Simon Bracegirdle: It recently struck me that Sumo readers might be interested to hear about the Eindhoven show which took place in early May and which I was lucky enough to attend as a member of the Warfrog delegation there to promote Lords of Creation.
The fine weather and VE Day celebrations seem to have had an adverse effect on the number attending. This in itself was not the best omen for sales, but when coupled with the fact that a large proportion of those who attended appeared to be Magic junkies, the result was poor sales for us and for virtually all other non-Magic carrying stall holders.
Sales apart, the experience was rather pleasant. It should be made clear that Eindhoven is not another Essen. In terms of scale it is just nowhere near. Apart from the traders, there were a number of demo games running and competitions were being organised throughout the weekend. For me the most impressive sight was the 999 Games stall, which appeared to carry any and every game on the market. The most enduring memory was all those Magic players, rather like sand at a beach orgy they were everywhere, in the hall, on the street, in the hotel bar, and like the sand at the beach orgy they became rather irritating after a while.
SWD: Fortunately, I have not yet run into them, but they do seem unhealthily obsessed, don't they? I read of one at FurryCon who left complaining when he found out that there were other games being played and that the weekend wasn't to be just Magic.
Wolfgang Luedtke: These, in my opinion, are the best of this year's German games: Die Siedler von Catan, the Goldsieber games (of course), Paparazzo (a clever auction card game from Abacus), High Society, Stonehenge, Hattrick (a nasty card game by the designer of Sticheln), Focus (the old Sid Sackson classic, now from frankh/Kosmos), Terra X (the new `Wildlife Adventure' by Wolfgang Kramer, from Queen games) and Maulwerf Company (a nice family game from Ravensburger).
SWD: The reason for the ``of course'' after the Goldsieber games is that Wolfgang is part of TM games and they were responsible for the design and development of the games for the Simba toy company. Wolfgang also comments in his letter that Linie 1 makes a good 2-player game.
Peter Kretschmar: Die Siedler von Catan: Our gaming club bought this on the good reviews in Fairplay and the Pöppel Revue. We don't regret the purchase. Very nice game, astonishingly short in playing time (90 mins or less), good components. The handful of games I've played so far always came out rather tight. Luck can play a major role in determining the winner, as a neck-to-neck race can be easily decided by that one lucky die-roll, or a lucky draw of the cards (I hope someone else writes a review, so people will understand this). It should become Game of the Year 1995, at least judging from the current competition, but I'm not sure if it will become a classic.
Robo Rally: The board game from the trading card sharks was an instant success with us. The rules need some clarifications (they were cut down from a much longer body of text) and some hints on how to set up a reasonable course wouldn't be a bad idea either. All in all it belongs into the group of romping stomping games, where the most fun comes from seeing your opponent pale after pushing him from the track he wanted to go. Luck can play a huge role, but somehow certain people always manage better in the long run. Readily invites add-ons and house rules.
John Webley: Die Siedler von Catan is a very good game but has one defect in that it is fairly easy for one player to get off to a bad start and then just sit doing nothing for an hour or so. I can't see it getting Spiel des Jahres though, it's just too complicated for the family market, and that's where the award is targetted. There is some scope for direct competition in the game though, by building roads and villages in certain areas you can block out the opposition. But as you say the only real route to success is trading well and that has to be positive for a game. The Goldsieber games have disappointed after the initial interest. Bakschisch is allegedly by Kara Ben Hering, the latest version of Karl Hering who was a character in Vernissage and Knock Out. The publicity material included a hilarious biography of this new games designer, but I think that it is merely that they didn't want to include two named Teuber games in the initial list.
Foot of Kilimanjaro is a children's game, not bad, but not one that will catch on with games groups I'd think. Condottieri caught my eye as well, but I've yet to see it.
Caramba has been around as a discount item in some of the department stores here. There are often bargains to be picked up here, at present, our local, very small Karstadt has Burp for 10 marks, Athos, Das Letzte Paradis and Orbit for 19.95, Chicago for 29 and so on. None of them world beating, but at those prices even OK games become attractive, well they do to me anyway.
Medici is in fact a reworking of Mercator from Neue Spiele aus Alten Rom. It's been the number one game in our games group for the last six weeks or so and shows no signs of slacking off. Unlike Dave, I have managed to win one game but in general I lack patience, bidding early for ``Unmissable'' cards and then finding the other players picking up bargains at the end of the round when I've already bought five cards. There's no doubt that it is a huge advantage to be the last or penultimate player in, as long as there are still good cards available, but you don't always know if that's the case. We've normally played with 6 players which is a slightly different game from versions with less players, since you know that all the cards are in play and so, if you're good at card counting, you can hold on for specific cards. But then even if you do you may be sitting in the wrong place when they turn up so that may not work. This is yet another Knizia classic, and reiterates yet again what outstanding value the Piatnik ``Neue Spiele'' box was.
Steve Owen: The latest Formula De track -- Interlagos, alias Brazil -- is a winner. It has 7 corners, two of which are 2 stop ones and 2 main straights: one of 39 and one of 57 spaces. This makes it theoretically possible to get into sixth gear up to five times in one lap. The worst corners are the first and last. The first is a 2 stop affair which really needs to be exited in fourth gear as a prelude to higher gears for the long straight. Unfortunately it frequently results in most of one's tyres being left on the track (and that's in third gear!). The last corner is also a problem as ideally it should be taken in fifth to allow a surge into sixth gear for the longest straight of the track. This approach inevitably leaves at least one player in first gear after the spin-off. In one recent game two cars did just that, one had its bodywork destroyed and another's engine blew up on the turn before the finishing line (lots of engine checks on this course!). In summary, an excellent if somewhat vicious track which continues the Formula De tradition in style.
Settlers of Catan we have now played several times and I must admit to mixed feelings about it. It appears to have good replay value but overall is rather slow, quite restrictive in terms of alternative options and it can prove very difficult to catch up with the leader.
High Society I acknowledge to be a clever game but one I find extremely disconcerting as I usually have no idea what to do. Most of my gaming friends however seem to revel in it. I would class it in the category of Hols der Geier with attitude (lots of it!).
Linie 1 -- another offering from Goldsieber -- looks very promising on initial plays, being a secret track laying game with some characteristics of Intellect's Thoughtwave. No matter how well you plan your track someone always seems to screw it up and what's worse usually does it inadvertently! Once the appropriate track is laid your tram can then be run along it. Some strategy is possible at this stage but it is very much secondary to the initial track planning phase.
Condottiere has also seen a few outings and appears to work well on a relatively simple premise. It depends exclusively on card based combat and uses the interaction of several different card categories to create the atmosphere and tension. The cards are much larger than normal but do not seem to cause too much of a problem in handling. One rule query has arisen and this may represent a difference between the French and German translations. In one version Scarecrow cards (which may be exchanged for soldier cards) can only be placed on one's own cards, whilst in the other version they may also be placed on your opponents. Obviously the gameplay will vary significantly depending on which interpretation is adopted.
Richard Breese: Some comments on the new releases which I was fortunate enough to play on a visit to Mike's:
Die Siedler von Catan: Well worth a recent and rare accolade of two plays in an evening. With the wrinkles ironed out in the second run through and an idea of what to plan for, the game appeared very well balanced. To my surprise spending the raw material cards on development cards instead of roads and settlements appeared a viable strategy. I doubt that the game can be finished in much less than 90 minutes and I very much look forward to seeing the six player version which I understand is due.
High Society: A simple bidding game, but more to it than first appears. The especially clever bit is the elimination, when determining the winner, of the player with the least money.
Sternenhimmel: This was quite fun, but my strategy let me down.
Galopp Royal: The game is the best of six shebang races, but one race was enough.
Condottiere: I believe we may have played the `skeletons' wrongly, using them to take an opponent's card rather than withdrawing a decoy from our own; however, I suspect that the game benefits from this variation. Against expectations a winner emerged quickly in our first three player game.
