think this is the fault of us other 3 players getting so worked up about each other as to let the fourth player take the board.
I really liked that card came from David Parlett in G&P (issue 1 I believe), called BUM I think. There is the Boss, the Foreman, the Worker, and the Bum. The Bum has the odds stacked against his hand, but due to the fact that he sits on an extremely uncomfortable seat he is inspired to play with more cunning and skill than The Boss lounging on his sofa. A great game which I can't believe is not more widely known.
Cul-De-Sac! Well, well, well. I've always loved this game since it became one of my very first games to own at the tender age of 9 years old. I really thought it had got lost in the annals of history, the only reminder being one copy on my bookshelf and a string of Lazy Days back page ads on Games & Puzzles. How satisfying to hear that Sumo readers up and down the country are still playing it.
The whole 5+/10+ longevity debate is interesting. In a sense it is defining what games will become timeless classics. And yes, a classic game by definition should be able to extend its popularity beyond any short term fascination with game play and strategy. What are the timeless classics ? Well in 20 years time I can see myself still playing Modern Art and Elfenroads (I wish it were shorter though, finding those two and a half hours to play it is a problem), and Acquire. But from there I think I'd have to delve into history: for me the aforementioned Contraband and Pit are certainly classics that won't go away over the years.
Andrew Johnson: When reading the review of In Teufels Kuche by Tim Trant, I was reminded of another game, Jumbo's Top Secret. The game play is very similar but less random and, I would suggest, more skilful.
The main difference appears to be the procedure used in duels. In Top Secret each agent (devil) is initially given a choice from several `duel' cards, of which one is played simultaneously with that of the opponent. These cards are not recovered until all cards are played (through subsequent duels). This system introduces an interesting limited intelligence factor with bluff and double guessing rampant. To play properly four players are needed as the two and three player variants are weak. With four, however, the game provides a quick, amusing and not too taxing hour of entertainment.
Also, I am seeking help. I would love a copy of Plague and Pestilence, but the telephone number for Hillary's Toybox is for an apparently permanent answer-phone. Anyone want to sell me their copy?
Finally, a note concerning your convention recommendations. As an avid attender at these events, I can guarantee that Sumo readers will feel equally at home at Stabcon (Stockport, January and July), Mastercon (Cirencester in February), Manorcon (Birmingham in July) and Midcon (Birmingham in November).
SWD: I don't know anything about Stabcon, but the other three are all Diplomacy centred and organized by and for members of the postal Diplomacy hobby. If you wish to spend a weekend playing Diplomacy, or if you know people who are going to be there and who are not going to be spending all their time playing Diplomacy, you will have a great time. However, I do not think they are suitable unless you meet one of those two conditions. I have been a member of the postal hobby for over twenty years, but I have to say that they are a parochial bunch. When I did my first mailing for Sumo I was amazed at how few names from the postal hobby were on the subscription list. They know that Sumo exists, but they do not see it as being part of what they refer to as ``The Hobby'' and so, even though many of them play Sumo type games, they don't find it of interest. This is their privilege and Sumo has thrived despite being given the cold shoulder by the most of the postal crowd, but I am not prepared to recommend that Sumo readers risk a weekend being similarly ignored. Although distance means that I have been to neither, I am confident that Baycon and Furrycon (both of which are centred on Sumo style games, rather than on Diplomacy) are much more likely to provide a newcomer with an enjoyable time.
Paul Jefferies: A few comments on the Essen releases:
Wucherer: We played this with five people and two decks of cards (because we were told that one deck made the game too short). It takes a while to explain, but once you get going play is easy enough and quite good fun. However, with two decks I thought irt was over long for what it was -- which is perhaps why the deck is the size it is. Anyway, one I shall be purchasing at Essen next year, but only one copy.
Falsche Fuffziger: I would agree with el Sigo on this one -- some excellent ideas but, again, too long for what it is. You repeat things just a little too much. I'm tempted by this one but I shall probably resist. I don't see it getting pulled out that often.
Ausgebremst: I like Ave Caesar but this is superior by far. A great game in which you fight to finish, not just to win. The only silly rule (if indeed it is a rule in the German) is that once a car finishes the next car behind takes on ``first car'' status and therefore cannot play a `6' card. This seems to me to be a nonsense and so I shan't be playing it that way in future. Otherwise, excellent.
