The SPIEL Games Convention at Essen / Germany
Quite a workload, heavy traffic at Beijing airport, flight delays and sheer tiredness - all these factors made my visit to the SPIEL 02 nearly impossible this year. But, with the needed bit of luck, I arrived at Essen in time to attend the convention, so that I once again could bring to you a report of my personal convention highlights...
If you want to have a peek at my coverage of previous conventions, follow these links:
The SPIEL 02
Once again the four days of gaming are over, and the SPIEL 02 in Essen has closed its gate again until its next opening in October 2003.
Despite the declining national and global economy, the SPIEL in its 20th year could expand even further, reaching a total of 578 exhibitors from 21 nations, distributed over a total exhibition-space of 37.500 square meters. Quite surprisingly, there also was a high rise in the number of exhibitors from foreign countries, since their share in the total number of exhibitors did rise from 4 % to 29 % this year. Even though events and conventions are slightly declining in all major german cities, the SPIEL thus could withstand this trend and prove the ongoing broad public interest in games as one of the most-favoured pastime activities.
In total, 148.555 visitors came to the convention on the four days, and this number as well did pass the visitor numbers of the past year. Once again, already the first day saw long queues of people standing in front of the entrances, and this high public interest did not falter for the whole of the convention. The exhibitors offered thousands of playing tables to the public, and the people eagerly gathered around the exhibition staff to get into demonstration rounds of the newly released games. And where there were not enough tables, the players did not hesitate but they used the floor to spread out games in order to start testing...
As could be heard from most exhibitors, there was a vivid ordering and purchase interest by the visitors, and many exhibitors pointed out that the SPIEL 02 for them was the most successful convention in the history of the SPIEL. This trend actually went hand in hand with the annual report from the Fachgruppe Spiel (representing most of the major german boardgame publishers). As was stated by Mr. Ernst Pohle during the opening press conference, the sales of children's boardgames in 2002 were increased by 5,9 % in comparison to the year 2001. Thus, although the overall decline in sales numbers did not stop short of the general toys sector (a loss of 3,3 % in comparison to 2001), the boardgames sector as a whole successfully could stand against this trend and actually expand the sales volume in comparison to the previous year. Some major and smaller games events in Germany, Austria and Switzerland actually served as a booster to keep up the sales numbers, since people used these conventions to test the products and thus could make sure that they would receive good quality games for their money. Overall, Mr. Pohle sees the gaming culture in Germany to be on a good way. In his opinion, the annual games awards serve to keep up a high amount of creativity on side of the authors and publishers, and furthermore the licensing of topics of public interest (i.e. The Lord of the Rings) guarantees a continuing broad public audience.
Moving onwards to the convention itself, once again the visitors were presented a large variety of different gaming types and topics which were celebrating their release at the SPIEL 02: children's and family games, pretentious games for adults, fast cardgames, fantasy role playing games, miniature games, quiz games, postal games, computer games etc. Once again, the convention offered a broad, colourful selection of games, meaning playing fun for many hours.
One of the most obvious trends which could once again be observed was the constant rise in licensed Lord of the Rings products. Thus, Kosmos added another three titles to their Lord of the Rings range, Ravenburger published a new cardgame and puzzels, Hasbro did bring a new Lord of the Rings - RISK and Games Workshop released one more title in its series of miniature wargames.
Staying with Kosmos, the series of Spiele für zwei (2-player games) has become a very important element of their range of games, and thus they have released Odins Raben, Hellas and Das Duell as new titles to this series. Once again, these games stand for high quality entertainment for two players, although the price especially of Das Duell might seem a bit questionable. With an average sales price of 18 Euro, this game now has reached a price range of many full-sized boardgames, and despite its nice design it seems that this game in special is a bit overpriced.
The game Hellas is focused on two different tribes battling each other to win predominance over the islands of ancient Greece. The gameboard is made up from hex-tiles, but only very few of these are discovered upon the beginning of the game. Distributed on these islands known at the beginning of the game, each player starts with four cities of which each is manned with one soldier and one ship. With these resources, a player has to try to conquer a total of 6 cities and thus win the game.
During his turn, a player can chose from 3 basic options of which he may perform one: he may call for reinforcements, he may sail to discover new islands or he may wage war on the other player.
When choosing reinforcements, the player may decide to spend 3 action points either on adding soldiers, adding ships or drawing cards for divine aid. Basically, the player may distribute his action points among these actions as he desires and he may perform these actions in any order he chooses.
If the player instead has chosen to sail off to discover new islands, he may draw a hex-tile from the pile of yet undiscovered tiles. This tile he must try to add to the existing gameboard (with land and sea areas fittingly aligned), but only at a position where he has at least one ship on a neighbouring tile and furthermore he must have more ships on neighbouring tiles than the opposing player. If these requirements can be fulfilled, the player may move one of his ships onto the new tile, remove it and replace it by one of his soldiers who now will occupy the newly discovered city.
Finally, a player may also decide to attack his opponent, and for this purpose he may move soldiers from neighbouring tiles onto a tile occupied by units of the other player. Depending on whether any units have to come across water to participate in this attack, the attacking player will need the same number or more soldiers than his enemy has in the defending city. If the attacker wins, all defending troops are removed and the winning units now occupy the city.
After a player has performed his action, he may finally do some reorganisation and movement of his troops and then the turn of the other player will begin.
