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

Table of Contents
Updated: 10/17 23:00

The SPIEL '21 Games Convention
at Essen / Germany

[SPIEL]

14th to 17th October 2021

G@mebox 25th Anniversary Prize Draw

[Prize Draw]

THE PRIZE DRAW IS STILL OPEN!!!

Please sign our SPIEL Guestbook to participate!

Tuesday - 12th of October 2021

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Lights on, Camera ready, Micro open...

"Full SPIEL ahead!"

Folks, here is Essen, the boardgaming capital of Germany !

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

We are back, and this year there is something BIG happening! We are celebrating our 25th anniversary here at Kulkmann’s G@mebox, and now Ralf and I can proudly say that we have been doing our SPIEL reports for a

QUARTER OF A CENTURY!!!

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So, let me welcome you to the forefather of all SPIEL reports! Actually it’s hard to believe that so many years have passed since I first sat down at my old personal computer, learning basic HTML-code in order to set up a website about boardgames. We have been here since 1996, a time when there were no bloggers, no video reviewers, no podcasts or any kind of reports on the SPIEL convention - this was the dawn of the internet!

If you look at this website, it may seem outmoded if you compare it with all those flashy animated modern video-websites, but over all the years we have tried to provide you with solid, down-to-earth articles, reviews and reports. I like to say that we don’t run through and you can’t watch it played, but instead we believe that there is still an audience of people who actually like to take the time to read an article, and looking at our guestbook we are always happy to see that so many of you, our trusty readers, have followed us and our ramblings for many a year. However, in those 25 years even the G@mebox has seen some slight changes, the layout was enhanced and more webspace was being added over the years. Funny enough, it all started with incredible 2 Megabytes of webspace on an AOL server, but in those days this has been enough to host a decent amount of tiny photos and lots of written text. If you would like to see how it all started, come along for a trip back to the future and visit Kulkmann's G@mebox in the WAYBACK-MACHINE!

In the Internet Archive you see this site in its original form, and I have to smile when I visit these pages and remember my first efforts in website programming. However, the current layout which you see now is not really new either. Using the various stored images of this site at the Wayback Machine, I could date the current layout back to the year 2001, and it’s quite interesting to see that the old HTML-code still displays this site decently even on modern devices like smartphones or tablet computers. Remember, none of these existed 20 years ago…

Many things have passed since this time, and not only our hobby of boardgames has grown and developed, but also our lives and the world at large has changed. In the next couple of days I would like to take you along and do a bit more of time travelling, looking at some personal highlights and events which happened in those 25 years. I hope you will enjoy the trip, and I have to confess that I am curious what kind of stories I will dig up in the next five days…

But a real birthday needs some presents to celebrate properly, and so I would like to take the opportunity and announce the first part of our

25th Anniversary G@mebox Prize-Draw!

[SPIEL]

A special occasion like this needs a special prize, and I am proud to announce that my friend Daniel Schloesser from 2ND GATE GAMES has sponsored 2 complete Kickstarter all-in deluxe packages of CACTUS TOWN to celebrate our special anniversary! Action packed gameplay, wonderful artwork and cute miniatures all can be found in this big game bundle, and after testing the prototype I am sure that Cactus Town will find many enthusiastic fans after its release. Daniel and his crew are still taking preorders, but if you would like to win a copy you just need to leave a comment in our...

SPIEL Guestbook!

But let’s now get to business! SPIEL week has begun, and after last year’s SPIEL.digital we are once again back to the real event, the convention in the halls of Messe Essen. For me the writing of our SPIEL.digital report certainly was a special event with quite a few memorable moments, but after 1 ½ years of pandemic it’s now just wonderful to see that the show is back in real life. However, as you may have expected there will be many changes due to the compulsory Covid Hygiene concept which has been introduced to get the show back on the road. The conventionists of Merz Verlag have outlined all essential rules in their online press conference last week, and quite important will be the change that there will be no ticket booths at the entrances of Messe Essen. If you want to visit the show, you have to pre-register and buy a ticket online, and in addition you have to be vaccinated, recovered or tested on Covid – strict 3G-rules are applied. There is also a maximum cap of 30.000 daily visitors, but I think this is quite sufficient because it’s about 70 to 75 percent of the normal amount and many international gamers won’t be able to make the trip this year.

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If you need any information for the coming days, the website of MERZ VERLAG is a really good source for all kinds of SPIEL news, including ticketing, the Covid hygiene rules and the floor plans. Furthermore, an excellent SPIEL GUIDE is available for free download there!

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G@mebox Special: SPIEL.Local at ALLGAMES4YOU

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One of the specialties of last year’s digital experience was the fact that many local gamestores were hosting small events to go along with the SPIEL. The SPIEL.Local was born, and gamestores all over Germany were setting up exhibitions where the new games could be seen and bought. Some stores will continue in the same fashion this year, and so I spent this morning once again to visit my friends at ALLGAMES4YOU, a big boardgame store here at Essen-Überruhr.

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Indeed my friends Heinz, Andree and Uwe were all busy setting up for the event, and so I was able to get a first sneak peak of many new games which will be available at the SPIEL this week. I think that it’s a great idea to accompany the SPIEL with events like this, because it will allow a bit of SPIEL flair for everyone who cannot make it to the show. Despite the hygiene concept the crowds inside the convention halls may be seen with mixed feelings these days, and here a more relaxed visit to ALLGAMES4YOU may be a perfect alternative to avoid the crowds and get some of the new games.

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Even a combination with a SPIEL-visit will be possible this year, because Heinz and his team will open the shop from Wednesday till Friday from 3 PM to 9 PM (last admittance), and on Saturday from 11 AM to 9 PM. This will be a great possibility for some late night shopping, and on Friday there will even be an official ASMODEE supporter to present some of their new games, because ASMODEE will not be present at the SPIEL!

[SPIEL]

Happy gamers: Heinz, Uwe, myself and Andree

Tomorrow there will be the press presentation of the new games, and Ralf and Lutz are as eager as I am for the show to start. They are sending you many greetings, and we are all set and ready! However, something which should not be missing even if SPIEL has not yet started is a game review for warmup. In view of this year’s 25th anniversary of the G@mebox I would like to introduce you to one of the BEST cardgames which I have encountered over the last 25 years, a game which should not be missing in any serious games collection.

Review: Eternal - Chronicles of the Throne
(RENEGADE GAME STUDIOS)

Released in 2019 by RENEGADE GAME STUDIOS, Eternal – Chronicles of the Throne has kept my wife Nicole and me well entertained for many an hour during the days of the pandemic, and so I would like to introduce you to this gaming gem!

The game actually is inspired by the popular digital collectible cardgame Eternal from DIREWOLF, but while there are a lot of similarities Eternal – Chronicles of the Throne does not use the same ruleset as its digital sibling. Instead, designer Paul Dennen has adapted the rules in order to work best as a physical deck-builder, and this has resulted in an even more direct and tension-filled duel game for 2 to 4 players.

In the game the players battle to become the one and only heir to the Eternal Throne, and to reach this goal all other players must be eliminated – last wo(man) standing wins. The players start with 25 Life Points and almost identical starting decks of 10 cards, most of them showing a purchase value of 1 or 2 while some of the cards have a function which is not yet available but which will activate later in the game when the Eternal Throne is revealed. However, each player also has a unique card, a unit which has been randomly drawn to complete the starting deck, and the 10 available starting units all differ a bit in function and combat power.

[Eternal]

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[Eternal]

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The players always have a hand of 5 cards which are drawn from their deck, and during their turn they must use the cards for purchasing new cards and for placing units in their Battle Area. An open row of 6 cards is always available for purchase, plus two standard cards which can be used as a cheap alternative to gain a unit or increase a deck’s purchase power. Cards which are purchased go into a player’s discard pile to become available after the next shuffle, whereas a unit played from hand stays on the table in order to attack the next player in turn order. However, this attack will happen at the end of that player’s turn, and so the attacked player has a chance to place units of his own, and if the player has a unit matching the strength of the attacking unit, the player can defend himself and force both units to be discarded. If no defense can be made – or if the attacked player doesn’t want to defend himself – the attacking unit deals its strength value as damage to the attacked player and then is discarded. So no units stay in play longer than one round, an important element which stands for the high dynamics of the game, because the players have to finetune their decks to offer combat power and good card combos all the time.

So, what are those combos? Apart from the 9 starting cards which are identical in all player decks, all cards in the game belong to one or two factions: Fire, Time, Justice, Primal and Shadow are displayed by colored symbols in the top corner of each card, and these faction symbols can be used to trigger combination effects of other cards. So, for example a unit’s strength of defense value may be increased if it is played together with a card belonging to a faction which triggers these effects, and depending on the cards purchased by the player he may have an interesting incentive to build his deck matching these faction symbols.

All this may not yet sound very spectacular, but the fact which makes Eternal – Chronicles of the Throne so outstanding is the possibility that the players do not necessarily need to follow the “matching faction” tuning strategy, but instead they may go for quite a few other ways to improve their decks, sometimes even mixing different approaches. So, for example there are Relics, cards which stay on the table after they have been played, and while these cards cannot attack on their own these Relics create very useful powers which the player may use to bolster his units, and there are even Relic combos which make this approach even more worthwhile. Another way to go are Spells, often allowing the player to draw additional cards from his deck so that he can increase his hand-size for the current turn, and some of them also have the Voidbind ability, allowing the player to banish weaker cards from his deck.

[Eternal]

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Special attributes for units like “flying” or “lifesteal” also offer interesting possibilities, because Fliers are more difficult to block whereas Lifestealers – when their attack is successful – will add the damage they have inflicted to the Life Points of the attacker. Other units and cards have healing powers, and instead of stealing life points through a successful attack they simply can be used to regenerate a players’ Life Points. A nice secondary approach, especially since there is no maximum for Life Points.

Quite interesting and well balanced is an additional mechanism which allows a sustainable strategy, so players trying to upgrade their deck’s purchasing value really stand a chance before being overrun by opponents with cheap, weaker units. One of the two kinds of standard cards which are available for purchase in every game is a card with a double purchase value. Only a limited amount of these cards is available, and the players who purchased them will have easier access to more expensive, powerful cards. In addition, if the stock of these standard cards is depleted the Eternal Throne will be activated. Now special powers on quite a few cards will be activated, making them more powerful when the game approaches its climax, and quite often these cards will be found in the decks of the players who had chosen a more sustainable, expensive approach to add cards to their decks. So players following a sustainable strategy of building a powerful deck can turn the tide late in the game, but nonetheless they must keep up with their opponents not to come too late!

Not enough, but yet another strategy can be to hamper your opponents with a flood of Yetis and rusty Grenadin automations. These comparatively weak units are represented by tiles and they can be brought into the game by using Spells or unit powers. While quite weak, their true strength lies in their numbers, because an opponent usually will not have enough units in his hand to block all these pesky furballs and scrapheaps. Well, there actually exist Spells to fend of lots of smaller units, but of course you need to have them in your hand when a pack of Yetis suddenly appears at your doorstep…

[Eternal]

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It is the lasting dynamics and the stepwise increase of tension which makes this game so attractive and quite addictive. No two rounds are alike, and things get even better when you add the Eternal – Chronicles of the Throne - Gold and Steel expansion which has been released in 2020. The players now get access to Weapons which can be used to bolster units with strength and abilities, and in addition each player now also has his own private market, a set of specially drafted cards which he can purchase by the use of Gold. Gold now can be created by one card in each players’ starter deck, and other Gold producing cards can be bought in the course of the game. If a player uses the Gold to purchase a card from his market, the card goes into play immediately, providing its faction symbol(s) and abilities directly in the active player’s turn. This opens up lots of nice possibilities, and quite often cards in a player’s market will help to thwart an otherwise fatal attack. The general tactical approach of the game is deepened this way, while at the same time the overall playing duration is slightly increased. This has been really welcomed by Nicole and me, because normal deckbuilding games tend to be over all too quick. If you add the Eternal – Chronicles of the Throne - Gold and Steel expansion, you are in for the full experience! Now you have a chance to experience epic battles of strong decks!

Especially if played by only two players this game is pure adrenaline! Attacking, defending and at the same finetuning their deck keeps the players in action all the time, and it’s really nice that the game is not over in just 15 minutes but that you will usually have a chance to see how your deckbuilding efforts pay off. Well, there still is an element of luck when it comes to shuffling and drawing new cards to your hand, but due to all these nice combinations there are lots of chances to mitigate bad luck. I have not yet played the game with more than two players, and I am a bit doubtful that it will feel the same, because players then always attack the next player in turn order. This feels a bit like a merry-go-round, and Nicole and I definitely prefer the direct duel experience with just two players. In this fashion the game is highly addictive, and we have agreed that it is on one level with Race for the Galaxy, our most popular cardgame ever. So don’t hesitate, go for the Eternal Throne!

Nicole and I send many greetings from Essen!! See you back here tomorrow!

Wednesday - 13th of October 2021


[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

And here we are – it’s press day!

After more than a year of Covid I am overjoyed to be finally back at the real SPIEL. Life finally is taking some steps to get back to normal, although I am certain that we will feel some aftershocks of the pandemic for a long time. In 2020 I was lucky, because I am a civil servant and as such my work continued almost normally. Of course there were restrictions, but at least I was meeting some people and not isolated in my home. However, apart from the people at work I wasn’t seeing my friends for a long time, and so SPIEL.digital certainly was a special event for me. It was a SPIEL which I could experience right from my home, and despite some shortfalls I was able to meet some of my long-time SPIEL friends online and even get a good choice of new games.

[SPIEL.digital]

Another positive aspect certainly was the fact that SPIEL.digital has led me to BOARD GAME ARENA. To be honest I never thought about playing boardgames online, but with all the Covid restrictions there simply was no other choice. I first discovered this platform during the online convention, but it quickly became an important means to get together and play with friends at times when we couldn’t meet. This is certainly something which will stay with me from the time of the pandemic, and up to today we have met more often online than IRL. The platform gives us a possibility to meet on short notice, and it’s certainly easier to boot the computer instead of driving to Cologne…

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But despite all technical progress, nothing can replace being together with real people, and so I gladly made my way this morning to the halls of MESSE ESSEN. The SPIEL will open for the public tomorrow, but on convention week Wednesday there always are the first events of the show. Unfortunately the festive gala in the evening still won’t happen this year, but at least the press show of the new games was once again ready to go!

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The first queue of the SPIEL!

Looking at the new games exhibition, there were certainly less exhibitors here than in previous years. This didn’t surprise me much, because the official exhibitors list shows that some publishers won’t be present this year. Especially publishers coming from overseas will have thought twice whether to make the trip, not only because of the Covid restrictions but also due to the global shipping problems. In the previous months you never could be sure whether staff and games would make it to the show. However, in the past a good portion of publishers always arrived too late to set their games up at the new games show, and so you can be sure that more games will be presented in the halls in the next days!!!

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Today I could also get a first taste of the coming convention days, since it was obligatory to wear a face mask in the hall, just like it will be inside the convention halls during the show. Speaking with publishers certainly will be some kind of challenge in the crowded halls, and I don’t envy the official supporters who will have to explain games all day long under the hygiene rules. However, in the end it’s still a minor nuisance in the light of the upcoming SPIEL days, and so I made my way into the hall to check whether I could find some interesting new games!

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But before looking at this day’s finds, let’s not forget that it’s 25th Anniversary here at the G@mebox! So, it’s time for our first…

G@mebox Anniversary Special


[Unicorn]

1996 to 2001 – The Early Years

As promised yesterday, I would like to use these G@mebox Anniversary Specials to do some time travels, taking you on a trip to back in time to bring up some memories of all these years. Some things will be related to games, others are just very nice memories – it’s just amazing how quickly 25 years have passed!

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1996 / 1997: Studying at the University of Trier

Hah, already the first year made me look quite a bit to find some matching pictures. 1996 was the year when I started the G@mebox, and at that time Nicole and I were studying at the University of Trier. It made me smile when I dug up those photos, because this was certainly a great time. I was right in the middle of my studies of law, and the city of Trier is located in one of the most beautiful areas of Germany. It is a wine-growing region, so you have lots of vinyards in the valley of river Moselle, and in addition Trier is an old Roman city, former seat of Emperor Augustus. It was a wonderful thing to study there – living at a place where others go for holidays.

But how did I get the idea to start the G@mebox? Well, since I have grown up at Essen, I have attended all SPIEL conventions in MESSE ESSEN right from the beginning. I was still a child when I visited the show for the first time, and the fondness of boardgames which was kindled at that time has stayed with me for all my life. In the University library we had a few computers which had internet access, something rare at that time. There already existed some early boardgame websites, and I remember my fascination to have the possibility to read about English and American games which I had only seen once or twice at the used games fleamarket at the SPIEL. This brought me to the idea that it might be something nice to let other gamers around the globe know about the SPIEL, and so I made up my mind to learn website programming and set up the G@mebox. On my way out of the library I grabbed a book on HTML-code - that’s how it all started!

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1998: First SPIEL pictures

In 1997 I had published my first SPIEL report, a summary text which I wrote after the show when I had returned to Trier. You will still find it here! (all former SPIEL reports are available in the link section at the end of this page) However, there was something missing: there were no pictures. If you remember, this was the pre-smartphone age, and digital cameras were mostly high priced and definitely not available for a student’s budget. Once again I was lucky, because a lawyer with whom I was doing a traineeship actually had bought a digital camera and he allowed me to borrow it for the show. Compared to today’s standards, this device was a piece coming right from electronic stoneage. You had two settings for different resolutions, and the internal memory card could store either 8 or 16 pictures! What you see above is the first SPIEL picture I have taken, and the camera was set at lower resolution because I had to save webspace. But even those tiny pictures were better than nothing, and I remember receiving some grateful emails from American gamers who always wanted to see pictures from the SPIEL. And from that time onwards, I always received pleas for higher resolution pictures.

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1999: LL.M. at Newcastle upon Tyne

We have found the missing year!

Indeed, 1999 is the only SPIEL convention which I have missed. After finishing my first law degree in summer, I went to Newcastle upon Tyne for a year in order to do my Master of Laws. There was absolutely no chance to return for the convention, and so I could do nothing but miss the show. However, I used the time in England well. I have always been a fan of old GAMES WORKSHOP games. Not the big miniature battles, but in the 1980’s they actually did some nice fantasy boardgames like Talisman, Fury of Dracula or Dungeonquest. So I spent my weekends not only doing hikes in beautiful Hadrian’s Wall country, but also strolling through charity stores in order to find some old GW games. This got me the nickname of “Hero of Charity”, and indeed I was able to make some incredible finds there!

However, there also were gaming nights in our flat of international students, and so I spent many a night with my friends Erica and Luis from Mexico, Kai from Germany and Carlos from Ecuador sitting, playing and having fun. And yes, you see merry old Heroquest on the picture above!

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2000: Wedding Bells

This was the best event of my life! Nothing about games, but I got married to my wife Nicole this year! And it would be hopeless to try to count how many games we have played together during all these years!


2001: A Star was born!

In 2001 my Convention Hit at the SPIEL had been Urland by DORIS & FRANK, but there was another game which actually fascinated gamers around the globe for the following 20 years. Indeed, this was the year when Puerto Rico from Andreas Seyfarth made its debut at the SPIEL, and it still is one of the best resource management games which was ever released. At the moment it is on rank 30 in the BOARDGAMEGEEK all-time ratings, and it’s one of the few games from this time which has stayed in my collection and still gets played. An all-time star!

This was a indeed a trip back in time, thinking what I have been doing all those years ago. But now fasten your seatbelts, our Delorean is bound to get back to present time at any minute! The new games show is waiting for you!!!

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For me the best thing about the new games show is that I can go there just to be inspired. Of course I prepare for the event by looking up lists of new games on BOARDGAMEGEEK and on the website of MERZ VERLAG, but due to the sheer length of these lists and the incredible number of new games it’s simply impossible to look at each and every game. So I always go to the new games show with a lot of curiosity, because I can be certain that the one or other yet unknown game will catch my eye there. Here are some pictures of games which I have seen today.

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Certainly one of the most beautiful games at the SPIEL will be coming from LUDONAUTE. In Living Forest some nature spirits will try to save the forest with the help of animal guardians. A competitive game with some push your luck elements, and definitely an eyecatcher!

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Rulebenders from GAME BREWER brings together Pirates, Zombies, Dragons and Dinosaurs. Using a time travelling device, the players collect cards from different decks, and during the course of the game they use majorities to change the rules in midgame. This is quite a neat idea, turning the table by bending the rules!

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What a spectacular sight! Wonder Book from DV GAMES / ABACUSSPIELE features a 3D pop-up book as a gameboard. Playing through a campaign of six adventures, a group of teenage kids sets out to save the ancient world of Oniria. There are a lot of secret mechanisms, so there will be quite a few surprises during the campaign.

[SPIEL]

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An expansion for Paleo? That’s certainly a must buy, because this cooperative stone age survival game has kept Nicole and me entertained for hours during last winter. Now Paleo – Ein neuer Anfang from HANS IM GLÜCK will bring new missions and mechanisms.

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Solo games certainly have seen a lot of popularity in recent years, and many boardgames now try to include sophisticated “automa”-mechanisms to facilitate solo play. SCHWERKRAFT VERLAG is publishing Maquis, an interesting looking solo game about French Resistance Fighters trying to sabotage the German occupation force.

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In 2019 Paolo Mori designed Blitzkrieg! World War II in 20 minutes! The microgame turned out to be quite addictive and extremely popular, and now PSC GAMES is back with his new game. However, Caesar! Seize Rome in 20 minutes! is absolutely not a reskin, but instead a completely new game about conquest and a bit of intrigue in ancient Rome.

[SPIEL]

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Now this is a game which I have been waiting for. Dune: House Secrets from PORTAL GAMES / PEGASUS puts the players into the role of investigators before the background of Frank Herbert’s famous stories. Using the app technology known from Detective, Ignacy Trzewiczek and his crew have designed a cooperative interactive storytelling game in which the players have to get to the roots of an evil Harkonnen plot.

Okay, my list of games to check once again has grown this morning, but that’s something which could be expected. Even more games can be found in the halls of SPIEL from tomorrow onwards, but unfortunately not all well-known publishers will be able to make it this year. One of the missing “big players” actually are my friends of REPOS PRODUCTION from Belgium, but at least they have been able to provide me with their newest game right before the start of the show.

Review: 7 Wonders Architects
(REPOS PRODUCTION)

At every SPIEL convention one of my most anticipated publishers is REPOS PRODUCTION from Belgium. I have accompanied this publishing house from its humble beginnings back in 2005 when Cedrick and Thomas made their first appearance here at the SPIEL with Ca$h’n Gun$. Ever since that time the name REPOS PRODUCTION stands for outstanding games with the one or other ingenious twist, and so you will understand my recurring eagerness to see what new game they bring to the SPIEL each year.

Despite the fact that the SPIEL is back in the halls of MESSE ESSEN, the Covid-pandemic is not yet over, and so REPOS PRODUCTION is among the publishers who will not attend the show this year. However, I was able to lay my hands on a copy of 7 Wonders Architects, fresh off the boat last week and the newest addition to the highly successful 7 Wonders line of games.

To say the most important fact right away: 7 Wonders Architects is NOT an expansion to 7 Wonders, but it is a stand-alone game which is based in the same historical context. Also the general theme of both games is alike, because once again the players will try to build one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. However, this new game focuses solely on the building of the wonders, there will be no additional civilization building like in classic 7 Wonders.

Looking at the cards and colours in 7 Wonders Architects, many things will remind you of its older brother. Grey cards with resources, yellow cards with coins, blue cards with Victory Points, green cards with Science Symbols and red cards with shields – this all looks so familiar! And indeed many of the functions associated with these cards are similar to those in 7 Wonders, but as you will see, there are also important differences. But let’s start with the foundations…

At the beginning of the game each player receives one of the seven wonders. Each wonder consists of 5 stages (or parts), and it is the aim of the players to be the first one to build all five stages of their wonder and end the game. Each finished stage will count for Victory Points, and in addition some of the stages also will trigger a special effect when they are built. These effects differ from wonder to wonder, but in general they will give the player a small bonus to help him with his future efforts.

The building costs for each stage are printed on its backside, the “under construction” side, and starting from the foundations the players can build their wonder upwards stage after stage, provided they have the right resources. 5 different types of resource cards exist in the game, but the stages do not require an exact mixture of resources. Instead they just require either a certain number of identical or different resources, so that the players will just try to collect matching sets of Resource cards, regardless of the types of resources they collect.

The Resource cards are part of major card decks which contain all five different types of cards, and the mechanism how these cards are gained differs greatly from the drafting which we know from 7 Wonders. Before the game starts each player takes a deck of cards which belongs to the wonder which he has chosen, shuffles the deck and places it – top card revealed – between himself and the player to his left. This way a deck of cards placed between each pair of players, and one further deck, the common deck, is placed face down in the center of the table. During his turn, a player now is allowed to take a card either from one of the two open decks to his left and right, or a facedown card from the common deck. Either way, the card then is revealed and placed in front of the player, providing him the benefit listed on the card.

As indicated, the grey cards show resources, and when a player has collected a combination of different or identical resources which allows him to finish the next stage of his wonder he has to do so right away. The resources are discarded and the player turns his wonder stage to the “finished” side, now counting for Victory Points and perhaps even providing a small benefit like an additional card draw.

Looking at the other cards, the yellow cards also are used for building, because they show a coin symbol which can be used as a wildcard to complete a resource set for building a wonder stage. But what happens if the two open available cards just don’t match at all? Well, the active player always can try his luck and draw a facedown card from the common deck, but there is actually a chance to know the card in advance. The blue cards in the decks usually show Victory Points which count at the game’s end, but some of these cards also show a Cat symbol, an benevolent animal spirit in these ancient times. The player who adds such a blue card with a Cat symbol to his collection will also take a Cat pawn, and as long as he is still in possession of this pawn he may secretly preview the card on top of the common deck at the beginning of each of his turns! Knowledge is power!

Red once again is the colour of military, and like in 7 Wonders the players occasionally will fight battles with their left and right neighbors. In these battles the total strength of each players’ military is compared, and the player with the stronger military may win Military Victory tokens which count for Victory Points. These conflicts do not take place at a certain time during the game, but instead some military cards also show Horn symbols. Whenever a Horn is revealed, a Conflict marker in the middle of the table is turned from its “Peace”-side to its “War”-side, and when all these markers have been turned a battle phase will occur. The number of Peace markers depends on the number of participating players, so that battles do not happen too often even at a higher player count. An additional tricky element here is the rule that units with Horn-symbols must be discarded after the battles have been resolved, so that especially players who have collected military cards to trigger the battle will lose part of their military prowess. A quite nice balancing effect…

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But like all games in the 7 Wonders line, 7 Wonders Architects is not only a game about building and conflicts, there is also a strong focus on scientific progress. Here the game resembles 7 Wonder – Duel, because the players can collect sets of green Science cards in order to gain Progress tokens. Some of these tokens offer in-game benefits, like the possibility to take an additional card if a specific type of card is taken as the player’s action, whereas other of these tokens give military strength or Victory Points at the end of the game. A player who discards Science cards to take a token always may choose from three Progress tokens which are openly available, or he may try his luck and draw a face-down token.

The game ends as soon as a player has finished his wonder, and then the players sum up the Victory Points provided by finished wonder stages, Military Victory tokens, Progress tokens and blue cards (including a small bonus if a player has the Cat pawn at the end of the game).

7 Wonders Architects seems familiar and new at the same time. As you can see from the gameflow outlined above, Antoine Bauza has taken many elements from 7 Wonders and adjusted them slightly to match with this new approach to building wonders. A major change certainly is the fact that the card drafting mechanism now has been replaced by a possibility to choose a card from three available card decks, and to my taste this results in a somewhat lighter gameplay. In : 7 Wonders Architects you won’t have to worry which cards might return to your hand as the drafting continues, but instead you always make a direct choice without having to worry about later consequences.

If you take into account that 7 Wonders has grown considerably due to the publication of four big expansions, 7 Wonders Architects now comes as a back-to-the-roots family version with much quicker gameplay and very streamlined rules. Despite the fact that all of the wonder card decks are of slightly different composition, you do not have to worry too much what exactly will happen at the building sites of your neighbors. As you cannot purchase resources, you always focus on collecting your own card sets, with the only exception that a military buildup by neighbors should either be matched or ignored to follow a different approach.

A big benefit certainly is the fact that 7 Wonders Architects plays incredibly quick, even with a full cast of seven players. The game usually is over in 20 minutes, and in this respect it certainly beats its older brother. As a final observation it should be mentioned that the game shines much brighter with three or more players, because from three players upwards each player will have access to different card decks. In a two-player game all the decks are shared by the two players, and this often results in the necessity to take certain cards in order to hamper the progress of your opponent. However, in this constellation the Cat pawn is too strong, because – depending on the availability of blue cards – the cat may stay with a player for some time, and the knowledge of the hidden card in the common deck certainly is an advantage which can hardly be beaten.

With this review today’s report is nearly finished. However, I would like to take you once again on a short trip into the new games show, because there is still a surprise waiting for you!

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For one, we still need to give a warm applause to the winners of this year’s DEUTSCHER SPIELE PREIS AWARDS. It made me extraordinary happy to see this year’s awards go to my friends from CZECH GAMES EDITION for their great deckbuilding exploration game The Lost Ruins of Arnak - a really deserved prize! To celebrate the occasion they are now back at the SPIEL with the brand new Arnak Expedition Leaders expansion, and game designer Elwen proudly presented me the new box. The children’s game awards goes to Dodo from KOSMOS, an incredibly funny cooperative game about a Dodo egg rolling down a mountain. The players have to work together to attach bridges and other things to the mountain to keep the egg on course, and with the 3D-mountain and all the extras the game reminds a bit of a gadgety old MB game – but with much better rules!

But the final surprise of the day once again is reserved to our 25th G@mebox Anniversary!

25th Anniversary G@mebox Prize-Draw!

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Our friends from CGE want to celebrate our 25th anniversary with us, and so they have created a special Alicorn Promo card for The Lost Ruins of Arnak. I guess some of you will already have noticed that this card will be available here at the SPIEL, but so far you didn’t know that the card actually has been designed in honour of our G@mebox and is banner, the Unicorn!

The Alicorn will be available in English and German, and you will certainly ask yourselves what you have to do to get one of these cards. Well, together with the CGE team we decided against making this an ultra-rare, hard to get card. Instead, you have several ways to get one. For one, you can get an Alicorn-card if you purchase the new Arnak Expedition Leaders expansion here at the show, and you might also ask Ralf or me if you come across us in the halls. From tomorrow on we should have some cards at hand. For those of you who cannot attend, the Alicorn will be available later by other venues, but for the moment there is still our PRIZE DRAW! So, if you haven’t done so, you have a chance to win this card by leaving a comment in our...

SPIEL Guestbook!

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G@mebox birthday party: Ralf and me with Jana and Elwen from CGE!

See you all tomorrow! Let the SPIEL begin!!!

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Hello everybody, this is Ralf speaking live from the news show of this year’s SPIEL21. And a healthy and hearty welcome on my part too. I hope everybody is fine! It’s been two crazy years with all those restrictions, regulations and fears due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Here in North Rhine-Westfalia, the German state in which I live and in which the SPIEL takes place, we have now the 41. MantelVerordnung, a Covid regulation consisting of 5 subregulations! Nearly weekly the regulations were changed, sometimes you were allowed to meet with five people outside of buildings, sometimes you could not even meet your parents. And all the time those masks, distance regulations and much more to pay attention to. Playing boardgames was long time limited to my family, until I learned to use those tabletop simulators. But now, it’s back: the fair, our coverage, the feeling, all the people and you, dear readers. So, enjoy the read, we are – as always – giving our best to give you a broad overview about the news from this SPIEL:

But before we start, allow me to inform you that all our cool Kulkmann’s G@mebox shirts were designed by my dear wife Andrea. She started with the plotting thing about two years ago, when she designed our first shirt (look back at our coverage from SPIEL19). Last year, she made the next step and registered for a small hobby trade company, named Hauptsache Pottsache. As a result she can now legally sell the things she crafts, designs and plots. Next to our anniversary shirts you will find on many pictures form this fair (that are only available for the G@mebox crew), she also invented a special boardgame shirt in German and in English. Watch it here:

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If you are interested, feel free to visit her Homepage: Hauptsache Pottsache. And if you attend the fair, you can also choose a delivery point in the convention halls as we are attending the fair from Thursday util Sunday, 14.-17.10.21 (but please write a message to her before to appoint the date/time and place). If you see me, you can also address me directly…

But enough about shirts and business, we are here for boardgames and for the one and only SPIEL convention. So let’s go:

Today the doors opened for the first time for the press, Frank and me were allowed to enter. Though there was no real press conference today (I really miss the soup and the sandwiches, but Dominique Metzler promised to serve two soups next year), the news show was set up as usual in the last, Covid-free, years. When I entered the holy halls, it felt like coming home. It was a great feeling to see a lot of friends and acquaintances again. To participate I start with some pictures from the news show for you:

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It was interesting to see how the publishers had reacted after the pandemic broke out. I mean, distance regulations aren’t exactly good for boardgames. Most of you will have recognized that there are many more games with solo variants than before the pandemic. And this trend continues. Again, a lot of games are designed for 1-X players, and more and more often this is now part of the design process. I talked to some publishers who confirmed that the solo game has become an extremely important feature for new games. Next to escape tales that can traditionally be played with as many players as you like, I made the experience that the solo variants are getting better and better. They no longer seem to be pasted on, but they are often a very interesting challenge.

But how does a publisher of murder/mystery party games react? There are a lot of storytelling role playing games around that were quite popular before the break-out. I mean: how can you play a storytelling game with different roles of the players, often combined with a nice cooking and with the players dressing up in costumes due to their role in a crisis like this? I spoke about that with Jörg Meißner from KRIMI TOTAL. He explained that on the one hand many boardgame groups began to play the games in a video conference, everyone cooking their own meal, while on the same time, playing her / his role. But of course, the publisher has realized a decline in sales. That’s why they now have an additional solo series in the KRIMI TOTAL universe. Up to now there are seven titles you can play alone. The concept is a well-known one: it’s a story book in which you permanently must decide between different choices. Depending on your choice, you are asked to continue the read on different pages. And of course, not all your choices will lead to success.

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Mystery and crime are good notes for my next stopover. The exit and escape games are developing and every year we are presented new ideas of how we are asked to solve the puzzles. RAVENSBURGER has a lot of those classic titles. The new series echoes is now again a complete new approach to find the murder of a crime or the solution of a theft. Let’s see how that works:

Stopover: echoes (Ravensburger - booth 3H110)

First of all, all echoes titles are co-operative games. You can play them alone or with a group likewise. An app, available in German and English, leads us through the story. And so, we listen to voices, noises and music. The new element in the game is that you must connect these sounds with the 24 parts of the story. And those parts of the story come in form of cards that are placed on the table. It’s our task to assemble these cards in the right order, so that we reconstruct the case.

Each game is divided into six chapters with 4 object cards for every chapter. In the end, if you are able to assemble the cards in the correct order, you can hear the whole story again. All titles are produced by professional audio book designers, the result alone is worth to solve the game. It’s an extraordinary experience, but of course, once you have solved the puzzle, the game is paling of charm. Then it’s time to gift the game to the next player. That’s possible, because unlike many other exit games - nothing is destroyed during the play. Only be sure that your younger children are far away: the stories are explicit with the typical British black humor.

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Up to now, there are three titles in the series: the dancer, the cocktail and the microchip. But I’m pretty sure that we will soon see more of these perfectly designed echoes games.

Introduction: Schichtwechsel (Spielefaible - booth 1B126)

After another scan of all those fascinating new games, I finally got into conversation with Henning Voss from SPIELEFAIBLE, a German publisher that was founded only a few years ago and that set one’s sight on creating games for the experienced gamers with young, new authors. Well, Thomas Spitzner, author of Schichtwechsel is not really an unknown author for us anymore. With Ruhrschifffahrt , Kohle & Kolonie and The Ruhr: A Story of Coal Trade he has invented much more than one successful game in the last years. Much more interesting for me as a native of SPIEL’s capital Essen are his strong thematical background stories of the rise and fall of the Ruhr area. For all of you around the world: my hometown Essen is not only SPIEL capital, but it’s also in the central of that Ruhr area.

It’s this Ruhr area that was and still is in a far-reaching structural change. Over 100 years the region was dominated by the area of the Coal. Prosperity and mighty family dynasties like the Krupps or the Thyssens dominated the land, and still in my younger years coal mines and steel factories characterized most of the landscape. That time has ended, and in 2018 the last coal mine (Prosper-Haniel) in the region has closed its gates. Time for a changing – Schichtwechsel.

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The game Schichtwechsel takes up this changing process, and starts its story in the year 1950, the post-war climax of the coal period. The players take the role of coal mine managers who lead the mining process, the water management in the tunnels as well as coal conversion and the selling of the coke. Each of the rounds of the game is divided into a preparation, an action and a scoring phase. The main part takes place in the action phase, but the preparation phase is already important for planning and bonusses.

Next to coal we also mine lower coal that is not really of any use. And both materials must be transported to the surface with the help of mine cars, before they can be converted to coke and be sold. That all takes place on our player boards (our own coal mine) and the main board (where we convert the coal, act with our manager and score victory points on different tracks). Next to the main board we find a lot of cards determining what we can do in the action phase. We choose those actions in a kind of worker placement mechanism, the number of actions available dependent on the card and our free workers for the round. The game seems to have a lot of interesting options, with a strong thematic background and different strategies to follow. As you can see in the pictures there is a lot going on, but the game is still played in about 1-1,5 hours.

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For me – as a native of Essen – the game is a must-have, but of course, I’m not totally neutral in this. I mean, would you ignore a game that takes place in the time and region of your youth? Still, I think that the game is definitely worth much more than a try-out for all experienced gamers that love worker placement games, and do not totally hate the coal theme. Thomas Spitzner has already proven that he knows how to design games and this one seems to be especially interesting.

Henning also told me a nice detail about the history of the game: this version is not a complete new game, but it was already there as Die letzte Zeche in 2018, created by a group of gamers of Spielezentrum Herne with the RAG foundation as sponsor and the shut-down of Prosper-Haniel as background. Thomas is part of the Spielezentrum scene. He already supervised the design process and after that he enhanced the game further. So, we’ve come full circle and I will take the game to my home to show and play it with any visitors from outside the Ruhr area.

By the way: English rules are also available on the homepage of the publisher. As the game components are language-independent there is no excuse not to play the game without German knowledge.

Wow! That was already a good start. But more and more I began talking to publishers I have not met before, and obviously that got interesting:

Introduction: Pagan: Fate of Roanoke (Wyrmgold - booth 3F104)

Pagan: Fate of Roanoke is an asymmetrical deduction game in which one player takes the role of witches and the other of the hunters. As it is an asymmetrical game, each player gets an unique card deck with totally different strategies. The game is set in colonial America of the 16th century, which you can find expressed in the artwork.

The witch player’s task is to fulfill a spell before the hunter find the witch who is the chosen one. For this, the with player randomly is given the information which of the nine open villagers under suspicion is the real witch. The players then get more and more powerful, while the hunter player investigates the villagers and tries to find out who is the witch.

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Most of the actions are carried out right after playing a card, but both players also have their individual personal board to interact with, of course asymmetrical again. Not all of the actions of the witch can be hidden from the hunter, and so the witch player must more and more put the real witch into action. That won’t all be left hidden from the hunter, and so the witch must often try to set the hunter on the wrong track by choosing a villager who has nothing to do with the witch (and those is not valuable for the spell).

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From the explanation the game seemed to be very innovative to me. Since Netrunner I didn’t find a comparable asymmetrical two-player game, but Pagan might be able to fill that gap. And like Netrunner it is expandable, three new settings are already finished. The game will soon be delivered to all Kickstarter pledges and will be available for purchase soon after. Watch out for this new title, it is available in German and English.

Introduction: ECO- Coral Reef (booth 2E136)

An interesting new approach of a domino variant, I found at UNIQUE GAMES. In Eco: Coral Reef you play tiles in a domino way adjacent to each other. Each round you score, depending on the matching ends of the tiles next to the placed one, and some missions you can fulfill in the neighborhood.

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I spoke with Izik Nevo, the author of ECO: Coral Reef, about the background of the game. He explained that he tried to bring more complexity into the domino mechanism. The result is something like a mixture of Domino and chess as far as the complexity is concerned. Anyway, the game looks funny, so maybe you want to have a try?

Now, back to a well-known publisher for all of us: over the last years BLUE ORANGE GAMES has provided us with many, many excellent family games. Of course, Kingdomino was the most successful one, but there were a lot of others I loved to play. Photosynthesis for example or Pappy Winchester. This year they came with three smaller games, an expansion and two bigger games, Neoville among them:

Introduction: Neoville (Blue Orange Games - booth 3K100)

The progressing climate change dramatically influences the way we live together in our big cities. Hot spots, urban farming and retention spaces are phrases we only know for a few years now. But what makes those modern cities worth living? Imagine you were a city planner and had the chance to construct a new city right from the start. What would your first design steps be? Where would you construct skyscrapers and establish utilities? What would be the best mixture?

That’s exactly our task in Neoville, the new family game from BLUE ORANGE GAMES. Some say it’s a legal successor of the mighty Kingdomino, but let’s see if that’s true. In the game we all build up our own 4x4 city. A clever combination of natural areas and human habitation is what counts in the game with the best city builder winning the game.

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Each round a player adds a new tile from her/his hand to the city, places a skyscraper or a utility on it and draws a new tile. And it’s the players’ task to arrange these city tiles to create attractive districts. Not everything must fit when playing one tile next to another, but of course you’ll only be able to score if fulfillments are met. That’s where skyscrapers and utilities come into place: each skyscraper or utility tells you how many adjacent spaces of the same underground as the underground underneath the skyscraper (utility) you need, to fulfill conditions. Perhaps you can guess that this gets more and more difficult the more the game progresses. If on the one hand you have a 10-skyscraper on a green (meaning that you need 9 more adjacent greens for this) and a 6-skyscraper on a brown underground in the neighborhood, you can see that life is getting complex.

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Moreover, the utilities demand to arrange the matching spaces in a specific position, let’s say a L-form. What is easy at the beginning, can end in a disaster, because skyscrapers that do not meet the requirements count as negative victory points in the same amount as their positive effect.

I think Neoville is a typical BLUE ORANGE product. And I say that in the most positive meaning! It’s attractive, easy to teach and learn, and seems to make a lot of fun. City building was never easier, but on the same time, it’s kind of a puzzle if you really want to get as much as you can out of your city. In comparison to Kingdomino, I would say it’s slightly more complex, but nevertheless I’m sure you can play it with the whole family again.

Of course I won’t leave BLUE ORANGE without some pictures of the new expansion for Photosysthesis that introduces animals to the game and make the game more complex. And of course, the long-awaited new version of Kingdomino, called Kingdomino -Origins. Here they are:

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Let’s end the day with a stopover at NSV:

Stopover Nürnberger Spielverlag – NSV (booth 3D111)

The German expert for small, but excellent (The Game, The Mind) card games has come with three novelties to this fair. First of, there is a new version of Quixx. Quixx longo introduces new dice and two unique lucky numbers for every player. Those new dice are no longer six-sided, they are eight-sided. The publisher promises that this expands the game and make it even more fun. I will have a try-out in the next couple of days, and of course, I will tell you what I think about that promise.

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Splitter is a new dice game in which players note the two dice results of a turn symmetrical on their sheet. For example, with a roll of 3-4 you could note the 3 in the second row, two columns left from the mirror line. Then you would be forced to write the 4 in the second row, two columns right from the mirror. In the end, you only score, if a 3 is adjacent to exactly two other 3 and a 5 adjacent to four other 5. I really must say that I again love the simplicity of these small games. A small input, a great output!

The last game is called Snowhere and is very simple to explain. All 111 cards are randomly spread in the middle of the table with the fire side up. Then the players take turns, pick a free card of the fire, turns it to its snow side and places it on top of the fire to carpet it. It’s the players’ aim to completely cover all fire cards. Seems to be easy, but it’s not! At home I immediately took out the small box and began to play…of course I lost.

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With this I leave you here alone until tomorrow. Sleep well, a challenging day is waiting for us…

Ralf

Thursday - 14th of October 2021


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SPIEL 21 – here we go!

And here we are, after last year’s SPIEL.digital the players and gaming enthusiasts from around the globe are finally back in the halls of MESSE ESSEN. Indeed, it felt nice and strange at the same time when I walked from my home to the convention halls this morning, and I was wondering how it would feel to be back in the halls. Hygiene rules, avoiding big crowds and many other restrictions have become part of our lives in the past 18 months, and for me this is the first major event to visit since the pandemic started.

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The first thing I saw was a long queue, but not in front of the normal entrances, but instead in front of one of the exhibitor gates. It was about 9:30 this morning, and I was wondering how all these publishers would be able to get to their booths till opening at 10:00. From what I could saw, there were very strict controls, and I soon had to undergo the same procedure at the press gate. The ticket was scanned and I had to provide both my ID card and an electronic vaccination certificate, and then I was inside the fully crowded entrance foyer of Hall 1 from where I continued to the press entrance.

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It was extraordinary quiet in the halls, and the hygiene precautions could be seen everywhere. A few of the booths were fenced to allow a regulation of admission, and quite often there were much less tables than usual in order to allow broader aisles. Other booths had separated their tables by plexiglass, and overall there will be less opportunities to sit and play games this year. And if you should decide to sit down and play, you will have to sterilize your hands and register yourself at the booth.

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Nontheless a lot of people entered the halls when the doors opened. In fact the foyer hadn’t been just crowded, it was packed with people. I guess that’s what the convention security must have thought, because at 9:40 the gates were opened and people started streaming in, surprising some of the booth crews which were still in final preparations. The stream of entering people was huge as ever, but it was all a bit more orderly. No runners trying to be the first to grab some hyped games, and no camera flashes because the reporters hadn’t anticipated such an early opening.

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So, are the halls overcrowded as ever? No, there were definitely less people inside, but after 1 1/2 years of Corona I preferred to remain on the careful side and not go into the bigger crowds. For this reason the first thing I had done after entering was to make my shoppings in Hall 3, the biggest hall where all the major publishers are located. From there I walked a wide arc through the other halls, looking at some other games on my shopping-list. Here the decades of SPIEL visits turned out to be useful, because I used my navigational skills to find shortcuts and bypasses through courtyards and empty halls. You might call this overcautious, but I guess everybody has a threshold for feeling comfortable.

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Hall 5

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Hall 5 as well!

Something which surprised me on this tour was the fact that whole parts of halls were left empty. Take Hall 5 for example, it’s about 60 percent filled with exhibitor booths, whereas the rest of the hall – fenced off by a white wall – has been left empty. This is certainly a visible sign that less publishers have made it to SPIEL 21, but I also asked myself whether it wouldn’t have been an idea to go for an even wider layout of the fair, spreading the booths like islands over all available halls. This certainly would have meant a considerable change in the fair’s appearance, but why not use all the available space under these special circumstances?

Different times, different ways. For the reasons outlined above, I have organized my SPIEL days to go with much shorter visits, and so I have spent the afternoon at home to check out some of the new games which I have acquired. However, this doesn’t mean that there will be no reviews this year! In fact, let me introduce you to one of my first acquisitions of the day…

Review: Paper Dungeons: A Dungeon Scrawler Game
GRIMSPIRE (1 B 137)

When I hear the term “Dungeon Crawler” I always have to think about long gaming sessions on front of huge gameboards, lots of miniatures and a plethora of dice and cards. Games like Descent, Warhammer Quest or even elderly Heroquest spring to my mind right away, and I remember that I have wished more than once for some kind of pocket-sized dungeon crawler, small enough to take along on holidays and short enough not to require a whole night of playing.

Over the years there have been several attempts to design a dungeon game small enough to fit these wishes, but so far none of these games has fully convinced me as being an appropriate substitute to the big tabletop classics. Smaller cardgames usually lack the playing depth or versatility of the bigger games, and in most cases this leads to mediocre ratings especially regarding replayability and addictiveness. However, in recent years the category of roll-and-write games has made a notable comeback regarding pocket-games, and with Paper Dungeons – A Dungeon Scrawler by Leandro Pires (MEEPLE BR / GRIMSPIRE) the roll-and-write category now also sees its first game with a dungeon crawler theme.

Okay, the first caveat right away: Paper Dungeons does not quite fit into your pocket. The square paper sheets used for playing have a side length of about 20 centimeters. This is certainly too much to fit into a pocket, but due to the fact that only a few more playing materials are required (6 chucky Dungeon Dice, 72 cards, some pencils) the game still is perfect for taking it along on a holiday trip, because it’s neither too big nor too heavy for your luggage.

Looking at those paper sheets, you will first feel like you are facing some kind of information overflow. While a good portion of the sheet is covered with a generic square-sized dungeon, there is a lot of additional scales and checkboxes. You have character classes and level advancement, lifepoints and wounds, potions, magic items, monsters and gems, and of course you also have spaces to record your final scores and to document your activities each round. That’s a lot of elements indeed, and despite the first chaotic impression players quickly will discover that a great deal of care has been invested to design these sheets in a way as to have all necessary information easily at hand. So, once the rules and mechanisms of the game are understood, the sheets actually are a great playing help which give the game a lot of structure, and the fact that many elements are included already gives a hint that Paper Dungeons is more diverse than many other pocket-dungeoncrawlers.

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The game is played over a total of 8 rounds in which the players can explore the dungeon, and at the end of the 3rd, 6th and 8 round an additional boss combat will take place. Like so often, the winner will be the player who succeeds in gaining most victory points, and there are quite a lot of different ways in which points can be scored, ranging from slaying monsters and bosses and levelling up to constructing magic items and collecting gems in the depths of the dungeon. Before the game starts, the players will select a scenario, and this scenario determines how the generic dungeon on the player sheet will have to be set up for the upcoming game. So, the location of the boss monsters will be noted by the players, and other things like walls may be added as well. The game features a total of 12 different scenarios, and these can be played on a one-shot basis, or as a mini campaign of three scenarios in which the players compete for the biggest total highscore. And to add a bit more versatility, setup also requires the players to reveal some cards with side missions and abilities, giving each player a unique special action and listing possibilities to score additional victory points during the game.

Looking at the basic structure of the game, the biggest shortcoming of Paper Dungeons becomes visible right away. During each round, the hand of 6 Dungeon Dice is rolled, and each player is allowed to choose three of these dice for his actions in the upcoming turn. Due to the limited number of dice, there is no restriction or “first-come, first-served” mechanism, but each player can freely choose the three dice which he would like to take. This hints at the fact that there is almost no direct player interaction in the game, but instead the players aim to increase their individual scores which will then be compared at the end of the game. The only elements of direct interaction are the gems in the dungeon, because they are individually marked and have to be crossed out by ALL players once a player has taken an individual gem. In addition, the player with the highest combat result in a boss combat will also gain a small reward, but apart from these elements there is no player interaction whatsoever.

However, player interaction is not a mandatory element in each and every game, especially if the players are given an interesting individual challenge which keeps them entertained on its own merits. It is here where we come upon the true strengths of Paper Dungeons, because the results of the Dungeon Dice indeed give the players access to a range of actions which come together as a rather versatile playing experience.

Easy enough, players can use the dice for moving in the dungeon, drawing a line into each new room which they enter. Treasures like potions or parts of magic items may be found in a room, but like every classic dungeon we will also find a choice of denizens which wants to hamper the players’ progress. Four different types of monsters exist, and each monster can only be fought by one specific class of heroes. For example, Ghosts can only be fought by the Sorceress, and so a player needs to level up his Sorceress to match the level of a Ghost if he wants to enter the Ghosts’s room without losing life points. So, levelling up is another use for the Dungeon Dice, but a character can only be levelled up using a dice showing a matching class symbol (Sorceress, Fighter, Thief or Cleric).

This is a point where the good balancing in Paper Dungeons becomes visible. Levelling up a player’s heroes will not only help him defeat the different types of monsters, but each new level also contributes to the total number of wounds which the player’s group can suffer. This value can be further increased by using dice to create potions, and the idea behind all this is the fact that a player will lose victory points if the total number of wounds suffered ever surpasses the maximum wound threshold of his group (it’s time to call for the clerics…). However, there are even more connections to be made, because each hero will unlock a special ability when her/his class is levelled up for the third time, and additional victory points can be earned if a player levels up his group equally during the game.

Another possibility to use dice is the creation of magic items, and finished magic items or the creation of a certain number of potions will grant the player once again a special ability and victory points. In this fashion almost every element which can be marked on the playing sheet is connected with other elements and triggers windfall effects. This is certainly a nice feat, because it challenges the players actually to take decisions in which way they want to develop their heroes and invest their dice, giving them much more control over their fate than in simple dicerolling games.

[Paper Dungeons]

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Talking about dicerolling games, it can indeed be noted that the results of the Dungeon Dice only take a medium influence on a player’s strategy. While certain faces need to be used to level up heroes or to create certain magic items, other items, potions and even movement in the dungeon can be made with ANY dice, regardless of the face which has been rolled. This allows the players a very high degree of flexibility which make the dice much less prominent than in a game like Dungeon Roll.

Returning to the depths, the dungeon on the playing sheet also is implemented quite nicely. At first I was a bit doubtful because almost all elements like monsters and treasures are pre-printed in the dungeon, but due to the elements which are added with each new scenario the dungeon will change considerably from game to game. The new dungeon layout in turn will change the strategy of the players, since a Cloak of Invisibility may be quite useful to cross through walls in one dungeon, whereas a Cleric’s Amulet for crossing water may be more useful another time. Due to these nice little extras Paper Dungeons is much more than Yahtzee going Underground, and this in turn greatly increases the game’s replayability.

The rather sophisticated and well implemented balancing of the game certainly contributes greatly to the game’s attractiveness, and in total it must be conceded that Paper Dungeons indeed makes a step towards the big dungeon crawlers in terms of playing depth and versatility. Something which I am still missing is the player interaction, but not in terms of destructive competition but in form of the player cooperation which can be found in almost all major dungeon crawlers. However, due to the roll-and-write design it’s hardly imaginable how a cooperative approach could have been implemented, and so Paper Dungeons should be taken for its merits as a rather entertaining, portable dungeon delve.

Those of you who have been following my reports over the years certainly will have noticed that I have a weak spot for Dungeon crawlers, but of course this was not the only game which I have brought home from the show today. But before we return for another look into the halls of SPIEL, it’s time for another…

G@mebox Anniversary Special


[Unicorn]

2002 to 2007 – A new Millennium

Okay, we are back in the time machine, continuing our trip into the past from the point where we left yesterday. We are barely in the new millennium, and already the first year was a rather special year.

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2002: Working in Beijing

In 2002 Nicole and I were working in China. As a final part of my 2nd law degree I was doing an internship with GIZ, the German Corporation for International Cooperation, and Nicole was doing research for her PhD. We stayed and worked in Beijing for a total of three months, but the best time were the weekends because we were able to explore the city and the neighbouring regions. Visiting the Forbidden City, going on hikes along the crumbling great wall – this are all great memories indeed. And on the way back we were on a precise schedule to visit the SPIEL 02, but we barely made it due to severe delays at Beijing Airport.

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2003: A strange Fashion

Looking through the SPIEL 03 report, I was shocked to find this photo of me and Greg Schloesser, playing a round of Finstere Flure at the booth of Friedemann Friese. No, it was not the game which shocked me, because I still own and play Finstere Flure, but actually it was the fashion. This was the year when I started to work after finishing my law studies, and I remember that I was quite fond of ties at that time. But wearing a tie at the SPIEL? Just shocking…

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2004: “The day has brought strange tidings.”

Now, this game certainly is one of my all-time favourites! Back in 2004 AREAS GAMES / PHALANX SPIELE released War of the Ring. To my mind this is the best boardgamisation of Tolkien’s works ever, and especially in winter times Nicole and I still take whole days to get through this truly epic game!

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2005: A new face!

In 2005 I found the first picture of Ralf at the SPIEL. Like me, Ralf has grown up at Essen and has been to many SPIEL conventions before 2005. We have been old schoolmates, and back at that time he had quite freshly joined me as a game reviewer. Today he is the head editor here at the G@mebox, and the pictures shows us together with Doug Adams, a very good friend from Australia.

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2006: Nighttime Reports

This photo also made me smile. If you compare all my old reports, you will notice that they got longer and longer. Well, there was a price to pay, and so my nighttime typing after the convention days got longer and longer. Finishing my report at 01:20 AM had been my record that year, but it got even later in the years that followed.

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2007: Through the Ages

Well, these G@mebox Specials certainly are a trip through the ages, but in 2007 Vlaada Chvatil won the INTERNATIONAL GAMERS AWARDS for his sophisticated and enthralling civilization game Through the Ages. The game has a truly high level of logistics, but the finetuning of cards and the well-implemented development from ancient times to the modern age is something which has not yet been matched by any other game. A timeless classic!

And at the point I will borrow Vlaada’s time machine, going once back into the timewarp and returning to the halls of SPIEL 21. On my tour through the halls I stopped at the booth of CZECH GAMES EDITION for a chat with my friend Petr, because I wanted to thank him for the Arnak Alicorn card which CGE has created to celebrate our G@mebox Anniversary!

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However, before I could find Petr I was recruited by CGE’s new content creator Eleni to be the first person to try out their new convention contest. Grabbing into a dark box, I was supposed to identify parts of different CGE games just by touching them. Of course I wanted to win one of the Golden Galaxy Truckers, but I did horribly bad, identifying only 3 pieces in 90 seconds…

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Booohoohooo! No Golden Trucker for me. But talking about Galaxy Trucker, do you know that a new edition is released by CGE this year?

Review: Galaxy Trucker (2nd edition)
CZECH GAMES EDITION (1 D 139)

I am always amazed how easily you can come to the edges of our time-space-continuum. It seems quite unbelievable, but it’s already 14 years ago that newcomer games publisher CZECH GAMES EDITION (CGE) released their first game Galaxy Trucker at the SPIEL convention. CGE has grown considerably since this time, releasing lots of outstanding games, and their efforts were receiving further recognition because last year’s Lost Ruins of Arnak deservedly won this year’s DEUTSCHER SPIELE PREIS, one of the most prestigious game awards worldwide.

However, the foundation for all these achievements has been laid right at the beginning, because Galaxy Trucker by Vlaada Chvátil was not just a nice debut game at its time, but it still is one of the most hilarious and entertaining real-time games which is available on the market. Over the years it has seen two big expansions, a mission box and several small extras, and trucking through space with makeshift junkpiles errr…. spaceships has become the favorite job (and doom) for thousands of game enthusiasts all around the world.

In a nutshell, Galaxy Trucker challenges the players to a real-time contest of shipbuilding. At the beginning of the game a big pile of square-sized spaceship tiles has been placed face-down in the center of the table, and the players then can start turning over one by one of these parts, adding those parts to their ship which they want to keep. However, since these low-budget ships are built mostly of pipes, some spaceship design rules have to be observed, otherwise the authorities won’t allow the ship to take off. Quite importantly, the pipe connectors on all neighbouring tiles have to match, otherwise a tile may not be added. Beginning from the pilot cabin, the spaceship has to be built in one piece, so that new tiles must be welded to the existing tiles and may not be moved anymore once a player has decided to place a part. Other rules require that no parts may be installed right in front of an engine or a cannon as you wouldn’t want to damage your own ship – space will take care of that!

[Paper Dungeons]

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Some kinds of ship tiles are mandatory, so that at least one cabin and an engine must be present, whereas other parts like shields, batteries, cargo holds or alien life support systems are optional. However, many of these parts are rather useful, because the players don’t build their ships for fun. Once everybody has finished, the ships will start their career as space truckers, going on their first tour in search of fame and – much more important – credits. However, whereas all this may sound like a peaceful puzzle contest, all the shipbuilding has to be done as quickly as possible, because the players finishing earlier will get a head start on their tour, giving them a good chance for some attractive earnings in the first turn of the game.

The trucking tour itself is made up by a set of Space Event cards, and these will be turned over one after the other, with each player having to face the same cards. Being traders, the players will search for planets where they can collect cargo (that is, if they have installed cargo holds), and here it’s important to be in front of the turn order track, because the players in front will get to chose first, allowing them to take the most attractive cargo or emptying the planet altogether. However, dealing with each Space Event card takes time, and so players who have fallen behind on the turn order track may decide to skip a card, not losing time in order to catch up with or even overtake players in front of them.

But not all cards can be skipped. Space is a dangerous place to be, and you will mostly feel this when our intrepid truckers come across meteor showers, space pirates or combat zones. Then those truckers will be lucky who have build a strong ship, because an intact structure without open ends will deflect at least minor meteors, whereas a hit means that the ship may lose one or more parts. Bigger meteors or pirates can only be averted by the use of cannons, and if a trucker’s ship isn’t strong enough the star scoundrels will take a precious share of the hard-earned cargo. Combat zones will test the ships to their limits, because there will be shots which can sometimes be averted by shield generators, but larger blasts simply will do their destructive work without any kind of effective protection. But of the truckers are truly lucky, they may even come upon a rare stretch of open space, and here they can fire their engines and go as quickly as possible.

[Paper Dungeons]

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There are lots of tricks and options which spice the game up even further. So some ship parts like double cannons or double engines are stronger than their normal counterparts, but these thingies require batteries to operate, and the number of battery compartments on a ship is limited. That is, if you have installed batteries at all – nothing is more annoying than installing lots of high-tech parts and then falling short of batteries. In order to have some company on the way, the players also may take some aliens along if they have installed matching-life support systems. These cute fellows are specialists for engines and cannons, and so they will give the trucker a bonus when engines or cannons are required to deal with a Space Event card. Talking about events, the deck of possible events contains a lot of variety, and so the players can come along slavers, abandoned stations and ships and rare other events like stardust which will creep into all open connectors of the ship – what a mess!

Once the deck of Space Events is depleted, the players will receive credits for their cargo, the condition of their (remaining) ship and for their position in the turn order track. The winner is the most efficient trucker, but the game can be turned truly epic by playing not one but actually three trucking tours. If played this way, Galaxy Trucker develops its full entertainment value, because each tour requires the players to build a new ship, and the allowed ship size will grow considerably after each mission.

[Paper Dungeons]

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My gaming groups have a blast every time we get Galaxy Trucker on the table, and it’s always highly entertaining to express some true and honest compassion if you see another player’s ship break away due to a particularly nasty meteor hit at a crucial connector (“Hey, you have lost all your engines!”). As players grow experienced with the game, they can add more and more additional materials coming from the various available expansion sets. New alien types, ship plans and parts, and even missions all spice up the game, but these additions must be made in small steps because they also add to the game’s complexity.

Indeed, there is one caveat which must be named, and this is not only connected with the degree of complexity which will be increased by adding the modular expansions. Even if you use just the base game, experienced truckers will gain an upper hand over newbies because their growing experience with the game will make them better and better when it comes to shipbuilding, so they will start to search for certain parts and build really lasting ships. This advantage for experienced players is something which newcomers may find frustrating, because I have only rarely seen a rookie win a tour against an ace, and it’s even less probable to stand a chance to win the whole game. This is something which Vlaada Chvátil originally tried to tackle by a set of bonus cards, the Even-Steven cards. These cards may be randomly distributed at the beginning of the game, giving a bonus to rookies, but imposing a handicap on the aces. The mechanism works, but as I said, these cards have been a bonus giveaway, they have never been part of the base game.

After 14 years in space, not only our truckers’ ships need an overhaul, but the CGE team has decided that time has finally come for a new edition of Galaxy Trucker. As the game has become CGE’s flagship game, the game’s basic playing mechanism outlined above remains virtually unchanged, with only some very minor tweaks and a bit of a graphics update to bring the game to the same level as the very successful Galaxy Trucker App. However, and that’s the real news, the game’s structure regarding the three trucking tours and the scorings after each tour has received a major revision.

The game now welcomes the truckers to the Transgalactic Trek, once again a set of three tours after which the richest player will become the Galaxy’s most successful trucker. However, the scoring rules after the tours have been changed, focusing less on giving an award for intact ships, but instead giving the players a chance to win and defend a Title. These Titles are awarded after the first tour, for example for having successfully accommodated aliens or for well distributed cargo capacities. Each player will keep one specific Title for the rest of the game, and they are challenged to defend their Title during the second and third tour by building their ships accordingly in order to gain bonus credits. If a player successfully defends his Title during the second tour, he may get an even bigger bonus after the third tour, but he will also be assigned a handicap which will make it even harder to win the Title once again in the third tour.

[Paper Dungeons]

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It is obvious that these new scoring rules aim at a better balancing of the game when rookie truckers meet aces. Due to the conditions of each Title, the winning and defending of Titles is a difficult feat for newbies and aces alike, but especially ace truckers who have been successful on their first and second tour now will feel a considerable handicap on the third tour. As indicated, defending the Title on the third tour is much more difficult due to the associated handicap, and these handicaps are not just difficult to observe during shipbuilding, but they actually tend to push the players towards building weaker ships. The handicap really pushes a player’s shipbuilding skills to its limit, and this is highly difficult due to the requirement to build a ship as quickly as possible in order to get the pole position when the upcoming tour is started.

So, are we back to Even-Steven? No, these new rules are not just a new edition of the old bonus cards, but instead the whole setting of the Transgalactic Trek now has been finetuned to include a self-adjusting balancing system. So, the handicap only kicks in if a player has successfully defended his Title during the second tour, and this in turn means that especially the experienced players will receive a customized increase of difficulty. Even more, as outlined above the handicaps will force the players to divert from their shipbuilding routine by prescribing certain conditions which must be met, and often this will result in a somewhat weaker ship structure. For my taste this new approach increases the game’s attractiveness especially for new players, because they now will have a real chance to keep up with the aces.

Freshly refurbished out of the stardock, this new edition of Galaxy Trucker certainly is a reason to start a trucker’s career. Despite it’s age the game has lost nothing of its attractiveness, and there is absolutely no other real-time game which has a comparable entertainment value. All adjustments for the new edition have been chosen carefully to match the game’s reputation as an all-time classic, and I guess we can be hopeful that some of the materials from the old expansions also will be updated some day! Go truckers!!!

However, despite this hilarious space trucking tour I didn’t forget why I had come to visit the CGE booth in the first place. And indeed I found Petr and Vit – a great reunion after last year’s digital meeting!

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A BIG smile please!!!

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Here we are again! For all I know, Frank has already told you how it felt like to be back in the holy halls. My first meeting started today at noon. That’s why I was not hectic and decided to arrive much later than I usually do. Still I feared the queues, beginning with a car queue and ending in front of the halls… The opposite was true. It was no problem at hall to drive to the halls, find my parking place and enter the hall. And inside? Crowded, but no comparison to SPIEL19 and the years before. The passages were much broader and there were also less people than usual. For me that was really fine, because I easily could swap chairs between my meetings. Here are some more pictures from inside:

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The last picture already shows you my first destination for today: the booth of SIT DOWN! Here I tried my very first game during SPIEL, because at the news show you can only have a look at the games. So come with me for my first adventure:

Introduction: Dive (Sit Down! - booth 3O120 /Pegasus booth 3M110)

Much positive I have already heard about Dive, the spring novelty from Sit Down! And it’s true: the concept of the game is ingenious! In the game the players dive deep into the ocean. But not just on by moving meeple around the board: the players really have to observe the ocean visually to look out for sharks as in real live. Well, almost. But you physically investigate the water before you decide how far you want to dive. This is realized by an innovative concept of transparent foils that are placed on top each other in the central ocean board box. Five of these foils, representing 5 meters, are the maximum dive depth for every round. And the players must guess how deep they can dive without meeting the sharks, just by looking at them.

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All predictions are noted on the personal player boards. Then the foils are removed one by one with players checking whether they guessed right or wrong. In the simplified version this is all you must do. But that’s only the kid version. Of course, we want to have more game, don’t we? Turtles and skate are what we are looking for. Whenever a foil is taken with such a cute animal, it helps the player with the highest bet for this outcome.

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All of this is quite unusual, weird, but nevertheless a lot of fun. I’m not sure whether you are still fascinated in your 20th or 50th round of play, but the artwork and the idea is so great, that everybody should have a try-out. And for families it’s nearly a must-have, I would say.

But let’s have a quick look at another SPIEL novelty from SIT DOWN!:

Introduction: Rush Out! (Sit Down! - booth 3O120)

Rush Out! is much more a game of speed and it’s a game of rolling the dice. One player takes the roll of an evil sorcerer and fights against all other players who represent heroes. The aim of the heroes is to escape a dungeon, the sorcerer wants to prevent this. All players simultaneously continuously roll their unique dice and assign matching results to cards.

The heroes get rid of a card as soon as all free spaces are occupied by the matching dice. And it’s their aim to get rid of all of their cards. All heroes play as team, but still all have their own dice. Speaking and cooperating is a must, because most cards demand three or more dice, and each hero has only three.

The sorcerer on the other hand has a lot of cards to damage the heroes or prevent them from completing their cards. Some cards even are placed on top of the card pile of the heroes and must be fulfilled by them once again. But the sorcerer only can win by completing special cards, called the dracology spells. Whenever such a card has been completed, a dragon pawn moves one way further towards the heroes’ deck. Once the dragon reaches this deck, the sorcerer wins.

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Of course there are a lot of different effects by completing a card. But players are gradually lead into the more complex cards, as Rush Out! is scenario-based and starts with a training modus. Each scenario has its own deck of cards, so there is a lot to find out. I played a quick training program as sorcerer, but was heavily beaten by two other guys who rolled much faster than me. But I didn’t loose my humor as you can see in the picture:

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Before I arrived at SIT DOWN! I was thinking about a coffee, but the fast and hectic Rush Out! was all I needed to wake up again. But now I felt like playing something more complex. So why not knocking at Board & Dice to ask what new games are waiting for us there?

BOARD & DICE had a much smaller booth than in the years before. I made the experience that the publishers dealt very differently with the pandemic. Some big publishers like ASMODEE even stayed away from this SPIEL, but a lot publishers were cautious, and booked smaller booths than usual (and some even limited the number of copies for their games). Seeing the booth of BOARD & DICE today was some going back in history for me. I still remember their first visit in Essen with Praetor. At the end of the fair they were so happy, because they were totally sold out. And the old booth was similar than the one I found today.

The two playing tables were reserved for their Origins – First Builders and Tabannusi – Builders of Ur. My table however was reserved for some upcoming games in which I was introduced by Aleksanra:

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Preview: Founders of Teotihuacan (Board & Dice - booth 2C116)

Founders of Teotihuacan will be an euro style game in which player move architects around their personal game boards. Each player builds up the city from zero, with the current position of the architect showing where the player may build the next tile. The center is – of course – again preserved for the temple, again we will see beautiful wooden tiles for that in the final production.

Founders of Teotihuacan has an interesting mechanism to perform an action. For that you place between 1-3 of your action disks on an action space on the main board. The height of the final stack determines which buildings and temple tiles you can buy and integrate in your city. You can always play your disks on top of an existing stack. As a result you can profit from the actions of your opponents, because one disk on top of an existing stack-3 results in a stack-4 with the corresponding actions.

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On your personal player board you have to balance between generating resources and using them. The reason for this is that resources are placed directly adjacent to a resource building, but of course, this might be valuable spaces for other buildings…

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Founders of Teotihuacan is related to its big brother Teotihuacan: City of Gods only by the name of the city. It is much less complex than the older title, and there are less possiblities to score. But on the other hand, it seems to be much more easy to grasp, I will definitely look out for it (it will be sold approximately in early 2022).

Aleksandra also showed me another upcoming game that is quite unusual for BOARD & DICE. It’s their first area control game and it is dedicated to Zdzisław Beksiński, a famous Polish artist. The design process is still in work, so there is little to say about the game at this moment. But I can already reveal you the name: Nightmare cathedral, stay tuned for updates, here’s a first picture:

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Many more games I saw today, but it was a long day for me and typing in the middle of the night seems to get harder every year. I promise I will continue my journey and you will get an update every day of this convention. But for today let’s end this report with the news from HORRIBLE GUILD where I met my friends Alessandro and Lorenzo:

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Stopover: Horrible Guild (booth 3F111)

As usual Alessandro invited mee to the meeting room, a welcome change to the noisy table area. First of all Alessandro showed me the newest version of Similo. Similo – Spookies or Similo – Halloween in the German variant. Basically everything remains the same as in the other variants. One player let the other players guess a secret character, giving hints by playing other character cards from hand. And the character is chosen from a display fo twelve characters in the middle of the table. If you aren’t familiar with the game, I can recommend you my review. The new version seems to be more difficult as other versions as there are only mean characters. The rest is a matter of taste, for me I would say that this version will be found on my table frequently. By the way, HORRIBLE GAME exchanged the plastic box with a sustainable cardboard one.

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Railroad ink has also an addition to the family. The green and the yellow variant of this roll and write game – now with the supplementary Challenge – comes with new dice and totally new in-game goals. Challenge structures and goal cards increase the interaction, because you must have a look at what your opponents are doing. Whenever you reach a goal you will be awarded. But if you are slower than your opponent, you will get less victory points.

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The new dice seem to be interesting too. There are many new junctions and completely new options like two curves in one space. The two expansions further expand the game and of course it is possible to mix the variants and change dice.

Speaking about dice, there are more news for Railroad ink than the two new variants. Soon there will be six different tiny expansions with four dice each. You see, there is no reason to get bored:

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Without the expansion dice sets, all of these games are available at SPIEL. I also was looking for Tiny Turbo Cars as it slightly reminds me of Robo Rall, one of my wife’s favourite games. It will be soon available, but unfortunately not at SPIEL. But I saw it today, so here’s the last picture for today:

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Sleep well and see you all tomorrow again!

Ralf

Friday - 15th of October 2021


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Hi, everybody from all over the world, it’s Friday, the second day at the convention. And I feel much fresher than in former years. One reason for this is that I don’t write that long in the evening as I used to do. I set my sights on stopping writing at about 11pm, another hour is sometimes necessary for format purposes and to set all pictures at the right positions. Perhaps I need more sleep now than in former years, perhaps I’m just getting old. Anyway, another reason is that it is much more pleasant to walk from one booth to the next one at the fair. At least that’s a positive effect of this dreadful Covid-pandemic, the passages are broader, there are fewer publishers and booths and less people. The background noise is still there, but it’s much easier to understand your dialogue partners.

I mean, it’s not that there are no people. The halls are well-filled, the tables are occupied, and a lot of games are purchased. But you feel a difference. I spoke with many publishers about how they like the fair. The main answer was that it’s great to be back. It’s good to be able to one-to-one talks again and seeing all those playing people is a sense of pleasure for all of them. Interestingly many publishers also told me that their sales are much better than they expected, and that’s a good fair for them. The absence of some of the big publishers draw more attention to other, often smaller companies and people who are coming are often really interested in buying new games.

After I arrived late yesterday, I was curious, if there would be a traffic jam or a long queue waiting for entrance. Together with Lutz I arrived about half an hour before the official opening without any traffic problems. But when we arrived, we saw the queue. Not very long and very disciplined. But it was there as you can see in the pictures:

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I left Lutz to take the “normal” entrance and went to the fast lane with my press card, because I wanted to arrive at my first meeting at CRANIO CREATIONS on time.

Preview: Anunnaki – Dawn of the Gods
(Cranio Creations - booth 5E108)

Here I met Simone Luciani who showed and explained his game Anunnaki, the upcoming Kickstarter game from CRANIO CREATIONS to me. Simone explained that it will be a sci-fi civilization game in which each players takes the role of one of four foreign factions. All factions arrive at the same time at a new planet system and begin their colonization. Three actions take place each turn of a player with the main action being the most important one.

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This main action is triggered by moving a pawn on a star system on the personal board. Basically, you can move to wherever you like, but there are two things to consider: First of all you must move your pawn, as a result you cannot perform the same actions in two consecutive turns. Secondly, you get a bonus, if you just move the pawn one step further in the action star field, following a path from one action field to another.

There are a lot of typical colonization actions like digging for resources (there are four different ones in the game), conquering new land, transports and building new settlements. A specialty of the game is that colonization takes place on five different planets at the same time. Each player has its unique abilities in form of a god and a few side gods, that can enhance actions and that can be sent to the planets as well. Additionally each player has a unique deck of combat cards to fight.

But combat is the one thing, trading the other one to win the game. Three different scoring tracks form the commercial part of the game. Finally there are also contract you take and fulfill to get more bonus.

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Anunnaki – Dawn of the Gods will be on Kickstarter in February 2022. The game is in the end phase of the design process, the graphics are already at 70 %. It is an Euro style game with an exploration element. Of course, the sci-fi theme always is good for a KS campaign, but I think much more interesting is the mechanism of action planning and the distribution of the colonization on five different planets. Hopefully the game will be available next year in Essen, the prototype is much promising.

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Of course, CRANIO CREATIONS had also final products here in Essen. Especially Golem drew a lot of attention. One reason for this is the design crew. With Simone Luciani, Virginio Gigli and Flaminia Brasini, it’s the same crew who also designed Lorenzo il Magnifico.

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In the game the players build up powerful creature, Golems, but they should be careful, because too powerful golems might destroy their neighborhood. There is a sheer mass of material in the game, so it’s a heavy box, and a large table is necessary to place all the components. Unfortunately for many visitors, there were only few copies for sell, most were only available for pre-ordering. As a result, the game was already sold out when I arrived at the booth this morning.

After this good start of the day, Frank called me to join Lutz and Marco, our friends and two other guys of our G@mebox crew. I found them at the booth of AEG and joined a game of Sheepy Time. I’m sure Lutz will tell you more about the game today or tomorrow, but it’s a rare moment to meet nearly all authors of Kulkmann’s G@mebox at the same location, so enjoy the picture:

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When you walk through the halls you often find – next to our beloved games – a lot of other interesting things. I am always impressed by the awesome, but expensive boardgame furniture, especially the tables. There are other things to mention like specialized booths for painting, miniatures and surroundings. And still other just sell old, but rare cards of trading card games. One of these cards costs as much as one of the well-equipped KS campaigns. A strange world, strange but exciting. And we all are part of it…

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But let’s go back to games and have a closer look to at what ARES GAMES has brought to Essen. First of all there is a new stand-alone version of Sword & Sorcery called Ancient Chronicles. It comes with its own expansions but can also combined with the core game. As expected, this eagerly anticipated dungeon crawling game was already sold out when I reached the booth. A lot of publishers were not sure of how the fair would be like during the ongoing pandemic. As a result, they shipped only a limited number of boards to Essen and first in, soon sold out…At least I can show you a picture of the game:

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ARES GAMES had a lot more to show, but the game I would like describe in more detail for today is called Diabolik – Heists and Investigations

Introduction: Diabolik – Heists and Investigations
(Ares Games - booth 3E100)

Roberto di Meglio from ARES introduced me to the game. First I learnt is that the two factions of the game, Diablolik and Eva (both criminals) on the one side and Ginko and Morrigan (both policemen) on the other side, are well known characters of an Italian comic. I honestly didn’t hear about them up to now, but I mustn’t know everything.

In the game Diabolik and Eva try to carry out their heist, and of course Ginko and Morrigan try to prevent this and catch the criminals. In the style of a modern, but much more complex Scotland Yard the players move hidden from one space on the map to the next one. The Diabolik and Eva player as well as the Ginko and Morrigan player form a team, but it’s not wise to speak about all their plans.

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But communication is nevertheless very important to achieve the goals. But what can one do, when the enemy is always listening? In my youth, we used to go out of the room we played in pairs. An effective, but not a very comfortable solution. Diabolik has a different solution in form of a screen for Diabolik and Eva on which players can point at different things and show and combine cartoon scenes as well as plan their next moves on the map.

If the policemen are clever, they can reconstruct traces of the criminal paths an by this increase the danger level for the criminals. If this danger track reaches its maximum, the policemen win, if the criminals will carry out two heists before that, it’s their victory.

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There is quite a lot of material in the game. Each player has their own player board with the unique abilities of their character. Crime cards, police cards, location cards and wound cards as well as over 60 investigation tokens. You see, this is not comparable to Scotland Yard anymore.

Roberto told me that although the game is not really difficult to play in the end, it’s wise to start with a simpler version (that comes with the game) to learn the complex mechanism of the hidden movement. I pretty much like the cartoon artwork of the game. And Scotland Yard was always one of my favorite games back in the 80s, so I will come back to this game.

Yesterday I got the message that Vietnam is coming back to SPIEL. Well, not the country, but a game focusing on the disastrous war in the last century. So, come with me to have a look at the prototype that was released at the news show here in Essen:

Preview: Purple Haze (Phalanx Games - booth 2C126)

In the game we lead a squad of US Marines through a campaign in Vietnam. During the game the marines will gain experiences, get stronger and improve their skills. In every mission the players have a unique goal.

Those missions seem to be rich in variety. One time we are asked to escort a supply force or some other convoy in need of help, another time we are asked to patrol a route up to surviving a broad offensive.

The missions also teach us a lot of background information, so the game has also a narrative part. Often we must decide between options and that’s why the publisher promises Purple Haze will have a high replayability.

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The game is kind of successor of UBOOT: The Board Game that was released two years ago by the same publisher. I haven’t played that game yet, but it was high-ranked and got some awards too. Purple Haze will be on Gamefound in early 2022.

While Purple Haze is still in the final design process, Rocketmen, a fast deck-building push-your-luck game was already available. This game I mention, because it’s a Martin Wallace game and because the story is perfectly up-to-date. Like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos we are asked to start a race to the far stars.

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Let me finish the day with a last picture of another upcoming game. Bretwalda will be the name of the game, there is not much to tell about the game at the moment, but I loved the artwork, so I took the photo for you:

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See you tomorrow again for another day at SPIEL

Yours, Ralf

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Today it was finally time for me too! The other two guys were already allowed to look around the exhibition halls and play one or the other game. I am still overwhelmed by today. SPIEL is something special every year, but this year is even more special. I can't really describe it. It's just nice to be around people again and look at the latest games at the booths, and they're all analog, not exclusively digital. The conversations you have through a medical mask are somehow better than the ones you have through a headset. So off we go into the not-so-big fray!

Introduction: Betwixt and Between (Allornonegames)

My first path leads me to Tobias Hall of ALLORNONEGAMES, who has brought his new game Betwixt and Between this year. In contrast to his futuristic and neon-infused Dicetopia trilogy and his roguelike Goons, Betwixt and Between comes across as much more mythical. The game is inspired by eerie European folklore. More than 50 mystical creatures play an important role. Players take on the role of mystics who have found a way to absorb the magical energy of these creatures and use it for their own purposes. At the beginning of the game, the other world is still completely free of these creatures.

[Betwixt and Between]

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Gradually, the players put them to work and, by cleverly laying out the cards and carefully considered movements of the characters, they can interact with the creatures and thereby strengthen their own powers. On their Mystic Sheets, players must lay out the collected energy, represented by Magic Gems, in certain patterns so that spells on display are triggered, thus performing more powerful actions.

[Betwixt and Between]

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The game's wonderful artwork, which looks earthy and at the same time enraptured, was illustrated by Liselotte Eriksson. Through them, the game idea is fabulously supported and lets the players completely immerse themselves in the mystical world. I am very much looking forward to learning about the mythical creatures of European folklore through Betwixt and Between.

Introduction: Biotopia (We Love Games)

But there are not only mystical mythical creatures in Essen. After I escaped the other world again, I could dedicate myself completely to real mythical creatures. At least in drawn form. This has to do with Michael Lohde Andersson. He developed a card game and at the same time drew the main characters for it: Butterflies. The game is called Biotopia and has been published by WELOVEGAMES. Inspired, partly, by Wingspan, he has dedicated himself to the butterflies native to Europe and created a game that depicts butterflies in all their glory in detail, and at the same time wants to draw attention to how endangered the habitat of these beautiful creatures is.

The goal of the game is to play as many butterfly cards as possible in front of you to be the first to score 15 victory points. But of course, butterflies are not easy to lay out! For this, of course, first a few flowers are necessary. Fortunately, all the backs of the cards have a flower on them and you can also play the cards face down to create a foundation for your butterfly flower meadow. The game principle is very simple.

