Spiel í04 Ė page 4

Notes on the 2004 games fair by Pevans

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Imhotep prototype in playSagacity Games

The Australian publisher of jigsaw game, Sunda to Sahul, showed the prototype of designer Don Boneís latest creation: Imhotep. This is a more conventional game of pyramid building. The players bid for the materials needed to allow them to lay another piece on the stepped pyramid. Itís an interesting game and I look forward to seeing the finished version next year.

Splotter Spellen

Dutch publisher Splotter is known for its big, complex games Ė with little dashes of humour. Their new game, Antiquity is no exception. It comes in a huge box and has hundreds of cardboard counters. Like other Splotter games, this is a game of development and logistics. But there the resemblance ends. In Antiquity players are developing and expanding across the board. You start with a city, which takes up space on the board and from which you send out expeditions to explore and establish farms, logging camps and so on. These provide the raw materials you need to expand further and develop your city.

A separate grid is provided for each city, on which you fit the buildings you need to fuel your expansion Ė including houses for your workers. Another neat touch is the way using the land changes it: cut down the trees and forest becomes grassland. Plant crops and the land becomes worn out. The winning condition depends on each playerís patron saint Ė something that can be changed. And each saint provides a special power to their followers. This game absolutely demands that players plan ahead. The risk (for me anyway) is getting sucked in to the intricate detail of managing your estates and cities. Yes, itís definitely my kind of game.

Surprised Stare Games

Box art from Bloody LegacyBloody Legacy is a card game from a newish British publisher, Surprised Stare Games, and is very much in the Family Business and Kersplatt! mould. Or perhaps Kind Hearts and Coronets was designer Tony Boydellís inspiration. Players want to be the last surviving heir to a fortune. Which means removing all the other claimants Ė that is, eliminating the other players. So you play traps and try to dodge the traps played on you. Lose too many points and youíre out of the round and lose a life. Lose all your lives and youíre out completely. Last man standing wins.

This is a very silly game. Itís also great fun! Yes, itís an elimination game, but itís over quickly enough that nobody minds. And the action is fast and furious Ė if someone takes too long reading their cards (to find out what they are), it could be too late for them. A lightweight bit of nonsense: I love it!

Tresham Games

Apart from the launch of Revolution by Phalanx Games, Francis Tresham was promoting his own games at the show. The latest was 1825 Unit 3, which expands the territory of the game into Scotland. On its own, it is played as a two-player game and has a few special features. It can also be combined with Units 1 and 2 to provide a much bigger game over most of Britain.

Warfrog

Warfrog had their new game, Struggle of Empires, stacked up on their stand. Iíve already talked about this (in TWJO 47) and I found it even better on second playing. While there are lots of things you could do, an understanding of how the game works allows you to concentrate on the options that make sense for your strategy. I am sure that more strategies will emerge as people get to grips with the subtleties of the game. I suggest limiting the game to four players when youíre learning it, which makes things a bit simpler.

Struggle of Empires in playI have since tried a couple of the Age of Steam expansions Warfrog had available. Both have some changes from the basic game that mean they play a bit differently. The Germany map (originally published by Winsome Games last year) has lots of connections to other countries around the edge. These are very useful destinations for goods, but building the connections is seriously expensive. On the Korea board, cities are not a set colour. Instead the goods at a city set its colour(s) as a destination. Of course, as goods are delivered, the available destinations change. This should make for a more fluid game and provides some different tactics. However, after the first few turns, I found a number of goods were pretty much locked in place as stable destinations, so it didnít seem to make much difference. Weíll see what happens next time.

Winning Moves

I got to play both the new games at Winning Moves. First up was Karibik, designed by Mikhail Antonov and Jens-Peter Schliemann. My magpie eye drew me to this game as soon as I saw it. Model galleons on a map of the Caribbean dotted with gold bars! Okay, calm down, itís all just cardboard. Players move the galleons to pick up treasure and deliver it to their home port. The highest value of treasure at the end wins the game.