Medici: The `stairways' are clearly geared up for three rounds only but I was left with feelings of `Is that it?' and `What happened to the rest of the game?'
Bakschisch: Very lightweight and very little of interest. A unanimous thumbs down.
Linie 1: I had high hopes for this one on first sight. Laying the track was reasonably fun, but I wanted it to be nastier and to be able to disrupt the other players' lines. The streetcar race at the end was an anticlimax, but it worked as a way of `proving' the routes and did, to its credit, end up being very close in our game.
Giving them marks on a scale of 1 to 10, with 8+ being a definite purchase recommendation and 7 indicating a buy at the right price, my verdict is 8: Die Siedler von Catan, High Society; 7: Sternenhimmel, Condottiere, Medici; 6: Linie 1; 2: Galopp Royal; 1: Bakschisch.
In my review last issue of the British Toy and Hobby Fair I mentioned that I hoped to review in this issue two of the more promising games, from what was generally a poor batch. The two games in question were Pike Attack and Misfortunes. You rightly said that if a low profile release is disappointing, then there is little point in knocking it in Sumo. Misfortunes is not necessarily a poor game, but having now played it and discovered the very basic level of the tactics and strategy required, I am confident that this question and answer game is unlikely to be of particular interest to most Sumo readers. For this reason I have not written a review. Pike Attack appeared to offer more, but there is no review of this either, because the promised review copy has not yet materialised.
Randy Cox: The hot game at The Gathering of Friends (Alan Moon's annual get-together) was, predictably, Die Siedler von Catan. This game got repeated play from everyone (an impromptu tournament wound up with 7 or 8 boards playing -- that's about 35% of the entire convention attendance). Consensus was that this very Civilization-like game will get lots of play for a few months and then be relegated to the shelf, much like Rette Sich Wer Kann, last year's wonder baby which wasn't played at all this year. No other game came close to the popularity of Siedler, but others which inspired some interest were Linie 1, Galopp Royal and the classics Liars Dice, Can't Stop and Demarrage. I even saw a game of Die Macher one night (ALL night).
Ed Austin: Medici: What a game! I have played this one eight times already and the family loves it. It could do with some more meat on its bones, but I'm not complaining.
William Preston: Medici is my favourite game at the moment. Wonderful system, really quick, and tough to play and win.
Paul Jefferies: Medici: Brilliant. Utterly Brilliant. I immediately wanted to play it again. Has all the class and involvement of Modern Art. Reiner has done himself proud yet again. And Amigo are going to clean up big time. Don't miss it.
Maulwerf Co: For anybody with kids, this is an excellent buy. Ravensburger do it again. It says 8+ on the box but my 4.5 year old copes with it well. Superbly produced and it's all over in 15-20 minutes. We've introduced a point system so they all feel they're in with more of a chance. One point for each mole through the first level, 2 points the second, 3 the third and 5 for the shovel layer. This way it is possible to win even though you don't get the Golden Shovel. In reality it comes down to the last hole but the kids like earning points.
Siedler von Catan: Excellent trade game from Teuber. Not as finely balanced as Medici but that doesn't really detract from the game. Wonderfully produced, lots of interaction, good game length and great fun. What else can I say?
Linie 1: The tile laying part is great fun and very clever. The race part, however, is a little disappointing. The die rolling lacks the spark generated by the tile laying. It's worth getting but I will tinker with the race rules or wait for a variant.
High Society: The review was spot on when it said, ``High Society is a little Gem''.
Canaletto: Ambiguous on this one. Not bad but not gripping. Board and artwork are a bit messy and the game seems slightly clumsy. Will probably be liked or hated. I guess my ambiguity is coming through. Play first before you buy.
Kilimanjaro: Another Knizia but either HiG have changed it dramatically or Reiner has had his first off day, because it's as gripping as Ludo. Nuff said.
Billabong: I'm tempted to give this Turkey of the Year honours since it is unbelievably dire but having played Sim City The Card Game, or correct that, tried to play Sim City (since it didn't work AT ALL) that gets the Green Weenie award instead.
Sternen Himmel: Good looking and interesting with a degree of bluff. This would be another good filler if it was half-way reasonably priced. It's a very quiet game with nothing much prompting conversation. Not bad, but again not gripping.
Bakschisch: Packaged in a small Ravensburger box, I would recommend this as a light filler. Packaged as it is, at the price it is - forget it. There's very little game here.
Andy Daglish: Siedler von Catan: There are a lot of Ritters in the development deck for a game with `no combat'. Heralded as the greatest game of our time, it is in the family section of the Adam catalogue due to its `substance and depth' rating which is not high enough for my taste. In the three-player game, one player is going to start with an obvious advantage due to the scarcity of good sites on the small island of Catan. Thus the eventual winner has a tendency to run away with it, and players 2 & 3 are going nowhere and the game ends quickly. Here the ports are a bit redundant, since the one doing best will not need them. The `longest road' bonus tends to go to the player with most settlements, ie the winner. There isn't enough space for expansion with four players, so here a lot of overseas trade is done but obtaining 10VP must take longer. So the four player is the challenge, three player is unbalanced and predictable and two player is possible but boring.
Merfyn Lewis: Siedler: this has been played 16 times to date. This has never happened to me before, so quickly, so this game must be something special. Indeed it is! The game lends itself well to all sort of tactics, but my usual approach is to try and build a city as soon as possible. This gives you two resource cards if and when the dice total matches the hex your settlement is bordering on. My other priority is to get a harbour location as soon as possible, especially the ones you can trade at 2:1. So a good idea is to occupy say two wood hexes and then build a harbour that buys wood. This should give you an excellent chance at winning the game. Perhaps also buy some improvement cards which if you get a Knight card (and there's a good chance you will get one as there are lots in the pack) it can be used to move the bandit from your 6 or 8 hex!
My only gripe about the game, which otherwise I feel is brilliant, is if the dice don't come up with your number, then you could be waiting for a number of turns for resource cards. This can be quite devastating and depressing as you see your opponents getting cards, trading and building. Otherwise it's an excellent game, very enjoyable seeing your settlements expanding and improving and roads stretching across the board. One of my daughters always goes for the longest trading route but sadly very rarely wins. This game has everything, bluff, interaction, trading, tactical placement of pieces, race to complete ones Empire, many options and has good quality materials. The price is also very reasonable for a game which will give you many hours of replay value and will pass many interesting enjoyable evenings. Highly Recommended.
Linie 1: Another fine game which has had about 20 playings since its purchase only four weeks ago. This is a tile laying game. I should add that I am rather partial to tile laying games though. This has a difference in the sense that there is a race at the end of the tile laying section. I thought Drunter & Drüber was a good game, which incidentally was been played a lot by my family and game group, but I feel this game is far superior. I think the reason I like this game so much is that I like all the aspects of the game: a) tile laying, b) abstract games, c) train games, d) race games, e) puzzle games. Linie 1 has all of these! It's not very often that you get all these qualities in one game and the good thing is that it really works and works well. The components are good and the tiles are well printed and are nice and chunky. Its good fun trying to build your network of track or disrupt your opponents efforts. Usually it's quite a challenge to complete you railroad and very gratifying having done so. The race itself is rather simple and usually it's a close finish unless of course you have been really struggling in the first phase. There is one member of my game group who has not been able to complete his circuit yet, I don't know why but he can't seem to work out where he should place his tiles. I personally can't see why they should have this difficulty as it's such a simple task. I have spoken with other people who have also come across this problem with playing this type of game. Another game which has similar problems suffered by some players is Thoughtwave, as this also involves quite a lot of forward planning and forethought to win. Whatever, I expect if you have played any of the 18xx series games then you have an advantage as to how best run your tracks.
Rudolf Ruhle: 6 Nimmt: I'm sure there is a strategy but it's a mixture of sharp cardplaying, memory and psychology. I like to play it and haven't been further behind than second place.
