Essen '97

Article by Brian Bankler

Things have finally come together and I made my first trip to the Essen Game Fair this year. It was everything I had heard about, and a bit more. There were a few surprises in the fair (and in Germany itself) ... but I'll talk more about those later.

For those of you who have never been to Essen, and are seriously into German games, it's definitely something you should consider doing (I wouldn't say it's a "Must Do," though; it's very expensive and a bit overwhelming). I got to meet designers such as Reiner Knizia, Karl-Heinz Schmiel, Bruno Faidutti, Friedmann Friese and others. Of course, the only real benefit of meeting them is that I get to mention it in an article like this (and misspell their names in the process, always a bonus). But it was enjoyable. I also got to see several people I had only chatted with via email; and that was just as entertaining and more rewarding. Anyway, onto ...

The Games

There were quite a few games that were new to me that were actually old, those have been reviewed elsewhere in the cabinet so I won't mention them. The three games that definitely stood out of the crowd in my mind are:

Euphrat und Tigris / Tigres and Euphrates

Hans im Gluck, Reiner Knizia

Euphrat und Tigris certainly had the most pre-show hype (which has been building in my mind for somewhere over a year). And, after seeing the game and playing it once, it deserves it. This is a Knizia game that will certainly avoid the 'fluffy' label.

The players (2 to 4, although I'm not sure how it would play with only 2 players) are building up early civilizations. Each player executes two actions on their turn chosen from a menu of four possible actions. Typically players will choose from the first two options with two tile placements being very common. The four actions are:

Tiles, and leaders, come in one of four colors. When you place a tile, you look to see if there is a leader that matches the color attached to the adjacent kingdom, where a kingdom is defined as any group of contiguous tiles. The player who owns the matching leader gets a victory point of that color.

However, if the new tile is placed in such a way that two kingdoms merge, no points are awarded to the matching leader (if any). In that case, you check to see if the resulting kingdom has a duplication of leadership, such as two blue leaders. If there are, the two players who control these leaders are in conflict. Each player adds up the number of tiles in their original kingdom of that color (in this example, blue tiles, which represent farming). Then, starting with the attacking player, each player gets one chance to play tiles that match the color of the conflict from their hand. After each has had a chance, the high value wins the conflict (ties to defender). The losing leader and all of the tiles of the appropriate color from that original kingdom are removed from play. The winner scores one victory point of that color for each item removed from the board. Then, if the kingdoms are still connected after all those tiles are removed, the next conflict (if any) is resolved.

Conflict can also occur if a leader is moved into a kingdom that already has a leader of that type. Instead of resolving based on the color of that leader type, you resolve on the number of temples (red tiles) adjacent to each leader. And, in this type of conflict, only the losing leader is removed, the temples stay the same.

Confused? There's more. If a square of four similiar tiles occurs, then the tiles are flipped over and made into a monument. Those tiles no longer count as tiles of that color, but the monument generates two victory points a round, one of the appropriate color and one of any other color (the player who created the monument chooses, but there are only six monuments, one of each combination). Also, players can play a natural disaster, destroying a tile and making that square unplayable for the rest of the game. Then there are all the placement rules. And a few special rules, just for kicks.

Also scattered around the board are 8 temples with beige/natural victory points. Whenever two of these are connected, the agricultural (green) leader of the resulting kingdom gets the biege victory points.

By now everyone is wondering why victory points have color. It's simple: at the end of the game, you figure out how many victory points you have in each color (beige's are wild, your choice), then your final score is the color in which you have the LEAST victory points. So if I have 10 red points, 8 green points, 21 black points, 7 blue points and 3 biege points, my final score is 9. (I add one biege to green for 8+1=9, and two biege points to blue for 7+2=9). Highest total wins.

The game ends when either 1) someone needs to replace a tile and can't or 2) all but two of the beige points have been collected.

I've only played this game once but it seems to have real depth. The only luck factor in the game is drawing from the tile bag. The components are quite nice, and once a monument appears on the board the game looks great. The art is all by Doris Matthaeus. As a bonus to all of you who didn't attend Essen, the game will come with full (4-color with pictures) english rules. They weren't available for the show, however. Euphrat and Tigris cost around 70DM at the show (around $45).

Ursuppe / Primordial Soup

Spiel von Doris & Frank, Doris Matthaeus and Frank Nestel Ursuppe is the game of battling amoebas, and is the second big game of the show. It might actually wind up being the game played most often from the batch at this year's show, because it will probably appeal to a wider range of gamers. My wife is certainly much more taken with Ursuppe than with anything else.

Each of the three to four player starts off with two ameobas. In addition, there are also a pair of blocks in each player's color in each of the spaces in the soup. (Yes, like most games and unlike Euphrat und Tigris, each player has their own color). Each player also has a small reserve of 'Biological Points' (BP). During a turn, each player (starting with the least victory points) moves their ameobas and feeds. Movement takes one of two forms. Each ameoba can drift, going with the current flow of the soup. Or an ameoba can spend a BP to try to fight the drift. Of course, ameobas aren't notoriously intelligent, and too small to read maps, so when you fight the drift you roll a die and go in the indicated direction (on a five you go in a circle and wind up where you stared, and on a six the player can actually choose where the ameoba goes). When it's feeding time, the ameobas ingest one block of each of the other player's color and then excrete two blocks of their own color. If they can't eat, then they take a damage point. Two damage points and you're ameoba will head to that great soup in the sky ... later in the turn.

After everyone has wandered around and eaten (or starved) you then check the environment. This involves flipping over the next of a small (a dozen?) pile of cards. This lets you know what the prevailing drift will be for next turn and also sets the 'Ozone Layer.' More on the ozone later. After that, each player (all of the following phases have players taking their turn starting with the player with the most victory points) can buy a new genetic advantage, or mutation. Mutations run the range of possibilities. Like Cosmic Encounter, the heart of the game flows from these powers, that let ameobas break the rules (or add their own rules). Some mutations include movement (roll two dice and choose whenever you move), wriggling (you can choose to move without spending a BP), frugality (you only need to eat two blocks), speed (you can move twice), and the infamous 'Struggle for survival' which lets you attack other ameobas if there isn't any food around. Each mutation costs a certain number of Biological Points. Each mutation also gives your ameobas a number of mutation points. That's where the ozone layer comes in. If you have more mutation points than the ozone layer, then you have to pay a penalty in biological points equal to the difference, or discard genetic advantage cards until you are less (or some combination). This only happens when the ozone layer is revealed, though, so you can discard and then re-buy the same (or different) advantages the same turn. Of course, nature is fickle, and there are only one or two cards for each advantage. So once someone else gets Extended Life Span (your ameobas take three damage to kill instead of two) you can't take it. There are also 'advanced mutations'. These mutations require that you have a prerequisite mutation from a previous turn and you have to discard the early mutation to get the new one. There are only four of these; but they are quite useful, and they count as two cards for victory point purposes. All in all there are about 20 mutations.

After everyone has bought their mutations, you then get 10 BP and can buy new ameobas at a cost of 6 each. A new ameoba has to be placed adjacent to a player's existing ameoba, but not in the same square as another of that player's ameobas. Unless you have Spores, of course. After birth, we have death, and all ameobas slated for demise are removed from the board. Of course, when ameobas die, they break down into the building blocks of nature, that is to say: food. Ah, the cycle of life. Finally, you score victory points. You get points based on the number of ameobas you have, and on the number of genetic advantages you have. You mark VPs on a track around the board, and if you get a point that would tie you with someone, you get to leap frog them (which conveniently eliminates ties in player order). The game ends either on the turn where the environment deck runs out, or earlier if a player manages to get enough victory points.

Ursuppe isn't quite as pretty as a lot of the games. The board is mainly blue or grey. The ameobas are polygons with a stick for holding damage beads. Food are the small wooden blocks you have from El Grande. Just a note, the first time you are playing the game, having a small hammer available to assemble the ameobas is very useful. We didn't have one and it took four people about 45 minutes to get all 28 of those suckers assembled. But you can start playing with 8 ameobas, and keep assembling the others as the game goes on. Having accepted that the game is somewhat bland looking, Doris and Frank have done a great job. The art is funny and useful. Each advantage card shows a cute anthropomorphic (amoebapomorphic?) picture showing what the power is. Even better, that's just for show. The game comes with complete english rules, english reference sheets and the cards are double-sided in german and english! If you can live with Igel Argern's art, you know what to expect from Ursuppe. A functional board with little color but cute cartoons. Ursuppe had a messepries (show price) of around 70 DM, but it will probably be a touch more in shops around Germany.
[In a late breaking addendum - I recently got the chance to play Ursuppe with 3 instead of 4 players and I have to say that while the game is basically the same (some mutations are no longer available, and a few have 1 card instead of two, and when eating you need two cubes of one color + a single cube of the other color) the feel of the game is quite different. Unlike the four player game, 3 ameobas (one of each player) can wander in a pack and eat for quite some time. The differences are quite interesting, and something I did not really expect.]