However, this basic playing mechanism is quite enhanced by a few additional rules which introduce a much higher degree of strategy to the game. First off, the number of units a player has is quite limited, forcing him to decide where to deploy his troops. Also, a player may only have a maximum of 3 soldiers in a city, making it impossible to build up invincible strongholds at crucial positions. Also, the limited attack and reorganisation capabilities of a player need to be considered, making advance planning quite crucial.
Items of real interest are the Temples. Some of the tiles which come into the game through discovery if new islands show small temple symbols, and the player who has occupied more tiles with such symbols will receive an additional action point if he chooses to reinforce his troops. This fourth action can be of great advantage. Even more interesting are the cards for divine aid. These cards are divided into 3 decks (combat, sailing, general use), and each player may accumulate a deck of up to seven such cards which he may play when he desires. Some of these cards give additional battle strength, some allow additional turns, some force players to trade cities and others can be used to block special cards. Through using these cards, players often can bring a surprising turn of events into the game, thus giving each player a fair chance to win.
As indicated above, Hellas comes with a lot of nice playing components, especially when considering that it still is a virtually small game. This good impression is to a far degree matched by the rules, which allow for interesting, competitive matches between the players. A bit of a weakness may be that some games tend to end rather quick and possibly unspectacular, since players can decide to spend quite a bit of time on discovering new islands, making battles quite unnecessary. Also, it could be discovered that it sometimes becomes quite hard to catch up a player who first has the lead in possessing Temples. This effects need a bit of balancing, and to my mind this is done by increasing the number of cities needed to win the game from 10 to 12. That way the game gets harder to win.
Herr der Ringe - Das Duell
Der Herr der Ringe - Das Duell by Peter Neugebauer as the third game in the Kosmos series of 2-player games based on the Lord of the Rings. While the first game Die Suche, which was developed by the same author, only had a rather poor playing mechanism and offered a topic which was very loosely connected to the Lord of the Rings, much has changed in the new game Das Duell. The game itself is focused on the duel between Gandalf and the Balrog at the bridge in the depths of Moria, and by playing cards to attack and defend each player tries to be the first to occupy the strategic center of the bridge (and thus win the game).
The game comes with a nice, three dimensional gameboard featuring a bridge, and at the beginning the players both take up positions at the opposing ends of the bridge. Each player receives a deck of 27 cards, and these cards are mixed and placed face down in front of each player. After these preparations were made, the game starts with each player secretly drawing 9 of these cards to start the first of three rounds of duelling.
The first duel then is opened by Gandalf, who plays one of his hand cards to attack the Balrog. Basically, two different kinds of cards exist. On the one hand, there are the normal combat cards, which had 0 to 4 defense symbols on their left side and 0 to 4 attack symbols on their right side. On the other hand, there are several special action cards which have a special action printed on them in addition to the combat symbols mentioned before. After the first player has played his first card, the attacked player may decide with which of his hand-cards he would like to respond. He now can compare the cards he has at hand in order to see whether the defense symbols on any of his cards matches the attack symbols on the card the other player has played. If the player has decided to play a certain card, he now may place it right of the card of the other player.
Now the attack and defense symbols on both cards are compared. If a symbol is on both cards at opposite sides, the hits cancel each other out. But if a symbol on either the attacker's or the defender's card is not matched on the opposite card, a hit is scored and will be recorded on a scoreboard.
After the (possible) hits were counted, it's once again the turn of the first player. For him, the card the other player has played in defense now has become the new attack card, and now he must decide on a card which he will play as a response to the attack of his opponent.
In this way, the duel continues with alternate card placement from both players, until either each player has played 6 of his 9 hand cards or a player has taken too many wounds. When a duel is over, the number of wounds of both players are compared, and the winner may make one or more steps upwards on the bridge - depending on how many hits he succeeded to outclass his opponent. Afterwards, the players put their remaining 3 hand-cards secretly aside and draw 9 new cards from their deck to start the next duel, with the loser of the duel before becoming the new starting player.
This procedure is followed until either the total of 3 duels has been played or one of the players has succeeded to reach the top of the bridge. If no player yet has reached the top of the bridge, the so-called "Final Duel" is called for. This duel follows the same rules as the 3 normal duels, but the 9 hand cards of each player are the cards which he has put aside in the 3 duels before. Furthermore, each player now can take more hits than in the duels before, making the duel harder to win and possibly making the duel last until each player has used all of his cards. After the Final is over, the player who is higher on the bridge wins the game.
To spice gameplay up, each player's deck of cards contains several special action cards which possibly give the players a small advantage during the duel. This advantage may vary: the possibility to spy the other player's handcards or the option to cancel a card played by the opponent are just some examples.
With this exciting and rather tense playing mechanism Peter Neugebauer actually succeeded to take much of the tension from the duel of the two enemies into his game. Although players will need to familiarise themselves with the options available for them during the game, they will quickly discover the high strategic potential the game has to offer. The action cards add a somewhat random element which allows players to turn a duel seemingly lost, balancing a bit the advantage clever planning players otherwise could get. However, there are still ample of ways a player can decide to follow, and to my mind a really magnificient idea is the way the players themselves chose the cards which they have in their hands in the Final. During the first 3 duels, the players must balance the use a powerful card may have at that moment with the need to possibly keep a card to have at least a chance in the final. Playing all strong cards in the 3 duels leaves a player rather powerless in the Final, but saving all strong cards on the other hand may result on a lost game before the Final even has commenced. To my mind, this game is a real MUST HAVE for any Tolkien-Fan (despite its comparatively high price).