William Preston: Further to your comment in the last Sumo, I for one am not at all happy with 6 Nimmt. I too found it initially interesting but, try as I might, there was no sign of any strategy materializing. I would say this one is 99% luck and I won't be playing it any more.
Ed Austin: 6 Nimmt. I have to say I share your concerns. I too enjoyed it as a fun game but each time we play it the pleasure decreases.
Peter Kretschmar: To all those guys describing ``6 Nimmt'' as too simple: Hey it's a cheap (OK, here in Germany), light-weight game that has the enormous advantage that about everybody will understand it. Not much more, but that's enough for its size and cost. We concluded a gaming session once with a `full' game -- 10 players around the table. Well, there's nothing much to use your brain on in such a set-up, but it was great fun!
Steve Campbell: Manhattan: Neil Walters was quite correct in the last issue when he worked out what I was alluding to. I didn't want to let the cat out of the bag myself for fear of ruining other people's enjoyment of the game. Now it's out however, I'll expand on the theme.
The whole tactics of the game revolve around avoiding conflict. Let's say you make a power bid against another player in one of his cities. You cost him a point/turn and may gain a temporary 2 extra points yourself for controlling a new city. But on his turn, he stamps on one of your towers, either in the same city to regain control, or on another for revenge. Net result, both of you are down 1 point per turn FOR THE REST OF THE GAME! In other words, your one attack has put the two uninvolved players four points up on you.
From this, you can work out a pair of fairly rigid playing rules:
When by following these rules you end up 20 points in front at the start of the last round, you will realise that the player order in the last round doesn't matter after all.
SWD: The first time you try this against people who are playing more naïvely you will win -- which is presumably what you did at Essen. In the next game against the same opponents, they will, if they have any sense, realise what you are up to and combine against you before the game is half over. Thereafter, either the game goes on the discard pile as being too niggly, or everyone adopts your strategy. At this point you realise why the number of cities is not divisible by the number of players and why it needs the tallest building bonus to spice things up. As I have said before, I prefer Auf Heller und Pfennig to Manhattan and don't consider the game a classic by any means, but I do think that its mechanisms are more robust than you make out. I also agree with John Webley (see later) that this is a game where you will have more fun if you leave the calculator in the drawer and just play.
Denis Arnold: Having gone through Das Regeln wir schon, it would appear to be a good light-hearted game with a fair amount of interaction. I agree that the Stand up/Sit down/Shut up cards are quite ridiculous, so I shall devise my own substitutes for those. I appreciate that there is no theme, but there appears to be lots of craftiness involved and, although I have yet to play it, I imagine it will create a lot of fun. Fred Kater's comment that it's slow surprises me -- after all, it only lasts 5 rounds!
Games played recently -- Das Magische Hexagon, Baubylon, Tourspel, High Society, Mauern Babylon, Ausgebremst, Bottle, Würmeln (all excellent!) but I was a bit disappointed with Galopp Royal, and particularly so with Bid `n Bluff and Arctic.
Hironori Takahashi: Here are the results of our game club's annual poll. About 45 members voted for a total of 137 games played in the period from April last year to this March. 1) 6 nimmt; 2) Broadway; 3) Liar's Dice/Bluff; 4) Dragon Master; 5) Ave Caesar; 6) Airlines; 7) Tousenkyou; 8) KEISAN; 9) Manhattan; 10) Chei-Teng and Santa Fe. Tousenkyou, KEISAN and Chei-Teng are traditional Japanese games.
Volle Lotte is easier than Greed, but the ``Double Lotte'' card seems to be too powerful. The players who drew this card won in most cases. Paparazzo is a good game and very difficult to win. Intrige is very severe when players calculate each other's cash. I think that this is a game you should play without thinking deeply.
Tim Trant: Since I've been playing Lambourne's ``Grand Prix Circus'' a fair bit lately, I thought I'd add my comments to the review from issue 22. I actually bought the game at the Gathering of Friends (plug: Keywood Cheves of ``The Game Arsenal'', (804) 973-7586 apparently imports a fair range of Lambourne products to the U.S.) before I saw the review. I knew of Lambourne, but I'd never seen them for sale before, so I also bought ``Sport of Kings'' and ``Metric Mile'' (trying to avoid the more replay-oriented games) at the same time.
I'm quite enjoying ``Grand Prix Circus'', playing solo, but I still haven't finished an entire race season (I've played through 12 races). This is a LONG game: actually running one of the races on paper only takes me about 40 minutes, but the set-up and concluding paperwork plus team management decisions (for my single non-system team) are adding another 20+ minutes per race, and there are 17 races (plus an extensive initial team set-up procedure) in a season. The saving grace is that even at one hour the individual races are still ``bite-sized'', but I imagine that many seasons will be abandoned by the half-way point.
I do have one worry about the balance between the teams: the good (i.e. expensive) teams, when run by the ``system'', perform development feats which would cost a human-managed team huge amounts of money, while poorer system teams (in both senses of the word) aren't much of a challenge. But when run by an intelligent human (particularly with regard to choice of a better Engine and Chassis Development) the poorer teams can perform quite well, while an expensive human-managed team will be continually hamstrung by money problems and end up with a similar performance to a cheaper (in original cost) human team. Thus if the most expensive four (or so) teams are all human-managed, the most serious system competition has also been eliminated, and a human champion should emerge. In theory, anyway.
Part of my motivation for buying ``Grand Prix Circus'' was to see if it could be used as a basis for Formule Dé games (we've completed 3 of 7 races in the current 7 person series right now). I believe the various car categories can be translated/transferred fairly simply. So if the game can survive a compression down to about half the original number of races (even my group isn't thrilled at the idea of sticking through a series of 17) we'll be in business.
Other game news: ``1856'' and the ``SimCity'' card game are both available in stores here now. ``1856'' is a must because it covers my local geographic area, which I hope will turn a few potential opponents into actual opponents. ``SimCity'' is playable solitaire, but with 500+ cards (including 100+ long cards packaged one per booster pack) collecting will be only for the terminally rich. I haven't heard any definite comments as to how good the gameplay is, but I'm going to risk a couple of starter packs.
SWD: There seems to be quite a sharp division on SimCity, with Mike Clifford and Alan How being in favour and Mike Siggins and Paul Jefferies strongly against. Since I took a decision to stay out of the collecting cards scene, I shan't be voting. However, I can tell you that the shop on the Retail Game Store card belongs to a friend of Alfonzo Smith. I know this because he sent me a couple of copies. Thanks, Alfonzo, I'll pass them on to Mike and Alan.
David Ward: Mike's trouble with the `cardboard boxes from hell' reminded me of some that I encountered at work.
These were small boxes that were used to store parts and spares used in production in the late 50s and early 60s. As the machinery had been updated these obsolete bits had been left at the back of the store room.
During the 80s it became apparent that these parts could be re-used, with minor modifications, so that we could cope with the extra work during the boom years (remember those).
So one Xmas I started to sort and relocate whatever we could find. Some of these cardboard boxes had simply turned into piles of golden dust.
This appeared to be due to the dryness of the room they were kept in, and their quality. Post war cardboard was not made to a high standard and therefore tends to disintegrate with age and aridity.
I guess it was this `golden dust' that has affected the great one with respiratory problems.
We also found a box of car headlamp bulbs which stated on the outside: ``Due to the worldwide shortage of cardboard the lamps are not individually packed.''
And this leads me on to the Monopoly set owned by SWD's family with its cardboard spinner in place of dice. Our Monopoly set consists of a small squarish box and separate board. Each decorated with a well dressed speculator, a pair of detached suburban houses and a pair of 2-8-4 (Berkshire class) locomotives. The components are made out of stained wooden blocks and the six tokens are cardboard. The battleship is of the WW1 `Dreadnought' variety, but the sports car could be pre or post-war, the designs not changing much in those years. We have two dice, but the rules state that the game contains `two dice (or Spinner substitute)'. The rules are not dated and refer to `three to seven players', while questions will be answered if you send Waddingtons a tuppenny ha'penny stamp (but no address is given). This points to a period somewhere between 1945 and 1957 using philatelic research.