Frischfisch / Fresh Fish

2F Games, Friedmann Friese

Frischfisch is definitely third behind the previous two games. But it is still a step above most of the new games I saw. The board is a grid that starts empty, except for four 'factories' The harbor produces fish, the power plant produces nuclear waste, the refinery produces gas, and the 2F factory makes games. Each player takes turns either claiming some land (putting one of their markers on an empty square) or flipping over a chit from the development pile. The chit from the development pile is either a store or a house. If it's a house (or park or other similiar non-store tile) then the player must simply place it on the board on one if that player's claims. If it's a store, then there is an 'in the fist' auction (each player starts with $15) for the store, the winner of the auction can place it on one of their claims. Stores, as you might have guessed, come in four types: Fish Stores, Game stores, Gas Stations and Nuclear Waste Dumps.

After a tile is placed on the board, this may cause some streets to be built. The rule is: all buildings have to be connected directly to a street, and all streets must connect (so you can't have two separate regions in the city). This is an easy rule to state, but very difficult rule to see sometimes. For example, if you have:

* * * |
* * * |
* * H |
- - - /

where H is the Harbor (a building that produces fish) at the lower right of the board (the board keeps going to the left and up). Now someone plays a building to the left and above the harbor:

* * * |
* B * |
* * H |
- - - /

This causes two streets to be built:

* * S |
* B * |
S * H |
- - - /

The streets are built because the two spaces adjacent to the harbor are either a building or a street (and at least one of them will be a street to connect the harbor to the rest of the city). If it's a building, well, it will need to be connected to a street. If it's a street, it will need to connect out to avoid cutting the city in two regions. It's difficult to explain.

Once a tile is placed (and streets are built) then it either passes to the next players turn (if the tile was a building or a store won by the player who flipped over the tile) or stays with the same player (if the tile was a store that was won in auction by another player). Once you've won a store in auction, you can't bid on another store of the same type.

The game ends when the city is full (and therefore everyone has four stores). The winner is the player who has the shortest routes and most money. Basically, from each factory you trace a path to a store (the path must go by road, so if placing your store next to a factory doesn't give you a path of zero, you must go factory --> roads --> store, with at least one road). You total up your path distance (each path is capped at 14) and subtract leftover money. Low score wins.

The game has functional graphics and no english rules. The 'street' rule is really the only problem: it's tough to explain why something has to be a street sometimes, and I had trouble visualizing for about half of the first game. Others said it took longer to see. Also, I'm told that the german rules have a glaring error in them that makes the game unplayable if you play by the rules as written (as compared to the rules as intended). But all in all I think this is a tense little game that should (assuming no slow players) play in about an hour. Sadly, there were only three or four hundred copies made, so unless this game gets picked up or more get made by Herr Friese this will be tough to find. Since FF sold out at the show, I suspect he'll make more.

And the rest...

A game that was similiar to FrischFisch was Texas by dbSpiele. The game is for two or four players, taking the sides of ranchers and farmers in Texas. Each turn a player must either play a card or draw a card. All cards for a player are face up. A card shows one of eight directions you can move in a square grid and a distance from 1-3. To play a card you move the pawn on the game grid and place a double-sided piece with your appropriate side face up (think othello here and replace "Rancher" or "Farmer" with "White" and "Black"). Each player can only have three cards max, so if you are at three cards you must play, if you can. Each player also has two 'judge' symbols. If you play a judge symbol with a card, then when you move the pawn you can land on a space of the opposite 'color' and flip it to your color. The game ends when all the places are filled, which will fill about half the grid. Each team scores each contiguous region separately, equal to the area of the region squared (so if I have a region of 8 tiles, I score 64 points). High score wins. Additionally, when playing four players no table talk is allowed, meaning that partners must be on the same wavelength, since all cards are open. As a two player game I'm not sure I'd like it. Since Texas is by dbSpiele, it's handmade and there were only a few copies available...and I managed to miss out. It's a clever little game. Maybe a bit too expensive for what it is.

dbSpiele had another new game Iron Horse. It was gone almost instantly and I never got to see it. Seeing as how the Gamecabinet's astute editor snagged a copy, you can expect a review here soon enough. Then again, there were no english rules, so it may take a while. Also, another dbSpiele game, Premier, was released by a larger company as Showmanager. Glad to see that they are getting their games out to a larger market.

