Another pleasant surprise from last year’s games was Das Zepter von Zavandor from Lookout Games. So I was intrigued to see what they had for us this year. The company’s big board game for 2005 is Das Ende des Triumvirats (The End of the Triumvirate). Designed by Johannes Ackva and Max Gabrian, the setting is the civil wars that marked the end of Rome as a republic (and led to the Empire). Interestingly, the game is designed specifically for three players: Crassus, Pompey and Caesar. The aim is to dominate the fledgling empire, by political control, by military conquest or by getting the people of Rome on your side. With three different ways of winning, there are plenty of options – which means a need to make decisions and to keep a careful eye on your opponents.
One clever mechanism limits the game to a maximum of four turns, so it doesn’t drag on. This is the election of a Consul. One of the players must be elected Consul at the end of each turn. Being elected Consul twice gives the player a political victory. So turn 4 will always be the decider. There’s a lot more to commend in this game, including excellent production (in the same, dark style as Zepter), and I look forward impatiently to trying it out.
Other games from Lookout include a planned new edition of World Cup Tournament Football. No doubt this will tie in to some football thing that’s happening next year.
After the success of Oltre Mare last year, Italian publisher Mind the Move had Il Principe from the same designer, Emmanuela Ornella. As this was a limited edition it wasn’t surprising that it sold out quickly. Taking its inspiration (and title!) from Machiavelli, the game is about conquering and holding territory in medieval Italy. The English language version is from Z-Man Games and is eagerly awaited.
Phalanx Games had a new version of Günter Cornett’s Pingvinas called Packeis am Pol. The English language version – Hey! That’s My Fish! – is published by Mayfair and was well-received by the British and American contingents at Spiel. It’s a quick strategy game in which players grab fish with their penguin pieces. This produces gaps in the ice field and the game finishes when penguins can’t move any further. It’s a nice little game and I think a bit of a departure for Phalanx, whose usual fare is big wargame-like strategy games.
Such as Mesopotamia, designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede. Players expand across the territory of the game, building up their tribe in competition with the others. At the same time, the players must co-operate to build a temple to the Gods – and then make offerings. This game has also been well received and I look forward to playing it.
Playme.de is, I believe, mainly a retailer, but they do have a few publications to their name. This year’s game, Big Kini, by Guido Eckhof, created quite a buzz at Spiel, so I had to give it a try. The game is played over a board of hexagonal tiles, which start face-down. When explored and turned face-up, each tile shows an atoll of three islands. Each island produces something – cash, goods – or allows actions – moving to another island, placing new pieces. In order to do the action, though, players have to have control of the island, or a pair of neighbouring islands or the whole atoll. These positions are worth victory points too.
As well as having control, players need to get the opportunity to use the action. There are six actions, shown on a board. Players take their turns by placing a pawn on the action they want and then doing it. But there are limited opportunities for each action, so being in last place in a round can be a real pain. This is particularly true of getting money. Players need money to do other things, so getting money is a high priority, but only two players a turn can do this.
The game is thus one of planning your expansion carefully and choosing the ways you want to score victory points. As there are several ways of doing this, it pays not to compete with other players. The advanced game changes things by adding action cards into the game, but I haven’t played the game with these yet. Big Kini is an interesting game with plenty to recommend it, but not one of my favourites.
I finally caught up with Jenseits von Theben at the Prinz Spiele stand. This was the second edition of Peter Prinz’s game and it quickly sold out – mainly to US visitors with orders for several copies as far as I could make out. The game has some clever mechanics. To start with, doing anything takes time (in weeks), which is shown by moving your pawn along the track round the outside of the board. Initial actions are about doing research and collecting equipment and expertise for your archaeological expedition(s). Then you go on an expedition (moving takes time, too). Depending on how much time you want to spend and how much research you’ve done (modified by your equipment and experts), you take a number of cards from the location and see what you’ve found. The decks start as a mixture of rubbish and treasures. The more expeditions, the fewer treasures will be left, of course, putting time pressure on the players. The game ends after three years (three times round the track) and players tot up their points and bonuses to see who’s won. This is a terrific little game and I’m just sorry it’s sold out. Twice! Hopefully a larger publisher will take it up – or Prinz will be able to finance a third edition.
An extended stay at the Queen stand gave me the chance to play several of their new games. Traditionally, one of these is a Dirk Henn-designed game, re-worked from the original version published by db-spiele. This year, the game was Timbuktu. This is a clever game of transporting laden camels across the desert. It’s actually a deduction game. The camels travel across a number of board sections. Thieves strike in each section, picking camels in specific positions and stealing specific goods.
The thieving is determined by cards and, each turn, each player gets to see another set of the cards for this section of the board. From this information, and from what the other players are doing, players decide which of their camels to move where. However, the value of the different goods at the end of the game depends on how many have been stolen. The more that have been taken, the rarer it is and the more it’s worth. So the ideal situation is to keep all of a good while all the other players have theirs stolen. Naturally, this is not going to happen!
Playing the game, I had the feeling that I should have been able to work things out and avoid all but a few losses. In practice it’s rather harder. And it’s surprisingly easy to get it wrong! This is a clever game that repays a bit of thinking and a bit of ‘headology’. It’s good stuff, and fairly entertaining too.
At first glance, Aqua Romana (designed by Martin Schlegel) looks like Metro played with Roman aqueducts. In fact it’s a rather different game. Each player starts with the beginnings of four aqueducts and scores points according to their length when they reach an end. Each turn, they place a square tile on the board to extend one of their aqueducts. However, a player can only place a tile where the end of their aqueduct is on the same line (up, down, left, right) as one of the wooden blocks round the edge of the board. What’s more, the block defines the piece of aqueduct that can be laid (straight, curve, crossover etc).
What really makes the game is that, once a player’s placed a tile, s/he moves the block involved further round the board. So, players are trying to manoeuvre the blocks to get them into the right positions to extend their aqueducts in the right way. This adds a whole other dimension to the game and gives players a lot to think about. Having said that, a lot of the time the choices are fairly obvious. This means the game doesn’t bog down as the next player works through all the ramifications of the next few turns. Another good game.
The were two more games from Queen. Rüdiger Dorn’s Raub Ritter is a tile-laying game. Players build up a landscape by placing tiles. They then lay claim to the territory by placing and moving their ‘knights’. The final owner of a tile is the player whose knight is on top and they score points according to what the tile is. It sounds interesting and, given Herr Dorn’s track record, I will certainly give it a try.
And, finally, there is Gold der Inka. This is a labyrinth game in the style of The Amaze-ing Labyrinth. Here the challenge is to move pawns around the board and/or move bits of the board around. The aim is to gather the pieces in your colour. This will probably appeal to anyone who likes Ricochet Robot, but it left me cold.
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