Going Konzern

Review of board game Konzern by Pevans

Konzern is a Valentin Hermann design from a couple of years ago and has clearly been developed from his earlier X-Pasch. The theme is business: 'concern' is a literal translation of the title, but the sense is 'corporation'. Players have a number of market segments in front of them and are trying to acquire the most money by having shares in these segments.

Each segment is a card with a track showing the current value and spaces for ten shares - each segment sub-divides these in different ways (5, 3, 2, 1, for example). The first thing that happens in your turn is that you get income: the value of the shares (if any) you hold in all the market segments. But you don't start with any shares, you have to get them.

Essentially, your turn consists of rolling the five dice and deciding what to do with them. Most importantly (at the beginning at least) any triples allow you to buy an empty market segment sub-division. For those, like me, who have trouble rolling triples, you are allowed to add dice together (so 5, 5, 3, 2 counts as three fives) and card play will let you re-roll or change dice. You place wooden tokens in your colour on the segment to indicate your shares.

You can also use dice to change the value of a segment up or down, buy cards, gain money or challenge other players. The challenge is simple: you nominate one of your dice to attack a player in a segment where you also have pieces. S/he has to roll a die: if this is lower, you gain a piece, if higher, your opponent does.

Finally, as an alternative turn you can try an 'ousting' and attempt to take over somebody else's holding in a segment. You roll up to 10 dice (minimum of 5 plus extras for shares in the segment you're attacking from and for cards played) with rolls of 4, 5 or 6 counting as 'hits'. Your opponent does the same. If you get more hits you gain the difference in shares; if you fail, the area you attacked from provides no income next turn. This is clearly intended to be a way of gaining a foothold in a full segment. However, in practice it is rare to see an ousting that does not involve 10 dice on each side, reducing the whole thing to pure chance.

The other main element in the game is the deck of cards - handily printed with both German and English text. These allow players to do all sorts of things: freeze a segment's value, block an opponent's income and lots more. The cards add a lot of interaction to the game and provide great opportunities for doing nasty things to other players. However, gaining new cards takes valuable die rolls and you often have better things to do - conversely you may have die rolls that are useless for anything except buying cards.

What you have is a great game that provides a tense, if rather chaotic, struggle. When it works. This is the rub: the game depends on all players rolling some triples in the first few turns to establish a power base. Fail to do this (as I consistently do) and you are severely handicapped. You do have two advantages, though. First, the other players are less likely to attack you and, second, as the player with the fewest points, you get to re-roll the dice each turn (mind you, it still doesn't help me!).

When it works, the atmosphere is great, too. It feels like stock market players fighting over companies - though it's meant to be companies fighting over market share. Which is all the more sad when it doesn't work. In the end this is a game that isn't quite there. It may only need a small tweak to remedy this, though (maybe each player starting with a small number of pieces on the board?) and I would be very pleased to see this.

Konzern was designed by Valentin Hermann and published (in Germany) by Fanfor. It is for 3-6 players and takes about 60 minutes to play. Pevans rates it 6/10.
This review was originally published in Games Games Games 135, September 1999.

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