Hah, another long day at the convention is behind me, and it seems like every day I go there I return loaded with more stuff and reviews to write than the day before. However, the days are flying by and its already a somewhat sad feeling to know that tomorrow already the last day has come. But off we go, so follow me in my soaring G@mebox...
Already yesterday I had a visit to Doris and Frank at their booth because I wanted to playtest their new game Urland, but yesterday I did not have a chance to get a place at one of their tables. In order to manage the masses of people streaming to test their games, Doris and Frank had decided to place list onto their tables where people could enter their names for playtesting, and every two hours another group was allowed to the table. Naturally, all places were taken up for the whole convention in nearly no time, so I had to count myself lucky that I got a place for playtesting at 10 AM this morning. It's difficult to comment on their choice to put out entry lists, but what I perhaps would have recommended is that no pre-orders for tables for later days should be taken. People coming to the Convention today or tomorrow stand nearly no chance at all to playtest their games, and I would say that everybody should be given at least a chance to be first in the morning.
But now I will turn to something much more pleasant, Doris and Frank's new game Urland. Once again they have chosen to set their game in the prehistoric period, and each player in the game will try to lead a tribe of Ichtios (amoeba) out of the prehistoric oceans to live on the first continents. The players each start with a number of Ichtios in each of the different sea-areas around the continents, and they must try to multiply these Ichtios and bring them onto land in order to score points there. During a round of play one player determines one of these land-areas where points can be scored this turn. Each of the 12 different land-areas bears a number and has a corresponding counter, and to determine in which area players will score, the player draws 3 of the 12 land counters counters and secretly choses one of them. The other two he gives to the next player, who will proceed likewise when his turn has come. However, these two players are not allowed to become active this turn, but only the other players may do up to two actions (or four if they want to sacrifice one of their two "+2 actions" markers). The players may spend their actions in a number of ways, speculating which land-area will be scored that turn. Players may move Ichtios from one sea-area to an adjacent sea area, or they may move one Ichtio per action from a sea area to an adjacent land-area- Last, they also have to option to multiply their Ichtios in a Sea-area, and for each set of 3 Ichtios in that area they will get an additional Ichtio (up to a maximum of 2).
Once all players have spent their actions, the area which is scored that turn is revealed and Victory Points will be given to the players depending on how many Ichtios they have in that land-area. The player with fewest Ichtios in that area loses all of them, the player with most gains 3 victory points, and all others get 2 victory points. Once a player has reached 30 victory points the game ends, a final scoring will be held for the players with most Ichtios on the table, and then the player with most points has won the game.
However, this would be no true game from Doris and Frank if the rules would stop here. Instead, a number of special rules influences the standard playing mechanism, adding an even better and deeper atmosphere to the game. Three times during the game an auction of new genes takes place, and here the players secretly bid a number of Ichtios which they later have to remove from the gameboard in order to be the first ones to chose new genes from the genepool. These new genes alter the attributes of a player's Ichtios in some ways: Legs allow movement of more Ichtios to land areas, Wings allow movement of Ichtios between land areas, warm-blood allows an additional action per round etc. In total, 11 new different genes are available, allowing a player's Ichtios to develop slowly during the game. Even more variety is introduced through volcanoes, since - if the game has not ended once the stockpile of land-area-counters has been reduced to 2 - the last 2 land-counters will be replaced by newly erupted volcanoes, killing nearly all Ichtios in adjacent land areas and joining two land areas together.
Kulkmann's opinion: A great game!!! Once again Doris and Frank have shown their outstanding abilities to produce games with not only good graphics but good rules alike. The game is short to play, and when it is over for the first time you will directly feel the urge to replay it almost instantly.
I continued the day with a visit to Hans im Glück. The people from Hans im Glück once again proved themselves a publisher with a lucky hand for choosing good games. With Carcassonne they once again got an awards winner, and this one won both games awards this year. I haven't played the game yet, but hopefully I will get an opportunity soon.
However, today I had a look at Hans im Glück's big game this fall: Medina.
Medina is a game about building a town straight from the stories of "1001 Nights", and in this desert town up to 4 players are competing to build the most beautiful palaces. Each player gets an identical stockpile of building pieces at the beginning of the game: place-pieces of 4 colours, market-people, goat-barns and city-walls. Additionally, each player gets a stock of 4 roof-pieces in his colour, and these he may put on a palace in order to claim it for himself.
