There is not enough in the upcoming mini-rant to warrant a full article so I'll use it instead as an introduction to some short but relevant comments on some recent games. The best term I can think of for the subject is 'lightweight games'. These can be loosely defined as games, typically German, with a clever but a not unduly taxing game system. By that I mean, once you've played them once or twice, or cracked the system, there isn't much substance left to offer further entertainment. There is nothing wrong with these simple games, in fact the German mass market demands little else, but what has been annoying is the puffing of these games to near classic status. This mainly seems due to the frantic search for new German 'gems' or, in at least one case, because the designer's name carried too much weight for a bad review.
I think it is important to keep these simple games in perspective. For players who like half hour, simple mechanics, one page of rules games, there is no problem. For those who like a bit more depth in their gaming, the lightweight's common failing is that they lack real strategy and their systems, while ingenious, simply don't offer an extended return on effort and time. They survive a few plays at best (as intended) but simply do not have classic or even above average credentials unless reviewed relative to their own category. I would like to think that the hobby will continue to select the best that Europe can offer, rather than just anything with foreign language or a familiar designer on the box.
As a good example of a game being puffed beyond its calling, A La Carte for one must be singled out as a complete turkey unless you feel four doll's saucepans make the purchase worth it. Whether designed by Herr Die Macher or not, this one stinks. In terms of play there is nothing there at all and I challenge anyone to argue convincingly that there is anything that requires thought or intelligent decisions. I have recently watched four knowledgeable gamers playing it and I swear that they were pretending to have a good time while waiting for the expected twist that would retrieve the game, but it never came. Have we really gone that far into Euro worship that hardened gamers are afraid of saying what they really think and pretend to have a jolly good time burning salads and over-salting opponents?
Finally, these games are not cheap and I would be surprised if they really offer as much play value as is being suggested by some reviewers. If you play it just once, fifteen quid and upwards is a lot of cash. Try before you buy in all cases and, again, the rider is that you should be a fan of these simple games. The trouble is reviewing these games in tandem with games where you have to think a bit. There is a temptation to get carried away with subject matter, the box art or the novel but very limited systems and the reviewer may forget to actually explain the system. I am prone to do this and I will also admit that I am among the worst in wanting to fall for these games (I do quite like them in moderation), but I hope I have retained the ability to quickly spot a turkey when I see one (A La Carte) and I hope that I haven't been guilty of over-selling these games as being better than they are (Favoriten). With that in mind, and without prejudice, onto the latest batch of lightweight games.
Sumo - Mike Siggins