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



Hayato Kisaragi


No. of Players:
2 - 5



Over the years the SPIEL has become a springboard for many small publishers, since the convention has grown into the worldwide biggest tradeshow of the gaming industry. Many successful designs from small publishers had been "discovered" at the SPIEL, and while sometimes already the first edition of a game bears a high certainty that the game will be re-released by a major publisher, it is always a surprise to see that even some of the more obscure games find their way to a new release by a major publisher.

A recent example of this is the fantasy cardgame Grimoria which was released by SCHMIDT SPIELE in summer 2012. The game has been created by Japanese author Hayato Kisaragi, and the first edition of the game had been released by JAPONBRAND at the SPIEL 2010 under the title Grimoire. As a matter of fact, JAPONBRAND is a conglomerate of Japanese game designers, and they usually come to Essen with rather limited numbers of their new releases. Being small and relatively unknown outside the sphere of long-term hobbyists, they are usually assigned a small booth in one of the more remote halls of the convention where many "Indie"-designers are placed. However, as the story of Grimoire shows the major publishers do take note of the games presented in the off-mainstream halls!

Still, if a game is agreed for re-release by a major publisher this usually means that the game will see a major overhauling, since the better funding available to the well-known publishers results in the availability of professional artists and an editorial staff which is going to test the rules and mechanics especially with a view to mass-marketing. In the case of Grimoire, the original game (like most JAPONBRAND games) came in a rather small gamebox, and it was surprising how much playing material had been squeezed into the tiny box, since it contained 80 cards, 28 printed chips, one playmat, four small sized spellbooks and even a "Pirate" promo-card plus a German rulebook had been included. Due to its Japanese origin the game was designed with Manga-style artwork, but apart from the nicely drawn character images the layout and design of the cards looked a bit generic.

All of this has changed dramatically in the new edition of the game, since Grimoria now is playable by up to 5 players, and it comes with hardcover spellbooks, a genuine gameboard and completely new artwork. However, the innovation did not stop with these changes aimed at the game's appearance, but the work of SCHMIDT SPIELE's editorial staff can be seen in many small details which are not visible on first sight. So, the new edition gameboard now contains additional tracks for player order and for marking the spells chosen by the players, and both of these tracks are a great help keeping the game flowing smoothly. Some of the cards in the game have been changed to new titles and graphics, so that the flat looking coin-cards now have been replaced with castles and cities which fit the idea of the players creating their own territory much better. Some characters also have been renamed, removing some of the more martial characters and replacing them with more peaceful individuals (this seems to be a tribute especially to the German market). However, the most important changes go as deep as the game's mechanics, since the functions of some cards and some spells in the players' spellbooks also have been changed. Here the overall balancing of the game has been improved, and so this whole process is a great example of the important role of professional editing when it comes to the release of a game to the mass-market.

But let's now turn to the game itself. Grimoria is a game about wizards who have set out on a quest to find companions, locations and treasures in order to gain victory points. This is definitely not a new topic, but already the first edition of the game contained one element which sounded interesting enough to make the game stand apart from similar products. The game's title actually reveals quite a bit, since each player gets his own little spellbook from which he will choose the actions for the current turn. At the beginning of the game only spells from the first pages of the spellbook can be cast, but with every new round a new page of the book also becomes accessible to all players. After the display of available treasures and companions for the current round has been prepared, each of the players chooses a spell which he wants to perform and he puts a bookmark card into his spellbook to mark the page with the chosen spell. Then all players simultaneously reveal their spells and deal with the different effects of the spells, with the player order depending on the difficulty level of the spell - lower level goes first.

The spells available in the game allow different kinds of actions, going from the collection of coins (which can either be used for payments or kept since they count victory points) or treasures to spells which allow the stealing of cards and coins from opposing players. Other spells give protection against such attack-spells, and even others allow the active player to exchange some of the cards available in the display for this round. Whenever a player has dealt with the effects of his spell, he ends his turn by taking one card from the display and adding it to his own territory. Here all character cards and location cards collected by a player are placed, and especially the character cards will give the players access to a whole range of unique skills which either mean special actions during the course of the game or special scoring conditions which have an impact in the final scoring when the game is over.

As can be seen, Grimoria is essentially a bluffing-game where the players try to anticipate the spells which might be chosen by their competitors. So, the players typically will ask themselves whether they should risk a high-ranking (possibly aggressive) spell which promises rewarding effects, or whether they should limit themselves to a low-level spell which would give them an early position in the player order, resulting in an early opportunity to choose one of the cards available in this round's display. The uncertainty is strengthened even more by the fact that all players who have chosen a spell which was not chosen by any opponent will be allowed to play before players who have chosen a spell which was also chosen by somebody else, and so the players really need to take several conditions into account before choosing their spell for the current round.

A playing mechanism based on speculation already was integral part of Hayato Kisaragi's earlier game Greedy Kingdoms, and hard-core strategists certainly will have objections concerning such a high influence of luck. Indeed, it is especially in the last few rounds that the factor of speculation reaches such a high degree in Grimoria that it seems questionable whether the players really have a chance to make a successful guess, or whether they simply have to rely on their luck. Here Greedy Kingdoms seemed to give the players slightly more control, since they could make their guesses on a more narrow basis. However, games like Grimoria really should not be compared to strategic heavyweights, since their playing attraction does not stem from the players' satisfaction to hone and improve their strategies, but instead it's simply fun trying to foresee the next moves of the other players. Players may try to make a more informed guess by taking other players' current possessions and the cards available on the display into consideration, and so a player who takes good notice of the things collected by the other players will have a better chance to play for victory in Grimoria!

Having visited the SPIEL for many years, it's always great to see if one of the smaller publishers or even a new game designer succeeds in getting a game placed with one of the bigger publishers. Mind you, this does not mean that the game's author now will create considerably more income from this game, since usually only a rather small percentage of the final sales price of a game will find its way into an author's purse. However, many players of boardgames are feeling an irresistible calling to get a game published under their own name, and for these people the republishing of their first game by a bigger publisher really can mean a lot. As you can see in case of Grimoria, the game has seen many changes especially concerning the artwork, and I guess it should be quite satisfying for Hayato Kisaragi to see Grimoire re-appear in new splendour!

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany