Drunter & Drüber

Klaus Teuber is certainly on a roll. Twice a recent Game of the Year winner with Barbarossa and Adel Verpflichtet, his latest game must be in contention for the this year's award given the competition. The game is Drunter & Druber, loosely translating as Under & Over, which is published by Hans im Gluck. Price is around £20-25 from the usual stockists.

The theme at first appears to be a typical German post-design graft, but looking more closely it is possible that the idea came about through other means. Whatever, it's a distinctly odd subject. The citizens of a small town have constructed all their buildings but have forgotten to put in the city walls, the roads and the river. What a lot of silly sausages. Cue a game where you place pieces of varying lengths of river, wall and road onto a board, trying to squash selected buildings in the process. As you will have gathered, we are deep in family games territory and the complexity is on a par with Boomtown.

The board is separated into a large grid of squares with thirty buildings randomly distributed across the area. There are five of each type of building, which share the same colour, and each bears a number between 1 and 5. Each player is secretly allotted one of the colours and it is his job to make sure his buildings remain standing at the end of the game, thus scoring the points depicted. Strategically placed between the buildings are, wait for it, public conveniences. More on these in a moment.

The game is essentially a tile laying exercise in an attempt to flatten as many opponent's buildings as you can while protecting your own. At the start, you are dealt a range of tiles with either river, road or city wall graphics which are one, two or three squares long. These are placed on the board, starting in the corners and working in, so the end result is four interweaving snakes of tiles laid all over the board - thus the name of the game. The crunch comes when you try to lay a tile that crushes a portaloo. When that happens, a town meeting is called and everyone gets to vote on the destruction of the amenity. The fact that the tile may also demolish a building is of no consequence to the councillors, so you can see how the game takes shape.

To vote, each player secretly lays and reveals a card which will be either Yes, No, No Opinion or a Joker. The yes and no cards come in three sizes counting for 1,2 or 3 votes, the joker is a 2 vote either way and the no opinion card logically carries no voting power but is the only one that is re-usable. The laying of the tile is passed or rejected on a simple majority but the knack is to watch who is voting and in what size. Of course, because the ownership of buildings is secret, you have no idea if the votes are a bluff or a genuine desire to protect their interests. The Joker is particularly confusing here as the player can change his mind after all the votes are cast, clouding the issue. The feel of this part of the game is somewhere close to Heimlich & Co; you have a sneaking suspicion of who is which colour, but you are never sure till the end.

The strategy of tile laying, and thus demolition, is learned very quickly. When I first read the rules, I thought the long 'three' pieces would be the most powerful as they could flatten from range. When you play though, it rapidly becomes apparent that the threes are difficult to get into position because they will often cover a toilet as well as a building. In fact, the best pieces are the singles which can be dropped onto a building and cover nowhere else. So, if the preceeding player sets up a tile adjacent to a target, there is nothing stopping you squashing it with a single tile. This immediately leads to an escalation of defence tactics where players are trying to guide the oncoming river or whatever away from their buildings - it is here that the threes become really useful and, if you are alert, you can spot trends and thus work out who might be playing which colour. The assumption throughout though has to be that the other players are playing reasonably sensibly. If they are doing odd things on purpose (and good luck to them if they can do it without loss), given the length of the game you lose any chance of working out who is who.

I enjoyed this game. The components are superb, the basic idea and gameplay are original and it plays quickly. I feel it will offer good replay value as new tactics seem to appear every time I've played. In truth, I have to say that there isn't much difference in scope between this and Boomtown, simply that the originality and general game play of Drunter & Druber appealed to me far more. Neither is there much difference in value for money and again I'd have to say it is very expensive as bought in the UK. If you can't order direct, I would be tempted to try it before you pay out £25 as it inevitably won't appeal to everyone. Overall then, highly recommended and, as we stand, the best game to come out of Germany this year.

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