Rudolf Ruhle: I own some games that are definitely older than the 2nd World War and which come with a board and a little separate box, eg Politics from Parker USA, 1936. To my knowledge it wasn't a wartime measure, but a tradition from the last century. I have and know of other games without figures, dice etc, but only a board and the rules. The board was often in an envelope of (strong) pasteboard. Sometimes figures were added in a little separate box later on. It was assumed you could use buttons, stones etc and everybody should have dice around the house.
Mike Siggins: I had to smile at Derek Carver's comments on the 1940's. Ever since I have been in the hobby, Derek has been popping up making us all envious by telling us how long ago he got into games, what the hobby was like in the 50s, how he bought Al Parlamento from an Italian touring Soho before I was born etc etc. But now he has surpassed himself. My question is, just how old is Derek? If he was buying new games in the early '40s, he must be truly truly ancient. Or has he installed a Time Agent machine in his conservatory? I do however like the packaging style (or lack of). I have an old game called Oscar that has a huge board and a little box with the pieces and I thought I was missing the outer packaging. I now assume there wasn't any , and as you say, what a great saving on storage. I have extended the idea recently by, where possible, ditching some of those great big air boxes and storing components in ziplocs. Sacrilege I know, but I have saved around ten feet of storage space.
Dice and Spinners. I can think of no real reason why dice would be prohibited unless they were made of materials valuable to the war effort, but even then you would expect ersatz replacements. Do I not recall dice made of pastry for some strange reason? My best guess is that, going way back to the forties, there may still have been a hangover from those Victorian anti-dice sentiments. Reading of any game history book indicates that dice were equated with gambling, loose morals and generally low rent behaviour which is why you get spinners in all those beautiful antique parlour games. So you had to avoid dice in case you were corrupted into thrashing your native servant, puffing opium and setting up another cotton mill with excellent working conditions. RC Bell would know, I'm sure.
Walter Cook: Your letter re early Monopoly spinners: I thought it was because all dice were wooden and timber had to be imported -- a risky business during the war, but then I noticed I looked in my early game and noticed the hotels etc were wooden.
SWD: The set I was talking about would have been bought in the late forties and the houses and hotels were, indeed, made out of wood, as were the stands for the cardboard tokens. So it was not a question of wood being unavailable for games. My theory is that it was to do with the manufacturing. Making a fair die is a more complicated operation than cutting up some dowelling for the houses and hotels, and the skills and machinery needed had possibly been diverted to other uses. Mike's theory that it was something to do with Queen Victoria is clearly fanciful. Walter and I are both old enough to know that she was dead by then. You should also not worry too much about his reference to pastry dice. Poor soul, his diet is starting to get to him. He'll be dreaming of dice made out of chocolate fudge next.
And now for some more thumbnail sketches following on from Mike's `Nineties' article in the last issue. The first is from a man whose ambition, as you will see from his comments on Elfenroads, is not to be invited back to The Gathering of Friends. Either that or he is a lot bigger than Alan!
Randy Cox: Adel Verpflichtet: Our group splits on this one. To most it is just a time killer. Advanced Civilization: We prefer the original. Why pay $35 to find out that the biggest modification was putting a time limit on trading? Airlines: Enough like Acquire to be a classic. Better components/colours could have made it a Hall of Famer. Assassin: It doesn't get much worse than this. Auf Heller und Pfennig: Most liked it but it's much like working a Dell Pencil Puzzles and Crosswords magazine. Banana Republic: Just doesn't have much to offer. Bluff (Liars Dice): Played the way Richard Borg intended, it's in the Hall of Fame. (Yes, players not involved with the bluff do go out on exact matches if they have only one 1 die remaining and yes, you can show your only remaining die and bump the bid [rerolling your remaining 0 dice]). Only thing better is Liars Poker! Candidate: It's easy to win, but you don't feel you have accomplished anything when it's over (3 or 4 hours later). Crazy Race: Chaotic enough to be fun; Strategic enough to be challenging; underhanded enough to be a classic. Daytona 500: Hall of Fame: I'm not sure why such a simple mindless exercise is so popular, but we love it. Demarrage: Hall of Fame classic. It's short enough and simple enough to entice non-gamers and tactical enough to make real gamers sweat it out. Hell of a game. Drunter & Drüber; A great one to kill 30 minutes. If it takes longer than that, you're playing with the wrong group. Elfengold: I like it but nearly no one else does. Elfenroads: Everyone is in agreement on this one. It takes WAY too long and just doesn't keep moving well enough to hold anyone's attention. Tedium at its utmost. En Garde: A good little game for the few times you have to settle for a two-player offering. Fast Food Franchise: Great because it allows you to suck in the non-gamers (those who think Monopoly is top of the complexity ladder). Ugly board, but intriguing scoring mechanisms in ultra simple design. This belongs in the Hall of Fame. Fishy: Enjoyable enough. Surely better than White Wind's worst title -- Elfenroads. History of the World: Would be a Hall of Famer if it could be cut in half timewise. Intrige: We love fuck-your-buddy games around here, but this takes it to an extreme. Kohle, Kies & Knete: We need a definitive rules translation. The one I have doesn't jive with what some Germans say is the way to play. Our translation makes it much more like Intrige; the German player's makes it much more structured but less back-stabbing. Either way, it ain't no classic. Manhattan: Short, sweet and easy. Not Hall of Fame calibre, but super components. Magic the Gathering: Great for selling your investment. Mind Trap: Mixes a social game with some decent mond games. Better than Trivial Pursuit. Modern Art: Didn't go over here, yet. Olympia 2000: Good for wasting time, so it does have a purpose and will get some play (about once every other year). Outpost: The best of Civilization without the incredible length of time to play. Razzia: Split decision. ``Fluff'' gamers go for it. Strategists don't want to bother. Rette Sich Wer Kann: See Intrige, but this game has the cool wooden components. Santa Fe: Hall of Fame. The only people who don't care for this are the 1830 crowd, and we know they need help. Silverton: The best of all rail games, except when viewed through the convoluted eyes of 18xx tile layers. So what if you have to roll dice so much at the end of each turn? Hall of Fame written all over it. 6 Nimmt: No strategy. No fun. It's only positive attribute is that non-gamers flock to this thing. Star Trek, Customizable Card Game: We like ST around here, so we like the game. We also like the fact that it is true to the show (some people call this deterministic). Cards are much nicer than those in Magic. Suzerain: Good idea and decent game, but why does it take so long? Tal der König: Has some strategy, but if anyone wants to just get the game over with, it becomes tedious. Tyranno Ex: Well done by AH, but it takes oh sooo long to play. Might play it once more before the millennium passes. Vernissage: The board will cause epileptic seizures and the game is quite an investment to learn (you have to play an entire throw-away game of it first) and then you may never want to play it again. You can so easily get into a position where you just wait for the game to end. Viva Pamplona: (Does this make the 1990 cutoff?) Hall of Fame. Wonderfully chaotic game. Only problem seems to be getting many of the pieces into the arena at the end of the game. Was Sticht?: Hall of Fame. I am the lone dissenting voice, bcause I don't like trump card games which require card counting, much less hand remembering. This is the top trump game, save bridge. We The People: Typical Avalon Hill/Smithsonian low-complexity wargame, but it's still an AH wargame. Würmeln: A pleasurable way to kill a few minutes while everyone is saying ``What'll we play next?'' Zankapfel: This game can be played as a frontal assault against others to make them lose all their best cards early on. Good game with the right crowd.
Steve Jones: Here are a few which Mike seems to have missed: 1835: Great components but needs the Dane Maslen bidding system (see Sumo 22 p5) to elevate it to the heights. Gangsters: The AH addition to the shoot-em-up ``Good Fellers'' theme. Lots of player interaction, but perhaps a trifle long. Seems to be in decline. An den Ufern des Nils: Interesting ancient Egyptian market gardening game. The jury is still out on this one.
