Reibach & Co

Designed by Alan Moon and Mick Ado.
Published by FX Schmid.
Reviewed by Mike Siggins

2-5 players
less than 60 mins

The grapevine has been buzzing long and hard about this one - the first implementation of a White Wind design from a major publisher. While you, I and most other sane people would have expected Elfenroads or Santa Fe to be the favoured titles, in the end it turned out to be Freight Train - a surprising choice, though a valid one. But before we proceed, Reibach & Co is categorically not just a re-hash of that successful design. It has been downsized, re-themed and stripped to its bare essentials - fortunately, in this case, retaining the most interesting part of the earlier game. This has affected not only the component mix and price, but also the speed, feel and, importantly, weight of the game. The result is therefore different, and enjoyable, enough for you to strongly consider purchase, and for me to be able to review it without constant referral back to its predecessor.

Reibach & Co is a game about collecting card sets. It has elements of Freight Train (naturally), Airlines and Rummy, but ultimately it is its own game. The general idea is that you are a materialist establishing a portfolio of valuables. There are ten categories of these, including such things as cash, shares, jewellery and boats, and each is identified by a different colour. Each category has nine cards and your aim is to hold a majority in each when, at three points in the game, the holdings are scored.

As a Moon game, the mechanism is, by now, almost entirely predictable - but it is not without its novel wrinkles. Each player is given four cards to start, three cards are turned face up on the table and the pack is placed next to them. In your turn you can perform any combination of three actions, one after the other: take one of the face up cards into hand and replace it from the pack; play a card from your hand to start a new row; or add a card to an existing row. You may also take a card blind from the deck, but this costs two actions. The cards that start the rows, known as entrepreneurs, are shown to other players (so they can see their colour) and then placed face down. Cards added to a row must all be of the same colour, but need not bear any relation to the entrepreneur. In this way, your holdings build up in your hand and on the table, all the while trying to make sure if you are collecting a colour, you have the most, or even better, trying for new row colours entirely.

This is because to score, you get most points for having the majority displayed in a colour, and there is a token award for second place. Nothing at all for third though, or for cards still held in your hand.You also get a bonus if you have a unique colour on display, and there are small penalties at game end for cards in hand. Sadly, FX Schmid couldn't run to the huge expense of plastic chips, so you'll need pen and paper to record the scores. Scoring works in the now well established Moon fashion. There are ten scoring cards in the deck, which you and I will term Wertung cards, even if I still don't know what that means. As they are shuffled in at random, there is as usual no way of knowing when they will show. So, on the appearance of the fourth and seventh cards you score the positions, and on the tenth you score again and end the game. In one game we had, there was a long gap before the fourth card, then the fifth, sixth and seventh came out within six cards, and then there was a longer gap till the tenth card which came out one from the bottom. I've said it before, but this is a clever game mechanism which adds tension, calculation and uncertainty to almost every round.

Where the big scores come though is when you've laid x2 cards. These equate to cabooses in the old game, and represent a double edged sword. They give you double points (even if that is twice nothing), but also preclude you from adding any more cards to a row. This means they are often used to seal off a long row when you believe it to be unassailably in the lead, or also to double the points on a very small, but unique, holding. As an example, I managed to score well with just one blue card and a x2 right up until the third Wertung. The other unusual type of card is the joker, which can be used to extend a row of any colour. This is again a clever kicker as otherwise you could sit there with five of one colour knowing you were unbeatable. The jokers mean you are hardly ever 100% safe. Needless to say, both the x2 and the Jokers are popular cards.

Play proceeds quickly, and you'd be hard put to be playing this for an hour; it is usually quite a bit less. The secret here is that because there is minimal actual interaction, you are free to scan other players' holdings and your cards while they are taking their turns. The interaction comes as they edge ahead in one category, pick up cards you'd wanted all along, or prematurely lock in with a x2 on a position you are just about to top. By the time your turn comes round, you can quickly implement your decisions: usually picking up cards, or playing them if a scoring round is imminent. As with most of Alan's designs, there is a constant series of small, interesting decisions set against the backdrop of wider strategy. Should you extend your holdings? Should you pick up that card and start a new colour? Is the scoring round coming soon? When are all those greens going to come out from Bill over there? Is it worth starting a new row this late in the game? Should I play or pick up? What are the chances of another score card turning over? Anyone who has played Airlines will know how well this system works.

If there is a fly in the ointment, it is a very small one. The game has many similarities to Rummy in that you need to watch who is taking what cards into their hand, and also trying to remember how many cards are likely to be left in any given suit, and where they might be. Frankly, with the the number of cards (90) and the speedy pace of play, this is something that is unlikely to be feasible for all but the best brains. But it is there nevertheless, and I suggest if anyone spends too much time remembering every card draw, you slap them on the head to help their recall. The other minor problem is that, for the same reason, there is a little memory work as to which colour cards are face down as entrepreneurs. We didn't find this a problem, as more often than not one colour becomes 'dead' and everyone uses it for these discards. However, since valuable points can be earned (especially with a x2 card) by just having one of these cards out on display, it is important. Solutions? For those of you, like me, who can't handle even a little memory work, you can just leave the entrepreneur card face up, but laid on its side. I can't think of a way around the card counting and memory elements, but as the designer says, you can never be sure how many cards are going to come out anyway, so it is often of limited use. Alan has already also suggested some official variants, which I can see will help the game a lot. The main change is that joker and x2 cards should cost two actions, the same as taking a pot luck card from the pack. I agree with this completely as at the moment, these two cards are snapped up immediately without thought, and represent the only negative manifestation of luck in the system.

Reibach is pure strain, boiled down Moon design technique. It feels like a Moon game, it plays like one, but as it is also second generation and 'mass market', it is smoother, leaner and meaner. It is a recommended purchase in that it represents the logical evolution of the very popular Wertung card system, and also hits rather heavier than its 'small box' weight might imply, but still remains light and fast. On a design point, I have no way of knowing how many more games we are going to see with the Wertung technique. I'm sure it will appear again, perhaps in mutated forms, but to distance himself from accusations that his games seem alike, even if they are very different, it may be time for Alan to move on. Nevertheless, this is certainly not Airlines, and not Freight Train. It is a game that stands on its own as a fine, replayable filler and challenging little system. For the much reduced price, it is unmissable and personally, despite the loss of the shunting element and trains 'pulling out', I prefer it to the more intricate Freight Train. Recommended.

The Game Cabinet - - Ken Tidwell