Another booth I was eager to see was the one of Hans im Glück since they have come to Essen in order to present their newest game based on the famous playing concept known from Carcassonne.
Carcassonne - Jäger und Sammler
Once again the author Klaus-Jürgen Wrede invites the players to the wonderful area around the City of Carcassonne, but this time they will have to go back in time right into the stone ages. However, even at that time the area of Carcassonne was populated, and tribes of people were living from gathering fruits and hunting animals.
Like in its predecessor, the players once again have to try to score points by cleverly positioning members of their tribe on the gameboard which will be build up during the game. However, some special rules for villages and bonus cards will have a major impact on a player's strategy, but more of this will follow later.
At the beginning, only one of the square shaped landscape tiles is openly on the table. In turn, the players now are allowed to randomly draw a landscape tile and this tile they must place next to a tile which was already placed. However, the tiles may not be placed at random, but instead the landscape displayed on the tile must be closely observed. The newly placed tile must match the landscapes on all tiles around it, so that rivers, woods and grasslands must be aligned accordingly.
After a player has placed the new tile, he may chose to put one of his 5 tribe members onto one of the landscaped shown at the new tile. Thus, the tribe member may be sent into a wood to gather food, onto the grasslands to hunt for animals or onto a river to fish for fishes. However, the player first has to check on other tiles whether on any part of the same wood, river or grassland already a tribe member of his or another player's tribe was placed. If that should be the case, the landscape is already occupied and no new tribe member can be placed at that landscape.
If the placement of a tile actually completes a wood or a river (with a spring or a lake at both ends), the player who has placed a tribe member at that landscape will receive victory points according to the size of the wood or the river (with bonus points for fishes visible in a lake given to the fisher). If, for reason of later placement of a tile more than one tribe member should be in the same landscape, the player with most tribe members will get the points or, if there is a draw, all drawing players will score full points. After points were scored in this fashion for a river or wood, all tribe members are removed from that landscape and handed back to their players.
However, the player who actually finishes a wood may get a special bonus. If the wood contains at least one tile featuring a lump of gold, the player receives a bonus tile from a special stack of 12 tiles which he now may directly use the same way as he would use a normal tile.
Each player also has received two Huts at the beginning of the game, and these huts may be placed instead of a tribe member at a lake or a river. However, together with the hunters which are placed on the grasslands, Huts are only turned into victory points once the last landscape tile has been placed. If this happens, all players remove their tribe members from yet unfinished woods and rivers without receiving any points for these, and afterwards the Huts and hunters are turned into points.
A player now receives points for each fish which is in a lake which is part of the whole river system on which the player has placed a Hut. Thus, the placement of a Hut allows a player to participate from fishes available in a large river system, not only from a part of a river. Once again, if two or more Huts have become part of the same river system, the player(s) with most Huts gets the score.
After the Huts, the hunters are counted, and they get victory points for each wild animal shown on the grasslands occupied by them. However, there may also be Sabretooth Tigers on the same area, and since these also hunt for some kinds of animals, the score may be reduced by their presence. And as before, it might also be possible that more than one player has a hunter on the same grasslands, so that possibly more than one player may score.
Some special adjustments may be made because of some of the special tiles which can be brought into the game through finding gold. A tile with fire will force all Tigers to leave the surrounding Grasslands, mushrooms may increase the value of a wood, and ritual stones make the grasslands surrounding them the exclusive property of the player who has placed a hunter next to the stones.
The game nicely catches up with the playing mechanisms introduced in Carcassonne, and also the game may appear familiar at first it can quickly be discovered that the game operates in another way than its predecessor. Especially the invention of the animals which must be hunted and also of the special tiles which may give players a special advantage are nice twists which are perfectly fitting with the other rules. Also favourable is the fact that a large sum of victory points still needs to be distributed at the end of the game, and thus the competitive spirit between the game does not falter before the game is ended. To sum it up, the game is a worthy progeny of Carcassonne, perhaps introducing a slight bit more strategy than the basic game of Carcassonne alone did offer.
Due to my ongoing interest in games based on the Lord of the Rings, I now moved onwards to the booth of Hasbro where I was eager to see and test the new Lord of the Rings - RISK.
RISIKO - Der Herr der Ringe
To describe the rules, it is best to start with the traditional Risk-rules and then have a look at the differences introduced in this new game. Basically, the game has remained a moving of armies in order to conquer countries. When troops of two players meet, battles will need to be resolved by rolling dice, and here the traditional 3 to 2 relation between the maximum number of dice which may be rolled by either the attacker or the defender has remained the same. Always the highest results of the dicerolls will be compared, and the player who did roll the lower result will be forced to remove troops. Battle continues until either the attacker or the defender is the only player with units left on the battlefield.
Another feature which has remained unchanged is that the gameboard featuring the countries is largely divided into 6 regions with different strategic values. If a player has occupied all countries in a region, he will receive bonus-armies for his strategic stronghold. However, the number of armies he will receive depends on how easy his specific region can be defended.
After having outlined these essential similiarities with traditional Risk, I will now move onwards to describe the new elements introduces in this game. The first object of change was - of course - the gameboard. The map now displays the northern part of Middle Earth, going as far south as Rohan in the west and the northern mountain ranges of Mordor in the east. Special features on the map are mountain ranges and rivers (making movement between certain countries impossible), Places of Power, Strongholds and a printed path for the Fellowship of the Ring. Also, the playing pieces have been replaced: the game now includes a total of two good and two evil armies, and in these armies the playing pieces now are Elves, Riders of Rohan, Eagles, Orks, Ringwraiths and Trolls. Furthermore, the players now receive tokens for military leaders which may be used to enhance the combat abilities of troops. Finally, the deck of cards was also changed. Now the game not only includes cards for all the countries (with the traditionally known army symbols on them), but also Adventure cards (including Mission cards, Event Cards and Power cards). But more of these new cards later.
At the beginning, each player will be assigned a number of either good or evil aligned countries (depending on the alignment of the player's army) and also a few neutral countries. In these countries the players distribute their starting quota of armies and also one military leader (which is available for each player). Also, each player receives three randomly dealt Adventure cards as staring equipment. Finally, a marker for the Fellowship of the Ring will be placed at the Shire, and it will be moved along the Fellowship's path during the game as an indicator of the remaining playing time. After all preparations were made and the two decks of cards re-shuffled, the game can begin.
A player's turn is divided into the following phases, and their order must be strictly observed. The turn starts with the player receiving reinforcements, and their number depends on the number of countries a player has occupied plus eventual bonus troops. Bonus troops may either be assigned because the player has occupied a complete region on the gameboard, or because the player can trade matching sets of country cards (these cards a player receives when he wins a battle). After all reinforcements have been placed, the battle for Middle Earth will begin, and the player may move some of his units into a neighbouring country which is occupied by another player. Battle now is resolved following the standard Riskrules, until either the attacker wins, withdraws or has no units left. If a military leader participates in a battle, the player with the leader may add one to his highest diceroll, giving him a better chance to win. A result of a battle may further be influenced by a stronghold which might be present at the attacked country. Such a stronghold gives an additional +1 bonus to the highest diceroll of the defender. If the attacker is successful, he may check his Adventure cards whether he has possibly fulfilled the prerequisitions listed on a Mission card (which he might have). If this should be the case, the player may reveal his card, declare is Mission fulfilled and collect as many bonus troops as listed on this cards.
When determining where and whether to attack, a player usually will have to take Adventure cards into account. So far I have only outlined the use of Mission cards, but Event cards and Power cards may be likewise of importance. Thus, an Event card (which must be played directly when drawn) may cause certain movement restrictions or other special rules to influence the game, and a Power card may be played to gain certain benefits on side of the player who has used it.
After the player has made as many attacks as he desired, he will be allowed to move troops from ONE of his countries to another, provided both countries are linked by an unbroken chain of friendly countries. Further, a player now may add a new military leader to his army if his leader should have been lost in a previous turn. Also, if at least one of the player's attack(s) was successful, the player is assigned one country card, and furthermore the player will receive one Adventure card for each Place of Power he succeeded to conquer this turn (up to a maximum hand of three Adventure Cards). A player's turn ends with moving the Fellowship of the Ring one space further along it's track. If a dice-symbol is placed next to the track, the Fellowship may be held up, and the player only moves it forwards if he rolls a 3 to 6 on one dice.
The game ends with the Fellowship passing out of the Dead Marshes and thus leaving the gameboard, and now the players' scores will be calculated by considering the number of countries he has occupied, any regions he has occupied, any strongholds he has and any Missions he has fulfilled. The player with the highest score will win the game.
The new Lord of the Rings Risk definately has brought a number of decisive changes into the traditional game of Risk, and to my mind the rules serve rather well to enhance the playing value. More variety in gameplay is caused due to the new gameboard, military leaders and the new cards, and this offers a number of strategic choices to the players which are not available in the traditional game. Risk always was a game which I liked to play once in a while, but this new version for me has increased the attractiveness of the whole playing concept. Apart from the fact that the new rules fit in rather smoothly with existing playing mechanisms from traditional Risk, the game even succeeds in capturing a bit of the background-story of the Lord of the Rings, a fact which I would have considered to be hardly possible. To sum it up, the game definately is much better than many of the other Tolkien-games which were released, and it is much more than a simple merchandise product. I really like playing the game, and I am looking forwards to see the second part which is scheduled to be released in 2003. This box will contain another stand-alone game, but it will be possible to combine the maps of both games to get a complete map of Middle Earth.
Another new Lord of the Rings game is Herr der Ringe - Die Zwei Türme, a cardgame by Rainer Knizia which is published by Ravensburger.
Herr der Ringe - Die zwei Türme
With this new cardgame Ravensburger once more has succeeded in getting a license to produce a Lord of the Rings game which was to be released together with the new movie. The game broadly follows the story of the movie, featuring a journey of the broken Fellowship from Amon Hen through Rohan to Minas Tirith
During the game, the players will visit a total of 6 different locations at which victory points can be scored. As a preparation, random victory point markers will be assigned to each location (at each location one marker less then there are players), and between the locations voyage cards with up to 4 spaces of distance will be placed.
The game itself will begin with each player possessing a hand of 6 cards. The composition of the full deck of cards is as follows: 80 cards are broken into 4 decks of 20 cards of the same colour, and the 20 cards of the same colour are broken into 4 decks of 5 cards with the same attribute (Strength, Wisdom, Endurance, Determination). Furthermore, 16 Gandalf cards are added, serving as jokers since they each show symbols for all 4 attributes.
Basically, the game is divided into phases of travelling and scoring phases. When travelling, the players are moving forwards a token on a voyage card between two locations, and for each turn spent on travelling each player is allowed to add one card to his hand. This may be done by either drawing a random card or taking a card from a special open deck or by laying down a card to the open deck and then drawing two cards from either the random stack or the open deck or both.
Once the token representing the Fellowship has reached one of the six locations, a scoring phase will take place, in which each player is allowed to place as many cards in front of him as he wishes. This phase is begun by the player who has won the last scoring phase, and all other players follow in turn. To score during this phase, the location was assigned one or more attribute symbols which the players must try to match with their cards. Each card in front of a player showing one of these attributes counts for the player, and the player with most attributes will receive the highest victory point marker available at that location. The second player will receive the next marker and so forth, while the last player will not receive victory points at all.
However, players are not free to place any cards they like in front of them. The may only possess one row of cards of each of the colours, and all the cards in the same row must display the same attribute symbol. Thus, the players are somewhat limited concerning their choice which cards they might put in front of them, and a further limitation is reached by the rule that a joker card may only be placed at the beginning of a row. Thus, players may be forced to discard whole rows of cards which they deem to be not useful later in the game in order to make room for other cards. Also, the composition of the card rows is changed by the fact that the players who are able to score at a location are forced to discard a card from each row which helped them to score, thus decreasing the number of cards available in each row.
The game thus continues with alternating phases of travelling and scoring, until the sixth location is reached where the final scoring takes place. If this happened, the player with most victory points wins the game.
The basic playing mechanisms show the typical handwriting of a Reiner Knizia game. The underlying mechanics are well thought through, guaranteeing smooth gameplay and nice competitive atmosphere between the players. Another strength of the game is that alternate rules for two players are included, making the game attractive for two players and larger groups alike. However, there are also a fact which I personally disliked about this game. In comparison to many other games based on the Lord of the Rings, the story background is only reflected rather weakly in this game. This, once again, seems to be something rather typical for most Knizia games, since sometimes his rather technical sets of rules are very difficult to fit to a good background. In my eyes, this makes the new game not less playable, but it leaves an impression that the main factor why the game was produced was to have another product of Tolkien merchandise.
A game which was released a bit earlier this year but which I so far did not playtest was the latest big boardgame published by Goldsieber, Wolfgang Kramer's Goldland.
In Goldland the players take up the roles of Adventurers who have come to an undiscovered country in search of treasure. But on their way to find those fabulous riches the players will have to fight wild animals and brigands, they will have to master canyons, mountains and deserts and they will have to trade with the natives of the country.
The gameboard itself will be made up of square landscape tiles, and in the end it will have the format of a 7 tiles wide and 7 tiles high map. At the beginning of the game, all the players will start in base camp at one corner of the gameboard, and only the stretches of coast going away from the base camp form discovered country. Each player will receive a backpack in which he can put a maximum of 12 items, and as a starting equipment they will receive 3 units of rations and 2 units of pearls. It will be the aim of the players to get to the opposite corner of the gameboard, a place where an ancient temple is known to be hidden, full of incredible treasures. However, the players will have to discover a way to the temple, and already on their way they will be able to collect a few of the treasures of the country.
In his turn, a player can chose to perform up to three different actions in any order he choses: moving, trading for equipment and discover a new landscape tile.
As for moving, a player's movement allowance is determined by the number of items he carries in his backpack. The more items he carries, the more his movement is restricted. Also, movement may only be along discovered landscape tiles, but not directly into the unknown. Speaking more generally, a player may move his playing piece usually along the paths on the gameboard, but especially later during the game not all paths might be matching the movement wishes of a player, so that - to prevent a player to become cut off from reaching the temple - a player may also chose to ignore the paths while moving from one landscape tile to another. If he wants to do so, he must make a special move, forcing him to discard 4 items from his backpack.
Any of the landscape tiles also displays trade symbols for the different kinds of equipment. Thus, a player may use his existing equipment to get other items which allow him to face some of the dangers ahead of him. For example, pearls allow a player to get tools. These tools a player can use to get wood or rope, and wood a player can use to build fishing equipment to get new rations. Normally, a player does not need to drop any of the equipment he uses - he simply needs to hold these items to get some others.
The most interesting option is the discovery of a new landscape tile. A player may draw a random new landscape tile if his playing piece is on a landscape next to a place where a new tile can be placed. A player then may draw a new tile and place it next to the tile he occupies, aligning the paths on the the tile in any way he wishes. Sometimes these tiles will just display normal country with trading opportunities, but in many instances a place of adventure will be shown which a player needs to face before he is allowed onto the tile.
It is these places of adventure where a player will be forced to use and discard the equipment he has gathered. In total, 7 different kinds of places of adventure exist, and any of these kinds demands their own types of equipment to be mastered. Thus, a wild animal can be faced with guns, a desert with rations or a mountain with ropes. A player may only move onto such a tile if he can discard the equipment needed to enter the tile. If he can do so, he may place one of his camp-markers onto the tile, indicating that he has mastered the adventure and that he may now enter the tile freely during the rest of the game. Two special rules concerning these places of adventure need to be noted. First, the player who has most camps on adventure tiles of the same kind will receive a corresponding adventure marker. At the end of the game, these markers will increase a player's score, possibly bringing him an advantage to become the winner. Second, some of these tiles may have an extra treasure buried on them. A player may take this treasure if he can discard some additional pieces of equipment as displayed on the landscape.
In this way the game continues until the first player reaches the temple at the opposite corner of the gameboard. Here, the player will receive an Amulet of Good Fortune and two gold coins for reaching the temple. The same treasures will be awarded to any player who succeeds in getting to the temple in the same turn, but players arriving on a later turn only will receive the Amulet. Furthermore, the reaching of the temple announces the end-phase of the game. A number of gold coins is available at the temple (depending on the number of players), and each time a player who owns an Amulet starts his turn he may take one of these coins. If all the coins are taken (or if all players possess an Amulet), the game will end and the player who has earned most gold by collecting treasures, coins and adventure markers will have won the game.
Due to the sophisticated rules and the well-constructed playing mechanisms this game definately bears the handwriting of Wolfgang Kramer. The game flows rather smoothly, and especially the combination of the different mechanisms for trading equipment and for discovering new landscapes offers some quite attractive playing concept. I personally like the game, although some moderate criticism can be voiced on a point or two. One weakness of the game is that, despite the box-info, the game is not really playable with only two players. If only two players participate, the competition between the players is virtually non-existent, since both players have ample space for discovering new landscape and thus only rarely conflicting situations arise. The other point I have to remark on is the fact that the game cannot be recommended for players who are unexperienced with tactical games. Right from the beginning, certain choices must be made and the success of a player's strategy only shows quite late in the game. Although all scores are visible by different markers, the outcome of the game itself remains a bit of a surprise if a player does not constantly count and re-count the current scores of all the players. This latter point of criticism could have easily been put right be including a scoreboard with the game, and I personally do not understand why this did not happen. Otherwise, the game offers real good entertainment value, and it is definately one of the highlights in 2002.
Moving onwards to the booth of Queen Games, the game Krone & Schwert catched the eye of my co-reviewer Ralf Togler, so that we decided that we needed to give it a test.
Krone & Schwert
On first sight Krone & Schwert (crown and sword) comes along with rich equipment. As you can derive from the title the background is settled in the medieval time in Europe. It is a game with kings, castles, cathedrals and of course intrigues, because everyone wants to be king. The king is the only one to claim taxes and he can do so every time at the beginning of his turn. He then gets one victory point for each of his castles and a card is drawn which is either a crown or a sword. If a crown is drawn nothing happens. The swords, however, are gathered and count against the king during a revolt. But the other players can get victory points, too, when a town card is drawn and then the king gets nothing. If one of the players feels strong enough, he can even try to revolt against the king. For this fight the winners get additional victory points. At the end there are some more points for the biggest empire, the actual king and every building.
The game starts with the foundation of the empires. For this purpose each player puts two of his markers on landscapes on the board (the board is devided in hills, plains and forest squares). From these points he starts to expand. The game is played in rounds. Each player has 3 action points (AP) per turn. For some actions he needs special cards. At the beginning of the game each player draws five cards. He can erect a building (2AP+castle or cathedral card). While castles can only be erected on hill landscape squares, it is necessary to play a town card for a plain landscape. There are other cards for weakening the king or to prevent the others to attack him for one round (1AP). Then the player can draw a new card (1AP) or increase one of his empires (1AP). He can also found a new empire without a connection to the others (3AP). Or he can attack one of his neighbours from one of his empires (1AP). He then plays one or more cards of his own with a value equal or higher than the number of the opponents castles (each card has a value for combat next to its special features). The defender can only avoid the attack if he has a special card.
The last action is to revolt against the king (1AP). When someone chooses this action each player has to decide whether he is for or against the king and how many cards he puts in this battle. In the end the value of the cards for and against the king are summed up and the winner is the one with the highest value (remember that all open swords count against the king). If this is the party with the king, he gains two victory points for each of his cathedrals and every mate gets one victory point for each cathedral. If the opponents win the battle, the leader of the revolution (the one who started it) becomes the new king. He gets at once one victory point for each of his castles and two victory points for each cathedral. The mate get one victory point for each cathedral they own. The new king must tell his opponents his actual victory points. If these exceed a specific value, depending on the number of players, the game goes in his final phase. The cards then are mixed up a last time and one additional card - the end card - is added to the staple. If this card is drawn the games ends immediately.
Of course the one with the most victory points wins the game.
Although the game has a very nice outer appearance, there was definitely not enough conflict in the game. After thinking about it, I am quite sure that this was so because we were only three people. Each player had lot of space, so nobody tried to attack someone else. I guess that is somewhat different if you are playing with five players, because then the squares of the board are becoming short. So maybe you should restrict play to a smaller portion of the board with fewer players (I am quite sure that the rules are incomplete here, because there it is said that you should make the board smaller if you are four or five players). Also, I should say that this is no family game. The players should have some experience in tactical playing. I easily won the game, because nobody really tried to attack me as the king. And - which this was quite easy to guess - the king has the best possibilities to win the game.