Apart from Euphrat und Tigris , Hans im Gluck also had a few other games. Karl Heinz-Schmiel, at the Moskito both, was constantly explaining Die Macher '97 (well, the box title is simply Die Macher but the program has the full name...). I hemmed and hawed and finally handed over the 70DM. What are the differences? Well, I'm not really sure. The differences I am sure of is that the game can now play 3-5, instead of merely 4. This is a big difference, since I thought the main problem with the old version was that any game with coalitions of exactly two players should have much more interesting play with 5. The graphics are also much improved, as you would expect from Hans im Gluck. The messy math has supposedly been eliminated. Other than that, I'm not sure what has changed. Kurt Adam probably explains more in his report. The other offering from Hans im Gluck was Der Grossinquisitor, the next expansion for El Grande . It adds a few islands surrounding Spain, and who knows what else. There was a big space set up to play El Grande, but I never actually saw anyone explaining the expansion set, so I never bothered trying it out. It was cheap (24 DM), it was small, I bought it.

Bambus Spiele, maker of Flauschenteufel had out a very interesting two player game. Aranana-Ikibiti . Basically, players are vying for control of a group of islands of an archipelago. Each island has 3-6 bridges connecting it to other islands. On a turn a player can play some cards, each card having the name of an island. If you play a card, you can place a bridge connecting that island to another (on an empty 'bridge goes here' sort of space). Once a player gets a majority of bridges on an island (compared to empty spaces and the opposing player), then they control that island and destroy all enemy bridges touching that island. After you play cards, you draw a card from the four possibilities (three face up choices or the top of the draw pile ala Airlines or many other Alan Moon games for that matter). There are rules for destroying enemy bridges, tournament rules and the now almost mandatory see-faring variant. See the translations section for the full rules. The game itself seems very interesting and, unlike most two player games there is interesting play because of the luck of the card draw. The luck factor isn't too big, but it is there and noticeable. Guenter Cornett, the author, said that a larger company was going to produce this game, so look for it soon.

In a small corner of the Doris & Frank stand was Daggit games, who launched their company with Quartier Latin . This is a card game about two rival groups trying to control the restaurant business in a city. So, you play with either 4 or 6 (teams of two) and build up your own restaurants by adding workers, furniture and advertising to a place, and try to slow down your opponents by revoking their building permits, having hooligans show up, or the not-so-subtle bomb. Quartier Latin is very reminiscent of Mille Bourne; but it's not quite as mindless. The fact that there is team play gives you something to ponder, and the scoring rules also lend some decision making complexities (if you destroy an opponents disco, you get more points for it if you open your own disco, which may change which of your restaurants you are trying to open). However, this is certainly not a card game that forces deep soul-searching to find your play on most turns. The game is quite pretty, with Doris artwork and no annoying German on the cards. At 16 DM, the game is somewhat expensive, but that seems to be true for all but the biggest of the card games in Germany. Also, those of you who made the Gathering of Friends already know one of the authors (Dagmar Wolsing. The other is Birgit Stolte, whose name I probably just destroyed).

Games I passed on or missed completely

There are a lot of stands at Essen. A whole lot. And space in my suitcases are limited (let me put it this way, I went to Essen with maybe 20-30 pounds of luggage and returned with somewhere close to 110, according to the airport scales). The fact of the matter is that Essen is too big for one person or even a group of people to take in all of the sights and try all of the games. So here are some of the games I decided not to buy or simply didn't notice at the time (to be fair, I almost didn't notice FrischFisch because the 2F stand was hidden behind the Amigo/Wizards of the Coast stand).

Ciao, Ciao (Drei Magier Spiele, Alex Randolph) is a little card game that I never got around to looking at. I probably should have bought it just to try it, but I forgot.

Halunken und Spelunken (Kosmos, Alex Randolph again) was described by others as a variant of Heimlich & Co. so I passed.

