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Hall 4 – smaller publishers (part 2)

Spiel '11 report section 6

Spiel '11: Tornado Alert boxThe first stand I came to was a group of small publishers from Finland: Dragon Dawn Productions, Hyptic and Myrrysmiehet, all part of the 'Arctic Union' of Nordic games publishers. Dragon Dawn had an expansion, Mostly Harmless, for their game of trading in space, The Phantom League, that was published last year. Myrrysmiehet publishes role-playing games, but has branched out slightly with Hounds of the Sea. This is a light-hearted story-telling game of "pirates, voodoo and damsels in distress". Sounds like fun, but I didn't get a closer look. Hyptic's new game is Tornado Alert!, a card game of storm chasing. The aim is to get the best pictures of tornadoes, but players can hinder each other as well as advancing their own cause. They also had Shroom Boom, a memory game of 'shroom tasting. The twist is that players can trade information about the locations of specific plants. Players gain (and lose) points from their tasting. The most points wins the game, while anyone with negative points is definitely ill.

Spiel '11: Uskoci boxBehind them I found Amalgam, a new publisher from Croatia. Their first game is Uskoci, a card game about Croatian pirates. The aim of the game is to be the first to collect 25 points-worth of treasure. Game play is pretty straightforward (the rules only take up three pages). The cards are divided into suits and each is numbered. You play one card a turn, along with any action card(s). The cards played set the first player for next turn and the direction of play. The heart of the game is in the interplay between players-and their grudges! The designer's advice is to "play like a pirate!"

Further up the hall was Black Dove, another new publisher and another from Singapore. They had two games with them and a third in pre-production form, all with three-word, alliterative titles, abbreviated as D3, F3 and M3. Dive! Diver! Die!, published last year, was the one I didn't get to see. It's a dice game that mixes elements of co-operative games-players pool their oxygen-and push-your-luck games as players can risk staying running out of oxygen on their dive to get more treasure.

Spiel '11: Murder! Mystery! Mastermind! boxFor Fame & Fortune is the new game. It's a card game played with a five-suit deck where the aim is to get the highest-scoring Poker-style hand after several rounds of passing cards between players. Players can also play cards as their 'bet' on winning the hand. This reduces the number of cards passed, but the cards played also act as a Poker-style 'flop'-cards that can be used by any player as part of their hand. It's a neat idea that combines several aspects of other games in a novel way.

Murder! Mystery! Mastermind! is the pre-production game. It's a whodunit where the players are rivals (detectives, CSI, reporter etc) investigating a crime. Their aim is to get a successful prosecution by presenting their evidence for motive, means and opportunity in court. For those who want more of a challenge, the game can be played with one of the players secretly the criminal mastermind behind it all. They try to throw the others off the track-without being too obvious! The game is played over a board showing key locations as well as spaces for the various types of evidence. The competition between the players should make this rather more challenging than simply finding out whodunit and I look forward to seeing the finished game.

Spiel '11: Space Station on displayA couple of stands further along the aisle was FryxGames, where three of the Fryxelius brothers were showing two games. Luckily, I was able to distinguish between them as each had a different style of facial hair. :-) Their first game, Space Station, is a card game of building space stations. Players use the cards in their hand to add modules to their station, expanding it turn by turn. They also have some crew available and manning a module provides a benefit. Players can also use event cards to affect their opponents, who may then be busy repairing their station. Players have to make the best use of the cards and crew available to them, scoring points each round for the modules on their space station. The rules are only a couple of pages long as the complexity of the game comes from the cards. It sounds like my kind of game and I look forward to trying it.

Spiel '11: Wilderness on displayBy contrast, Wilderness is a board game in which the players fight to survive. While there is a race element to the game-the first to get home wins-the main fight is with the game system. Players suffer from thirst, hunger and exhaustion, each marked on a track. Of course, being hungry and thirsty makes you more exhausted. Hunting for food and water is also tiring, but holds out the possibility of improving things if you find some. However, it also takes up time. And there is the ever-present threat of predators and the hazards of different terrain. Players have to decide what to risk as they strive to win the game. Clever stuff and a game that lends itself to story-telling. It was not surprising that Wilderness sold out at the fair.

Spiel '11: Space Maze on displayImmediately behind FryxGames was another space game. Space Maze from Wacky Works is a game of exploring an alien spaceship. The ship is made up of compartments with doors between them-tiles on the board. Players have three explorers in secondary colours (green, orange and purple) while the doors on each tile are primary colours. An exploring pawn can pass through a doorway if the primary colours combine to make their secondary colour. That is, an orange pawn can go through a red + yellow doorway.

Of course, there aren't too many red/yellow combinations on the board, so players turn tiles to make usable doorways before moving. However, this will change other doorways as well, possibly making things easier for an opponent or harder for your other pawns! It's a simple idea that is quite fiendish to work out-I could feel my brain overheating as I looked at the board. The aim is to be first to get the 'relic' from the alien ship and get it back to your own ship, docked at the edge of the board. Designer Michel Baudoin has come up with a very clever, but simple game. Its appeal is further enhanced with some appealing artwork to make an attractive package.