Breaking Away: I really liked the mechanics. The pieces need to be about one quarter the size and one and a half laps is about enough, but the game is very clever.
SWD: What I have done with Breaking Away is make some sections of track, each of 10 spaces, with each space 4cm long. John's pieces then fit nicely on to the track, giving you a good view of what riders are where and where the gaps are. We then shortened the race to 90 spaces and put the sprint lines at 30/31 and 60/61. This gave a race of what we felt to be the right duration, but if you wanted to restore it to 120 spaces, it is obviously easy to do so -- just recycle the lengths more often and shift the sprints to 40/41 and 80/81.
Alan How: The new year has not heralded much on the new games front and so I have concentrated on playing more oldies but goodies. Republic of Rome has returned to the fold and after making the effort to relearn the rules, I have had more fun with legions running rampant over Rome, a splurge of deaths in Rome and keeping the masses happy with games.
Another more recent game that I am still getting to see more depth with is Avalon Hill's Guerilla. My list of points that make for an enjoyable game is: multi-player; decisions that need to be made every turn; a goal that looks achievable; a feeling that my actions are moving me towards a game goal; player interaction; uncertainty of how decisions will affect a game; playing time of no more than 2-4 hours; a good game system; and variety from game to game. Guerilla meets all of these criteria and it is a game that I shall spend many more hours playing over the years. It is also a card game and for me this adds to the attraction. Avalon Hill have done an excellent job in making the game system easy to play: each card is colour coded, referenced with the time that a card can be played, made with a durable finish and pleasantly drawn. It is these little differences that help to distinguish a good publisher from one that doesn't care. (No, I am not on commission, but I believe that this game should have wider appeal. If this had a non-war theme, then I believe it would be among the Essen games of the year.)
Merchant of Venus: I have played this many times and enjoyed the game, but always excluding the fighting aspects in order to keep it as a pure trading game. I don't know how well it did for Avalon Hill, but I always thought it could benefit from a new board to increase the variability or maybe a geomorphic board to make for more permutations. Although computer games have made many moves into this type of game, they have to include more detail to enhance the game, whereas one of the beauties of Merchant of Venus is the delight you get when someone fails to get through the cloud and leaves you with a better chance of getting to that key passenger or goods. I find the game really balanced and the mechanisms allow you to catch up with the leader by taking more chances, which is another good aspect to the game. I have problem with the unusual type of goods being traded, but then I like Star Trek, so perhaps that explains it.
Dallas: I concur with Mike Oakes' views on the game. I would not say that the presentation lets it down badly, more that the format does not make it easy to ensure you do not lose pieces out of the sleeve, and so you end up storing the pieces and the cards in a separate place. This means of course that you can't find the pieces and the cards, which is probably why the game did not get the play time it deserved.
By the way, Cliff Mikhard strongly recommended that you include more articles from Mike Clifford, but since Cliff is such a shy and retiring person, I thought I had better pass on his comments directly to you.
SWD: That is quite a coincidence, as Mike is also shy and retiring. Do you think that there is any chance that they could be related?
Gareth Lodge: I'd like to put in a good word for Spekulation by Dirk Henn and Barbara Weber, which was mentioned briefly in Sumo 16-18. This stock market game has elegantly simple mechanisms and is very fast moving. I would recommend Sumo readers to get hold of a copy if possible. I do have one query with the rules, though, and was wondering if a fellow reader could help me out. It concerns share valuation at the end of the game. My translation states that after a share reaches square 61, then all moves for that round are completed. No problem. But how do you value shares that remain on the playing board at the end? Are they valued on the colour on which they finish, or are they valued in their respective positions on the final (white) valuation table? It could make quite a difference, as the share in last place could be worth minus 60 if valued on the white table, or at, say, zero if it happened to be still on the pink track. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Game of Prospecting: After reading about how some gamers preferred this to Acquire, I just had to get a copy -- any game that even approaches Acquire is a must for me. While I found it OK as a game, the time spent calculating profits each turn I found to be a pain -- the arithmetic isn't difficult, but it slows down proceedings enormously. In short, I don't think it is in the same league as Acquire but I'm quite happy to play it and keep it in my collection.
Neil Wilson: I agree with all the comments about Manhattan being an excellent game and have found a simple way to prevent the advantage of being last player. The `first player' in the first round should be decided at random. For subsequent rounds the player with the most points at the start of that round should go first. Play then continues clockwise or anti-clockwise, depending on which player sat next to the `first player' has the higher score. The game now becomes even more strategic with each player trying not to be ahead going into the final round but just a few points behind.
SWD: The next letter went directly to Mike and since at a couple of points it turns into a private fight, he gets to do most of the answering!
Neil Walters: I'd like to add to the accolades already received for We the People. It's a superb design. The game has a very good feel for the period especially with the cards showing actual historical events, and the card system itself provides the variety of play in each game you play. The order in which you play your hand each round can be crucial to the outcome. Also the frustration of not knowing what your opponent is capable of doing, coupled with the limitations of your own hand, creates the `fog of war' aspect which I like. The placing of political control markers has that feeling of Go about it which is also clever. I would also like to reinforce Don Greenwood's comments concerning those of you who are put off from buying because of its `wargame' conotations. Don't be. Despite the historical setting and characters, it's really no more a wargame than Chess, Risk or HOTW. I wonder if the system will readily transfer to other historical campaigns.
6 Nimmt -- great little card game, so easy to play you can explain it as you go along. Good fun especially with 5 or more. 10 must be totally chaotic! Played loads of it with family and friends over Christmas. Very rare for non-gamers to openly ask for second helpings, but this one proved an exception. There is a skill, perhaps technique is a better word, to it, but my wife won't let on. A must buy at its price and guaranteed to get many playings in any social gathering.
MS: I'd be very keen to know what the technique is when she has finished winning. I am stuck between the view that there is a technique and I haven't spotted it or that the game is almost entirely luck (progressively worse with more players) and just feels like a good game.
Manhattan (an alternative view): Though I'm quite prepared to be in a minority of one, I did notice one or two negative vibes creeping in from comments in the last issue's letters and so perhaps some of you also think it's not what it's cracked up to be either. The fact that you are already thinking in terms of fiddling around with the system should be enough to set the alarm bells ringing. This is especially true for what is essentially an abstract game, a pseudo-thematic as opposed to pure abstract if you like, which does not have the comfort of a strong theme. To my mind, a must for an abstract is the certainty that the system is sound enough to give everyone equal opportunities to win. Otherwise the whole thing falls apart. The last abstract game I played to evoke a similar reaction was Kensington. Remember that one? l have played Manhattan twice. The first time was when the game first came out, a 3 player affair. The game play was neat and simple, even quite original, yet oddly uninspiring, but even after such a short introduction, it was clear that player order could have a big say in the outcome, and that brawling over ownership of the skyscrapers (supposedly the game's fun element) was going to be bad news if you had ambitions of winning.
The second time I played quite recently with 4. After all the hype, I wanted to see if I had missed something. One of the group adopted the policy of building 5 storey buildings which couldn't be topped. This looks OK, and you are likely to amass a lot of points very quickly, which he did. The inevitable happens however with many capping plays directed against his other buildings and/or contesting his cities. The worst position to be in is undoubtedly the leader going into the last round. This could be terminal if you have the lead play as well. The trouble is, attacks on the leader have a tendency to go beyond the call of duty and usually end up with him not only being knocked down but also having his nose rubbed in the dust for good measure. An alternative strategy which I usually adopt for this type of game is the exact opposite; i.e. keeping a low profile, just playing 1 or 2 storey buildings only in early stages in a maximum of 2 areas, and most importantly making sure I don't incite a reaction by capping somebody just for the sake of it. This is certainly not original and is, I am sure, a common approach by many. It generally serves its purpose well but if everone playing took the same view, you would have a pretty dull game. I wonder if this is what Steve Campbell was alluding to? And therein, I think, lies the game's problem, for me anyway simply because negative play gives a better opportunity (but no guarantee) of getting a positive result. I could play like this for a couple of games at a pinch, but if no other way of playing presented itself in that time, boredom would soon set in. The alternative is to get caught in a dogfight with someone else, forget about winning, and have lots of `fun' capping all and sundry just for the hell of it, if you like that sort of thing (which I don't, as I don't see the point and I'd rather play something else).