Other games by Kosmos were Biem Zeus! (Spelling?) and Caesar & Cleopatra and a game that's German for The Gold of the Mayans . Caesar & Cleopatra was a two-player card game that had a lot of german on six cards. Both of the other games looked supremely uninteresting from looking at the bits. Both seemed to involve placement of pieces on the board. Since I couldn't drag a translation (or a demo in english) out of the Kosmos booth, I passed on both. I bought Caesar because it was cheap and Alan Moon recommended it, but I haven't opened the box. There was also, as you might imagine, a bunch of Settlers stuff. This included a 'whisky settlers' that was sold in a gold whisky box (like you'd get Irish whiskey in) with a little bottle of whiskey. Also a poster with a variant for the see-farers (which I haven't yet bought, but I got the poster) with an scenario from ancient egypt. The most interesting (to me) news about Settlers was that they had a 100,000 DM tournament ending at Essen for the Kartenspiel.

Der zerstruete Pharao by Ravensburger looked like a childrens game about moving various pyramids around a grid (like those puzzles with the numbers from 1-15 that you have to get in order). It looked cute, but that was the end of my inquisition.

Canyon by Abacus Spiele was described as a remake of Bid and Bluff by 3M.

Mark (by Franjos, Ronald Lorn) is a game about making money by recycling stuff. Awww, isn't that cute? Even better, the game is made out of recycled stuff (bottle caps, bottles, etc). The green factor is quite high. After watching a game, I decided the game factor was very low. You roll two dice, which come up colors (or wild), you can then either a) take delivery of an item of that color, b) recycle an item of that color that you've taken delivery of or c), sell a recycled item on the market. Your holding and recycling center are two rows of four boxes. When you are moving an item from delivery to recycling, it can either go straight up or one box over, if all the boxes are full you can't move. Given that you also suffer a financial penalty for having more than two of the four boxes in either row filled, this seems like a pointless rule. The market is simply 5 rows. The first item sold on a row must be placed in the left most box, and once an item is placed on that row then the item can only be sold on that row (so at most 5 of each item will be sold). The value increases with each item, but not uniformly (one row is something like 8-32-40-50-60, I think). The final two complications is that one of the dice has an 'auction' symbol that puts an item up for auction. When 3 or 4 (I don't remember) of the five rows are full, the game ends, most money wins. I said it looked like a lot of luck and walked away from the which point my wife promptly bought a copy. So the Banklers gave it a split decision.

Kluengel & Millionen (Wienand Verlag, Erika Herrenbrueck) looked like a 'roll and move' game, but I asked anyway. It was described as a deal making game for 3-7 players. You try to get money, which you get by landing CEO jobs. However, in order to get to those jobs you have to spend money to join social clubs. (The board is like three rings of spaces with connections between the rings, the clubs are the middle ring, the jobs are the outer ring, you start in the inner ring). I believe when you move you can go in any direction (as long as you don't change directions in the move). The cute part is that there are two memberships to each club and, at the end of the game, you score for how well your 'partner' in the club did, adding some fraction of their money to your score! At this point, the woman at the booth also said "And there are event cards that do various things" and pointed to a large stack of cards. All in german. With no translation of the rules and cards I thanked her, apologized and left. I don't know. The game could be terrible or it could be wonderful. It certainly seemed like it had aspects of both; but I wasn't going to plunk down the money for a small companies first (to my knowledge) game that wasn't translated. Maybe an adventurous gamer will give a review later...

Lords of Creation by Warfrog got passed simply because they were at the Winsome booth and I thought they were also an American company. I had only stopped into the Winsome booth to say hi to John Bohrer and to pick up the 18xx gamekits by Chris Lawson. After having glanced at the gamekits, I can say that 1876 (Trinidad) is a bizarre little game that I'll be interested to play. Especially if it really plays in two hours. 1899 (China) seems to essentialy be a small variant on 1830 with a new map. Finally, 1841 (Italy) is ... bizarre. My head hurts after reading the rules. It looks very long and complicated. I happen to like complicated, but it may just be too long. Definitely not for the faint of heart.

I passed on Breaking Away despite having been looking for a copy because I balked at the high price (over 50DM) for a game that can be played with pencil and paper and a few bits.

In reading some reviews around the Net, I see a bunch of games that nobody in my group seems to have mentioned. That just goes to show the size of Essen. Some games I did see but passed on because they just looked like kids games were Halli Galli and The Tamagotchi Game(!).

Dirty Little Secrets of Essen

All in all I had a good time and thoroughly enjoyed myself. But there were a few shocks and surprises along the way. Things that despite having read all of the Sumo/Gamecabinet articles and knowing people who have been to Essen caught me off guard. (Some good, some bad). So I thought that I'd mention them as a public service announcement, and those of you who are considering going to Essen next year should take note.