Spiel '11: Paperclip Railways Express edition boxAcross the other side of the hall was Surprised Stare Games, who had two new games to show us. The first, from regular designer Tony Boydell, was the second Paperclip Railways game-subtitled "the railway game where the trains are stationery". Yes, players are building railways from chains of paper clips! They do this to connect together cards that represent towns, spending cards from their hand to 'buy' the paper clips they need. They get points for the towns they connect and the length of the chain used. Hence, building long chains scores more, but also costs more and players must balance cost and benefit.

On top of this, players must cope with obstacles and each other's railways, reducing their points for making links. They are limited, too, in how many players can connect to a town, but towns may also give players a bonus. The game ends when the cards run out and players then score various bonuses. Paperclip Railways is a clever little game that makes good use of an odd game component. Paperclip Railways: Express Edition was a limited edition of 300 copies and sold out at Spiel. I look forward to the next in the series-maybe I'll actually get a copy!

The second game was a card game from Sebastian Bleasdale, designer of On the Underground and former regular at Swiggers games club, as I am. On the Cards contains two decks of cards. One is a standard, 52-card, 4-suit pack of playing cards. The other is rather different. Sebastian has divided the rules of trick-taking card games into four elements: the deal, the aim, card play and winning the trick. Instead of four suits, the second pack has a set of cards for each element. Taking one card from each set gives the rules for a particular game.

Spiel '11: On the Cards boxThe game starts with the four sets shuffled. The top cards give the rules for the first round. The players play this game and score: the winner takes a rule card. This, of course, reveals a different card, giving a slightly different set of rules for the next round! The first player to get a set number of cards wins. What a clever idea. It takes the variability generated by a game like Fluxx, but sets it in a structure. This means the game is both more challenging and more rewarding than the randomness of Fluxx.

In case this isn't enough, a fifth, optional set of cards provides a 'twist' for the round. The rules provide an introductory game to give players the idea and additional options for making the game trickier. I can see this being a big hit with fans of trick-taking games as it gives them the opportunity to test their skills against the rules variations. On the Cards gets a provisional 8/10 on my highly subjective scale.

Spiel '11: Warriors and Traders boxRight behind Surprised Stare was a Romanian publisher, NSKN Legendary Games, with their debut game, Warriors & Traders. As the name suggests, this is a game of war and commerce. It's played out on a board showing part of western Europe (or eastern Europe if you play on the other side!). Players all start with the same resources and there are no random elements in the game as they develop their economies, build up their armies and seek to dominate Europe.

As you'd expect, the game has a substantial rulebook. However, it  doesn't go on for ever as it's limited to just 10 turns (though a lot can happen in a turn). And it can finish sooner if one player is running away with it. Players get points from military success, from provinces and for money and the most points wins the game. Clearly, there will be lots of ways of approaching this game and I look forward to trying them out. Not least because the game is well produced with attractive artwork.

Across the aisle from NSKN was Flatlined Games, another publisher new to me, though it has been going for a few years now. My attention was immediately caught by the name Lewis Pulsipher on one of their games. A game from the designer of Britannia has to be worth a look. It turns out that Dragon Rage was originally published in the early 1980s. This edition has all new artwork and modern production quality, but is essentially the same game. Flatlined Games's main man, Eric Hanuise, described it as "an entry-level, two-player wargame" in a fantasy setting.

Spiel '11: Dragon Rage on display

One player represents the human inhabitants of the town of Esirien and defends the town against two attacking dragons, which the other player controls. While the dragons are very powerful, there are only two of them. Individually, the humans are puny (that's the traditional description), but there are lots of them and they have weapons. Hence the game is an interesting example of asymmetric warfare. The humans must wear down the dragons without losing too many people. The dragons can wreak havoc, but must guard against being pinned down and having their strength whittled away.

Other scenarios pit the unfortunate inhabitants of Esirien against other attackers with different strengths and weaknesses: giants, orcs, dinosaurs and others. Or players can flip over the board and defend an orc village against human attackers (or any of the others). Optional rules allow players to add more into the game or to play a campaign or tournament.

I have to say that I didn't come across Dragon Rage in its first incarnation and there is a definite retro feel to the game (or maybe it's just my age). It does look an interesting and fun challenge though-along the lines of one game I remember fondly, The Creature that Ate Sheboygan. I don't play many wargames these days, but this is certainly one I'd like to try.

Spiel '11: Rumble in the House on displayThe second game was very different. Rumble in the House is a party game of clearing monsters out of a house. No, really. It looks great when it's set up with the monsters occupying the various rooms of the house (the game board). Players get two secret markers, each indicating a monster, and will score points according to when their monsters are ejected from the house. In turn, players either move a monster from one room to another or take one out of the house from a room with more than one monster.

When there's only one monster left in the house, players reveal their markers and score points according to how late they were removed from the house. After three rounds, the player with the most points wins. This is a really simple game that will be huge fun to play-rather on the lines of the classic Midnight Party.