If that wasn't bad enough, there is the turn order problem, specifically the last round turn order problem. Again using the game I was playing as an illustration, although it wasn't obvious at the time, tbe very last play of the game turned out to be crucial to who won. In short, if the play capped one of my buildings, the current leader won. If the play capped one of the leaders buildings, I won, and if anywhere else, it was a tie. I won. Very nice but unsatisfactory as I know that in any future games played, the result may hinge on someone's elses whim, perhaps even my own. I take Stuart Dagger's point about it not being the sort of game where egos are at stake, and of course they shouldn't be, but where do you draw the line on this? It may very well only be meant to be a light hearted affair (although I am not convinced that it is or is played as such), but this shouldn't be a convenient excuse to cover up its shortcomings. This and any other game should stand up on its own merits, but from my viewpoint, Manhattan unfortunately doesn't.
On that basis, I wouldn't recommend Manhattan to anyone unless you are generally happy playing a carefree, put your bits anywhere on the board and lets see what happens, kind of way. If you are looking for anything more than that, I strongly suggest you save your 30 quid for something more worthwhile. How about buying a ticket to watch England play the West Indies at Lords? I leave it to you to decide which is the serious waste of money!
MS: The way I see it, if played enough, the game is always different and shapes up in many ways -- close, tight and nasty through to open, high scoring, fast games. I think Manhattan variants are suggested on the basis of a sound system with more potential, not because it doesn't work. Surely the point is that it is not always possible to stuff a specific opponent, or indeed anyone, simply because your cards may not permit it. A main strength of a card game is that you make your decision on what is in front of you; if you haven't got the card to cap the skyscraper or a fire card in Up Front, then you curse and think of something else to do. As I said last time, there are undoubtedly concerns with the game: the turn order for one, being prone to vendetta play and the ability (rarely exercised in my group) to do an accurate add up come the last tile. That said, it is occasionally obvious that a play will swing it one way or the other and I loathe systems that put me in this position. At least in Manhattan you can usually play a neutral card and affect neither.
I was looking around Just Games before Christmas and stacked between the big German heavyweights (in box size terms anyway) like Modern Art and The Last Paradise, I came across this small, cheap, tatty cardboard box wrapped in an extra large coloured sticky label. A peek inside revealed 2 packs of cards (no colour), a small packet of coloured chips and a set of German rules with English translation. Not particularly inspiring then, but a glance at the rules gave a hint of a really excellent game, so I got it there and then. I wasn't disappointed as it turned out to be one of the most original, fun card games you are ever likely to play. What I find hard to believe having read the review in Sumo is that it has already been around for a couple of years. Why no mention before? I also saw a couple more Essen reports in other magazines, but not a whisper there either. Er silly question I know, but what were the correspondents doing ? What I wasn't surprised about was the number of copies it has already sold, I suspect by recommendation -- if ever one thing is certain, it didn't sell because of its luxury contents, artwork or box design. As to the game itself, the use of the double sided cards is very neat. This gives you the immediate choice as to which cards to use for building purposes and which for tenants and action cards, but don't spend too much time thinking about it though; a one minute timer (or less) is useful here. As for the tenants themselves, don't you just love dumping the musicians or squatters into someone elses houses resulting in a mass exodus of tenants. Doesn't one feel such a bastard evicting the mother and child to the discard pile (a.ka. the council house waiting list). The Odd Couple -- they're not ASL players, are they? No, thought not. Any downsides? Yes, possibly. One is that teaching new players is going to be time consuming. This was rightly mentioned in the last issue. It's not that the game is difficult per se, it isn't, but the fact is that all the cards have to be individually explained so that everyone fully understands their function. There's no getting round it, it may take 20 to 30 minutes to do properly, but if you play with the same people regularly, you only need to do it the once, and I don't think you'll regret it. Another possible downside which someone mentioned to me was that a situation may arise where someone has no houses, and has no roof card in his hand with which to build one. Anyone caught in this situation is certainly not going to have much of a game. Although perfectly possible, I haven't come across it myself as yet. When all's said and done, it's a card game, and as such you are dealt out and draw cards in accordance with lady luck If this is a concern, perhaps a simple solution would be to take out of the main deck and put aside separately sufficient roof cards as there are participating players. These roof cards may then be drawn upon ( one only per player ), but only in the circumstances already outlined, until such time as the player draws a roof card from the deck normally. There could even be a payment for the roof of 1 or 2 chips, either up front or each turn. The game is very open ended and can easily accomodate rule changes, additions or alterations such as this. I think one of the game's strengths is that it gives you the ability to play around with the system without detracting from the original concept. It's a pity the game didn't supply a few extra blank cards though to design your own. There really is little strategy to worry about, just plenty of ``off the cuff'' nasty ploys, swingeing retribution and lots of fun. Excellent stuff. By the way, if you hadn't already guessed, I was talking about Wucherer.
SWD: OK, but give us a break. The only way that games get reviewed in magazines like this one is if one of the reviewers gets to hear about the game and goes out and buys a copy. There are a hell of a lot of games out there, many of them best ignored, and we have neither the money nor the time to check out everything. This means that some games get overlooked, especially ones of unprepossessing appearance from people we have never heard of. When one of these ``one man, one game'' outfits produces something good, sooner or later someone will notice and word will start to circulate, but it takes time.
Played Zankapfel for the first time recently. I know it was reviewed in Sumo a few issues back but I didn't realise until the rules were explained that it was another of those semi abstract types in the same mould as Manhattan. The gameplay is nowhere similar, but both games do share similar problems. The notable one is the conflicts associated with the same coloured apples, which is just as potentially disastrous as the fights over skyscrapers in Manhattan. In fact, probably more so because if you happen to choose the same coloured apple card as someone else, then you have no choice but to go through the ``combat'' procedure. The inclusion of the dice makes matters worse. Buying any of these and losing out on the roll is bad news. Why they were added to the game in the first place is beyond me, and they would certainly be dispensed with if I ever played the game again. I would just use card(s) only. I also thought Steve Kingsbury's idea of using more than one card at the players option was a good one, just to add a little more bluff . The second problem which is also shared by Manhattan and others is the perfect knowledge of how well each player is doing at any point in time during the game. This creates the classic gang up on the leader scenario, which can make a mockery of the entire proceedings. Oddly though, I did prefer playing this one to any of the other abstract types that have appeared in the last year or so. Possibly something to do with the overall presentation, good use of colour, and the cute wooden red apple ( wonder how much this added to the price tag ). Good job it wasn't called Zankbanana, else I might have bought it.
Falsche Fuffziger: in my view, the best board game to have come out since Vernissage -- very clever, with well thought out mechanics. Certainly my vote for Game of the Year 94 alongside ``We the People''. I bought this one without the English translation, did my own and then found out we were playing it wrongly! I wonder how many different variants of this game are being played at the moment. I couldn't understand why the silver coins were running out and then it clicked that ALL the printers (including those not already bought) are removed from the game when the appropriate number Inspector card is turned up, and not just those that happen to be in the players possession at the time. This means that you go through the Inspector deck one more cycle, and probably adds an extra hour to the playing time. In my variant, as soon as the type 10 printers have been scrapped by turning up the same Inspector card, the obvious tactic if you are first player, is to buy in the remaining type 10 printers. The resultant monopoly guarantees to win a coin auction with a bid of just one single 10 note. Unfortunately, the obvious didn't work and I came last. In another game, someone tried the same tactic but this time with the 20 printers. He didn't come last but he didn't win either. Still can't quite make this out. There is more to this game than first meets the eye, which is one of the reasons I think it appeals so much. Constant decisions have to be made like how much dare I bid for coins and risk being shut out of the money-laundering auction? How much counterfeit and/or real money should I hold back now for the benefit of the next round? Can I risk flipping the printers over? Are 4 coins worth 3 x 100 notes? etc.etc. And each time you ask the same question, there will be a different answer depending upon the current game situation. If anyone wishes to try playing it this way, you will need to have at least another 30 silver coins available, and allow two and a half hours to play. Next time I must play the way the designer intended.