I was told several times "You can get by with English, you don't need to know German." This is not true at the Fair itself. The Germans were quite helpful outside of the fair; I did get by. But when it comes to getting the rules of a somewhat complicated game, most of the booths balk. It's very difficult to explain rules in a non-native language, because some of those rules are quite complicated and (as Frank Nestel pointed out) sometimes one language has a very specific word or phrase that the other one doesn't. Hans im Glück employees weren't happy about the prospect, and I eventually saved them the trouble by dragging Manu Soeding (thanks Manu) to do an 'on the fly' translation of Euphrat and Tigris from the person at the stand who explained in German. To their credit, HiG had tried to get the rules in English out by the Fair, but had missed by about a week. Compare this to Kosmos, who openly said that English rules weren't their problem. I got a real feeling of distance from Kosmos, and it shows in what I bought. Having a friend who speaks German and English fluently is a great help in learning the games from demos.

The flea market should be your first stop. They won't have any new games, it's true. But they will have a great selection of old games available for dirt cheap. I saw several copies of Bazaar, Abuenter Tierwalt, Code 777, Big Boss, Hare und Igel and hundreds more. I got some games, my wife got more, and we bought some for friends. To compare prices, I saw Big Boss for 50 DM, (about $35). And remember to haggle. This is very difficult for Americans, I suspect, but my German guides insisted we haggle.

Bring lots of empty space to carry stuff. A small suitcase with clothes inside a big empty suitcase is a good start. And an empty carry on bag. That's just common sense; after all you are spending several thousand dollars to go to Essen, you might as well buy as many games as you can. They are dirt cheap, even the new expensive ones (if you stuck to the flea market, even better). Remember, you paid the shipping before hand with your plane ticket, and hotel. Another possibility (which I did, unintentionally) is to bring some games that the people will want and trade them. Remember, some very common games here are hard to find in Germany (and vice versa). I saw several people with signs hanging from their backpacks of games they had to sell or buy (with prices!). What german gamers want is a tough question, but 3M games are apparently very popular, as well as the MB gamemaster series. (I traded a copy of 3M's High Bid for Hase und Igel).

There isn't much space to game. Some of the big companies have set up tables, for their games only, and will loan games. But quite often these are for games that are about a year old. Hans im Gluck had a dozen tables or so for El Grande, but only two demo tables for Euphrat and Tigris. GoldSieber had a big slab of space... but they were resting on their laurel's from the Spiel des Jahre winning Mississippi Queen . Small companies typically have about two copies of their game and space to play that. I actually wound up only playing maybe 3 games while I was at the Fair itself. Typically, I wouldn't wait in line and I'd just listen to the rules (if I could) and watch a game.

Just to mention it, although it's really a corollary of the previous point: bring shoes you can stand and walk in for most of the day.

Saturday and Sunday are basically useless. This was a big shock (although since I was leaving Sunday morning not as horrible as it could have been). The crowds are immense. I happen to be fairly tall but I lost Kurt Adam (who isn't short) in a crowd when he was about 15' from me. All of the tables are full. It takes a long time to get anywhere. The flea market is ravaged (if you want to know what games everyone either hates or already has, check out the flea market at 2pm saturday...some stands will have 40 games...with only 5 titles). Getting a demo is very difficult after the first hour or so.

The restaurant in the convention hall is terrible. The food is okay, but it's horribly overpriced (even by German standards, and eating in a restaurant is not cheap in Germany). I suppose I should have expected that; food is overpriced at all convention centers. If you want you can catch the subway to, oh, two stops to the North. Be careful though, their are two branches on the return trip, and if you don't pay attention you can suddenly find yourself lost. I ought to know.

While mentioning food, I should mention that at least two of the German phrase books are useless when it comes to translating menus. The one that my wife had didn't even let her deduce what was kosher (and the waitress didn't understand our feeble attempts at 'No pig' in german). This was at the convention hall, by the way, which is why it got mentioned above. Get a small German-English dictionary for menus if you aren't willing to risk it.

It's standard to include service in the bill, so most tips are small, around 5%. For a small meal Germans will typically leave their change (up to a mark or two) as a tip, up to about a 5 DM coin for a small group.

Finally, if you (or your wife) should happen to get a copy of Pass the Bomb you should definitely remove the battery when packing, and should carefully consider whether or not to purchase it at all. This little tidbit alone should save you quite a bit of time in international airports.

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell