A new (to me, anyway) company from Sweden, Gigantoskop had two games on show. The first is Kablamo, a board game of Russian Roulette, the second is the unfortunately named Spank the Monkey. Designed by Kristoffer Krämer, Kablamo gives each player a board representing the six chambers of a revolver. Play then revolves round (sorry) circular cards that correspond to the bullets. These have different actions on them and are loaded onto player’s boards. Each turn players turn their board one chamber on and fire their guns by showing the topmost card (bullet). The actions take effect – which may kill you, change bullets around and so on. There seems to be some scope for ‘programming’ your gun to avoid being killed for as long as possible, but I’m sure other players will interfere with this. Otherwise, it’s just a very silly game. Which sounds good to me.
Spank the Monkey is a silly card game by Peter Hansson. The players are all workers in a scrap yard where a monkey is running loose (don’t ask me!). Players build up piles of scrap by playing cards until they get high enough to reach the monkey. Then they spank it. To teach it a lesson, presumably. The heart of the game is the fast and furious card play as players try to sabotage each other, defend their own pile of scrap and build it higher. I don’t think I need say any more.
Carcassonne – die Stadt (Carcassonne – the City is the title of the English language version, published by Rio Grande) is the latest of Klaus-Jürgen Wrede’s Carcassonne games – separate from the expansions to the original game – from Hans im Glück. The basics are the same: players take it in turns to lay square tiles, building up a plan of, in this case, the city of Carcassonne, and scoring points for contiguous features – roads and markets in this case. Where the game differs is about two-fifths of the way through. Now you can add wall sections (chunky wooden blocks) as well, extending a wall around the city. Placing guards on the wall sections gives another way of scoring points, as does adding towers to the wall.
The result of this is that Carcassonne – the City is a more tactical and competitive game than the original. The tactical ploys available to players let them improve their own position and curtail their opponents’ scoring opportunities. This is clever stuff and makes it a slight improvement on the original in my eyes. However, the addition of a boxful of wooden blocks (for the wall) makes the game significantly bigger, heavier and more expensive.
There was also a further expansion for the basic Carcassonne game. Der Graf von Carcassonne (The Count of Carcassonne) adds the city of Carcassonne (extra tiles) and its visiting Count. The latter may confer extra points on a player or obstruct a player. The company’s new strategy game is Im Schatten des Kaisers by Ralf Burkert. This has the players as candidates for the Imperial German (Holy Roman, surely?) throne in the late Middle Ages, exerting influence on the Electors who can grant them the title. It sounds interesting, but I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve played it – which probably means waiting for the English language edition (Shadow of the Emperor) from Rio Grande early in 2005.
Apart from that, the company was basking in the various prizes awarded to its two earlier publications this year: Goa and Saint Petersburg. In particular, Saint Petersburg won the Deutscher Spiele Preis and the International Gamers’ Award for the best multi-player General Strategy game. Both are available in English from Rio Grande.
We had three new games from UK publisher JKLM Games – though none designed by the main man, Markus Welbourne. 1860 is an 18xx (a combination of railway building and share dealing) game from Mike Hutton, set on the Isle of Wight. This doesn’t give much room for railways, so I suspect the game will only support a few players. Ah yes: 2-4 it says here. The novel feature of this game, I’m told, is that companies disappear in the end game as they are nationalised to become part of British Rail.
City and Guilds is by Steve Kingsbury and is billed as a strategic tile-laying game. The tiles in question represent offices and stalls of various guilds and are placed on the layout of a medieval town. Players are trying to gain influence in each block of the town, by placing the most buildings there, and with each guild, by placing that guild’s buildings. This gives a tension between the two options, which players have to resolve. A clever scoring system, including a major bonus for getting a long chain of a guild’s buildings, makes this a thought-provoking game. Strategy is fairly straightforward, but it’s an impressive game.
Richard Huzzey is the man behind Presidential Election, a two-player card game of the US elections. Players take the roles of the Democrat and Republican parties, manipulating party policy and the electorate to win their man the election. I don’t know if there’s provision for vote-rigging or appeals to the Supreme Court, but the game sounds cynical enough that there might be.
The nutty types at Krimsus Krimskramskiste had a couple of entertaining card games to show us. Bad Hollywood is about movie bad guys. They want revenge on the studios! Players play cards in specific types (suits, in other words) against a studio. When the total reaches the target number, it’s all up for that studio. Except that they get an opportunity to draw from the Hero deck to see if someone will save them. Low value cards have special abilities to enliven things further. This is a very light game, but quite fun to play.
The other game is Stunt Academy, which continues the film theme by being about trainee stuntmen (and, indeed, women). It’s played over four seasons, during which the trainees (players) prepare in the different disciplines available. This is done by spending action points and grabbing cards from the shrinking number that are available. At the end of the game, the trainees graduate: whoever’s at the head of the class wins the game. This is another light, fun game that plays well.
Mayfair Games had a small stand to show off its English language editions of various publishers’ games (notably from Kosmos – particularly the Settlers family – and daVinci Games) as well as its own titles. Chief amongst the latter was a new edition of India Rails.
Mind the Move is a new Italian publisher whose first game, Oltre Mare, was well received at Spiel (I’m not sure how London Underground will react to the company’s logo though). The game has a small board, showing the coastline of the Mediterranean, but this is only a small part of the game. It is the cards that are the central feature, along with the trading between players. The cards are used to limit the number of cards a player holds and the number of cards they can play in a turn. The cards played then give the players their actions for the turn. And the cards stack up and are the main source of Ducats at the end of the game. The player with the most ducats wins.
There are several other ways players can score points during and at the end of the game – including moving your ship around the Med. This means there is always something useful to do, whatever cards you hold. However, the game also allows players to trade cards (and ducats), another way of getting round the limitations of the cards you draw. The end result is an entertaining little game that gives players plenty of food for thought. My only quibble is that the trading can drag on if a player can’t make their mind up. Apparently the game was a limited edition and sold out at Spiel. Let’s hope there’s a second edition – or it’s picked up by a big company.
The big news as far as I was concerned was finally seeing the production version of Francis Tresham’s Revolution. This is a heavyweight game of the wars between the Protestant Dutch and Catholic Spanish in the Low Countries over the years from 1568 to 1648. The players represent the various factions, which may co-operate to achieve certain goals, but are generally all opposed to each other. While warfare is part of the game, politics is more important as the factions negotiate and alliances shift. I look forward very much to playing this game, but I’ll need plenty of time – it’s billed as a 5-hour game.
Monster & Mythen (Warriors is the English language edition from Face 2 Face Games) is a thirty-minute card game/wargame from Richard " Battle Cry" Borg and Alan R Moon. That pedigree alone is enough to make me want to play it. Having missed it at Spiel, I just need the opportunity… Anyway, the game has a fantasy setting (Elves, Undead et al) and the players battle it out, gaining points for the troops they still have alive.
Finally, Phalanx had the pre-production version of their Alexander the Great game. This seems to be a light, multi-player wargame, set in the lands Alexander conquered. It was designed by Ronald Hofstätter.
Pro Ludo is a distributor now moving in to production. First up is a new edition of Richard Breese’s Keythedral. This features a few tweaks to the rules, but is essentially the same game published (in a limited edition from R& D Games) in 2002. Hispaniola is a piratically-themed, trick-taking card game by Michael Schacht. Each hand players bid to establish trumps and then play out the hand of tricks. Winning a trick allows the player to place a marker on one of the pirate ships on the board, dislodging whoever’s already there. At the end of the hand, players score according to where their markers have got to. Clearly players want to win tricks in certain colours to establish or defend a tactical position. However, they have little control over whether they can do this, as it depends on the cards in their hand. I found the game disappointing.
There was one really new game from Queen Games this year. Flandern 1302 is designed by Wolfgang Panning, whose Lucky Loop I enjoyed last year. This game is a rather different kettle of fish. Players add districts in their colour to the six Flanders cities on the board. The aim is to have the most districts in a city when it’s complete, as that player scores most points for it. Highest total of points when all six cities are complete wins the game.
This is another very tactical game, the core of which is trying to outwit the other players. You have a limited number of actions available and must choose one each turn, playing the appropriate card (face down, initially) from your hand. Since picking up their cards again is a full turn, you can work out what options are available to their opponents. But there are sufficient options to allow bluffs, double-bluffs and simple outmanoeuvring. It’s clever stuff, but a bit dry for my taste.
Queen also published Die Gärten der Alhambra (the Gardens of the Alhambra) by Dirk Henn. This is actually an adaptation of Henn’s Carat, which Queen published in 1993. It’s a pattern-matching game that’s been re-themed to follow the success of 2003’s (Der Palast von) Alhambra. The original was okay, but not really my cup of tea. Queen’s two expansions for Alhambra were also on show: Die Gunst des Wesirs (The Viziers’ Favour) and Die Tore der Stadt (The City Gates) add extra options to the basic game.
The latest game from designer Richard Breese is Reef Encounter, which looks terrific. Bizarre as it may seem, the game is about the lifecycle of coral. It has quite a complicated sequence of play as players expand colonies of coral across the reefs. Players can protect their colonies with their shrimps (no, really), attack each other’s corals (or even their own!) and score points by eating their colonies with their parrotfish – once they’re big enough. This is a clever, demanding game that needs to be played at least once to understand how the game works. It is just full of tactical niceties, which the rules carefully point out for new players.
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