I was rather surprised at your (Mike's) comments on the game last time. I thought FF would be right up your street. I wasn't quite sure what ``without an overall mesh for strength'' is meant to convey (whatever it is, it doesn't sound too good) and as far as theme goes, I would have thought it was very strong and original. Are there any other counterfeit money games currently on the market? As far as time is concerned, if you thought the original too long, don't try my variant as it may seem like an eternity! What makes a game cycle in a ``horribly'' processional as opposed to just a ``merely'' processional fashion? You have played Mine!, haven't you? What kind of processional is that one? Either way, It actually doesn't worry processional junkies like me. Also, don't worry about winning making ``stupid'' plays -- perhaps your opponents made more ``stupid'' plays than you did. It happens all the time. You didn't really like this game, did you Mike!
MS: Umm, yes. That's why I gave it a Sumo! Without resorting to a hideous Jilly Goolden commentary every time, it is difficult to describe variously all the game systems that I come across. The problem with FF is that it has a unique theme, but I didn't find that theme strong enough to unify some clever (but rather discrete) sub-systems or carry it through two hours of what is very repetitious play. All I was trying to say was that the game is indeed good, and original, but that with a smaller number of rounds, some improved bonding of the systems and perhaps a tweak or two, it could have been superb. As for my 'stupid' plays, I think you'd need to know what I did -- I sold all my printers to raise cash with the idea of cornering the silver market for an entire round. The fact that the round was a big one (in terms of bullion) helped. Perhaps stupid is the wrong word; unorthodox or risky might be better. As I said, the fact that the system survived this ploy is good; that it was possible to win by doing so may not be, given the theme. I am reminded of worm farming for some strange reason!
Might have mentioned this before, but the really great strength of Sumo is the reader's letters. In fact, when I get Sumo, I start at the back and work forwards just to get other reader's reactions to the previous issue's reviews. There is generally someone else's general outlook on playing or opinion you can identify with, which can make all the difference on those undecided potential buys. So please write in, as both Stuart and Mike (and me!) are dying to hear from you !
Neil Mackenzie: Some comments on Maharaja: I've only played it twice and seen it played once (all 4 player games) but I have a lot of Britannia experience to draw on.
In the solitaire game Yellow was definitely last with Purple and Blue vying for first place. Then in our first proper game Yellow won by building an early lead and then complaining for the rest of the game about a lack of counters. In the other game I watched and Yellow came last again. It looks to me like Yellow is the equivalent to the Green of Avalon Hill's Britannia -- last unless it gets a lot of cooperation or bad play from other nations.
Now there is a way round this which we have always used for Britannia and that is bidding. Each person writes secret bids for all sides, bids are revealed and sides allocated, beginning with the highest bid. The bid is then deducted from your final score. You always bid zero for the side you want to play least and so the lastside to be allocated costs nothing. Generally in Britannia Newcomers/last bids get the Welsh for zero and Red or Blue go for 20 to 30 points. As long as there are two or three experienced gamers to make `true' value bids this will work and it will work for any game with numeric victory conditions.
However, bidding doesn't solve the other problem for Maharaja Yellow which is obviously catatonia in the second half of the game. The suggestion for slowing the collapse of the Mauryan/Gupta could work. Other questions are: `Why did Blue get 5 nations? `Should the Afghans be transferred to Yellow? `Why have the Mauryan/Gupta linked to each other under one player at all?
Avalon Hill should have done better and deserve some rough handling with an entrenching tool, but I'll play it again because I like the system and Maharaja's different situation.
Mitchell Thomashow: Some thoughts related to collectible card games (especially Magic). I am amazed that Magic has quickly crept into my 100+ list. When it first came out, I was in Games People Play (Cambridge) and the proprietor was extolling this popular new card game (Magic). Intrigued, I bought a few starter decks and several booster packs (valuable Alphas it turns out). However, I found the rules daunting and the game impenetrable. I stuck the game back on the shelf, not understanding all of the enthusiasm. Months later, one of my daughter's friends was over the house and he patiently explained the game to me. After playing several times, I realized that I was hooked into this idea of tuning my deck, and became more involved. So did both of my kids (ages 10 and 13). Operating against all of my better gaming judgments, I found myself intrigued by Magic. Sure enough, several months later, I now have a modest collection of two hundred cards, several decks, and I've played the game quite a bit.