Spiel '11: Agua, the Water Cycle, on displayPortuguese publisher MESA Board Games was a bit further up the hall and had two new games on display, as well as last year's Caravelas, all designed by Gil d'Orey. Agua: the Water Cycle is the simpler game, aimed at children. The board shows the cycle of water evaporating from the sea into clouds, descending over land as rain and flowing back to the sea as rivers. Each turn players move one of their cubes, representing some water, along one step of the cycle. They gain points by supplying water to the population, more points the later in the row of people they place their cube.

The populace gradually expands, making more points available as the game goes on. However, players need to keep their cubes moving if they are to have plenty of options for their next move. Not being able to move a cube will lose you a point. This is a clever little game: not particularly demanding, but good fun.

The second game, Vintage, is a lot more complex. It's all about making – and selling – Port in Portugal's Douro valley. Players must acquire estates, plant vineyards and harvest their grapes to make wine and brandy-the brandy, of course, being used to fortify the wine and turn it into Port. They must then ship their Port – Ruby or Tawny – down river to their cellars to age. Finally, players can sell their Port, gaining points for the quality of the wine. The game ends after seven turns when players get additional points for their holdings.

Spiel '11: Vintage on display

Each turn players use their markers and cards to take actions. Actions are more expensive if you are duplicating what someone else has already done-and you only have a limited number of markers. This is a detailed and intricate game that reproduces the way Port is produced in quite some detail. Players need to plan carefully to get their production right and keeping an eye on what the others are up to is also recommended. Vintage is an engrossing game and I very much look forward to giving it a go. It gets a preliminary 8/10 on my highly subjective scale.

Spiel '11: Souvlaki Wars boxKaissa Chess & Games has been around for some time as a retailer, distributor and publisher in Greece and their stand was a couple of aisles across. They were showing the gloriously named card game, Souvlaki Wars, designed by Vangelis Bagiartakis. As the name suggests, the game is about battling restaurant owners. Players win by getting the most reputation and money. The cards show potential customers with their order, telephone orders and, of course, the food that will be served to meet these orders (fingers crossed!). there are also event cards and each owner has their own character.

Players draft customers from those available, but can't refuse them even if they don't have the right items to serve them with. Those they can serve pay for their food and increase the restaurant's reputation. The money is required to pay expenses and buy in fresh supplies. Customers that haven't been served get "a bit anxious". If they aren't served the following turn they leave, reducing the restaurant's reputation by double their value. I'm sure there can be tactical reasons for not serving a particular customer, but they'd better be a low reputation value!

To add to the fun, players can advertise their restaurant and play event cards to affect their opponents or themselves (A 'Generous Tip' is much better played on yourself, for example!). The atmosphere of the game is helped by the cheerful and entertaining illustrations on the cards. It's great fun and a game I look forward to playing a lot more. I'll give it an initial 8/10 on my highly subjective scale.

Spiel '11: Drum Roll boxThe other side of the partition at the back of the stand was another publisher from Greece, a newcomer in this case. Artipia Games was showing Drum Roll, a board game of 1900s circuses, designed by Konstantinos Kokkinis and Dimitris Drakopoulos. It's a resource management game where players have to hire personnel and performers, sell tickets and put on a show. While preparation takes several turns, there is a clever mechanism that allows players to try to stretch this out or to put on their show as soon as they're ready.

Depending on how good their show is, players get various benefits, but must also pay salaries to their performers and other staff. The game goes through three shows in different regions of Europe, each of which provides different bonuses. At the end of the game there are some additional bonuses and the player who's done best overall wins the game. The game is more demanding than its light-hearted theme and artwork would suggest and requires a good bit of planning. It's excellent stuff on first acquaintance and another 8/10.

Swedish publisher Gigantoskop, at the end of the hall, caught my attention last year with their game of creation, Genesis. This year they had a new edition of Forceball, a card game of a futuristic game that seems to have some similarities to (ice) hockey (and thus provokes comparisons to the venerable Slapshot). Players' cards show attacking moves-pass, dribble, shoot-or defensive actions-block, tackle, intercept. The attacking player tries to score a goal, while the defender tries to take the ball for themselves. Either way, the roles swap sides and it's the other player's turn to try to score. (Slapshot, of course, was a multi-player game with a rather different emphasis as players tried to out-guess each other as they pitted their selected team against their opponents' teams.)

The game plays at a furious pace once players know what they're doing (which doesn't take long). Additional cards provide other options, including fouls, for which players will be penalised if the referee spots them. After three periods, the higher score wins. The game was originally produced in a limited edition for a sports company and is now more widely available through this version. Impact! Miniatures produce this edition in the USA and have raised capital (on Kickstarter) for a bigger production run aimed at getting the game wider distribution.

I found Forceball entertaining enough, but very dependent on luck. As a two-player game, it's not my cup of tea and not something I'd be likely to play very much. It gets 5/10 on my highly subjective scale.

Next section: Hall 5 – smaller publishers (part 3)
Previous section: Hall 8, 7 and 6 — Comic Action, newbies, role-play and wargames