In turn, the players now start placing playing pieces onto the gameboard, following certain rules as to keeping distances between the buildings and so on. Especially when playing palace pieces, a player has to decide carefully whether he still wants to enlarge a palace or whether he wants to put a roof at that palace, claiming it for himself and ending the building there. Next to the buildings (even those which already have a roof) the players can put goat-barns, and in the streets which must be left free a long row of merchants and vendors can be placed. In the end, the game will be won by the player with most victory points, and these will be awarded for a number of different options. Players get points for each building-piece their palaces consist of, for each goat-barn or merchant standing next to it, for each part of the city-wall next to it and for building the largest palaces or close to one of the city towers.
Kulkmann's opinion: The game offers a quite high degree of strategy, and it certainly takes quite a bit of time to get used to the strategic options possible to the players. It cannot be learned with just one game, but if it is played more often players will quickly discover the possibilities the game has to offer. The good overall impression is strengthened by the nice appearance of the game with many wooden components, and thus I feel that I can recommend this game to people who like strategy games with a strategy-level slightly above average.
Hans im Glück is also distributing a River Expansion Set for Carcassonne at the Convention, but it is circulated in incredibly low numbers of about 150 per day. People are crowding three times a day to get a copy of the expansion, but many are sent away with empty hands. However, I have decided that this free item should not remain hidden, and thus you now have an opportunity to get the cards here, at the bottom of this page!
Another booth I visited today was that of the Bambus Spieleverlag, which presented at the Convention the game Kanaloa, the newest invention of Günter Cornett.
The game is settled on a small archipelago south of Hawai, where the players represent natives travelling from island to island collecting sacrifices for their gods. The players who have sacrificed most to one of the 5 gods will receive has goodwill, and this gives them certain special abilities during the game.
At the beginning of the game players will place fishes on the crossing between the islands, and later in the game players will only be able to travel from one island to the other following paths with they have mapped out with fishes of their colour (or white fishes which can be used by every player). Additionally, these passages are one-way passages - players may only move into the direction to fish is facing. After all fishes have been placed, players start moving their playing pieces on the gameboard. Once a player has moved over a fish of his colour, it is turned over and the colour of another player now is revealed. Otherwise, the players also have the option to call a dolphin, forcing them to miss a turn but allowing it to travel to any island on the gameboard. If a player does not want to move, he can offer to a god any number of sacrifices which he has collected from the islands. However, the 5 gods prefer different sacrifices, and thus the players have to look what they want to sacrifice to which god. Each sacrifice also has a numbered value, and when the sacrifice is made a player receives pieces of that value to build a temple for the god. Once a player has sacrificed more to a god than any other player, he receives the card of that god and will gain special powers as listed on that card. Of special importance here is the god Pele, since a Volcano will erupt several times during the game and the player having the goodwill of Pele is allowed to place the volcano onto any island of his choice, blocking passage to that island for all players. At the end, the players receive points for their temples, and the player with most points has won the game.
Kulkmann's opinion: Kanaloa is a nice strategy game which offers once again an interesting and innovative playing mechanism. Especially the use of the fishes and thus the mapping out of different movement-routes for the different players takes much skill, and I would recon that the strategic implications of the game will only be discovered after two or three rounds. The game is supplemented by good artwork, and I would say that it can be recommended as one of the better games of this year's convention.
However, Essen is not only a place where you can see and test new games, but you also have the option to meet many well known game authors in person. These a roaming the convention in great numbers, and once you know how they look like you can see them nearly everywhere. Here is just a few snapshots of the different people I met...
A question which I have been asked more than once is whether there is a way on how people may become a successful games author and whether authors really can earn a living by designing games. Having a chat with some authors from the scene, the result is quite sobering: only a handful (really, about 5!) of authors actually succeeded in becoming a full-time games author, and this is due to the low percentage of royalties authors receive for every game sold. Basically, an author gets about 3 to 6 percent of the publisher's sales price for each copy sold - remembering that the publisher's sales price is only about half as high as the final sales price in stores. Thus an edition of 10.000 games does not suffice even to create more than a compensation for all the work which went into a game, and only the great bestselling titles like Settlers of Catan, selling in numbers of hundreds of thousands have created a good income for their inventors.
And at this point I will leave the coverage for today. Once again, I just hope that sleep will engulf me quick so that tomorrow will be likewise enjoyable...
Copyright Hans im Glück 2001
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Copyright © 2003 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Trier, Germany