The idea of the collectible card game does represent one of the more innovative ideas in the recent history of card games. It is a new genre and deserves credit as such. Magic card play is not as sophisticated as its staunchest supporters indicate, but it is not as simplistic as some of the critics claim. Like many card games, unbalanced hands can be overcome with knowledgeable tactical and strategic play. I have lost many games to my ten year old son, because he grasped a tactical maneuver before I did. Similarly, there is a lot of judgment entailed in knowing when and how to play various cards. Quite simply, Magic requires and rewards strategic ingenuity. The idea of the changing game universe is novel and I think designers will tinker with it for quite some time. Not just because it is so potentially lucrative, although that is certainly a motivation, but also because it is fun, innovative and interesting.
You don't have to be obsessive to enjoy Magic. With a modest investment in two hundred cards, and game players who enjoy balance and a good game above anything else, there are many imaginative ways to play, including drafts, auctions, etc. which keep the game fresh and reward gamesmanship rather than arcana.
At some point the craze will disappear and Magic will return to its place in the world of gaming, removed from its popular culture significance. I think when that occurs we will recognize that it is a good, solid, highly innovative game that marks the beginning of a genre, hopefully surpassed by even more creative efforts. Magic will be a classic in that sense, an important branch in the evolution of card games.
Kris Gould: I've been trying out some of the new collectible card games with my gaming groups and here are some of the opinions. TSR's Spellfire at first seemed promising, but turned out to be pretty lame. Essentially, you are supposed to build a holding of six land cards, arranged in a pyramid shape in front of you. Fighters, Clerics and Magic Users can be sent to destroy lands and other charcters can be used to stop them. There is no flavour to the battles, with extra allies, weapons, magic items and spells mostly just adding a number to your combat value. It can also get pretty similar to Magic, in that you don't want to attack because your opponent has more defensive strength than you, and your opponent doesn't want to attack you for the same reason. But whereas in Magic someone has to break the stalemate and launch an attack, because the goal is to destroy your opponent, in Spellfire all you have to do is draw your sixth land card and put it down and the game is over. It's pretty bad when you can win a game without interacting with your opponent at all. And the artwork gets rock-bottom ratings: it seems as if they handed an eight-year-old a pair of scissors and a stack of miscellaneous Dungeons and Dragons manuals, magazines and other paraphernalia.
Jyhad (Wizards of the Coast) is more ambitious than Magic. The artwork is more gruesome and the game is more complex. Some of my group like it, but most found it long, confusing, rules-heavy and not a fun gaming experience.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (Decipher Inc) has excellent art and a good flavour of the genre. However, play seems pretty deterministic, with each player setting up his missions and then doing them. It can also become quite tedious as you spend turn after turn just drawing cards, because you don't have the right equipment or personnel to do anything.
Wyvern, from U.S. Games Systems, is short and playable. It is relatively easy to learn and has good player interaction. You send your dragons, one at a time, to do single combat with one opposing dragon of your choice, or else to destroy a land. There are onle six dragons or lands that each player has at any time and they all start face down. Your goal is to get rid of all six of your opponent's dragons/lands and since they can not be replenished when destroyed, this makes the games pretty short. The bad part of the game is that it is almost too simple and brainless. After a few games there are no more surprises and the game gets pretty samey.
All of the previous games might be good for the ``spend lots of money to find the valuable cards'' activity, if you want to get into that, but none of them seem to be good playable games that can be enjoyed as games. But the good news is that there is a tradeable card game that actually succeeds as a game. Steve Jackson's Illuminati: New World Order is playable, learnable and most importantly fun! Each player gets a branch of the Illuminati and starts building a power structure out of group cards, each being controlled by another group card or by the Illuminati itself. The groups all have power and resistance values, which they use to control or destroy other groups, or to resist such attempts. Each group gets one action per round, which can be used to attack another group either from your hand or on your opponent's power structure, or which can be saved to try to prevent another player's attack, or to assist an attack by another player. There are also plot cards that can allow you to do various interesting and unexpected activities. But the best news is that a single ten dollar starter pack contains two decks, each of which has two different Illuminati groups and a good enough mix of cards that you can play an enjoyable two-player game without buying anything else.