Mike Oakes: Some additions: Comings and Goings: A memory game that is harder than it looks and not one of our favourites. Demarrage: Lived up to all the hype, a pity it's only for four players, the `maillot jaune' of cycling games. Die Bosse: unusual graphics tend to spoil this card-based business game. Good interaction though. Looping: Card-based game about creating vapour trails in the sky, requires a large table but is a good closer. Montgolfière: Card-based game dealing with ballooning. Good quality components and plenty of scope for both sabotage and outguessing the opposition. Peleton: This cycling game failed to live up to expectations. Lanterne rouge. Trumpet: excellent interactive trick taking game with a neat scoring track.
John Webley: Adel Verpflichtet: People don't seem to realise how influential this game has been. Its systems were so good and natural that when other designers used them no one realised that they started here. Still gets regular airings. Airlines: Good, but I wouldn't rate it as highly as Mike. Auf Heller und Pfennig: I'm quite prepared to stand up and be counted. We've played this more than any other game in the last year. It's been a hit with the gamers, non-gamers and children and if it had been entered would have cruised Spiel des Jahres. Is there some reason why Knizia hasn't won a Pöppel yet? Ali Baba: Better for non-gamers than for the average Sumo reader, as you have to be prepared to make ``bad'' deals to make it work. Backpacks and Blisters: A fun game but isn't easy for non English-speakers. Banana Republic: I must get this out again. Again I'd rate it lower than Mike, but it ought to be dusted off now and again. Boomtown: I never got on with this, it seemed too repetitive, and if anyone wants a copy. Drunter und Drüber: A game that had all the ingredients but never clicked for me. It suffered in Germany from dumping. Elfenroads: Classic, will go on for years, what else to say? Extrablatt: Too clever for its own good, I know we ought to play it again, but we never do. Falsche Fuffziger: I love it, people who pride themselves on the condition of their games hate it, and since a lot of German gamers come in the latter category it probably won't be played as much as it deserves. Der Fliegende Hollander: Suffered due to odd marketing. Formule Dé: Good, but not that good, will last however, if only because of the constant flow of new tracks. Freight Train: Very dry. An ideal shorter game for Outpost, 18xx fans, but they're pretty rare birds in real life. History of the World: The only 3 hour plus game I know that non-gamers enjoy and will play again. Will stick around. Intrige: Has been torn apart in the German press. I love it but it cuts against something deep in the German psyche. Won't last unfortunately. Karriere Poker: ain't no 90's game. Koalition: Too much bookkeeping, otherwise fun. Will last. Manhattan: The possibilities for mindless aggression are at least as great in this as in Intrige, but that got slated and this won Spiel des Jahres, A great game nonetheless. Modern Art: The best auction game ever. Will last even if I have to forcibly strap people down to play it. Mush: Mike's spot on here. The Mob/Capone: Certainly is popular in Germany, I've been told that the system breaks down if several players don't buy gold bars, doesn't happen here. Die Oster Insel: You count the stones, not weigh them. Very silly, will last on that level. Pony Express: Firmly welded to the shelves. Quo Vadis: Excellent stuff, but needs negotiators. Is swinging back into fashion. Rette sich wer kann: A glass/bottle of wine is an essential accessory, then it's fun. Will stick around. Santa Fe: I hate the way that the tracks tend to circle back on themselves, but it doesn't seem to worry anyone else. Sherlock Holmes: Takes too much play before you learn the cards for non-gamers. Silverton: Scaled down? Share system? Is this the same game that I played? Unique in that I've played it twice, won twice and still don't like it. Six Nimmt: A good light card game but there are so many. I prefer Sticheln. Tal der König: Much too dear, otherwise excellent. Tutanchamun: Best with 3-4, more players reduce the fun. Good nonetheless. Vernissage: Not as good as it looks. Very luck dependent for a ``skill'' game. Was sticht?: A gamer's game, too long and complex for most people, will last in a limited circle.
Ones Mike missed. Trumpet: This may have come out earlier in America, a simple trick taking game with trick winners moving around a board. Not a lot of skill, but always popular. The German version, Artus, is slightly different, and I think, slightly better. Flusspiraten: The game of throwing people out of boats. Suffers when played by ``serious gamers'' because no one will let another win. Entenrallye: Get your 2CV to the ball before the clock strikes. A dice driven game with little skill input but nevertheless popular with some of our friends. Limited appeal only. Sensationen: Avoid. Geweite Steine: Yet another underrated game from Mike's favourite designer. Fight off raiders or capture slaves from others so as to build a cathederal. I always wonder who buys Fanfor games because I never hear anything about them later. Sticheln: Tricky little card game which turns most card game principles on their head. For real fun try introducing it to regular bridge players, they usually end up crying in the corner. We'll be playing this for a long time. An den Ufern des Nils: Offbeat theme, vegetable growing in ancient Egypt, and poor board design put a lot of people off. It should be played at least twice, once you've grasped the odd mechanisms it's worth it. Unfortunately most people won't play it enough to get into it. Res Publica: Reiner Knizia's first big success. Trading game, swapping cards to build up sets. Now out of print. Vendetta: An odd game, murder and revenge in various sections of a Sicilian village. After playing several times I decided that despite appearances there was in fact absolutely no skill level involved. Already dead.
I'm struck writing that how often I'm forced to differentiate between games for ``serious gamers'' and those for ``Occasional gamers''. Perhaps I'm unusual in that I play at least as many games with people who fall into the latter group as with the former. A lot of games that I love die a death when you try to play them with people who quite like games but aren't fanatical about them. They are normally either too complicated or too offbeat or sometimes both. It's probably inevitable that a magazine like Sumo tends to the expert end of the market, as unless you're fairly fanatical you don't buy, read or write for it. But there is a tendency as a result to disparage simpler games, and yet there are a lot of people out there who would love to discover say, Die Oster Insel, while having no interest whatsoever in even something relatively straightforward, like a White Wind game. Let alone Extrablatt.
Examples of this can be found in the letter coloumn this time, Neil Walters on Manhattan for example. Yes, one can play Manhattan in the same way as 18xx, careful calculation, forethought and planning, but 99% of the people who will play it don't and they're enjoying themselves. Mind you, I tend to play fast and furious even if I'm playing 1830, which probably explains my record at it.
Re Gareth Lodge's question about Spekulation, the last paragraph reads ``Game End, The game is over when the first playing piece reaches the finishing space (in effect Space 61, Zielfeld). The turn is however played to a conclusion. Then each player adds together their cash in hand and the current value of their shares. If several shares reach the finishing space in the same turn, then the first one to have reached it counts as the leading piece and so on.'' So, it's quite clear, the shares take their value from the ladder on which they end the game, and only if several shares reach the finish in the same turn, do the boxes on the Zielfeld have any effect.
Adam Huby: Some very brief comments on the `94 crop: Auf Heller und Pfennig: Wonderful. Ausgebremst: Very good. Olympia 2000: Well, I like it! Falsche Fuffziger: OK, but probably not one I'd want to play again and again. Spritfresser: Completely naff -- about as realistic as the dreaded Pole Position.
Chris Dearlove: Having achieved the rare (alas) feat of getting some friends together to play some of the more recent games still being discussed in your columns, I will add my minor comments.
Manhattan: A success with my group. I would agree that going last in the final round is an asset, but maybe not as much as some of your other correspondents. The most important thing seems to be not to lose sight of the fact that control of cities is worth 12 points per round and the tallest building only 3. I would probably go so far as to say that the tallest building is a snare to be almost ignored. Individual building count is probably between the two.
Guerilla: After playing for a bit it becomes clear that this game is a lot clearer than the usual Avalon Hill style rules make it seem. Perhaps if AH had employed someone to write their rules as clearly as some other companies then they'd not be abandoning board games for computers. As for the game, it was a reasonable success. A few more games might be necessary to determine which cards are particularly valuable (I think Press is) and whether the game is balanced. The lack of a leader at the start seems to be rather limiting.
Intrige: Not a success, though not a total failure. The complete reliance on negotiation, with totally non-binding deals (especially at the end of the game) wasn't popular. My group likes a little more mechanics with its negotiation. (They weren't over the moon about Quo Vadis either.) People who refused to make clear promises and hence never actually broke their word were particularly unpopular (I plead guilty).
Auf Heller und Pfennig: Quite well received, but I suspect it won't last as long as Manhattan.
David Smith: I acquired the 1839 (Italian) and 1850 (Sicily) games that were described in Sumo 20/21 and have played them both a few times. 1839 is an excellent game and 1850 is not bad.
In 1850 we start the game by auctioning off the appropriate companies as was suggested in the review. However, since the effect of the starting mechanism in the rules is to take some money out of the game permanently, we have decided that the starting cash for each player be less than that given in the rules. So, for a three player game we start with 500 each instead of 560.
In 1839 we have come across a situation not covered in the rules and are not sure how to resolve it. What happens if there is a major company merger and no player or company has sufficient shares (2) to become director? This can happen with the Tuscanian merge and since this is forced, there must be some rule for it. Alternatively, it might happen if one player is director of one company with few credits and one of his companies is the director of another with a lot of credits. A merger between the two companies might be beneficial, especially if the player can emerge as director. But the question of who becomes director and whether any money has to be paid is unclear. Have you come across this situation?
SWD: No, I haven't and neither did I spot it as a possibility. However, here is how Leonhard Orgler deals with a similar situation which can arise in 1837. The director's share certificate is placed in the Bank, from where it can be bought in the next share buying round. Meanwhile interim control of the company is taken by the first player (counting round from the holder of the priority card) who holds a share. In 1839 you would need to have a rule which put the share holding companies into this pecking order, but that is easy enough to devise. Why not slot each one in (in share price order where a tie break is needed) immediately after its director? A company that wished to buy the director's certificate from the Bank could do so at the normal time when it has the opportunity to buy shares.
Derek Carver: I was interested to read Derick Green's short piece about Djambi, sadly unobtainable for a very long time now. I bought my copy in Paris about 20 years ago and it became a great favourite BUT -- and here's the reason for this letter -- it was not until we played it a few months ago that we came to the conclusion we were playing a rule incorrectly and Derick seems to be making the same mistake. It concerns the killing action of the Reporter. Like Derick we played the rule that it killed all enemy pieces that were adjacent to it at the end of its move. This made it the most powerful piece on the board and a careless opponent could be almost put out of the game when nearly half of his men were killed off. However, on looking again at the rules they state ` il tue la pièce qui se trouve sur l'une des 4 cases qui ont un côté commun avec celle qu'il occupe.' They then later go on to add `Le Reporter ne prend pas la place de la pièce tuée, et son cadavre n'est pas déplacé.' This emphasis on the singular all the time implies that the Reporter kills only one of the pieces to which it finds itself adjacent. This makes sense in a way. The piece was far too powerful and its loss is not quite so devastating. However, having said that and only once having played to what we assume to be the correct rule, I can add that although the game was, perhaps, better and more balanced, the fun had gone out of it somewhat and it certainly lasted longer.
Alan Moon talked about the changes brought about by the publishers of his Pony Express. I guess it is rare for a game to reach the market in the form that the inventor originally envisaged. Changes occur for a variety of reasons with improved play quality seldom being the criterion. Reasons for change can include such things as love of the `Chance card' element by the publisher, shortening of playing time, varying the number of players, simplifying the rules, and most frequently, of course, production economics. Sometimes the game ends up better as a result -- especially if the inventor has been involved in the changes and has had a rethink -- but sometimes it is ruined. When playing a game that doesn't seem to gel quite as it should I often wonder whether I am playing the game that the inventor had really invented or a toned-down version of it. (We all remember how a eminent inventor like Sid Sackson's excellent original Holiday suffered a few years back.) So taking on from Alan's article you might find it of interest to ask inventors if there are any games of theirs that have had to be changed in order to be published and have, in their opinion, suffered in consequence. They could then tell us what they really had in mind. They won't want to cause bad blood between themselves and a publisher who's still around and is still doing business with them but whilst, for example, we all certainly appreciate the need for production economics (the rigid production needs when it comes to the number of playing cards is a good example) but we would still like to know what the game might have been had these constraints not been necessary.
I suppose you might reasonably ask if any of my games come into that category and for better or worse I can't say that they have. They're all mine -- warts and all. But all of my games were invented for our own play here and were never intended for publication. None has ever been submitted to a publisher on spec. This means that if a publisher has approached me I have been able to have written into the contract that no changes will be made without my consent. This doesn't mean that changes haven't been made but I have always approved them and usually made them myself in order to get round production problems. None has ever resulted in the game suffering in my opinion and it has sometimes encouraged me to streamline, which is no bad thing.
SWD: Most of the designers among the readership are designer/publishers. Alan did not have overall control in the case of Pony Express, but now that he has White Wind as an outlet for his ideas he too is in that category. This doesn't protect you from production economics, but it at least ensures that any changes made are ones you are happy with. You and Reiner Knizia are the only ones that come to mind whose games are produced by companies that the designer does not, at least partly, control. However, an article explaining what happened when a particular game ran into the realities of production for the market would be very interesting, even without the stories of arguments backstage. I remember being fascinated by an article that Bruce Shelley wrote for the 1830 edition of The General in which he told, from the developer's standpoint, of all the changes and the swings of mood that took place between the initial idea of 1830 and the emergence of a game that everyone was happy with.
Eddy Richards: Flutter was mentioned last issue, I happened to pick up a copy for 50p in a charity shop recently and took it on holiday where it was a big hit with a group of (non-gaming) friends. However, the strategies and tactics did become obvious after a few games and I'm contemplating adding to it by using the same basic set-up (which is interesting, with a `parent peg' representing the fundamental value of the shares and a `representative peg' which goes up and down to represent the transient value, the position of the latter affecting the position of the former at the end of a round). I envisage moving the representative peg using cards layed from a hand, which might mean bit more skill in deciding which shares to buy/sell and allow different shares to behave differently (blue chip -- slow but steady, with others going up and down more wildly). Has anything similar been done before I get moving?
Another hit was First Past The Post, which is an excellent game because, although quite simple mechanically, it offers lots of opportunities for deviousness, but all in a light hearted way. It's certainly on my ``classics list'' along with such games as Boggle, The Great Khan Game, Awful Green Things, Railway Rivals, Liars Dice, Escape From Atlantis Labyrinth and Hols Der Geier.
Mike Oakes: I notice Mike Clifford mentioned Flutter (Spears) as a good trading game and I have played it and was pleasantly surprised at how well it played, for at first it looked incredibly simple and luck-oriented. Has anyone tried Stockmarket (Jordan Games)? This game deals with shares in 8 companies and is played in a series of rounds, with 3 phases to each round. From the large card deck (108 from memory) players are dealt 10 cards each. These contain either a price movement, increase or decrease, in the named company; a fluctuation in the rate of currency; or o chance-type element, such as the free issue of a share of your choice. Players study their cards and use their 3 phases to either sell or buy in the appropriate markets. when the round is completed ALL the cards from ALL the players are collected together and the NET effect of all of them is used to determine share movements. So, if you held say 2 cards with ``currency +10%'', you may have sold shares in all three phases to get into money. Imagine your dismay when other players reveal ``currency -20%'', ``currency -10%'' and ``currency -10%'', as the net effect on you is a loss of 20% of your current cash holding. They, of course, bought shares in the belief that currency was going down. I think this is quite a neat system as all cards come back into play on the next round. Careful study of what the preceding players have done will bring dividends. There are opportunities to gain directorships and chairmanships which bring added benefits like nullifying the effects of some cards, e.g. the one which sends the shares in `your' company down. Overall I quite liked this game, but some of my group thought they lacked sufficient control and did not share my view. I'd be interested in other readers' opinions on this one.
I bought Supremacy at a boot sale about two years ago and finally got round to playing it last week. It is a Risk-like game with added chrome relating to the purchasing and selling of resources such as oil, minerals and grain. These are used, in combination with cash, to pay for movement, build armies and navies or to obtain Nukes and L-stars. We spent over half an hour reading the rules and setting the game ups, before starting to play. Even allowing for the fact that this was a first airing the game seemed extremely tedious, with a complete 4-player game taking over 30 minutes, so we abandoned it after two hours, with the promise that we would try it again when we were prepared to commit a full evening to it. Have other readers played this and found it to be a long-winded exercise? Maybe it's just that we haven't got the patience or the mentality to play these games, as we are not a ``wargaming group''.
As a bit of fun we played Animal Olympics (Ravensburger) after the tedium of the previous game and, despite the early scoffs at a game that is for ages 7+, we enjoyed it. Subscribers with children may wish to consider it. Of course, we qualified under the `mental age' rule!
SWD: Flutter was a favourite with me in my early teens. I didn't own a copy, but one of my friends did and it gave us a lot of fun. It, together with Careers and Contraband, are probably the commercial board/card games I remember with most fondness from that time. As for your suggestions for giving it more of a gamer's slant, Eddy, I say that you should give it a try. Neither of the ideas you suggest is original -- the excellent Das Börsenspiel/Broker from Ravensburger uses cards to move shares on a peg board and the old, boring and over serious Stock Market Game from Avalon Hill had the `different shares have different characteristics' idea, and both these games were first published over twenty five years ago. However, that doesn't matter. Very few games have entirely original mechanics in any case. What matters is whether the mixture works and has something new to interest the punter. I am not aware of anyone having done anything to jazz up Flutter itself and its basic structure will ensure that you don't end up with something too close to the other games.
My opinion of Stockmarket is similar to yours, Mike. One of my group bought a copy in a sale, brought it round and we enjoyed it -- not enough for me to dash down to the shop to see if they had any left, but enough for us to play it again. I don't think that your friends are being reasonable in expecting a high degree of control over events. This is a stockmarket game and in real world stockmarkets control is not something you have. What you do have is some information and on the basis of that you back a hunch. The game captures this quite neatly in my view. It is not a classic, but it is an enjoyable game with scope for a reasonable amount of skill. It is not the skill characterised by precise analysis; rather it is the gambler's skill of deciding what assumptions you need to make in order to come out ahead. Skill nonetheless.
Supremacy shares with Margaret Thatcher the property of being a subject on which nobody is neutral. There are some people who think it is the greatest game ever, though if pushed they will admit that it helps if you have laid out 150 quid or so on the assortment of available supplements. Others think that the whole game system is not only broken, but beyond repair. On the Internet bulletin board the two groups occasionally yell at each other across the widest of chasms. I and all my group are in the `anti' camp. This is the game against which we judge would-be turkeys. The boardgame equivalent of -273C.
Animal Olympics? For a couple of years now I have been hoping that I wouldn't have to `come out', but now you have forced me into it: This game is on my 10+ list. I don't own a copy, you understand. And I won't allow the friend who does to bring it into the house. And the sole reason we play it is that Rod Macbeath once won three games on the trot and so considers it a game of skill. And
Mike Siggins: We played Merchant of Venus again recently as promised and I am now definitely unimpressed. I quite like the trading system itself, and the demand and supply modifiers are neatly done, but the game has major problems: It's too long, it lacks much needed interaction (almost entirely unless you use the combat rules) and the daft movement system is, well, daft. And the names are too silly, even for SF. Finito! To the sale list with you.
Merfyn Lewis: Rail Baron is another game that we dug out recently which has not been played for some years. This is a real shame as it's such a wonderful game. We played to the $200,000 cash winning condition and with four players it took us about four hours (there is so much dice rolling and chart referring) but we all thoroughly enjoyed the evening, it passed so quickly. We will try it again soon especially having spoken with Eamon Bloomfield who suggested we play for $100,000 which obviously makes for a quicker game. We will also have to improve on our lighting conditions as it's tricky finding some of the rail lines!
MS: Get hold of some miner's hats Merfyn, I've always found them very useful. There are plenty on the secondhand market these days.
SWD: Another way to shorten the game that works well is due to Gary Gygax (of all people). After each player has moved once after the last railway line has been bought, roll an average die, the result being the number of complete turns left in the game. Once these turns have been taken, each player totals their cash and adds to this the face value of the ralroads they own and the value of any express or superchiefs. Richest player wins.
I can also offer a strategy hint. About fifteen years ago I was playing a game with some undergraduates at the University's boardgames club. The first two purchases by one of the players both had green track, at which point her boyfriend remarked scornfully that she was meant to be buying railway companies, not curtains, and that they didn't have to match. She smiled quietly, bought the other two green companies and won at a canter.
John Lyne: In answer to Paul Jefferies `first car' comment on Ausgebremst -- my translation states ``As soon as the winner has crossed the finishing line, the `6' rule is abandoned''. We play a small variation on the pit-stop rule -- we allow overtaking in the pit lane if the car being overtaken had collected its cards on its last turn i.e. it is assumed to be in a pit not in the pit lane. Although the game is not a simulation we nevertheless feel that this makes logical sense and mirrors real life.
5 Alive: I have to disagree with the comments of that illustrious correspondent Flick Formide from London SE19 when he states (Sumo 19 p14) that there is ``no little skill in deciding when to play the action cards''. The opinion of my group is that there is no decision of any consequence to make. Essentially if the running score is less than 21 you lay your highest valid (blue) number card and if you can't avoid exceeding 21 with a blue card you lay a (red) action card if you have one or a blue 0. Generally if the hand you are dealt has more red cards than blue you are immediately at an advantage over someone dealt more blues than reds. I do, however, like the `hand in and redeal' card which when played forces all players to hand in their cards. The handed-in cards are then shuffled and redealt evenly which is a boon to someone who had a fistful of cards and a pain to someone who might have had, say, only one card left.
Mike Siggins Game Conventions: I fear you may have gone a little over the top on our closeted cousins in the Diplomacy hobby. I haven't attended any of the conventions for some years, but even back then you could quite happily avoid Diplomacy and its acolytes, or even avoid playing games at all. Many gamers I know still go to Manorcon or Midcon and play nothing but Sumo fare for the duration, speaking very highly of the events and facilities. Indeed, the former is said to rank almost as highly as Baycon, Furrycon and Tringcon for general round-the-clock fluffyness. For me, apart from the odd one-day event, I have long since lost interest. Not because of the Dipheads, who can largely be ignored, but because I have better things to do with my weekends, student accommodation has zero appeal these days and Birmingham even less. And I'm sure they don't miss me either.
As for the cloistered image, it is definitely genuine, but I don't know why it should be so. Both hobbies revolve around boardgames, but for some reason Sumo's face doesn't fit or people don't want to read news and reviews. It's a free country, but I do wonder what is going on here. If I had to generalise (and why not, it's fun), the Diplomacy mentality seems to be founded on a weird sort of snobbery or elitism based on the unquestionable fact that Dip is the best game on the planet. They are protective and conservative rather than encouraging new developments and it is certainly not done to be too successful in the subscriber stakes or to be lacking in `iron man' deadline-hitting skills. Better to be putting out a crappy monthly to 15 people bang on time than to 500 quarterly but late. And I hate the word `zine' and anything that smacks of fandom -- a symptom of the fierce amateurism and anti-establishment ethos that underpins the Diplomacy Hobby, which is admirable in its way. Anyway, for every blinkered, immature twit of an editor, there is a warm, wonderful human being running an excellent magazine and postal games, with no crossover problems whatsoever, and without whose support Sumo would not be here today. And within that statement is, I suspect, the answer.