Karibik in play> The twist is that the player who moves a ship is the one who bids highest. A tie means nobody moves it. Since each player has the same set of chits to bid with, this comes down to out-guessing your opponents. There are opportunities for clever play, which enlivens the game. For example, moving a ship alongside another allows you to steal the treasure. So bidding high for a ship that isnít able to pick up treasure from an island may give an opportunity for piracy. The game is pleasant enough to play, but itís a family game rather than a gamerís game. Rio Grande is publishing an English language edition.

Submarine, from Leo Colovini, looks less exciting by comparison. The board is a cross section of the sea, from surface to seabed. Spread across it are lots of treasures (cardboard counters). The aim is to be the first to collect all the different treasures. To do this, you all have some nice little wooden submarines. Each player also has a Ďmotherí ship on the surface and can only move or pick up with their submarines when their mother ship is directly overhead.

This sounds simple, but is actually rather clever. If you simply move your submarines every time your mother ship reaches them, youíll never pick up any treasures. But if you pick up treasures, your mother ship moves on and you canít do anything else with those submarines until the mother ship comes across the board again. Other aspects of the game are equally subtle, providing players with tactical manoeuvres and the need to plan ahead. Submarine is not a particularly deep game, but it is much more demanding than appears at first.

Zoch

I still think of Zoch as the masters of the wooden dexterity game, but they spread their wings rather wider than that these days. Meisterdiebe (Master Thief) is as much a puzzle as a game. Designed by Frank Czarnetzki, the centrepiece of the game is a casket of drawers that is manipulated and turned over by players. Depending on their role, players are hiding and hunting for different Ďgemsí in the drawers. A unique game.

More conventional is Franz-Benno Delongeís Goldbršu. This has the players vying for control of breweries and beer gardens during a beer festival (my kind of game!). The income from the drinkers is shared between the bars and the breweries, so both generate income for players. As well as competing for ownership, players are also trying to get their own management in place Ė particularly important for deciding which brewery supplies which beer gardens. The heart of the game is a simple card-playing mechanism. But winning the game is rather more complicated. I like it Ė and not just for its subject matter! An English language edition is due from Rio Grande.

Niagara is aimed at children, but is good fun for everybody. The game is played on the box, using plastic discs set into a channel representing the river. The discs carry wooden canoe pieces swirling down the river towards the falls. Players are trying to manoeuvre their canoes along the river to pick up a set of gems. And avoid going over the falls. The game plays quickly and neatly. It was designed by Thomas Liesching and Rio Grande is producing an English language version.

Zugames

Another new publisher, this one from Bologna in Italy. Zugamesí first game is Feudo, designed by Mario Papini. At its heart, this is a simple wargame. Players are medieval Barons, moving their knights, men-at-arms and characters about the board. In this respect, the game feels rather Chess-like. As well as fighting each other, players are also trying to avoid the plague. The King provides a balancing force, supporting the lowest-scoring players. The game is limited by the number of turns and the winner is the player with the most points at the end. It didnít seem particularly exciting from the brief description I had, but itís interesting enough that Iíd like to try it.

Ystari

Ystari is a new French publisher and was at Spiel with its first game, Ys, and its designer, Cyril Demaegd. The ancient city of Ys turns out to have been circular and divided into three levels and four quarters. The players are merchants, trading for gems. By manipulating the prices of the different colours of gem, you aim to have the highest monetary value at the end of the game.

Playing the game is about placing brokers (markers of different values) in the twelve sections of the city each turn. Having the highest value brokers in an area gets you gems, extra cash or a special ability (cards). Players also bid to change the relative values of the gems. And they bid for turn order using one of their brokers Ė who is then not available to place on the board. At first glance this is a clever game with some subtlety that will repay repeated play. It is my favourite of the games I played at Spiel.

Conclusion

Spiel í04 was an interesting show. While no game really stood out, there were an awful lot of good games to try. And even more were published earlier in the year. The number of new publishers was also noticeable. This is surprising as general wisdom has it that the games industry (in Germany at least) has been in the doldrums in recent years. I wonder if the new publishers have been stimulated by the established companies producing fewer games? Whatever the reason, itís good news for us games players. (One final point: why were there so many pirate games at Spiel this year?)

Spiel í05 takes place at the Messe (Exhibition halls) in Essen, Germany 13th-16th October 2005. It is organised by Friedhelm Merz Verlag and more information can be found on the Friedhelm Merz Verlag website.

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