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Each player can always perform exactly one action on his turn. For example, he can draw a card face up or play a card and perform the associated actions. The more flowers there are in the meadow, the more valuable butterflies can be played. Clever combinations of butterflies can also be used to fulfill mission cards, which earn important extra points for the player who fulfills and claims them first. I've already had the opportunity to play Biotopia and I'm completely blown away, as the game not only looks beautiful and is well thought out, but also plays very intuitively. This creates a great flow to the game. In addition, the game always offers opportunities to collect points, which makes it exciting until the end, because you can still catch up by acting skillfully.

I have met Michael Lohde Anderssen privately here at the SPIEL. Hopefully the game will soon be available for a wider audience!!!

[Biotopia]

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After these first impressions, I'll say goodbye for today. Tomorrow I will report again.

Yours, Lutz

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SPIEL Ho!

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After yesterday’s first experiences with SPIEL under Covid conditions I slightly changed my approach, and today I actually did two tours of the halls. One in the morning, and one in the late afternoon, and indeed this proved to be the way to go for me. As Ralf reported yesterday, the halls are not as crowded as at a SPIEL under “normal” conditions, and the number of visitors decreased even more in the last two hours. I guess people are exhausted from wearing face masks all day, and so the late afternoon really is a time for a more relaxed stroll.

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In former SPIEL years there have always been some companies doing oversized versions of their popular games, but this year especially the Galeria is used for these kinds of big games. Better to handle and good to follow even even for bystanders, these games really make sense this year. And can you imagine such a big game of Galaxy Truckers? That’s wonderful lifesize mayhem!!!

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Strolling through Hall 1, I came upon demo tables featuring the new Masters of the Universe – Fields of Eternia boardgame. This strongly reminded me of my youth when the Masters of the Universe action figures were highly popular with children in the US and Europe alike. However, despite all globalization this game here also stands for the craziness of trademark barriers, since it is actually not the only Masters boardgame which is about to be released. About 2 months ago COOL MINI OR NOT started another of their famous Kickstarter projects, and they actually announced Masters of the Universe – Clash for Eternia. Okay, both games take a totally different approach, because the CMON game is going for individual combat, whereas the game by ARCHON STUDIOS gives us a battle for Eternia on a larger scale. However, due to licensing reasons neither game will be available on the other side of the Atlantic, so that the CMON Kickstarter actually didn’t allow European backers. Oh my god, what a bout of madness! Now people who actually would prefer the other version are doomed to lock for trading partner or go piggybacking, but in the end this all will result in a lot of money being collected by the customs. Thanks MATTEL, you really care for your fans!

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But I was also able to spy on something much nicer in the same hall! You will all certainly remember the cute penguins in award-winning Ice Cool from BRAIN GAMES. The entertainment value of this dexterity game is incredible, and now the team from BRAIN GAMES has decided to bring the flicking mechanism back, freshly updated and with a new, slightly more grown-up theme. Now clans will go and explore the Iron Forest, an uncharted area at the border of their territories. But they meet opposition, the Iron Force jealously keeps watch for invaders, and so the players play in teams on either side of the conflict. The new approach is completed by a 3D setup, and the good reputation of Ice Cool plus the extraordinary looks of Iron Forest certainly will cause quite a hype at Kickstarter.

But talking about hyped games, let’s now look at a game which has gained quite a bit of attention on its release.

Review: Hadrianswall
SCHWERKRAFT VERLAG / GARPHILL GAMES (3 P 124)

In the second century after Christ the Roman Emperor Hadrian had ordered to build border fortifications in the North of the Roman province Britannia. The outer border of the empire was raided continuously by the tribes of the Picts, and Hadrian wanted to end this by building a wall right across the width of Britain. So Hadrianswall was built, having a length of nearly 120 kilometers, stretching from the North Sea to the Irish Sea.

Back in 1999 I was doing my LL.M. degree at Newcastle University, and the city of Newcastle upon Tyne actually was located at the former eastern end of Hadrianswall. In the weekends, I took my old car and went into Northumberland National Park, a beautifiul and rugged area of hills and cliffs, and here the best preserved remnants of Hadrianswall can be found. You can walk along the wall for many kilometers, and I always enjoyed these hikes due to the landscape and the air of history which you could feel. So, a game about building a Milecastle at Hadrianswall certainly was a “must” for me, and I was extraordinary curious to see how the game would implement the story of the wall.

Upon first sight, Hadrianswall by designer Bobby Hill (GARPHILL GAMES / SCHWERKRAFT VERLAG) seems to be a roll-and-write game, coming with two thick pads of game sheets, and during the game each player has to take one sheet from each pad in order to have his own playing area. On these sheets the players will mark their progress, not only for building the Wall and the Milecastle, but also for a plethora of other things which can be obtained and improved. There are ordinary buildings like granarys, inns or workshops, mines and forests for resource production, and even civic buildings like courthouses, temples, gardens or theatres which all can be built by the players. In addition, there are even more scales for troops (Cohorts) and Diplomats, with all of them giving the players lots of possibilities to explore.

[Hadrianswall]

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In fact, there are so many things depicted on the pads that you can hardly say that it is just a game about building Hadrianswall. What the players are doing here must be seen on a larger scale – they are building a whole city indeed. This was a point where I was slightly disappointed, because the theme of the old Roman wall seems a bit pasted on in view of all the buildings and possibilities, but while an atmospheric theme certainly contributes to the overall impression about a game, it says nothing about gameplay. At least the whole city building operation is interrupted regularly by invading Picts which the players have to fend off with their Cohorts, and so a bit of the story of Hadrianswall is incorporated after all.

The basic rules for all the building efforts are quite straightforward. At the beginning of each round of play the players will receive a number of Worker pawns, falling into the classes of Soldiers, Craftsmen, Slaves and Citizens. In addition, the players receive a number of Resources, and together with the Workers they can be spent to make progress at the various scales which can be found on the pads. In the end the players aim at collecting Victory Points on four scales for Reputation, Piety, Braveness and Discipline. However, progress on these VP scales cannot be bought directly, but instead the players must spend their Resources and Workers to build the fortifications of the Wall, the Civic Buildings and the ordinary buildings.

This is where things get complicated. Almost every step purchased triggers the arrival of new Resources or Workers as a windfall effect, and in turn these can be spent to make additional steps and create even more windfall effects. Here the two playing pads on which the players have to mark their progress are quite confusing, and especially new players will have a hard time to see all the options and work out a way in which to spend and build. If there ever was an award for analysis paralysis – here you have a strong contender! In fact, the challenge gets even harder by the fact that many buildings have preconditions, usually being a certain amount of progress made on other scales. The game’s designer has done his best to give some optical playing aids on the pads in order to make players remember these preconditions, but the task is nonetheless demanding.

[Hadrianswall]

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At this point it must also be mentioned that the game does not contain any dice, so it actually is something like a think-and-write game. Chance only plays a minor role in the game, because in some situations Fate cards must be revealed. These are used for a part of the Resource and Worker production at the beginning of a round, for Pict raids, the purchase of Trade Goods and for Gladiator duels, but as indicated this are only a few instances in the course of the game. Take a Gladiator duel – it only happens after the following steps have been performed: For purchasing and training a Gladiator you need to spend Workers, but first you have to spend Resources and Workers to build a Gladiators’ School. However, the Gladiators’ School can only be built if players first have made enough progress on the scale for Performers, once again requiring them to spend a certain kind of Workers or by using windfall effects generated by other Civic buildings. Sounds confusing? Well, if you consider that it’s only one minor path which players can follow in the game to make some progress on the VP Scales, you will slowly come to an understanding that Hadrianswall in essence is a big puzzle.

Doing a puzzle with others certainly can offer some fun, but here you are doing it all alone on your own two pads. In fact, the players all play simultaneously, spending Resources and Workers to make progress on their various scales. There is no turn order, but everyone simply acts in his own speed and manner. Here a chance to keep an essential element of classic worker placement games is lost, because you neither have interactivity and tension in terms of placement timing, nor will you honor the progress made by other players by watching them during their turn. Everybody just is marking spaces until everyone has finished, thus ending the round with the arrival of the Picts. In some rare occasions you can actually give resources to other players in order to gain a benefit, but you cannot really call this active player interaction.

[Hadrianswall]

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But what about the Picts? Will their arrival be the epic final of a round with heroic battles all among the Wall? Well, I am afraid that the Picts are dealt with in a somewhat sobering manner. If the end of the round a number of Fate cards is revealed, with the number increasing round after round. These cards show how many Picts will be attacking the left, middle and right part of each players’ fortifications, and then the attack strength of the Picts will be compared with the strength of the Cohorts which each player was able to place at each part of the Wall. The result of these combats is fairly easy, because the players can increase their Braveness for each successfully defended part of their fortifications, whereas they will receive Disfavor marks for each unsuccessful defense. Each player will lose an amount of Victory Points at the end of the game, depending on the number of Disfavors which he has received. However, there is a way to remove part of of this disgrace by using the public baths for a talk with influential citizens. But of curse, the possibility of bribery first requires the baths to be built, and once again this depends on progress made on yet another scale, the Public Servant track. So, its absolutely fair to say that almost everything is interwoven in Hadrianswall.

So, what to make of this game? Designer Bobby Hill really has created something like a game puzzle, because the players mostly have to think and calculate about the best ways to use their Resources and Workers, and from one game to the next they will improve their skills because they will grow more and more accustomed to the highly finetuned functions available on their pads. However, the question remains whether Hadrianswall actually is a fun and entertaining game to play. This absolutely depends on the taste of the players, but I have to confess that the game is a bit too technical for me. Nearly no player interaction, lots of thinking without spending any thought on the developments reached by other players and a sheer endless possibility to collect points somehow was not up to my gaming taste. Sad but true – for me the theme goes wasted…

Not every find here at the SPIEL can be a smash-hit game, but Hadrianswall actually reminded me that we are about to do another time travelling session for the 25th G@mebox Anniversary!

G@mebox Anniversary Special


[Unicorn]

2008 to 2013 – The Golden Years

Once again, welcome to the G@mebox Time Machine! This time I would like to take you back to a period when the SPIEL was growing incredibly from year to year. More and more overseas publishers were coming to display their games here at the SPIEL, and the total exhibition space reached a new record each year. Going through the old reports, I once again found some memorable moments, and so let me take you along some of these events

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2008: War of the Ring Collectors’ Edition

This actually was the first time for ARES GAMES to show the prototype of the Collectors’ Edition of War of the Ring. It’s an incredible piece of craftsmanship, with a huge wooden book as a gamebox, all miniatures prepainted and all game parts enhanced in size and quality. However, it also was a lasting project for ARES, because it took them several years to finetune the production quality, and so there were still lots of steps to go from this prototype. I remember that I ordered my copy 2009, but it took them over two years to deliver the game. The price of 299 Euros seemed steep at that time, but if you look at BOARDGAMEGEEK you will see that the last copy sold there went over the table for 1.700 US$! I have heard that some collectors leave their copies pristine and untouched, but Nicole and I thought that it would be a waste not to play this beautiful game. Of course our cards are sleeved, but the Collectors’ Edition sees regular use in our home!

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2009: FRAGOR Mayhem

Gordon and Fraser Lamont – these two crazy Scots have not been here for the last few conventions. Many of you will remember that Gordon and Fraser do not only produce big games with even BIGGER playing pieces and constructions, but they are also famous for their booth parties and their costumes. They always tried to match the theme of the game they released that year, and back in 2009 they went as Ostrich Riders due to their new game Savannah Tails. Inflatable ostriches - gosh, I miss those crazy guys!

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2010: Gaming with Friends

Talking about Gordon and Fraser, one of the most wonderful facts about SPIEL is that it gets together gamers from many different parts of the world. Once a year I have the possibility to meet my friends, and if time allows we even do a gaming night at my home. 2010 was special because I got together with Gordon and Fraser, Mik Svellov, Andrea Ligabue and Stuart Dagger. I remember that we were all quite taken with 7 Wonders due to its simple elegance and the great drafting mechanism. Those were happy days (and nights) indeed!

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2011: Mare Mediterraneum

In that year HISTORIEN SPIELEGALERIE form Jean Du Poel returned to the SPIEL. This game designer is very special for me, because I remember that I have bought my very first game from Jean. It was somewhen in the 1980’s when I have been visiting the SPIEL as a teenager, and I was totally infatuated about his game American Goldrush 1849, an almost simple diceroller whith Claim tiles to discover. However, in the following years Jean designed Mare Mediterraneum, and that was my first contact with a civilization-type game. All games of Jean are handcrafted, and so I couldn’t afford the 200 Marks to buy a copy of Mare Mediterraneum until much later, but I remember sitting whole days at Jean’s SPIEL booth just to play this game. And yes, it’s still in my collection.

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2012: Walking Hadrianswall

Nothing about games this year, but over 10 years after my LL.M. degree I finally returned to Newcastle and northern England. This time Nicole was with me, and now we visited all those great places together: Hadrian’s Wall, the Lake District, the Yorkshire Moors – it was just great to re-visit and share all these places with Nicole. When Corona is over, it is definitely time for another trip!

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2013: City of Iron

Now, here you have a game which is still very high in my personal Top 10. City of Iron from indie publisher Ryan Laukat still thrills me with its combination of specialist recruitment, competitive resource production and military conquest, and the unusal rules are combined with Ryan’s unusual, stunning artwork. I love Ryan’s games both for their look and originality, even though I have to confess that I am houseruling the one or other detail when playing his games. However, the release of a new game from RED RAVEN GAMES always is a holiday for me, and so Ryan’s games have found their way into my gamer’s heart (and my collection).

Well, this ends today’s trip back to those Golden Years, and once again it was rather special for me to relive those moments while preparing today’s report. However, there are still a few years to go - but not today, the Delorean is waiting to take us back into the halls of SPIEL 21!

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But indie publishers is actually a good keyword, because later this afternoon I had a chat with Travis Worthington from INDIE BOARDS AND CARDS. Like on many other booths, a “sold out” sign could be seen, in this case over the poster of Terraforming Mars – Ares Expedition. The Terraforming Mars Big Box with the 3D landscape tiles also is down from 100 to 7 copies after just two days, and Travis confirmed what I have heard from other publishers: sales are going well here at SPIEL 21. The reduced number of exhibitors hasn’t reduced the shopping mood of the gamers here, and indeed many other titles have already sold out. Great Western Trail, Ark Nova, Cascadia or even the Karak miniatures - they are all gone, and there will be no more copies this weekend. This is partly due to the great popularity of the games, but at the same time were are also facing huge supply problems here at the SPIEL 21. The global shipping crisis takes it toll, resulting in many announced games either being unavailable or having arrived via air shipping in very small numbers. As for myself, one of the games I couldn’t get was A.D.E.L.E. from DMZ, and if you are planning to visit the SPIEL 21 on Saturday or Sunday, be prepared that some games will remain on your wishlist for some time longer.

But don’t despair, some rather good games are well stocked and available here at the SPIEL, and one of these will be my final review for today!

Review: The Adventures of Robin Hood
KOSMOS VERLAG (3 B 112)

With this year’s new KOSMOS game The Adventures of Robin Hood game designer Michael Menzel has left the fantastic world of Legends of Andor, but he has returned with another strong cooperative game which challenges the players to work together in order to stand against the plans of well-known, iconic characters like evil Prince John, Guy of Gisbourne and their other henchmen.

The two to four players take the roles of the famous outlaws of Sherwood Forest, and so they come together as Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Little John and Will Scarlet in order to play to a series of adventures, but with each of the characters also following his or her own little side missions and stories during the game. “Stories” actually is a keyword in Robin Hood, since the game is split into a number of adventures which will be played in a campaign arc. The campaign does not feature much character development between the individual adventures, but nonetheless new rules and game elements can be discovered all along the way, making each adventure a small story of its own.

[Hadrianswall]

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Two main factors contribute to a very atmospheric gameplay in Robin Hood. For one, the game comes with beautifully illustrated double-layered gameboard in which many two-sided tiles and landscape elements have been inserted. These tiles will be revealed (i.e. turned over) during the adventures, showing the players new things and personalities, but also bringing along guards and other dangers which the players have to tackle. To allow a “saving” of the current game after each adventure, the gameboard can be split into several parts and put into a large sleeve so that all tiles will firmly keep their position until the next game. A neat trick which certainly speeds up the setup!

[Hadrianswall]

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[Hadrianswall]

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The other story-driver in Robin Hood actually is a thick hardcover storybook which on first sight reminds a bit of classic Fighting Fantasy storybooks by Ian Livingstone. So, the storybook features different paragraphs on the individual pages, and during the course of each adventure the players will be instructed to read these paragraphs to learn new rules and see how the story progresses. Instructions to read paragraphs may come from uncovering tiles on the gameboard, but it’s also possible that the book itself tells you to move onwards to certain pages.

As can be guessed, this storybook is the centerpiece of Robin Hood, and there is a number of features which make it a quite outstading product. Apart from its design as a hardcover tome, the book features nice pencil illustrations and – quite important – two bookmark cords of different colours which are used quite regularly during the adventures. These cords allow the players a very easy referencing of rules and help the players navigate through the adventures, and while the inclusion of bookmarks might not seem to be a stroke of genius, it is the way in which the pages to mark are written which makes the whole concept shine. You have all essential information at hand just by turning back to a boomark, and so the game avoids flipping back and forwards to find some information which is essential for the current adventure. Due to little helps like these bookmarks Robin Hood is a very accessible game, thus allowing families with children to enjoy the game together. The gamebox recommends an age of 10 and upwards, but it’s my impression that slightly younger children can enjoy the game as well with some guidance from their parents.

[Hadrianswall]

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Talking about accessibility, another strength of Robin Hood is the stepwise procedure by which the players are introduced to the rules. The game virtually can be started without any intense rulebook studies, but instead all necessary information will be taught in the first few chapters while already playing the game. As indicated, new rules will follow with each adventure, but the players never feel overburdened by too much intricacies which would hamper fluent gameplay. So, while many games claim a speedy entry to watching rules videos or introduction rounds, Robin Hood is one of the few games where this concept seriously works.

Actually it’s not too easy writing a review about an adventure game without spoiling any essential information, but a question which is still unsolved here is about general gameplay. So far you know that the adventures are driven by the paragraphs which you will find in the storybook and the tiles which you uncover on the gameboard, but what about gameplay itself? Well, it’s the main task of the players to solve (and sometimes first discover) the objectives of each mission within a certain number of rounds. There is a “Hope” track printed on the gameboard, and depending on the progress of the players a certain amount of hope is lost with each round of play. When all hope is lost, the players quickly will face an involuntary end of their mission, being forced to read a sad paragraph about their failure and restart the adventure.

But let’s not face the sad ending, let’s better focus how to win. In essence the player characters will move over the gameboard, either trying to reach certain locations or getting towards certain tiles in order to uncover them. Each player has a number of Movement Figures for his character, and these figures differ regarding the size of their base. To move on the gameboard, a player can put up a chain of his Movement Figures to get his character to a new position, but there is a number of things which need to be considered. So, it’s generally useful to end movement in the shadowed areas of the gameboard, since the areas in the sun are exposed and thus visible to the guards which tend to appear on the board. Furthermore, not using the figure with the longest base has an advantage insofar as the character conserves some of his energy, thus adding a white Energy Cube to a bag which contains cubes and player tiles. Other movement restrictions may be printed or discovered on the gameboard, so that walls cannot be crossed or – possibly – jumps must be made.

[Hadrianswall]

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The aforementioned bag contains both Energy cubes and wooden Activation disks. The Activation disks are drawn one after each other, thus determining the order in which the players can activate their characters in the current round. Furthermore, there are also disks for evil characters and events, so that each round the game will put up new difficulties for the players by reducing hope or other means. The Energy cubes on the other hand are used in combat. When a character has to fight, the player is drawing a maximum of three cubes from the bag, and in order to win at least one white cube must be drawn. There are also a certain number of washout cubes, and so it’s easy to see why it is useful for the players to add white Energy cubes to the mix.

These simple mechanisms form the operational backbone of Robin Hood, and while the Hope track on the gameboard slightly reminds of the Storyteller track in Legends of Andor, it’s easy to see that The Adventures of Robin Hood is played on a distinctively new set of rules. Especially the cooperative aspect of the game has been fleshed out quite nicely by Michael Menzel, because he is giving the players a good mixture of possible paths of actions which can be discussed and weighted. However, as indicated before, the game itself is no heavyweight, but instead it is strongly positioned in the category of family games which can be enjoyed be occasional players and hardcore gamers alike. While the stories of Robin Hood’s outlaws are well-known and straightforward, it is the game’s biggest feat that Michael Menzel succeeded quite well in combining classic boardgame elements, tabletop miniature gaming and storybook adventuring, and the final mix presents itself rather charmingly with rich, athmospheric gameplay.

“Tally ho!” my merry men - and merry women of course!

Tomorrow we will leave shady Sherwood Forest and go to the dry sands of Dune!

[SPIEL]

Saturday - 16th of October 2021


[SPIEL]

Hey ho, it’s Saturday, family day at SPIEL!

Yes it’s family day at SPIEL. Although here in North Rhine Westphalia there are school holidays since last Monday, visitors use the weekend to go to SPIEL with smaller children. Besides there is no need to take holidays for the grown-ups and thus the weekend is often more crowded than the other days. After the relaxed two days (compared to other SPIEL years) I was curious about the number of visitors for today. Would there be big queues before the entrance? Would there be a pushing and shoving and fighting for free tables? Decide yourself:

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[SPIEL]

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Yes, it was more crowded. The passages were crowded and it was hard to find a free table at many booths. But there were no queues, neither a traffic jam outside the halls nor before the entrances. And the huge Galeria that was nearly impossible to cross in some former years, was still a place of recovery.

Because it was family day, I came along with my youngest son and my wife today. As a result I was looking for some lighter games today. Fun games, card games and games with a short duration. One booth I had selected was VESUVIUS MEDIA. The Canadian publisher is well known for its 7dwars series, but this SPIEL they had something very different to show:

Playtest: Catapult Kingdoms (Vesuvius Media - booth 2E126)

In Catapult Kingdoms you build up a castle out of plastic bricks and place your troops on top or next to your castle. All of the tiles must be placed on a player board, but apart from that you are almost free to create the castle of your dreams. But it’s wise to think about defense and therefore the castles should withstand the one or other catapult attack.

For that’s what your opponent will be doing. Attacking your castle with the help of a catapult in real life. Of course, the catapult is a also small plastic thing, but it perfectly performs its function.

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So, after both players (Catapult Kingdoms is a two player game) have build up their castles and placed their troops, it`s time for shooting. This is done in turns with one shot alternately. Each troop that has been knocked out, leaves the board and as soon as a player has no more troops standing, they loose the game.

That’s almost the whole game. There are some tactics cards that can be played before the fire phase to rebuild your castles or make your attack more powerful. But basically, it’s just the shooting and destroying of your opponent’s castle.

Is that silly? No, it’s not! The game makes extremely much fun for kids and grown-ups likewise. For me, it brought backs some memories of my youth, when I played similar games just with the help of a paper and a pencil. The shooting works surprisingly good. I think the main reason for that is the excellent material of the boulders. They are perfectly balanced for the recommended distance of 1,5 meters and are not perfectly round, so they don’t just roll around after hitting the target.

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I was surprised that not only my son liked playing the game, I also immediately wanted to play another round. And when we came home today, the first thing my son did was opening the box and setting up another game of Catapult Kingdoms. An awesome and funny game! Always a good shoot!

We continued our family day at SMART GAMES that is one of the leading publishers of logic training games. All games come with a booklet of tasks with different levels of difficulty. Many of the games are abstract tile lying games, but this fair they showed many new games that looked quite funny too. See me and the game in the picture. Would you have thought that this is a multi-level logic game?

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The first levels were easy to master, but we did a wizard level for fun and saw in the solution that at least 62 steps would be necessary to solve the puzzle. That’s really a challenge!

After that I left my family and was introduced in the new games by the BLACKROCK GAMES family:

Stopover: Blackrock Games (booth 3O106)

How can I start with this one? I still remember the my first meeting with Blackrock Games back in 2015. At that time BLACKROCK GAMES mainly presented the two games Piratoon and Aya. The booth was still straightforward with just three or four publishers under the distributor Blackrock Games.

This year they distribute games from 15 publishers, so there is really a lot to show for them. I’m still in love of that awesome French illustrators that so skillfully do the artwork for all of Blackrock games. That’s why I don’t really know what game I should present you. It was a hard choice, but I selected three games and took some more pictures for you.

Let’s begin with the series Cartaventura. Up to know there are 4 titles, but only one of them is available in English, it has the subtitle Oklahoma. The series let you undergo a historical situation, each of them set on a real story. But, only one of the multiple endings is the historical correct one. You are free to decide for yourself, and maybe your decisions would have prevented the one or other catastrophe. Who knows?

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In each game, the players read instructions of the cards and get involved in the historical background. You see, Cartaventura is a game of cards. Comparable with the great 7th Continent players must interact with the cards, find items, hints and exits and must often decide between several options.

All Cartaventura titles come in a compact, small boxes. I was also told that soon KOSMOS will release a German version of the games. As the game is language dependent due to its narrative character, this is a good news for all of our German readers. The game can be played solo, but also as a team. A really exciting new game series I will have a closer look at in the next couple of weeks.

Another title drew my attention, mainly because of the great artwork: Amelia’s Secret is a dark escape game in which you must find out about the secret of the mysterious girl. The uses augmented reality of a companion App. Of course that means that you must also have and use a modern smartphone, augmented reality is not really working with smartphones that are older than 3 or 4 years.

But first we have to set up the scene. For that, you arrange the different things you find in the game (in form of large cardboard tables) wherever you feel they are right. For example I would place the candlestick on the table and stick the mirror on a wall. But it doesn’t really matter where you place them (you can also place all cards on the table), it’s just for the atmosphere. After set-up you begin to scan those tables with your smartphone and immediately you can begin to virtually look for hints.

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I learned that you can even interact with the virtual reality, so for example if you scan a phone you can answer the phone or dial a number. All that you do with your smartphone. So, Amélias Secret is somewhat between a real boardgame and a video game. I’m already curious how good that will work and of course, I will try to tell you without spoiling after I have solved the case…

Finally let’s have a look at the successor or better the 2player version of It’s a wonderful world. The new version is a standalone version for just 2 players. In contrast to the older titles, It’s a wonderful kingdom is now set in a fantasy universe.

The main mechanics remain the same, you still gather resources that are used to build new production places that again produce new resources. If you are not familiar with this mechanism, maybe you want to have a closer look at review of It’s a wonderful world.

A main difference in the new two player version is the draft modus at the beginning of the round. It’s optimized for the two players with two staples of cards build up open for each player. One by one the players add a card to each staple and in the end it’s time to choose one of them. As these staples are open you can care for a good balance by yourself.

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Apart from that the new version comes with missions, each offering new mechanical changes. Although I also like the core game as a two-player game, I think that the new draft phase makes the game better for that number of players. The “normal” drafting is a little bit exhausting and little surprising when playing with two players. I also think that the modules expand the game. Again, I will tell you more about it in the next couple of weeks, stay tuned.

But let’s not leave the booth without showing you some more pictures from the current games that prove the great artwork of the French artists:

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You see, there is a lot going on in France. But let’s move one country further to Spain:

QuickUpdate: Corvus Belli

In 2017 I first came in contact with the Aristeia!, a fast paced kind of sportsgame, in which two players fight against each other. Every player has his or her own team of three unique characters and there are now many more skins available to expand the game. Refer to my review for further information.

CORVUS BELLI does not have a booth at this SPIEL, because they still feared the Corona impacts. But I had the chance to meet Belén who had some very good informations for me. First of all, she presented me a copy of Aristeia!: Prime Time With this expansion of the core game, there can now up to four players enter the hexadome.

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Even more interesting was the information that in early November 21 a new Kickstarter campaign starts for an deatmatch game in the Infinity universe. Tag Raid is the name of the game and it is kind of survival shooter game, very similar in its setting like a modern video game. Dying and respawning, of course weaker than before, will be part of the game. You’ll find a lot of information in the infinity universe site in the internet already. I hope to see the game next year to tell you more about it.

But before I now die or will be eaten by some creepy creature (there are a lot of them walking around SPIEL), I better get some food and after that some sleep. I’ll be back for a final day tomorrow, so, stay tuned!
Yours, Ralf

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Ralf has already spoiled a little yesterday. At the booth of ALDERAC ENTERTAINMAENT GROUP, however, there is not only Sheepy Time to discover. The publisher, which likes to call itself the small big publisher, has also brought other novelties to Essen. Besides Whirling Whitchraft, Cascadia (which was already sold out on the first day of the fair) and Dog Lover, you could also try out TEN. A game created by the successful game developer trio of Molly Johnson, Shawn Stankewich and Robert Melvin, who also developed Point Salad and Truffle Shuffle. There was a lot going on here at the booth throughout the day. It was not so easy to get a free table. Fortunately it worked out in the end.

Review: Sheepy Time (AEG)


In Sheepy Time, players take on the role of a dream sheep that is counted by people in order to fall asleep. Each time players manage to get their sheep to hop over the fence, they make it easier for someone to fall asleep and, of course, earn victory points. The sheep are moved around a circular playing field of 10 squares by playing one of two hand cards that indicate the number of steps a sheep is allowed to take. If they manage to get over the fence, players receive five winks (victory points) and get to decide whether to try another round or call it a night. Why should they, you are now thinking. I should probably mention the Nightmare, which is wreaking havoc in the game, trying to scare the sheep. The Nightmare is moved by Nightmare cards shuffled into the draw pile. Each time a hand card is drawn by a player, a nightmare card may be drawn and the nightmare will move. If, during its movement, it comes to a space where there is already a sheep, it scares it. If a sheep is frightened a second time, the player wakes up and all winks collected up to that point are lost. This also happens if the nightmare manages to jump over the fence. Only sheep that have already called night will let their players continue sleeping. The winks collected up to that point are safe for the players and let the pillow of the respective player lying on the scoreboard on the 40 move down a bit depending on the winks collected in this round and the number of players. For example, in a four-player game, the pillow for the player with the most winks lands on the scoreboard at 30, while the second player may only decrease to 32, the third to 34, and so on. At the same time, after each round of play, the winks markers are reset to zero. So knowing when to quit can be quite important in Sheepy Time as well. In this context, it is worth mentioning how the game is won. Not the player who collects the most winks and also not the player who brings his pillow to zero first wins the game. The winner is the player who reaches his cushion on the scoreboard in one round of play, or who can move it the farthest. The path to victory gets shorter and shorter with each round.

[Sheepy Time]

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So far, a lot has been written about sheep and nightmares. But there are also normal dreams and zzzz's in this game. And they are very helpful, just like in real life. At the beginning of the game, there are already two dreams right next to the fields 5 and 10. More dreams or Zzzz tokens can be placed by the players when a game round has ended. Either they place a dream on any free space of the board and place the Zzzz Token of their color indicated on it, or they may place 2 Zzzz Tokens on dreams already exposed on the board. If a player lands their sheep on a space that has a dream with a Zzzz Token of their color on it, they can use that dream. This will trigger a wide variety of effects. For example, an already frightened sheep can be calmed down again or a sheep may move additional steps. If things go quite well, even real combinations can be created that move a sheep once around the entire playing field. As with any good push-your-luck game, not much happens in Sheepy Time during the first few turns, regardless of the number of players. However, with each successive round it becomes more and more exciting as you see how the other players deal with the risk of waking up and you discover the possibilities offered by using your dreams. These also become more extensive from round to round. Sometimes you even accept that your sheep is frightened, just to use the dream that lets a frightened sheep move seven fields. The game's sheep theme quickly leads the viewer to conclude that Sheepy Time is a children's game, but that's not the case at all. Of course, it's not a hardcore strategy game either, not a wolf in sheep's clothing, so to speak. Besides, I can say that nobody fell asleep while playing. On the contrary, it's quite exciting to be a dream sheep and make sure that the others sleep peacefully!

At the booth of ALDERAC ENTERTAINMENT GROUP, however, not only sheep go about their daily or better said nightly work. No, also witches perform their magic craft very extensively. Whirling Whitchkraft promises to be an exciting game due to its theme and the whole artwork.

Introduction: Whirling Witchcraft (AEG)


In Whirling Witchcraft, players take on the role of powerful witches who use their magical powers to brew potions in their cauldrons. Each witch has almost a handful of recipes and a workbench where she can collect her ingredients. But beware, there is only a limited amount of space on the workbench for each type. The more powerful the ingredient, the less space is available. You can well imagine why. Too many Hearts of Shadow on such a workbench right next to a bunch of Toads and a gang of Mandrakes? That can't go well! Much too dangerous!

However, in order to become more powerful and score points, the players' goal is to throw as many ingredients as possible at the opponent on the right that the latter can't use. And it works like this. All players play one recipe per turn and use it to convert a certain combination of their existing ingredients into another in a brewing phase, which they place on the bottom half of the recipe card from a general supply. The new ingredients are then placed in the cauldron and passed to the player on the right, who must then sort the ingredients on his workbench. If there is no room for an ingredient, the passing player receives that ingredient as a victory point in his witch circle. The remaining recipes in hand are passed on to the player on the left and one recipe is drawn from the pile. The whole thing continues like this round after round.

More and more recipes are ready to be used by the players and more and more ingredients accumulate on the workbenches. One witch, for example, is getting more and more mushrooms. Luckily, she has great mushroom recipes and always manages to get rid of them. As a result, her mushroom stash doesn't get flooded and the giving witch doesn't get any points. Only unfortunately, she doesn't have any recipes that could turn the mushrooms into spiders, which the witch who gets the ingredients from her can't use. Only in this way could she, in turn, make the spider supply overflow and earn points. Quite a mess and incessant exchange of ingredients. You have to pay close attention to which ingredients arrive at you and have the appropriate recipes at hand to be able to consume them.

At the same time you should adjust your production so that you can flood the other witch. Of course, the various Arcana powers are helpful here. These are powerful spells that can be used from time to time. On some recipes you can see one of three Arcana symbols. If you have an even number of one of them, you can use that spell. For example, with an Arcana you can take two ingredients from your workbench or put earthen one ingredient into the cauldron your opponent gets. Pretty sneaky!

[Whirling Witchcraft]

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Whirling Witchkraft is a fast-paced game with enginebuilding mechanism, sounds difficult, but is quite suitable for beginners. Depending on the composition of the players, this game can play out very differently. That is precisely why it seems to be suitable for many types of players. Frequent players will be a little more aggressive with the possibilities, while family players will be a little more balanced with the wizardry. With the magic pots nearly bursting in production, it's time to give the material a bit of a rest. But not without watching a quick round of TEN.

Introduction: TEN (AEG)


TEN is a card game in which players try to form number sequences from 1 to 9 in order to score one point per card in the longest own number sequence of the four colors of cards at the end of the game. To do this, they draw cards from a draw pile. They can draw as many cards as they want on their turn. Sounds too easy? Of course it is, they may draw as many cards as they like, but surprisingly the number of points on the cards must never exceed 10. When this happens the cards go to a market from which you can buy the cards. If you are satisfied with the drawn cards in time, you may put the cards in your discard and it's the next player's turn. Since I already mentioned that you can buy cards from the market, I must of course also mention that there is also a currency in the game. Besides the normal cards, there are also currency cards with different values in the draw pile.

These values, too, must not go above 10 when you draw, of course, or the round is over as well. To make things even more complicated, the values of the currency cards are always subtracted from the values of the normal cards. If, for example, a blue card with the value 8 is on the table and a currency card with the value 5 is revealed, the total sum is 3. This allows the active player to perhaps dare to draw another card, since he is now much further away from the magic 10 than before. However, he now has another problem! An active player may not take both types of cards. He must decide whether to choose the money or the normal cards for his rows. However, the decision becomes even more difficult, because if the player chooses the cards, all other players get paid the money. If he chooses the money, the cards go into the market.

[TEN]

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TEN is an incredibly exciting game. Even though the rules sound a bit complicated at first, they become obvious within the first few moves. Even after a short time, you are left wondering whether or not to draw another card. TEN is quickly explained and quickly played and is therefore suitable as an introduction or as the final game of a game evening and for any type of player.

For me, anyway, it was the final game for today in this round! I will report in detail about Cascadia and Dog Lover after the show. Fortunately, I was able to secure a copy! Have fun!
Yours Lutz

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It's time for expansion!

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And here we are, back in the Halls of SPIEL for another day of games. Today my special focus will be on some expansions which I have been anticipating for a long time. As it seems, every successful game needs an expansion these days, and sometimes I had to ask myself whether an expansion really was necessary. Was the base game too simple? Have there been any faults, or did the designers really have new ideas which simply cried to go into an expansion? I guess you will all have come across expansions which seem completely unnecessary, and even worse is a publishing strategy to split off pseudo-expansions from the base game in order to increase the price of the whole bundle. This is an approach which some publishers seem to follow, because you often see base game and expansion released at the same time.

However, on the other hand you will also have found expansions which – once played – you will never ever separate from the base game again. These expansions seems to fit naturally with the base game, and thinking back, I remember that KOSMOS VERLAG was among the first German companies doing a larger number of expansions for their global bestseller Settlers of Catan which had won the Spiel des Jahres awards back in 1995. Seafarers and Cities and Knights really enlarged the scope of the base game of Settlers, and so they were much appreciated by an ever growing community of Settlers-fans.

Introduction: Paleo – A New Beginning
HANS IM GLÜCK (2 B 110)

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This year at the SPIEL the new Paleo expansion Paleo – Ein neuer Anfang certainly is one of the really useful expansions. Due to its modular card decks, Paleo actually is a game which is ideal for exansions. The fact that the players use different combinations of decks for every new round is so flexible that new decks can be added with ease, and so the expansion includes a new base deck, an upgraded human deck, and six new adventures that you can freely combine with all other modules.

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Finally the players’ tribe can finally settle down and build a small settlement. With the cultivation of crops and the achievements of the stable, you no longer have to rely on hunting alone to survive. But life won't remain peaceful, because new challenges are waiting. So, you can now explore deep jungles and icy mountain ranges, you can enter a strange dream world and there will even be a deadly volcano eruption. This sounds thrilling indeed!

But let’s expand the topic of expansions!

Review: Clank! Adventuring Party
SCHWERKRAFT VERLAG / RENEGADE GAME STUDIOS (3 P 124)

If I am asked which game I have played most often in recent years, Clank! from Paul Dennen (RENEGADE GAME STUDIOS / SCHWERKRAFT) is one of the games on top of the list. My wife Nicole and I love the combination of deckbuilding and dungeon crawling, talking almost diabolical fun from the fact when each other is causing noise (Clank!) on the way through the dungeon, thus bringing closer an unwanted end as a dragon’s snack. We have even built a whole campaign arc from the different expansions which are available for Clank!, and due to its high addictiveness we have taught the game to quite a few people, spreading the Clankomania among many of our friends.

Since the game is limited to four players, I have given much thought to the fact how the player count might be increased to six. It seems quite easy to purchase wooden cubes of two new colours, and also two additional starting decks are no problem if friends have a second base game or if you own Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated. With these components and a small setup twist (more on this later) I have indeed played some quite hilarious rounds of Clank! with a total cast of six players, but I always was wishing for some kind of official six-player expansion.

Well, the wait is over, and you will perhaps understand my excitement when I finally could lay my hands on a German copy of Clank! Adventuring Party! Six players, unique player characters and a promise of increased player interaction – count me in!!! I have received the expansion a few days ahead of the SPIEL, giving me the opportunity to playtest it with a full company of sic players, I have to confess that our 6-player dungeon exploration has left me with a less satisfied feeling than I would have expected. The reason for my moderate disappointment lies in the fact that the game went totally mayhem, reducing the players’ control and strategy to a degree where you nearly can’t talk about controlled gameplay anymore.

[Clank Adventuring Party]

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Most important here is the fact that the dungeon row of cards available for purchase totally changes between two turns of an individual player, with almost no hope of a card being still available if you do not purchase it in your current turn. This actually has an influence on card values and player tactics, because the players now tend to go for cheaper cards, allowing them a quick, cheap and dirty trip into the dungeon in the hope that the players going deeper will get lost in the depths due to the final countdown which is triggered once the first player has left the dungeon. Of course this approach is known from rounds with 2 to 4 players as well, but with six players it’s almost inevitable that one or more players will go the cheap way. This makes it almost impossible for the rest of the players to follow a sustainable strategy of deckbuilding, because there simply is neither enough time nor consistency to build a more sophisticated deck, especially since the card row is constantly changing.

[Clank Adventuring Party]

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But don’t despair, this experience has been made using the six identical starter decks included in the expansion, and so we have reset the game and went for a second delve right away. This time we used the unique player characters, with each character having three individual cards in his start deck and some nice, unique abilities. So, for example the Elven Thief will go stronger with each new type of treasure he plunders from the dungeon, whereas the Sorceress can collect Mana which she can spend to cast certain spells. Quite a show is Monkeybot Prime, a loud mechanical fellow with self-healing powers and improvement capacities, whereas no one can outmatch the Ogre Brute when it comes to brawling and fighting monsters. Our merry company is completed by a sturdy Dwarf Warrior who begins with a follower from the Dwarf Rebellion and a sneaky Cat Burglar (Meow!), and even though it may seem impossible none of these characters seems to have abilities which are overpowering the others. Perhaps the mechanical Monkeybot is a bit stronger than the others, but already Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated showed that the game can be enjoyed if players start with asynchronous decks, and in Clank! Adventuring Party the slightly better starting skills of the characters actually serve as a kickstarter to help the players to get a better start into the game.

Another new element introduced by this expansion are are reaction abilities which now can be found on most of the new cards. These reaction abilities allow a player to reveal such a card from his hand if the conditions listed on the card are met during ANOTHER player’s turn. These conditions are fairly straightforward and are things which happen quite often during the game (e.g. a player defeats a monster in the cardrow, a player enters an ice cave etc.). If a player can reveal a matching reaction card, he may get a benefit for his next turn, and furthermore he will keep the reaction card and draw an additional card. So, the player’s hand will increase for his upcoming turn, thus giving him a broader range of actions. It is clear that these cards are also included for balancing reasons, but their effect is mediocre at best, because their usefulness once again depends on almost random situations. So, you may have a fitting reaction card at hand when a player does a certain thing – or you may not. Either way, it’s something totally uncontrollable, and so these boost effects coming from reactions are something which the players just cannot count on.

[Clank Adventuring Party]

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However, even the stronger characters and the Reaction cards only in part make up for the “quick and cheap” dilemma which I have outlined above, because there is still the problem with the cardrow which changes too much between two player turns to allow strategic planning on acquiring certain cards. So, for the third dungeon delve of the evening we decided to revive one of my homebrewed six player variants, opening up not one cardrow but two rows of cards available for the players. The trick is that three players share one cardrow each, and this effectively solves the problem outlined above. Players now once again have a higher chance to get a card which was already available during their last turn, and the introduction of the second cardrow does not disturb the gameflow either. Dragon attacks can be handled the normal way, because it doesn’t matter whether a Dragon is drawn for the one or other cardrow, and also the availability of cards is not changed, because the cards to refill the row are randomly drawn anyway.

If you use this variant together with all the components of Clank! Adventuring Party, the six player game delivers its full potential, because the players opting for a sustainable long-term strategy now stand at least a better change against the the opportunists going for a speed strategy. Overall it must be noted that the game still is slightly less controlled than normal Clank!, but on the other hand you now have the opportunity to experience this great game in a larger group!

I think we should pursue this expansionist strategy a bit further, so let’s go for the next expansion right away!

Introduction: War of the Ring – The Fate of Erebor
ARES GAMES (3 E 100)

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ARES GAMES still has not released the third and last expansion for their successful Tolkien-adaption War of the Ring, but to shorten the wait they have come to the SPIEL 21 with a new mini-expansion. War of the Ring – The Fate of Erebor actually deals with a fictional scenario, assuming that the Orcs actually have won the Battle of the Five Armies, taking control of the Lonely Montain and expelling men from Dale and Lake-Town.

The expansion comes with a board overlay which turns Erebor into a Shadow Stronghold, and instead the neighbouring Iron Hills are upgraded to a city because the remnants of the dwarven forces are settling in this area. The included cards are used to replace some of the base game cards, because cards of the Free People referencing Erebor wouldn’t work anymore, and so these cards are now related to the Iron Hills.

[Clank Adventuring Party]

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While all this may sound quite technical, the changes result in a quite interesting new setting for the whole War of the Ring game. On the one hand, the Sauron player now only can gain 3 Victory Points instead of 5 by occupying the remaining settlements of the Free People in the North East. This results in a shift of focus, because the North East campaign becomes less attractive. On the other hand, the attractiveness for the Free People player to become active in this area increases, because Erebor now is another stronghold where 2 of the necessary 4 Victory Points for winning the game can be gained. Both Mount Gundabad and Dol Guldur are close, and so a military engagement in the North East may give the necessary cover to the Fellowship of the Ring.

With these essential changes, The Fate of Erebor will open up a quite new approach to the whole game, making players rethink their strategies and try new options.

You are not yet tired of expansionism? Then you are in for a real treat! But before we go for today’s final expansion review, let’s first do a last joyride with our Delorean.

G@mebox Anniversary Special


[Unicorn]

2014 to 2020 – More than SPIEL

For those of you who are still riddling why I called yesterday’s anniversary special “The Golden Years”, here is a bit of explanation. In the years 2008 to 2013 the SPIEL did grow considerably, but there was still abound of the old pioneer spirit. Many small publisher booths, and many self-made game designers were attending the show, trying to present their prototypes to the big players. While this is still part of the SPIEL today, the whole appearance of the SPIEL has changed in the last few years. Very big distributors like ASMODEE are pushing the small booths into the more remote halls, using their almost continental-sized theme worlds to do all day podcasts and events with young influencers and promoters in order to maximize their presence. Mind you, this is certainly all part of a modern trade fair, but nonetheless the SPIEL has changed due to these developments. I am a bit sorry that the old days have passed, but overall this doesn’t overshadow my enjoyment of the modern SPIEL.

So, what are the most important SPIEL experiences for me? The answers can be found in today’s time travels!

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2014: Long-time Friends

Yes, meeting friends here at the SPIEL is as important as playing games. As a reviewer I might be seen as being on the other side of the table, but nonetheless over the decades I have developed a wonderful friendship with designers and publishers coming from different parts of the world. Take Ignacy for example: I have first met him years ago on his first SPIEL visit as a new publisher, and I have seen his company grow ever since. However, even though we rarely meet, we always find the time for a good chat, and over the years this turned into a beautiful friendship!

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2015: Ladies’ Day

It’s another of these long-standing traditions that my wife Nicole comes along for at least one SPIEL day if her schedule allows. It’s not just wonderful that my wife shares my passion for boardgames, but she also provides a very special view of the convention when she accompanies me through the halls. Our taste in games is mostly similar, but nonetheless Nicole often stops and points at games which I otherwise would have missed. This always brings to light some game gems which deserve to be taken along, and so the days with Nicole at the SPIEL always are a great adventure for me!

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2016: Party Time

Yes, I can barely stand at the end of a day at SPIEL, and with all the nighttime typing ahead it may seem difficult to enjoy a party when the SPIEL closes after a successful day. However, especially the “booth parties” at REPOS PRODUCTION are a perfect end for a convention day, offering a possibility to meet and greet with many friends from around the globe. There is a time for business, and there is a time for party – that’s true for Cedrick and me!

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2017: Visiting ARTIPIA in Athens

Friendship lasts beyond the days of SPIEL, and due to the many years at the show I now have friends in many countries around the globe. When going abroad, there is often a chance to visit some friends, and in 2017 I have been at the headquarters of ARTIPIA GAMES in Athens. It has been a trip for work, but after work I took the metro and went to visit Konstantinos, Vangelis and the rest of the ARTIPIA crew for a visit. This was a memorable moment indeed!

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2018: Sustainable Gaming

Yes, the games market is heated, with hundreds of interesting new games being released each year. However, for me it’s important to keep an eye open for older games which might be worthwhile to play. A good example for this is Dice Forge. Released at the SPIEL 17, I actually was made aware of this game later by a somewhat mediocre review in SPIELBOX magazine. Curiosity has made me test the game, and since that day Dice Forge regularly is hitting the table. So, despite all the new games which need to be looked at, keep in mind that the games from the years before have been designed with the same degree and compassion as the new ones. And indeed, some of these old games may be better than most of a year’s releases.

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2019: Pre-SPIEL excursions

When SPIEL is approaching, Nicole and I usually do a nice trip to visit some scenic places before SPIEL week starts. This is not only a nice opening story for my SPIEL reports, but for us it is also a long-standing tradition to start into the busy SPIEL week. Long hours in the convention halls and at the computer loom at the horizon, and so these October excursions are the best possible means for us to gather some energies and get ready for the show!

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2020: Games give Happiness!

Yes, there has been a lot of criticism regarding the technical implementation of SPIEL.digital in 2020, but let’s not forget that special times demand for special measures. Even SPIEL.digital offered some very memorable moments, and during these times of the pandemic it was just great to find some happiness in our wonderful hobby of boardgaming!

Great Scott! All this time travelling has made my head buzz with memories, but looking back those 25 years have been filled with wonderful moments and great experiences. The SPIEL was, is and will be a very important event for me each year, but at the same time there are many more occasions to rejoice and take delight. Of course it is a bit scary how quickly these 25 years have passed, but let’s hope that this is only half-time of all my SPIEL reporting. Here’s to the next 25 years!!!

And now, hop in! The Flux Compensator is ready to take us back to SPIEL 21!

Review: The Lost Ruins of Arnak – Expedition Leaders
CZECH GAMES EDITION (1 D 139)

Last year publisher CZECH GAMES EDITION dared the release of a very promising big boardgame right in the middle of the pandemic, at the time when there were meeting restrictions for friends and families all around the globe. However, Petr Murmak and his editorial staff at CGE were convinced that it would not do The Lost Ruins of Arnak right to leave it in the design vault for yet another year, and indeed the game by Mín & Elwen captivated gamers online and in analogous reality from its release on. Quoting my own report from last year’s SPIEL.digital convention, I stated that Arnak “[…] is a very strong contender for next year's game awards, and I can certainly understand why the game is receiving so much publicity at SPIEL.digital.” And now, one year later, Mín, Elwen and the whole CGE team have returned to the SPIEL 21, with the The Lost Ruins of Arnak being the proud winner of the DEUTSCHER SPIELE PREIS 2021, Germany’s most prestigious game award!

Of course such an occasion needs to be celebrated, and so CGE has brought along a brand new expansion for the game: The Lost Ruins of Arnak – Expedition Leaders! Now you may say that it has been an almost safe bet that there would be an expansion, because it’s one of those unwritten rules of the boardgames business that when a game goes up in the popularity ratings, the normal reaction of its publisher is the release of an expansion. Indeed this rule is confirmed even more often in case of award-winning smash hit games, but I know publisher Petr Murmak and the CGE team long enough that I was sure they would never publish an expansion which did not fully convince them of its usefulness and enrichment of the base game.

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Already my first experiences with The Lost Ruins of Arnak – Expedition Leaders confirm that once again my assumptions were true. This expansion is much more than a casual attachment, but instead the introduction of different Expedition Leaders with asymmetrical powers and different starting decks opens up possibilities to experience The Lost Ruins of Arnak in ways which have not yet been there before. So, the Expedition Leaders expansion now gives the players a choice of six different characters which they will use as leaders for their exploration of Arnak. The Captain, the Falconer, the Baroness, the Professor, the Explorer and the Mystic all stand at the command of the players, and each of them has his own strengths and weaknesses, with some of them being a bit easier to play than the others.

Rather straightforward for example is the Captain. Being a true commander, he can inspire the crew, and so the Captain’s player will receive a third archaeologist meeple for the exploration of Arnak. I am sure that already this simple addition will catch the attention of many experienced Arnakeers. A third meeple? Won’t this totally put the game out of balance? At this point I must give kudos to the team of designers, because the creation and balancing of an expansion with asymmetrical player powers takes a lot of intuition and finesse, especially if the base game functions so well because everybody is starting with exactly the same deck and possibilities. However, if you look at the different abilities and specialties of all Leaders, you will discover that really a lot of playtesting and finetuning has been done in order to keep a level playing field.

So, the Captain’s additional meeple will provide the benefits of using a third site on the gameboard, but other characters like the Falconer or the Baroness have powers which also give them additional resources. So, the Falconer can send her falcon to bring different objects, and the longer it stays in the air the better the benefits will be. The Baroness on the other hand is quite wealthy, so she has a basic income each round, and she can also use Special Delivery parachutes to gain equipment faster than other players. Different approaches, but all providing additional benefits.

[Clank Adventuring Party]

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However, these additional ways to gain resources are only part of the Leaders’ special powers. In addition, each Leader also has some quite unique abilities, and these abilities will strongly influence a player’s general strategic approach to a game or Arnak, because the best results will be reached if a Leader’s abilities are used to their best advantage. So, matching tactics and abilities is a new challenge with each Leader, and this kind of variety puts even more emphasize on the fresh new approach provided by this expansion.

A quite good example for this is the Explorer. Being used to scout ahead of the others, she only has a single archaeologist meeple available each round. However, the Explorer possesses a backpack full of provisions, and these can be used to move the archaeologist meeple once or even more often during a round to activate several sites. These additional movements may cost resources, but at the same time the player will profit from new options. For example, the first placement of the meeple can be used to reveal a Guardian, and if the player sees that he won’t be able to defeat it provisions can be used to move on without triggering negative effects. On the other hand, the Explorer’s provisions also can be used to activate special powers of cards in his starting deck, and so the player has to ponder whether to move the archaeologist meeple or to use special card effects.

Most difficult to play is the Mystic. This strange fellow actually collects additional Fear cards for his deck each round. This sounds like a severe setback, but it can be turned to great benefits of the player somehow manages to exile some of these Fear cards. All exiled Fears are collected on the Mystic’s ritual pile, and if enough cards have been collected he may use one of his starting cards to set the ritual pile aflame. The more Fears exiled, the greater the power of this Ritual, and so the player may receive a considerable rebate when buying artifacts or even defeat a Guardian without any challenge. So, as you can see, playing the Mystic certainly turns any traditional strategy upside down, because the player now needs to cope with an increased amount of Fear cards in his deck, turning them to benefits whenever possible.

One benefit is certain when using the Leaders: it becomes easier to make progress on the Research Track, and players generally trend towards getting higher scores. This is because the Leaders’ powers will generally provide the players with a higher amount of resources, at least when their abilities are used accordingly. Some players will certainly welcome this side effect, but the expansion even includes a solution for truly hard-boiled adventurers who want to face a real challenge. So, the Leaders are accompanied by a new double-sided overlay for the Research track, and the now available Monkey and Lizard Temples are truly a new category of challenge. The Monkey Temple features less Research Bonus tiles and is more expensive to advance in, but players now may stop a step or two before reaching the Inner Sanctum. Here they can collect the cheaper kinds of Temple tiles, but of course it will be a difficult question whether they shouldn’t better push on to get to the big scores which can be found in the Inner Sanctum. The Lizard Temple on the other hand has an additional Guardian which needs to be defeated, and furthermore there will be volcanic eruptions which will change the sites on the main gameboard – in the middle of the game!

[Clank Adventuring Party]

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As you can see, the new Lost Ruins of Arnak – Expedition Leaders adds an almost incredible amount of innovations to the game. It’s a game-changer in the literal sense, because many of the traditional strategies now need to be reassessed whether they still match with the new conditions. I love the fact that no two games are alike due to the use of the different Leaders, and at the same time these individual approaches also add greatly to the game’s thematic density. Every Leader gives you a truly new challenge, and a quite high replay value is guaranteed because many Leader skills need to be tested several times for their best possible uses. If you like The Lost Ruins of Arnak, this new expansion is a compulsory addition!

This definitely is a worthy final addition to today’s expansion overview, but there is actually one last stop for me in the convention halls today!

Stopover: PORTAL GAMES (3 O 118)

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Arriving at the booth of PORTAL GAMES in order to visit my friend Ignacy Trzewiczek, I came right into their daily Covid protection exercise. “Hands up” was the motto, and of course it’s just a bit of hilarious nonsense, but nothing is better than taking a laughing break now and then. It not sure whether this new, fully unscientific method will work, because the WHO approval is still pending. But the mood at the PORTAL booth certainly was great!

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Introduction: Dune – House Secrets
PORTAL GAMES (3 O 118)

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This year’s big game release here at the SPIEL has been a real coup for Ignacy and PORTAL GAMES, because he actually was able to publish a game based on Frank Herbert’s Dune saga. In the cooperative game Dune – House Secrets the players take the roles of resistance fighters, trying to uncover a plot by the evil House Harkonnen. The game is based on the technology platform of PORTAL’s successful Detective game, so that the player have to use a website to gather clues and solve the mystery.

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With a total of 10 to 12 hours of playing time, the players have to play their way through a total of three chapters. The decisions they take and the actions they perform will influence the events in the later chapters, changing the story and leading to ever new results. This actually makes the game replayable, but the players also can reset a single chapter and start again if they aren’t too happy with the results of their investigation.

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The playing mechanism on which the game runs is simple but effective. Every action taken by the players consumes time, and since they only have a limited amount of time units available for each chapter, they have to be as efficient in gathering clues about the main plot as possible. The more time they consume, the harder Harkonnen retaliation strikes will hit the resistance force. In addition, there is also a bit of character development, and the players have different resources at hand which they must use to their benefit.

The website for Dune – House Secrets was activated with the opening of the SPIEL, and you can expect a highly thematic interactive deduction game with a deep story element. Ignacy and the PORTAL team have gathered a lot of know-how while creating Detective, and now Dune – House Secrets will take the interactive experience to a new level.

And here is a treat for true Dune fans: This is only the first instalment of a triology! All three games will be separately playable, but there will be an overarching story and developments which carry over from one game to the next. That’s not a game, it will be a journey!

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However, the best event of today’s SPIEL was the possibility to leave the Halls with Ignacy and have a nice long chat together. After two years we had a lot to catch up, and I was delighted to hear that the once small publishing house of PORTAL GAMES has grown big enough to get well through the pandemic. Being a company with now 40 employees, the return to the SPIEL 21 was an important event for PORTAL GAMES, and Ignacy is just happy to be back among gamers here in the halls. The outlook for the future looks good as well, because next year’s Eleven is deemed to become highly popular especially with soccer fans!

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My last event for today was a trip to ALLGAMES4YOU with Nicole. She was working today, so entering SPIEL wouldn’t really have paid off for her. But there was enough time for a visit to the new games show at our local gamestore.

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Quite interesting was the game Canvas by R2i GAMES which had not yet been available on my visit on Tuesday. Players use transparent cards with small motives to create paintings, and they score points to uniting different elements as shown on a selection of scoring cards. Especially the quite unusual playing components make this game quite outstanding, and from an artistic point of view this is one of the most appealing games for years. And of course, my wife also made her find of the day - Nicole found a crazy cat game which just begged to be bagged!

[SPIEL]
Meow! (See you tomorrow!)

Sunday - 17th of October 2021


[SPIEL]

The final day of a great comeback!

Hi everybody, and welcome back for another day here at SPIEL. It’s the final day and although it was exhausting, it’s also a pity that the convention will be over tonight again. One and a half years without any boardgame contacts have ended with a great show. It felt so great to be back among people who love our hobby as much as we do. Let’s hope that we can continue playing games with our friends and that the pandemic won’t strike back in the winter months. Enjoy that moment, here’s another picture with the main part of our G@mebox crew:

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Walking around through hall 2, I suddenly heard Ren Multamäki call my name from far away. Ren is the head of DRAGON DAWN PRODUCTIONS, and he is also the author of the great Perdition’s Mouth and a lot of other games. All his games are somewhat special. Excellent games but never mainstream. We have regular contact since my review of the dungeon crawling master boardgame back in 2016. Of course, I had not forgotten to visit his booth, especially because Ren wanted to show me his first worker placement game here in Essen. So, I stopped right after I heard my name, went over and dug deep in the Factory 42.

Introduction: Factory 42
(Dragon Dawn Production - booth 2D101)

In the game each player takes the role of a factory overseers. Together they must operate a steampunk mining industry that must fulfill the government’s order. Resources must be collected, transported by rail wagons and traded just to convert them to other resources again. For the convertion we need steam, but not too much or else everything vanishes in a big explosion.

Why we are all doing this, nobody knows for sure. It’s just the government’s order. Still, if we are successful, the government will award us, and that’s a good thing at least. All of this so far sounds like a cooperative planning game, but dwarfs are dwarfs. There is always a conflict and a competition between them, isn’t it? And so, it is the same in Factory 42.

Yes, we are asked to fulfill the government’s will. But why not make the most of it? Why not take advantage of the situation, if you are at the corridors of power anywhere in the production process? Besides every player has its own company and must survive. And the government is in addition to that also a corrupt one.

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Each turn follows the same structure. Typically for Multamäki there are a lot of steps to run through. And for its step of the production process an administrator is chosen. This is the worker placement part of the game.

The other part of the game is a negation one. Imagine you are the administrator of the loading phase. You will be able to load a wagon to your wishes, but you won’t be sure that this wagon also reaches your company. The administrator for the distributing phase will be someone else. What better to sign a pact with this guy? But are you forced to fulfill this pact? The rules allow two options. Either you are, or you’re not.

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Factory 42 is a complex game with a lot going on. The corrupt government is realised by a divedice tower. You throw all resources you have produced into the tower, but you can never be sure which resources come out of the tower again.

Seems to be a promising game, although his first worker placement still a Multamäki game, somewhat special. Ren also told me that people here at SPIEL were very interested in the game, and that he is very satisfied at the end of the fair. As usual, I will tell you more about the game in the next couple of weeks.

After this rather complex game, I felt for playing something easier, a card game would be good. So, I went to the booth of HEIDELBÄR GAMES. I knew that there would be a new title in the series of shiny card games, a series that has successfully began with the card game Spicy about two years ago.

Playtest: Blaze (Heidelbär Games - booth 1C121)

As usual in this series of card games, the visual appearance of the game and its components is awesome. It’s nearly a sin to play games with the game, it easily could be placed in a cabinet or directly in a museum. On the other hand, it is also great to take the cards into your hand and play with them.

Blaze is a card game optimized for three players. Each round one player is the attacker to one of the other players, and a second player assists the defender. You can also play the game with more than three players, but then, one player must always miss one round. That’s not really a problem, because one turn rather short, but still, it is a little bit downtime.

But how does the game work? The aim is to get rid of your cards. Every round the attacker plays a single or a set of cards. The next player can either play cards of the same value or increase their value. But he must either follow the same suit or change to trump. The attacker then can again add a card and so on until one player must pass. But wait, where is the supporter? It is the player second in order and this person can help the defender by playing more cards to the table.

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Whoever looses the bid must take all cards played this turn. After that all players with less than five cards, must draw new cards from the supply until five again. That sounds confusing, doesn’t it. Getting as many cards each round as you have started the game with. How can you then get rid of your cards? No worry, I can promise that your first round will be exactly this: confusing. But you will soon see that it should be your aim to optimize your hand. If you , eg. can play a set of four, probable no one can defend. You see, hand management is asked of you. Some special cards are also quite useful to end the round for you, but one winning round is not enough, the winner is only determined after the second round.

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I think that Blaze is on the one hand a very traditional card game with similarities to poker and skat. On the other hand, the support mechanism and the permanent draws of new cards is something new, refreshing to me. But I learned at the convention that the core mechanism is not in the least new one, because Blaze is based on the traditional Russion game Durak. It just shows you never know. Anyway, an interesting new card game from Heidelbär Games.

That nearly ends my report for today and my coverage for the SPIEL21. Let me just show you one more game, I wanted to play, but time was running and running and so I didn’t succeed and just toke some pictures for you:

First impression: Frutticola (Giochix.it - booth 1C125)

Frutticola is a game about growing and selling fruits and jam. You see in the pictures that there is quite a lot of material involved. The players are farmers who try to get the richest family in the area. Fertilizers and pesticides were some words I overheard while I made my photos.

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Apart from the theme Frutticola seems to be a basic worker placement game. But I heard it’s one of the better ones. There is a lot of strategy necessary to win the game. I only hope that will not end up in endless calculating by the one or other player (you probably all know those fellows). But the game looked so nice that I will have a try on it soon. Join me and stay tuned, I will tell you more about the game soon…

And with that my part of the SPIEL coverage ends. Tomorrow will be a day at work for me again. So, I better find some sleep after the five exhausting days for me. For now, I leave you with Frank for the final.

A last big thank you for my dear wife Andrea for the perfect shirts for our G@mebox crew!
For the next months we are equipped with a lot of challenging and entertaining new boardgames. See you all again next year and stay tuned for our profound reviews in the next couple of months.

Stay healthy, read our internet magazine, and play a lot of games!

With very kind regards!
Yours, Ralf

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[SPIEL]

It's Ladies' Day!

[SPIEL]

And here we are: the SPIEL 21 is over and we are looking back at another great SPIEL week. It has been a special SPIEL indeed, and I probably won’t forget this year with all the health & safety precautions, the entry controls and the face masks. It all seemed strange, but at the same time it was just nice to have the convention back in real life. It is a clear sign that things are improving! But to draw a conclusion, let’s have another stroll through the convention halls. This certainly is the best place to see whether the SPIEL 21 was a success.

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From the perspective of the participating game publishers the show seems to be mostly a success. At the booth of DESYLLAS GAMES from Greece I got together with my friend Vangelis Bagiartakis, and he told me that that had not been here for selling games but for licensing their new games to partners from other countries. Both their new party game Who? and their bag bellow movement and delivery game Cloud Castle had been well received, and so Vangelis will return home to Greece with some new business contracts.

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But also the games sales were going rather well. Going through the halls today, the “sold out” signs were ubiquitous. I was happy that I had made most of my shoppings on Friday, since games like The Siege of Runedar from LUDONOVA or Living Forest from LUDONAUTE were not available anymore, but for some things like the Adventures of Robin Hood mini expansion from KOSMOS it was too late even for me. However, good sales mean a good show, and so the publishers hopefully will be satisfied with their sales numbers here at the show.

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Talking about sales, a but shocking were the prices which were asked by some publishers. There are shortages in these days in production materials, but does this justify a price of 150 Euros for a Merlin Big Box or 270 Euros for a Settlers of Catan 3D. Well, the 3D Settlers is quite beautiful, but in the end it’s only the base game for four players without any expansions. These are indeed steep prices!

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Some other things also remain unchanged, but in case of UK-based publisher PSC it was a horrible experience which unfortunately happens now and then when importing games to the EU. PSC was here to present their new micro-wargame Caesar! Seize Rome in 20 minutes!. You might remember from Wednesday that I wanted to check this game out, because designer Paolo Mori has done a great job with the predecessor game Blitzkrieg.

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PSC actually was going the expensive way, trying to ship 300 copies by airfreight to the SPIEL, but German customs rejected the games on the border. The reason seems to be that the “chocking hazard” warning on the box was not sufficient for toys which are imported to the European Union, and so PSC was not able to sell any games and only demo the game with their one remaining copy. These customs problems are nothing new, and Andrew Migliore from PSC told me that the game now will be available to order via the PSC website, but nonetheless we had a sad case of BREXIT-madness here.

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And of course there were the shipping problems, this year more than ever. Games like ADELE, Dice Throne or Mini Rogue had been on my shopping list for the show, but have not made it here due to the global shipping crisis. In some cases I could replace the German version by going for the English version, but in many cases the games just weren’t here.

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Another success story here at the SPIEL 21 certainly was the presentation of upcoming Kickstarter projects. While I am always a bit sad if games are not available right away, the role of Kickstarter for the realization of many great game ideas is undisputed. Friday’s Iron Forest certainly will have attracted a good number of backers here at the SPIEL, but there were many more games to be discovered found in the halls. So, for example MOAIDEAS GAME DESIGN from Taiwan soon will start the campaign for Jiangnan: Life of Gentry. Both the theme of literati artisans and the prototype look unusual and promising, and projects like this certainly depend highly on Kickstarter funding.

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So, in total the SPIEL 21 can be called a success. Of course there were less visitors, but nearly 100.000 people still had managed to come during the 4 days of the show. Likewise the total exhibition area was downsized, and on the photo above you see that the halls had huge areas which were simply left empty. However, there was still enough of the SPIEL feeling to call this a true SPIEL.

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But as I told you yesterday, for me important element of SPIEL also is a convention day with my wife Nicole, and so we took the afternoon for playtesting some quite interesting acquisitions which I have brought home from the SPIEL on Nicole’s choice. So, let us welcome you to Ladies’ Day!

Review: Ecosystem
SCHWERKRAFT VERLAG / GENIUS GAMES (3 P 124)

It’s more than 10 years ago that 7 Wonders established the card drafting mechanism as a highly interactive and innovative variant to classic deckbuilding games. The use of card drafting allows players to start gaming right away instead of investing time to pre-construct their own playing decks, and it’s also quicker than deckbuilders which fall into the Dominion-class because the drafted cards are used right away instead of constructing a working playing engine first.

Coming in a tiny box with 130 American mini-size cards, the game Ecosystem by Matt Simpson (published by GENIUS GAMES / SCHWERKRAFT) challenges the players to build their own ecosphere in a woodland landscape. During the course of the game, the players will draft a total of 20 cards over a duration of 2 rounds, and these cards must be aligned by the players in order to build their own small woodlands area.

So, what exactly is meant by “building a woodlands area”? Well, in essence the players place each newly drafted card in front of themselves, following the requirement that each new card must be placed either horizontally or vertically adjacent to an already placed card. Furthermore, the players’ forests have a size restriction, so that the forests may only have a maximum outer dimension of 4 times 5 cards. This allows the placement of a maximum of 20 cards, but it certainly restricts card placement more and more during the course of the game, since each new card still must fit the maximum forest dimensions.

The cards themselves show different animals and landscapes, and it’s the challenge for the players to arrange these cards in a way to activate a maximum of scorings. For example, a Bear will collect points for each adjacent Bee or Trout, an Eagle gets points for each Trout or Coney within a range of two cards, and Dragonfly will get points for all connected Creeks.

[Ecosystem]

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All scorings will be made at the end of the game when the 20th card has been drafted, but despite the seemingly straightforward examples listed above the task of the players to arrange their cards to make the best scorings is rather challenging. On the one hand, a total of 11 (!) different animals and landscapes exists in Ecosystem, with each of these card types being connected to its own scoring options. Sometimes the scorings are made for adjacent cards, sometimes for the total amount of connected identical cards, and sometimes points can even be scored if specific cards are not adjacent to each other (Foxes don’t like Bears of Wolves). Other scorings are based on majorities (biggest pack of Wolves), and even territorial areas are used to score (one Stag maximum in each row and column). And of course ecodiversity also matters, and so players will score bonus points for placing as many different card types as possible within their forest.

[Ecosystem]

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Despite its very straighforward rules and good playing aids Ecosystem poses a considerable challenge especially when playing it for the first time. It’s not too easy to grasp the different scoring options right from the beginning, and if you try to keep an eye also on the rarity of each card type you can quickly get lost in the forest. Things are made even harder by the fact that the drafted cards have to remain in position once they have been placed, so that a player’s forest grows but cannot be changed (with the exception of the rare Coney cards which allow a position switch of two other cards). However, this seemingly steep entry threshold can be overcome within a moderate time frame of one or two quick learning rounds, and afterwards the gameplay is absolutely smooth with no further obstacles. Especially the forest setting helps the players to grow accustomed to the scoring options, because it’s almost intuitive that Bees like Meadows or Trouts the Creeks. So, the theme of Ecosystem matters for its playability, and it’s certainly a nice feat to make such a well-designed connection within the scope of a microgame!

[Ecosystem]

Overall, Ecosystem is a wonderful lightweight game which shines for its rather ingenious combination of card drafting and placement, and coupled with a high atmospheric value the game is an almost perfect example that great games can fit in small boxes!

Review: Living Forest
LUDONAUTE (3 M 117)

[Ecosystem]

Now, this next game certainly has an incredibly appealing artwork, and as usual with LUDONAUTE both the theme and its implementation are consistent and unusual at the same time. The players assume the roles of Spirits of Nature, trying to be most efficient in saving the Sacred Tree of the Forest from the flames of Onibi. For this aim the players recruit the help of Guardian Animals which can be used for different kinds of actions, but one of the tricky elements is that the Guardian Animals actually can affect the effectiveness of different actions at the same time with different modifiers.

[Living Forest]

Click on image to enlarge!

So, the basic actions in the game are the planting of protective trees, the extinction of fire, the movement of the Spirit and the acquisition of new Guardian animals. At the beginning all players start with an identical deck of Guardian Animals, and during his turn a player may reveal as many cards from his deck as he likes. Well, there is a limit, because the revealing of a third Guardian with the Solitary attribute will stop the player from revealing new cards, and at the same time this means that the player will loose one of his two possible turn actions. So, it’s a bit push your luck whether to stop or continue revealing cards.

The deck of Guardian Animals grows by deckbuilding, with new cards being purchased from an open display. Usually these new Guardians have stronger powers than the ones in the starting deck, and in addition some of them also can be used to cancel the Solitary attribute of other Guardians, thus allowing the player to reveal more Guardian cards. Each revealed card will provide modifiers for the different actions outlined above, and when the player thinks that he has revealed enough cards he stops and will perform two actions, with the effectiveness of these actions being based on the modifiers on the revealed Guardian Animals.

[Living Forest]

Click on image to enlarge!

The planting of protective trees and the extinguishing of fires are directly connected to the victory conditions, because the first player to plant the 12th tree or to extinguish the 12th fire will have won the game. In addition, the trees also will provide modifiers for future actions, whereas the extinguishing of fires prevents the players from adding Fire Varan cards to their decks, a worthless card with no modifiers and only the Solitary attribute. In contrast, the action of moving a player’s Spirit pawn in the Circle of Spirits is not directly connected to victory conditions, but here a player can trigger valuable bonus actions and collect Victory tiles from other players which may help him to reach the victory conditions quicker. It’s especially this possibility to take different kinds of Victory tiles from players which are overtaken in the Circle of Spirits which is strengthening the interactive aspect of the game, because otherwise Living Forest would be more of an individual optimization challenge for each player.

[Living Forest]

Click on image to enlarge!

Quite interesting and tricky at the same time is the third possible way to win. Many of the Guardian animals provide Sacred Flower symbols. These cannot be used for actions, but a player who succeeds in revealing 12 Sacred Flowers during his turn can also win the game! So, the push your luck mechanism for revealing cards is not only important for enhancing a player’s actions, but it can also play an important part in a player’s winning strategy.

It’s especially this third victory option, the possibility to win by collecting Sacred Flowers, which gives the game a quite unusual twist. Players who like constant calculations will focus on the progress the other players make with the protective trees and the fires, and all this is constantly available information. However, even though all players will see which Guardian Animals a player acquires, it is never certain how many Guardians with Sacred Flowers a player will reveal. Of course a player following this strategy will try to enhance his chances especially by buying cards which cancel the Solitary attribute of other Guardian cards, but nonetheless the outcome here depends may depend on luck.

All this results in an noticeable pressure on all players not to focus just on one way to victory, but to actually participate in the other options as well. This keeps a players’ options open until midgame, and at the same time it will hamper another player’s attempt to go for a single winning strategy right from the beginning.

Despite its stunningly cute artwork Living Forest presents itself as a real challenging combination of deckbuilding and push-your-luck elements, and designer Aske Christiansen has done a great job in finetuning the different card modifiers and aspects to allow different strategic approaches. This is certainly is one of the most unusual games which Nicole and I have played for some time!

[Living Forest]

But isn’t the saying “All good Things come in Threes”? Well, for the final gaming session today Nicole has chosen something a bit more martial, and so we rushed off to help a bunch of stoic Dwarves in the defense of the mountain fortress of Runedar!

Review: The Siege of Runedar
LUDONOVA (3 M 117)

One of the most heroic moments in Tolkien’s The Hobbit is the defence of the Lonely Mountain in the Battle of the Five Armies. Thorin Oakenshield and his company of 12 stoic dwarves hold the gates of the mountain, while outside the battle between Men, Elves, Dwarfs, Orcs and Wargs is raging. However, game designer Reiner Knizia now has returned to prove that a fortress can be defended by even less dwarves, and in The Siege of Runedar by Spanish publisher LUDONOVA a party of just one to four Dwarves is trying the withstand the siege of an Orcish mob.

The fortress of Runedar actually is an abandoned mine high in the mountains, but by sheer luck our Dwarves have found a yet untouched gold vein, and after mining the gold the Dwarves now want to return home with their fortune. However, as bad luck has it, the local Orcs have gotten wind of the story, and now they are laying siege to the fortress to take the gold from our stalwart Dwarves.

With such a setting it is no wonder that The Siege of Runedar falls into the category of tower defense games. The Dwarves have to withstand the onslaught of Orcs, at least until they have succeeded in digging a mountain tunnel which will lead them to safety. So, during the course of the game the players will move their Dwarves to different locations in the fortress, either to carry equipment from the armory or to work some resources, to dig the escape tunnel or to fight the Orcs, Trolls and Goblins which are trying to overrun the place.

The main playing engine in the game is based on card decks which can be improved through a deckbuilding mechanism. So, each player has a deck of 12 Dwarf cards, 10 of which are useful for the player whereas the other two show Orcs which will trigger some actions from the monsters and thus drive the siege forwards. During his turn, a player always will play a hand of 5 of these cards, first dealing with eventual Orc cards and then using the rest for actions with his Dwarf.

As indicated, the Orc cards trigger different actions of the siege army, and this may be either the appearance or assault of the Orcs, the loading and firing of a Catapult or the advancement of a Siege Tower. Fresh Orcs always appear outside the fortress, and whenever they are activated they move one step closer towards the center of the fortress., first scaling the walls, then into the workshops, and finally into the central armory where the Dwarves keep their gold. If an Orc manages to arrive in the armory, he will snatch one nugget of gold, and the game will end with a defeat of the Dwarves if all their gold is stolen. The Siege Tower on the other hand will allow Trolls to get over the walls and get into the courtyard in front of the entrance of the escape tunnel, and these Trolls must be defeated before work on the tunnel can resume. Finally, once loaded the Catapult will strafe the armory where the workbench is located, destroying slots in which Weapon and Tool cards are waiting to be added to the playing decks of the Dwarven defenders. Like with the Orcs stealing the gold, the game also will be over if the fifth Troll enters the fortress or if the last space on the workbench is destroyed, and apart from this the fortress can also be overrun if all 10 Orcs are in play simultaneously. As you can see, there are a lots of way to loose, and our Dwarves have to organize their defence in a way so that none of these threats get out of control.

[Runedar]

Click on image to enlarge!

To organize the defense of the fortress, the players will use the Dwarf cards in their decks to move the Dwarves through the fortress, collect resources, fight the monsters and dig the escape tunnel. The starting cards in the player decks are quite weak, and so the players will strive to replace these cards with stronger cards coming from the armory. However, since the fortress has long been abandoned, the Weapons and Tools from the armory need some repairs in order to be of use. So, the players can dig up new items from the armory, but these cards are only placed at the workbench, waiting for the players to collect the resources required to activate a card. Instead of an individual player purchasing a card for his deck, in The Siege of Runedar all players can contribute resources which are necessary to repair an object. A finished card then can be taken be any player, thus replacing one of the 10 Dwarf cards already in his player deck.

In a recent article in Spielbox magazine Reiner Knizia expressed some pride on the fact that he has had the idea of combining deckbuilding with resource management. Years ago his cooperative classic The Lord of the Rings by KOSMOS has set new a new standard in regards of cooperative gaming, and now he seems to be hopeful that this new approach of forging cards for the player decks will establish a new standard as well. Indeed, for the moment I am hard pushed to remember any deckbuilding game in which a combination of different resources is necessary to gain new cards, and so this approach certainly has some freshness. However, what I really like about this is the fact that all players actually may contribute resources to finish a card quickly, and furthermore its then up to the players to decide who of them actually should take the card. It’s one of the specifics of The Siege of Runedar that all players need to improve their decks, because having just one player with a very strong deck is not enough to deal with different threats at the same time. So, its all about establishing a balance of powers between the players, and here the cooperative aspects of discussion and taking decisions together are profound and nicely developed.

Returning to the uses of the Dwarf cards, these cards always define the power of the actions which may be done with them. Collecting resources and digging the escape tunnel are two of these features, and a third option on many cards is also the possibility to use the card to initiate combat against the monsters. However, if a card has a combat value, this value is not the combat strength of the player, but instead (and that’s indeed an unusual element for a game by Reiner Knizia) the value stands for the number of combat dice which will be rolled by the player. These special dice have values from one to three hits, and different amounts of hits are necessary to fight the different types of monsters in close combat. Orcs take two hits to be removed, whereas the sturdy Trolls may take a multitude of hits, with each Troll having it’s own health scale. In addition, as the dice also show Crossbow symbols, a player may also opt to use the dice for a ranged attack if his Dwarf is standing on one of the fortress’ towers, and if Crossbow symbols are rolled the player may remove either monsters or one of the Orcish war engines, thus interrupting its deployment and buying time for the defenders.

[Runedar]

Click on image to enlarge!

During all phases of the game it can be felt that it is coming from an experienced designer, because Reiner Knizia has given the players not only a tough challenge with an adjustable difficulty level, but – even more important – the players actually have a lot of options which they have to discuss and a wagonload of problems which they have to deal with. So, it’s not only the question who best takes which Weapon or Object, but actually the game is much more about correct timing and doing the right things at the right moment. Resources can be gathered in one of these rare pauses of the Orcish onslaught, but the players have to return to battle almost immediately, and they also shouldn’t forget to keep digging the escape tunnel, their only route to victory. But there are even more twists of fate for the unwary Dwarves. As if the rocks and boulders in the tunnel would not be enough, there is a bunch of Goblins living in the roots of the mountain, and whenever a new part of the tunnel is finally opened a bunch of these pesky creatures appears and needs to be dealt with, either through bribery or even by sheer force. So, the Dwarves are constantly buzzing all over the fortress, trying to keep the show going, and the players have to do their best to keep the defense going.

Talking about the fortress itself, the game greatly profits from the fact that the gamebox turns into a whole 3D fortress. Ramparts, towers and the inner courtyards all are present, and so The Siege of Runedar comes alive quite vividly on your gaming table. I am sure many a gamer also will have some Dwarves and Orc miniatures in their game collection, and if you use these to man the ramparts and storm the fortress, the whole playing atmosphere becomes perfect indeed!

With everything coming together, The Siege of Runedar is a game which offers a profound cooperative playing experience. Indeed Reiner Knizia has succeeded in creating a challenging game which will fascinate all players who like to play on the same side instead of competing with each other, and the combination of deckbuilding and a bit of resource management is well-implemented and has a quite fitting feeling. Despite the new ideas, for me the game does not fully outmatch Knizia’s masterful Lord of the Rings, but this is certainly influenced by my liking for Tolkien’s works and John Howe’s excellent artwork. However, what I can say is that The Siege of Runedar certainly is one of the best tower defense games which we have ever played, being on the same level as our favourite B-Sieged: Sons of the Abyss.

And this finally brings us to the end of this year’s report from SPIEL 21. Overall it has been a great show, and it was just wonderful to see it come back to life after last year’s forced break. However, likewise enjoyable for me were all the G@mebox 25th Anniversary Specials, and I hope you liked these as much as I liked reliving these moments. I think that 25 years of SPIEL reports certainly is a feat, and I would call myself lucky if we could go on like this for the next 25 years.

If you ask me which game I liked most in these four days, my choice falls on Matt Simpsons Ecosystem. Once you have come to grips with the essentials, this small game is truly elegant and a challenging at the same time. Sometimes great games can be small and short at the same time!

[Ecosystem]

For today Nicole and I would like to bid you farewell! Please stay safe and healthy, game on and perhaps see you all back here next year for SPIEL 22! We would be delighted to meet you in the halls!!!

[Runedar]

Greetings from Essen!

Nicole and Frank

If you want to have a look at our coverages of previous conventions, follow these links. But you should bring along some time, especially if you want to read the newer reports...


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Copyright © 2021 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann and Ralf Togler, Essen, Germany