SWD: I have been to ManorCon and I called it as I found it. However, it was over ten years ago and I am quite prepared to accept the assurances of the half dozen or so people who wrote that it is not now as it was then. As for my assertion that many of the leading lights of the postal hobby are not much interested in what goes on outside their own fairly tightly defined circle, I stand by it. It does not, of course, apply to all of them, but I don't regard it as being without significance that, to my knowledge at least, Andrew's letter was the first request we had ever had to publicise one of these conventions. Even with BayCon and FurryCon, the idea to plug them in Sumo 20/21 was mine, and mine alone. I also find it wryly amusing that my comments last time have proved much more successful in setting up contacts between Sumo and the postal hobby than did the clutch of complimentary copies of Sumo 19 that I sent out to various editors last October. Moral: if you wish to gain attention, kicking the cage is more effective than waving a banana. However, people should not allow my continued mutterings to put them off attending. When the likes of Alan Parr, John Webley and Neil Duncan back Andrew's assertion that you will have a good time, you will have a good time. And if you don't, you can always complain to me and I'll kick the cage again.
Those with long memories will recall that at the start of this issue Mike declared that Sumo would consciously avoid coverage of Magic. No gentleman should be expected to keep a resolution for longer than 24 hours, especially when Andy Daglish is around to provoke him. I'll leave them to it and go and make myself a cup of coffee.
Andy Daglish: Two pieces that were not so good in Sumo were you on Dixie and Mitchell Thomashaw's comments on Magic. Dixie has what PA might call `considerable simulation successes'. There have been lots of games better than the flawed Modern Naval Battles, like Roadkill, Attack Sub and Down in Flames.
MS: But not with the same market impact?
You contradict yourself over one of the best features of the game, which is deciding when to do what. The decision-making is not rudimentary, but is, as you say, to do with timing which is down to the player. One wrong move like firing instead of meleeing may well ultimately lose the game, but maybe only after a lot of turns.
MS: Chaos gaming this is not. I still stand with the view that the decisions are pretty obvious, but I leave you to decide on the simulation points as this is not my period. I have no argument as to its merits as a game.
Everyone here plays five positions with one of each card. And its not `6 to hit', that is why Eastfront is crap, with Dixie it is 5 or 6 on average and this is very important.
MS: 6 to hit, was, I thought, a figure of reviewer's speech that conveyed this meaning, but to clarify, the game is not just roll a 6.
It feels very good and so has enormous play value. The scope for expansion is similarly great, and you acknowledge this in the same overall negative vein as the rest of your points by saying that this game could have been a lot better. Well, so could the original Wright aeroplane. Worth more than £30 for a set and we at ARDA have some for sale (boxed with the dice, the spade beard and corn-cob pipe).
Mr Thomashaw and Magic: I feel that the Magic rules were crap and the game was designed by and for non-gamers. MtG is a marketing success. The marketing demands that you play against other card-owners, and in this way the marketing intrudes on the game. The game is fairly short-arsed, knocking off 20 life points would be accomplished by a real gamer by getting out Lord of the Pit which would end matters before the opposition could react.
MS: Now we're for it. NO letters please explaining how to counter his Lordship.
The factory set was to a real gamer a real game.
MS: But only if you added extra lands.
You found that MtG worked best with a random deal of a distribution of one copy of each card. Some of the cards in the first expansions were apparently no good due to the fact the designers were not happy with their occupation. In Fallen Empires I get the impression of imaginations that are beginning to run dry. So bring on Ice Age! Magic doesn't occupy a place in the gaming world; I would expect articles on it in Marketing magazine maybe. It is by and for non-gamers, or rolegamers -- people who regularly buy PC fantasy games. The design isn't that good, except graphically, is hardly `solid' and is highly innovative as a business rather than designwise.
MS: As much as it pains me, I have to disagree and say it is innovative both as a game design and also as one that incorporates, rather well, expandability and collectability. This doesn't mean it is a game we would consider deep or complex or indeed enjoy. Just think how many wizard duel games there are that don't work. Card combination alone is enough to set it apart as a new creation..
For sure a decent similar design may found a genre, but this and the others are essentially poorish designs by non-gamers, or rolegamers perhaps.
MS: I print the above because rather than the weekly letters on `Have you got any Black Lotus cards left' or `I did this great trade the other day ', these (together with Mitchell's last time) are the first constructive comments on Magic as a game, which is all I really want to think about at the moment. The background may well be that all the thousands of Magic gamers are so enamoured of trading and collecting that they either do not analyse what they are playing (if they play! social misfits have this trouble), or divert all the analysis into card combinations and deck construction, losing sight of the basics. Or perhaps they simply don't know any different. But if Andy is right, and the vast majority of the audience are not real gamers but the weak minded (I seem to be wallowing around in value judgements here), then all is explained. Certainly Scrye's letter writers and their charmingly naive artwork bear this out -- these people draw pictures of bogglins on their envelopes, which the equally dim editor publishes. What puzzles me is where they all came from. The prevalent richer student element I understand, but are the rest superannuated 1970's roleplayers, risen from their cryogenic tanks to bore again? Most of the faces in the London trading blackspots are thirtysomethings, irredeemably sad, sorely lacking in social skills and dress sense, with fat wallets (and heads). `Ere, hang on, that's me. And just to avoid lawsuits, I happily concede that not all non-boardgamers are weak minded.
Andy Deck construction is a very interesting technique that has not worked in MtG or STTNG, as the former's designer admits. There is not a lot of judgement about when to play cards if the deck has been pre-constructed, surely?
MS: Please don't call me Shirley. It strikes me as rather interesting that you, I and the designer think it at least a partial failure when there must be tens of thousands sitting there, right now, working out their next killer deck. As you say, it isn't a duff idea, in fact it is quite the opposite. I think it would work at its best if it weren't so gamey and artificial in the context of these two games, and most of the others. What does the construction of your deck represent? In Magic, it is perhaps rationalised as your spellbook, which in a fantasy milieu is not unreasonable, and is strengthened by the coloured mana concept. In Star Trek, it is rather more nebulous. In the review, I accused Star Trek of determinism, and have subsequently been taken to task for it. I am unrepentant -- just think about it. You decide the personnel, the ships, the equipment and you know what is coming by way of events, dilemmas and missions (because you choose them, and/or know the card set intimately). It does not strike me as true to the series in that the Enterprise arrives, or is summoned, to a mission which could be anything (certainly not as narrowly defined by 363 cards, or 40 missions). Picard or whoever does not know what the nature of the problem is, but given the thousands of crew on board and those manly security chappies, not to mention the phasers, he usually has the backing to tackle it. In Star Trek, you do not have the luxury of a ship full of talent, so must choose those you need beforehand. I concede this is a necessary fudge, but one that tarnishes the `to boldly go' precept for me. Give me a game where you stack your deck to handle anything that the Klingons, Q or the universe throws at you (ie your opponent), and give me unknown races, missions and dilemmas, and you have a game in a completely different class. Or Final Unity on the PC, if it's as good as it sounds.
In answer to Andy's second point, it strikes me that there is very little in the way of decision making once you have worked out your clever combinations and composition. There may be a timing element, either because you haven't yet picked up the necessary lands, or to withhold for maximum effect or surprise, and there might be an element of recovery after losing a key card. But broadly speaking, it is a race to deploy that brilliant perfect plan and cream the enemy's hit points. The variables are luck (will the cards come out in time?) and countermeasures against the other guy's equally fiendish deck. But it is Rock, Paper, Scissors with bells on, and I want so much more. Turning it round, what situations would suit a pre-planned, even unshuffled, deck? I can think of a few, but not enough to indicate that deck building is anything but an artificial construct. To me, it is the complete opposite of real life (but then many would argue that is what games are for). Sod's Law is that you pack your phaser, engineering kit and PADD, take along five doctors, three astronomers and ten redshirts, but actually need the tricorder which you've left on the mantelpiece.