SWD: INWO seems to be producing quite sharp differences of opinion, with a sizable number agreeing with you and another sizable number agreeing with Mike that the original game was better. That was probably to be expected, but I was disturbed to read a report on the Net from someone who had tried to run an INWO tournament at one of the American Games Conventions. He wasn't expecting problems, but he got them when it became apparent that the different Illuminati were not equally strong and that people had found ways to put together `killer decks'. I believe that INWO is not the only trading card game to hit this problem, and there are obviously ways of dealing with it if you are just playing the game with friends. However, it is a serious flaw, especially as one of the aims that Steve Jackson had for the game was that this was to be one trading card game where you didn't buy your way to success. I'll still be checking this one out for myself, but only when the boxed version comes along.
White Wind games seem to be moving to the top of the play list round here. Mush is lots of fun, but there is one problem that surfaced in our last game. My opponents both got stuck behind some mountains, as they kept rolling ones until their chips were gone and I just strolled into Nome almost a full board ahead of them. The fact that it was just bad die rolls made my win less enjoyable, so I would suggest that, if someone fails to get into a mountain space because of a die roll, on their next turn they may spend three chips to get into that mountain space automatically.
Elfenroads and Santa Fe remain very enjoyable despite a few minor complaints. (Elfenroads is a bit too long and it is too easy to get stuck, which is especially devastating if it happens on the last turn. Santa Fe has game play which is fun, but the ending is a bit anticlimactic, with a tedious counting up period, followed by the announcement of who has won, an announcement that somehow fails to be exciting.) However, my favourite (and the favourite of the people I play with) has turned out to be Freight Train. The competition is always fierce and there is always more that you want to be able to do on your turn. We have never found the game to be dry, since we keep the rivalries that emerge active and frequently interfere with each other's plans, just for the sake of interfering. Freight Train is quick enough to be played in an hour but has the strategy level of a longer, more complex game.
SWD: Yes, my group likes Freight Train as well, not as much as Santa Fe, but I am sure that were I to take a vote in my group it would edge out Elfenroads in the contest for second favourite among the White Winds. Both the `overlong' and the `getting stuck' problems that you mention in connection with Elfenroads are eased if you adopt the `Golden Option' and `Faster Auction' variant rules that Alan gave in the second White Wind Newsletter. With the first of these you can use a gold coin either in the normal way or to reduce by one the number of cards needed to travel the route. With the second you give each player two transportation counters per round and only put up two per head for auction.
Mike Oakes: We played Westminster (Gibsons, circa 1983) recently after a long absence due to its ``unplayability'' before. I was hoping that given a new chance it would prove worthwhile, but sadly the game once again ended without a winner. This was after 3 hours play, by which time only one player of the six had gained a second reading of his Bill and there was no immediate prospect of him having sufficient MP's to win a Division on his own to gain the final Third Reading.
Has anyone managed to finish this game? I can't see how, with 32 MP's in play, one player can get 17 to secure the overall majority. I realise that maybe not all `opposition' MP's will make the trip to vote against, but even allowing for that you would still be unlikely to gain victory with say 12 or 13 MP's, should you be unlucky enough to have them. I would be interested in readers' comments on this game and would welcome any suggestions which speed up its playing time and lead to a definite result.
SWD: I am afraid that this is a game which looks interesting when you first open the box but which you soon realise does not have an attainable victory condition. What a thoughtful and reputable firm like Gibsons were playing at when they released it is something I have never understood. The election part is OK and the idea behind the movement round the board and the collection of cards is quite novel, but there is absolutely no reason why one player should ever support another in that final vote and without that the game is never going to finish. If you are going to build a game around a session of parliament, and not just around an election, you have to come up with a mechanic which gives you unstable governments and shifting allegiances and that means getting a long, long way from a simulation of the reality at real-life Westminster. The French game Politico makes a reasonable stab at this and the Italian game Al Parlamento a better one, but the designers of Westminster don't even seem to have realised that that is what they had to do. The only way that you could rescue the game would be to come up with some new mechanics and a completely different set of objectives.