Another booth which I not wanted to miss was the one of Fantasy Flight Games, one of my most favourite publishers of fantasy games. Here the game Drakon had catched my interest, since by it's outer looks it definatly reminded me a bit of Games Workshop's Dungeonquest, one of my most favoured fantasy games.
Deep Dungeons, mighty Heroes, fearsome Dragons - Tom Jolly's new Fantasy Boardgame leads up to 6 players to take up the roles of some Heroes who were foolish enough to enter a Dragon's Dungeon in search for treasure. However, the Dragon has captured all of them, and now the players have got to race against each other in order to collect five gold coins from the Dragon's Maze, since only the first player who succeeds to do so will be released by the Dragon...
The gameboard for the game will not be set up at the beginning of the game. but instead it will be slowly developed during gameplay. Thus. it consists of square-shaped tiles of which each displays a room with different entries, exits and special features. To set the game up, only one chamber with four exits, the starting chamber, is placed at the center of the table. To begin the game, each player is given one of six different characters (Wizard, Barbarian, Thief, Dwarf, Knight and Amazon) and also receives four randomly dealt chambers. When all players have positioned their figures in the starting chamber, the game can begin.
Taking turns, the players now can either place a new chamber from their hand adjacent to another chamber which is already in play (and refill their hand to four chambers by randomly drawing a new chamber) OR move their figure into an adjacent chamber and (possibly) perform the special action required by this chamber.
When adding a new chamber to the gameboard, the player has to look at the arrows which are printed on each chamber and he has to observe the rule that arrows pointing from two adjacent chambers may not face each other. These arrows are needed for the movement of the players' figures, since these may only move from a chamber following the arrows printed in that chamber. Thus, as the gameboard is developed, slowly a maze of chambers and passages will be developed.
As indicated earlier, many of these chambers will contain a special feature which may require a special action from the player who enters it. The most obvious possibility is that the chamber may contain one of the gold coins needed to win the game, but many other features also may be displayed instead, being either helpful or hindering for a player who enters the chamber: The Dragon may demand gold from the player, the player might steal a gold from his left or right neighbour, a map may allow the player to hold more chambers on his hand, a Mind Control Orb allows the movement of another player's figure etc.
Finally, the rules are spiced up a bit further by the special ability each character possesses and which may be used once during the game. This may, at a decisive point, be used to gain an advantage and possibly get closer to winning.
The looks of the game alone certainly remind a player of Games Workshop's classical boardgame Dungeonquest (Drachenhort in Germany), and due to the undeniable similiarities of both games Drakon will have to stand a comparison with its older counterpart.
As far as gameplay is concerned, the rules for Drakon are fairly easy, but due to the high player interaction which is caused by the methods for the placement of chambers and the different special features a chamber may contain the game may take quite unexpected twists. These rules serve to enhance the competitive spirit between the players, and thus they nicely capture the general theme of the game.
In comparison to Dungeonquest, the complexity of both games is broadly the same, but whereas interaction between players in Dungeonquest is only a reflection of the placement of room tiles the interaction between the players is much more direct in Drakon. Thus, the general fun players can derive from being in direct competition with each other is definately higher in Drakon. Dungeonquest on the other hand retains the upper hand as far as design and story elements are concerned. To be honest, I am a bit disappointed by the look of Drakon. Knowing that the game has come from the same company which created hundreds of stunning artworks in their Diskwars-Series, the somewhat monotonous design of the chambers and the general artwork in Drakon certainly does not reflect the generally rather skilful artwork of other Fantasy Flight products. Also, the different characters in the game remain rather flat with each one only possessing one special ability which may be used just once during the game. Of course, a balance would need to be found between introducing special abilities and keeping the game simple and easy going, but a few more characters to chose from and a bit more abilities to shape out each character's strengths and weaknesses would have served rather well to enhance the depth of the gameplay. This fact unfortunately is not fully addressed by the Expansion Set One which was released for Drakon. This set introduces new kinds of chambers and also the possibility for the Dragon himself to join the fray, but it leaves the possibilites of changing a few of the character-rules unexplored...
Well, and with my report drawing close to its end, the time has come to present my personal highlight of the SPIEL 02. To my mind, the best game this year was Ehre der Samurai by Scott Kimball which is published by AMIGO.
Ehre der Samurai
Let me start the review of the new AMIGO-game Ehre der Samurai with a somewhat unusual statement: "Small box, great game!" To be honest, Ehre der Samurai is one of the most remarkable games which I have seen over the last years, and it is one of those rare occasions that a game seems to perfectly match the criteria which I demand of a good game. But let's get into the details...
Ehre der Samurai actually is no real boardgame, but instead a cardgame in which the players have to place their cards in front of them. Each player takes up the role of a Samurai who is serving the house of a Daimyo (Lord, Noble), and the players try to win the game by being the first player who succeeds in collecting 400 honour-points.
At the beginning of the game, each player possesses his own Samurai card and a randomly drawn Daimyo card, which he both places openly in front of him. Behind those cards, other cards will be placed during the game, so that both the Daimyo and the player's Samurai will collect their own House (of cards). All Samurai possess the same attributes of Honour, Ki (Craft) and Strength, but with all other cards (including the Daimyos) those attributes will vary. Furthermore, each player receives a hand of 7 randomly drawn cards as his starting equipment.
The game then is played in turns, and each player's turn is split into three phases: first a player can collect honour points for the cards in front of him, then he may do some card-related actions, and finally he may possibly make a declaration to the other players.
The collection of honour points is fairly simple. The player just adds up the honour values of all cards in both his Samurai's and his Daimyo's Houses, and then he will receive this value of honour points which he adds to his score.
Next, the player may do a number of card actions. For each three Ki points available from his Houses, he may chose to do one of the following actions: He may draw a new card for his hand, he may play a card or he may discard a card without any results. Thus, the number of actions a player may do actually depends on the number of Ki points he has available from his Houses, with the limitations that he may never do more than 5 actions or hold ore than 7 cards in his hand.
If the player has decided to play a card, such a card may be a possession (troops, weapons etc) which may be added to either of his houses, or it may be an action card which can be used to hinder other players. As far as possessions are concerned, there only exist a few limitations concerning the possessions a House may possess. So there may never be more than 5 troop cards assigned to a house, and furthermore only one wife and castle may be assigned to a House. The cards played on a House add to the players total Honour, Ki and Strength values. If on the other hand the player play an action card, such a card may either be a Ninja or a Loss of Honour card. A player has to pay some honour points if he wants to use a Ninja but he then may use him to either steal possessions of other players or to assassinate another player's Daimyo or Samurai. If the assassination is successful, the Daimyo will be discarded together with his House, whereas a Samurai will only lose his House.
Once a player has made all his actions, he may decide in the final phase to make a declaration. One option is to declare his Daimyo to be the new Shogun, and he may then align the Shogun card with his Daimyo. This card will bring additional honour points to the player in his next turn, but this declaration may only be made if the Shogun card IS NOT in the possession of another player. If the Shogun card is in possession of another player, a player may try to take it by force and declare an attack upon that player.
An attack may only be declared upon the current Shogun or upon a player whose Daimyo possesses a castle. To perform the battle, each player now adds up the strength points from both of his houses and divides the number by 3. For each 3 strength points a player possesses, he may roll one dice in battle (up to a maximum of 6 dice). However, the strength of a castle can only be taken into consideration on the defender's side. Once the number of dice has been determined, each player rolls his dice and the totals are compared. The player with the higher total will win the battle, and he may take either the Shogun card or a castle card from the loser, while the loser will have to discard his Daimyo together with his house. The only way to prevent the death of a Daimyo is to play a card which allows the loser to remain honourable and thus to remain alive. The third kind of declaration may be made if a player does not have a Daimyo anymore. His Samurai will then become a Ronin, meaning that he has no liege and forbidding him to collect honour points until he has found a new Daimyo. A new Daimyo may be gained through playing cards. but a player may also declare an alliance with another player's Daimyo. His Ronin then once again will be a Samurai, and he can collect honour points fully for his Samurai's house and half of the points due from the Daimyo's house to whom he is allied. The player in possession of the allied Daimyo may not refuse such an alliance, but he will profit from the alliance as well, since the strength value of the house of the allied Samurai can be added in battle. However, there always is a bit of a danger in such a constellation, since the allied player may try to send an assassin to the other player's Samurai, and if the assassination is successful, he will be able to steal that player's Daimyo together with his house. The only ways to end such an alliance are such an assassination, a loss of honour cards or a declaration disbanding the alliance made by the allied player.
I have tried to give a precise description of the game rules here, since only by presenting a full overview of the rules their complexity and the inter-connections between the different kinds of cards can be fully understood. To my mind, the author succeeded in creating a rather unique set of rules which offers for much variation in gameplay without actually needing too many special action cards or rules exceptions. This criterion actually can be used to qualify the class of a cardgame, since a lot of variety always can be introduced by adding 500 different cards to a collectible card game, whereas it is much more difficult to create a game with in-depth gameplay with just a fixed deck of 110 cards of which many cards are of the same kinds.
The rules are even more outstanding since they actually succeed in capturing the background story of the game rather well, and this impression is rounded up by some rather fitting and skilful artwork. To come back to what I have said at the beginning, I must confess that I cannot think of much more a game could possibly possess. For me, the game certainly has the potential to become an all-time classic.
Well, I hope my humble words could bring a bit of the atmosphere of the SPIEL 02 alive, wherever this report might be read. Those of my readers who are wondering at the somewhat unusual reporting style I chose this year may be assured that most certainly there once again will be daily updates to my webpage during the SPIEL 03 next year, but due to my work in China my visit to the SPIEL 02 was extremely short so that I had to change my reporting style this year. However, I hope to meet all of you again next year to read my reports of the SPIEL 03.
From 18th to 20th the convention is opened from 10 AM until 7 PM, on the 21st from 10 AM to 6 PM.
Travelling to the Messe Essen
If you arrive at Düsseldorf International Airport, it takes about 20 minutes to get to the Messe Essen by Cab. If you hire a car at Düsseldorf Airport, you go onto Autobahn A44 (blue signs), and at the next motorway crossing you go over to A52, direction Essen. Take Exit "Essen Rüttenscheid". You can also go by train to Essen Central Station. If arriving there, go to the basement and take the Subway U11 directly to the Messe Essen.
If you want to arrange lodging at Essen, you best contact the Essen-tourism-center by phone 0049/(0)201/19433 or 0049/(0)201/88720-46 or -48. Perhaps they know where some Hotel-rooms are left...
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Copyright © 2003 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Trier, Germany