Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Author: Norbert Proena

Publisher: Zoch 2004

Deutscher Spielepreis 2004
- Bestes Kinderspiel -



Apealing to younger and older players alike, the new game Dicke Luft in der Gruft by ZOCH certainly deserved its nomination for Germany's "Spiel des Jahres" awards in 2004. As the name of the publisher ZOCH stands for high quality games like Villa Paletti, I expected good gaming fun and high playability from the new game and I certainly was not disappointed. But now let's get into the facts...

A fact which can be guessed at just by examining the gamebox is that Dicke Luft in der Gruft is a game which has chosen Vampires as its topic. To be more specific, the game deals with a Vampire's cloven hoof that it cannot survive in sunlight, and thus it will be the aim of the players to put their vampires for sleep into graves on a graveyard before their spirit can be purged by the morning sunrise.

The game features a large gameboard which has a graveyard with a total of 60 graves on it. This field of graves is divided into four differently sized parts by a pair of footpaths, and the graves have been deepened so that one vampire marker can fit into each grave. As starting preparation, a total of 60 tombstones is randomly mixed and placed face down onto the empty graves. These downside of each tombstone shows either one of the six different "vampire-colours" or it shows a Rat. Also allocated on the gameboard is a total of 13 wooden stakes, placed there for easy access by all players. As further preparation, all 60 vampire markers (10 of each colour) are randomly mixed and distributed equally among the players. Each player arrays his vampire markers in a face-down row in front of him, with only the two markers at both the left and right end of the row being revealed. Finally, each player receives three garlic-tokens as his starting stockpile and then the game may start.

The game is played in turns, and in his turn a player will be allowed to open a random grave on the gameboard. Thus, the player takes one of the tombstones and reveals its downside to all players.

If the opened grave is empty and if the tombstone does not show a Rat, the player may compare the colour shown on the tombstone with the colour(s) of his vampires at the two ends of his vampire-row. If one of these vampires has a colour matching the colour of the tombstone, then the active player may take that vampire and put it to rest in this grave.

The player's turn now continues until he discovers a grave in which he cannot place one of his vampires, but before play resumes after putting a vampire to rest a player always must reveal one of the vampires from his vampire-row so that always two vampires have been revealed on either end of the row. As said, a player's turn comes to its end if the player cannot place one of his vampires into a grave he has opened, but before play resumes with the next player the still active player has a final option: if the opened grave was at least empty, then the player may decide to put one of his garlic tokens into the grave in order to "boobytrap" it for other players. However, if the grave was occupied, the player may not even place a garlic token, but instead he must take one of the wooden stakes from the gameboard.

The wooden stakes are feared by the vampires, and the players do well to do so as well, since a player who has accumulated three stakes is being given a vampire from the vampire-row of each of the other players. Thus, three stakes means a penalty for an unconcentrated player, and it should be avoided whenever possible.

Later in the game, a player may also uncover a grave with a garlic-token in it. The garlic has an effect similar to the collection of three wooden stakes, with the notable difference that the player discovering the garlic only receives a vampire from the player who has left the garlic in that grave. However, if the player should be so careless that he uncovers one of his own garlic tokens, then the player's missing concentration is "rewarded" by receiving one vampire from each of the other players. Anyway, in case a garlic token is found, the active player's turn ends and the garlic will be given back to its original owner so that it can be re-used later in the game.

Some additional activity on the gameboard is caused by the discovery of a Rat on one of the tombstones. Now a rat-plague breaks loose and for the duration of the rat-plague all graves surrounding the rat-infested grave may be opened. The active player starts, and he may open the surrounding tombs and place vampires in them following the normal rules outlined above. However, it now is different that a player's "turn" during the rat-plague does not end when he discovers a grave in which he cannot place a vampire. Instead, he may continue opening graves until he either decides to stop or until he finds an occupied grave (in the latter case he will receive a wooden stake as normal). Once the active player does not or cannot open any more of the surround graves, the next player will be asked if he wants to open some additional graves, and the same procedure continues until either

  • all surrounding graves were opened or
  • all players had a turn during the rat-plague or
  • a further rat is discovered.

If a further rat is discovered, the former rat-plague comes directly to its end and a new rat-plague starts following the rules outlined above. The only difference here is that the starting player for the new rat-plague may not be the same player as the player who started the first plague. Thus, if the player who started the first plague also is the one to discover the new plague, then the starting privilege for the new plague is passed to the next player in playing order.

As might be guessed, the game is won by the first player who succeeds in placing the last vampire from his vampire-row in a grave.

If looking just at the basic playing mechanism, Dicke Luft in der Gruft could possibly be described as being a variant of classic Memory in its widest sense. However, it would be more than unjust to stop with this comparison, since Dicke Luft in der Gruft offers a much higher degree of activity and player interaction. Due to the fact that players have to find fitting spaces to put their vampires onto the gameboard, the composition of the board is changed with every action a player takes. Clever twists in the rules like the garlic tokens, the wooden stakes and the rat-plague offer an even higher degree of movement on the gameboard, and the players have to watch and remember each other's move carefully in order to have a chance to win.

In total, the game offers a challenging and interesting set of rules which is coupled with a very nice game design, and I can certainly recommend it to all players who like games in which thinking and remembering is more important than just a roll of the dice. If looking at the game from a pedagocigal standpoint, the gamebox says that the game is suitable for children of the age of six and upwards, and I would agree that it should be a good and entertaining way for children of that age to do a bit of memory-training.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany