That is not to say that there wasn't a good time to be had with the many visitors or that there weren't good games around. There certainly were, but they offered neither the quantities nor the quality to make it an exceptional year to match '93, '91 and '89. On the basis of this apparently solid trend, there is no reason not to go back in '95, but it leaves one to speculate quite why this fluctuation seems to happen year in, year out.
More generally, I would say the general gaming stands were slightly down but with more in the fantasy and computer hall (either way, there was no sign of the man with the African artifacts!), the crowds were certainly reduced (there was actually room to move on the Saturday), and the air quality remained just as noxious as my three week old cough will testify. Whatever, Spiel continues its inexorable march and it would be a hard man indeed who found nothing about which to be enthused. As usual, this report will cover only those games I spotted, played or consider appropriate to the magazine. There were probably a hundred more titles that I have not even attempted to cover and as many more again in the children's category.
Abacus were living off rumours of Airlines II, scheduled for next year if all goes well, and had only Volle Lotte on display on the new releases shelf. This little game was described to me as a simple card system with a Yahtzee/Can't Stop style system on top. It looked reasonably interesting but failed to tempt cash from the wallet. This is a shame as post-Essen feedback has been positive.
Adam Spielt, the big mail order house, turned producer this year in the form of Spritfresser (gas guzzler), a formula one game. This was enjoyed by those that played it and it seems to enjoy elements of Formule Dé, Grand Prix and Speed Circuit (for good measure). The idea of the game is original, in that accelerating uses up your finite reserves of fuel and the feel of driving the circuit is actually very good. The drawback is that you are looking at around an hour or more for a lap (!) and I personally couldn't relate to the braking mechanism (my problem, I grant you). Whatever, I think the reason that few people actually came back with it under their arm was that at £20+ for basic production values in a tube it was considered over-expensive (they wouldn't offer volume discounts as do most traders), but in truth it was never going to be played in preference to Formule Dé. Nevertheless, it won the `Game I Regret Not Buying' prize by popular vote on the return journey!
ADG once more flew the flag for Australia following their considerable success with the outstanding World Cup game last year. This was again selling well and was joined, on a separate stand, by Days of Decision II. This is a complete re-working of the political wargame reviewed in Sumo a while back. It has a new, worldwide map for starters, but I was unable to establish what else had changed as there were no open copies. They were asking DM60 (£25) for the full game and it wasn't clear whether an upgrade kit will be made available, so I held off until this becomes apparent.
Amigo still strike me as a bit of a catch-all company, taking games from anyone to make up a range without character or, indeed, much appeal thus far (er, 6 Nimmt and Sticheln excepted). They lead this year with the amazingly popular Capone (aka The Mob, Gibsons) which seems to have piqued the Germans' interests. Not sure why, but I have been puzzled before in this respect. We played a new release from Wolfgang Kramer (who has had a prolific year) called Duell der Schamenen which was a pretty ordinary abstract system. Finally, Amigo had Reiner Knizia's two newest games in prototype: Tor is a simple football card game and Nuba is about something else that completely escapes me.
ASS had an impressive selection of new games which were keenly demonstrated to us by the most helpful staff at the show. The Vikings are Coming is, I am assured, very similar to Jumbo's Claim and concerns a heavily abstracted combat/terrain capture system. I found it fairly tedious, others who are fond of Claim declared it a winner. I missed out on playing Check the Ripper, a simple memory game, and Route 66, the card game edition, which like its boardgame cousin seems to involve avoidance of speeding tickets while hurtling across America. From what I could establish, the gameplay is on a Mille Bornes level but it was a popular purchase for those that could find a copy.
The key release though, and one of the better games at the show, was Ausgebremst. This one was originally pitched to me as Ravensburger's Ave Caesar (they share the same designer in Wolfgang Riedesser) translated to a motor racing theme, but otherwise unchanged. That is true to a point, as it certainly enables you to play that ultra simple, but somehow always addictive, game -- this time using the rules that the designer originally intended.
The good news is that the game also comes with `Professional' rules which create a much different system. The same basic rules apply, ie play movement cards, don't get blocked, keep to the racing line and you can't play your 6 cards in the lead. However, the pack is larger than for Ave Caesar and you have the choice of selecting a manoeuvrable car, a fast car or a compromise setup - this is effected by removing different combinations of cards such that everyone is left with 84 movement points but in different card denominations. The choice will depend very much on the number of cars racing, the circuit layout and difficulty -- there are eight tracks to choose from.
The other major change is that you are permitted to sort the movement cards into four separate piles in front of you (say 6s, 5s, 4/3s and 2/1s), holding two in hand and selecting from a pile that you believe will assist your immediate moves. The net result is that you have more control over the value of cards you will get (unlike the totally random draw of Ave Caesar), though less selection in your hand, and there is more sensation of `driving' the track. If you are coming up behind traffic you tend to choose lower valued cards to keep moving, whereas if you have clear air and need to catch up, you can safely choose your higher cards.
Another clever element is the pit rules. Unlike the obligatory halt and wave to Caesar in the earlier game, in a three lap Ausgebremst race you have the choice of making a pitstop at the end of the first or second laps. Depending on where you start on the grid, two cards of useful value are placed in the pit lane and these can be added to your hand if you call in. If you choose to decline a pitstop, it is going to be very tight for finishing and being driven wide on a long curve will finish you for sure. If you go in, it will slow you up temporarily but you should have movement points to spare. A neat decision mechanism this.
An optional rule adds a provision for any unused cars to drive round the circuit on autopilot, playing cards at random. Modesty permits me to compare this to the Freelance Cars in Grand Prix Manager which also inconveniently block progress with minimal effort. On the subject of cars, the only drawback with Ausgebremst is the graphic presentation and the stand up cars provided -- I would recommend their rapid replacement (ideally with the excellent cars from Noris's otherwise dire Formel Eins, also at the show). It is surprising how much difference such a few rules tweaks can make but the good news is that Ausgebremst is a tight, tough race game with plenty of decision making that has gone down to the wire each time we've played it. For fans of simulations, this isn't one, but it is a very good race game which I can certainly recommend.
Blatz produced the game that was played more than any other by our crowd in the shape of Die Osterinsel (Easter Island). That is not to say this is a great game, more that it is quick, fun and highly original -- a typical game of the German school, in fact -- and, mainly, that it was being demonstrated by the delectable Tina. I doubt it will last five plays unless you recruit the kids, but it has a certain late-night charm and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The game involves four Easter Island statues who must race up and down a simple track. The race mechanism is neat if unchallenging, but the clever part is that Alex Randolph has managed, true to the game's theme, to include weight as a criteria for winning. To explain, each statue can be filled up with small rocks supplied, rather like a money box. In your turn, you may either replenish rocks from the bank, or move your piece a number of spaces and add an equal number of rocks to your rivals, or add weight to your statue and move the others. There are jokers and bonus points en route to give you more stones, usually selected in varying sizes so you can add less ballast to your rivals. Why? Because if you are the first statue over the line, the game is immediately over and you and the statue (or statues) in second place are weighed. The winner is the heavier of first and second and I suggest you have a chemical balance on hand to resolve disputes. Very clever, lovely bits, major heftage, about £20. And yes, I resisted it. Just.
PS We've just seen the rules for this one and apparently it works on the basis of number of stones on board rather than weight. Interesting it would probably work either way (and the lovely Tina gets the sack for misinforming us).
BOB Verlag/Hexagames had a re-issue of Long Short, a game by a British designer which concentrates on the futures market. I seem to remember it playing quite well and have no idea if there are any enhancements on offer.
Card Games The inevitable flood of me-too card games has started to arrive in the wake of Magic's, Jyhad's and Spellfire's phenomenal success. As I said in the initial review, I am not exactly going to lose sleep over a succession of new card systems hitting the market, as long as the facility to play without collecting remains. Until I get bored, I will continue to sample these in the (vain?) hope that the next Up Front will surface. The first batch, ignoring the as yet untranslated Schwarze Auge from Schmidt, consists of Super Deck from Card Sharks and On the Edge from Atlas. The latter game looks to be a potential winner for me, based as it is on conspiracy theory and the excellent Over the Edge role playing game. The sad thing is that the rules read very much like the Magic system with most of the key words changed (Tapped becomes Cranked, for instance). The good news is that it has some system enhancements, is multi-player from day one and has some rather intriguing elements. Shame about the artists though -- I assume they got exactly what they paid for. The former is a super hero game with some of the tackiest graphics and production values I have seen for a while. The game looks very basic but, again, I have yet to try it. I wonder why I have this nagging feeling of misplaced optimism over these games?
DB Spiele are the company with no stand, just a mobile backpack. In the hope of finding another Al Capone or Spekulation, I bought their new one, Beziehungskisten (which should neatly preclude any verbal orders). This one costs around £16 and is a simple, abstract race game at the light end of the market. I have to say that I was unimpressed by this one until about half way through, finding it rather reminiscent of the ghastly Pole Position, but then I cracked the system, quite enjoyed it come the finish and quickly played it again. So how does it work? At the start of the game you are dealt a hand of numbered cards in a spread of seven colours. Based on this information, you choose three colours that you are going to back, and rate them 3, 2 and 1 representing the multiplier to be applied to their final points. Most points overall is the winner. All seven counters are placed at the start and they are moved by play of the cards as they progress towards the finish. The only twist in the game, but all it needs, is that when a counter lands on another, a matrix is consulted to see what happens to break up the pile. The matrix might move the landing piece forward 3 and the other back 1 -- this is determined by the two colours involved -- some combinations are beneficial, others you always lose on. If this in turn moves the pieces onto others, the matrix is consulted again and again until the race order is re-established. On some plays, often beyond the ken of the player, huge chain reactions will be set up, throwing counters from last to first. As the matrix will move you backwards no more than one space, and forward up to three, the bonus moves are important as otherwise you will not finish. In any event, when all cards are played the furthest round wins as a particularly nasty game will not produce a finisher. The impact on play is ingenious. You need to work out which colours are allies and which will hinder your progress and, at the same time, you must ensure that colours in which you have no interest are in the running -- giving a use for your theoretically `dead' cards. As with Six Day Race, there is no merit in being way out in front (you will seldom have enough natural cards to finish without bonuses) or being `off the back' as you'll never catch up. What I hadn't twigged initially is that a common tactic is to move up a neutral counter onto yours to `bounce' yourself forward. The underlying motif is that you could be helping someone else as well as your cause. I suppose the drawback for me is that it is one of those games that doesn't suit my style -- you have to wait for your turn before deciding anything (the whole race can change on the previous player's card) and to get the best out of it requires a powerful look ahead capability to work out all the permutations. Or then again you can just go for it and see what happens. The game is a little abstract for my tastes but is a fun little system -- again I am left to wonder why these games don't find a professional publisher for a `small box' publication. Recommended.
Doris & Frank were selling their magnum opus, Fugger, Welser, Medici which was seen in prototype last year. I swear it was Welfer last year, but I stand corrected -- I blame the gothic font. There have been a lot of negative comments about this one so far, but given the theme (trading during the Renaissance), I had to at least try it out. This I duly did and having played for an hour or so I can report that there are some very interesting trading mechanisms, the game slowly builds to a good involvement level and the graphics are staggeringly good. The drawbacks are that it is currently rather too slow, is a tad fiddly at times (money, taxes, tolls -- scant flavour added at the expense of too much admin) and there is little idea of what to do at the start -- the latter is quickly resolved however. As for the speed, which must be instrumental in its four to six hour play-length, I believe this can be rectified with some slightly more aggressive movement rates, perhaps combined with a chit system. I bought this because I can't resist trading systems and because I think what is currently a slightly above average game can easily be tweaked to make it a better one. Full review inside by John Webley.
EG Spiele are apparently a spin off from the Eurogames design team. They had two games that instantly caught the eye in the press display area but which, on further investigation, proved to be disappointing. The first was Leonardo, a game brimful of excellent graphics and with an art collecting theme. This would have been a must purchase if it hadn't been a Monopoly variant. Another buy would have been Conquest, but this looked rather like Risk with twiddly bits. Perhaps next year then guys?
Fata Morgana have been around for years as the main vehicle for the talented Urs Hostettler, inventor of Kremlin and the underrated Wahlspiel among others. The company have been rather quiet for a few years, and in fact remain so, but I mention them because they have finally reduced Hotel Life to £40 as well as relaxing their odd `no demonstrations' policy of three years ago. So, we now know what the game is about and what the components look like without shelling out £50-60 for the privilege. And after all that, it looks rather interesting. You play the part of a hotel owner who must equip the building with TV's, showers, beds and so on and then try to get guests in to offset costs. The problem is that the guests are all different characters and have some disturbing foibles, each one triggered by a random system of events. John Webley told us of a comical series of arrivals that lead to a young woman guest sleepwalking into a suite occupied by a football team, with the ensuing ruckus clearing the entire building. Sounds fascinating and the components are first class, having been designed for the Swiss Hotel Industry. The drawback, price aside, is that there is a lot of German text to absorb on the cards and despite continued attempts I couldn't get round to trying it. I'd be interested in comments on this one.
Franckh had two new releases (well, new to me) in the shape of Wolfgang Kramer's Big Boss and Forum Romanum. The latter is a re-issue with snappier graphics but appears to be the same game as that released some years ago. Big Boss, however, is completely new and proved highly acceptable in all respects, except in its price (DM100, or over £40). Last issue's review covered the salient facts and I found it an excellent, workable mix of Acquire, Shark and Holiday AG with plenty of decision making (and marvellous bits). I have said many times that I like this type of game and this is certainly one of the best of the genre. There is indeed a luck element in which cards you receive but with experience you should be able to minimize the impact of bad cards and maximize the good ones. I would have bought this but for the cost and hope, like Das Letzte Paradies did this time, the price drops substantially next year.
Friedmann Friese, he of the bright green punk haircut, had a new game called Falsche Fuffziger to add to his earlier game, Wucherer. The new game is about funny money and attracted an awful lot of favourable comment. Having played it, I have to say I'm quietly impressed, especially since it comes from a `third world' company. It runs for around two hours and in that time you have to print counterfeit notes, launder them into Marks, and then into silver bullion -- and in a game all about money, the most silver wins. Conversion is effected through a series of bidding rounds and tables. The overall feel, oddly enough, is of a Tresham design: cleverly interlinked systems, some bidding and trading, and imminent redundancy of equipment in the shape of the printing presses. My favourite elements were the card draw to regulate game length and that the bullion has no value apart from that which the players put upon it, which creates a strong free market mechanism in its pricing. There is enough here for plenty of decision making, risky plays and a solid skill base -- it is medium weight, and a remarkably clean design. I do have some concerns: firstly, it is about 40 mins/an hour too long as it becomes rather repetitious, there can be some slowish bidding for relatively unimportant gains and there is a luck element in turning over the printers to gain improvements. But then the first is my problem and the last can be termed legitimate gambling. I recommend this one and we hope to have the rules available soon.
As for Wucherer, a much lighter game, I got to play that as well for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed it. The theme is landlords letting properties and you are trying to fill your apartments with high paying, but amenable, tenants while avoiding squatters, tenants moving out and exploding houses (it's a long story) In essence, it is no more than one of those `Take That' card games where you build up a holding and wait for someone to pluck up courage to steal it away, but it is a lot of fun and our late night session went down to the last card draw. If anything, the basic game is too short so you'll need two sets if you want to play it regularly. Again, recommended and extremely good value at around £8.
Fun Connection were again selling games for fluppence. Admittedly the games weren't the greatest, but some are okay or even good, and all were dirt cheap. I bought Avalon, which is their latest release, for £8 which isn't at all bad for a full sized boxed game with nice components. The game however, a card system themed to jousting, is more than a little ordinary and I would recommend you purchase my copy forthwith.
Hans im Glück Bernd Brunnhofer has had a string of successes that would make most publishers cringe with envy -- I need mention only Die Macher, Greyhounds, 1835, Drunter & Druber, Modern Art, Auf Heller & Pfennig and Manhattan to give you the general idea. The stand now has the look of understated success and exclusivity, rather like Apple Computer's image in their earlier years. As a guide, you now queue to get a game as booking is no longer permitted. I understand this approach, but it is a pain especially if you need an English explanation, and as a result I didn't get to try their sole Essen release, Waldmeister. Given their amazing track record though, I bought it anyway and have recently played my first game.
Waldmeister is a game about forestry and pollution, an appealing but apparently difficult subject to tackle -- all the games I've seen on it so far have been pretty dire. Waldmeister requires you to grow several plantations of trees close to traffic and factory pollution. These smog sources can be `greened' to reduce their influence but can never be eliminated entirely. It is your job to manage your forests so that a good mix of trees is grown, money is earned to fund planting of seedlings and that the trees (of varying hardiness) are kept alive in the face of smog, pests, forest fires and drought. A good forest will bring in wealth from wood sales, animals flock in to boost the environment and the better the green factor gets, the easier it is to grow the difficult Tannenbaums which allow for useful bonuses come game end.
I have to say that this is by far the best attempt so far at making this subject `work'. The mechanics are clear and logical, with marked signs of effective downsizing, and it is actually quite involving. The system is nicely balanced so that you don't get the Vertigo/Rails through the Rockies depression syndrome (where the gaming environment is so harsh, you feel like giving up) and the theme is certainly uplifting (I may have alluded before to my weakness for tree games). As usual, the components are superb. All good signs then. The system drawbacks are that you will need to play once to know what to do the next time and there is a strong feeling of being unable to catch up once behind (this was reported as, unusually, I won in some style). I also thought the game was a little long at the two hours it took for three players, but everyone remained interested and understood what was going on (which is more than I can say for Banks of the Nile). The other problem that troubles me is that the game is rather `obvious' (dangerous word) in that you can see clearly what you need to do and you simply do it to the best of your ability -- this can often boil down to putting an accurate price and timing on your plays. In that respect, your decisions are often non-decisions. Whatever; worthy, not too dull but hardly the stuff of great games.
Manhattan was selling well elsewhere as you might expect of the Spiel des Jahres, a title won with very little competition I understand. It could be found for as little as £10 -- pile 'em high is an understatement. We have been playing it a lot recently and it has long since hit 10+. I think this is more an indication of the lack of many other good games this year than of outstanding quality, but it is definitely an extremely clever game. My concerns, which have gradually surfaced as the level of play becomes higher (and the scores lower!), is that the last turn benefit really can skew the outcome and that unless all players play with similar logic and remain dispassionate over `attacks', then the other players will benefit disproportionately. I have seen a number of games where two, or even three, players have had a running vendetta at the cost of letting the lead player escape untouched. Of course one does not always get the right cards to stuff the leader (or indeed the bastard who just topped your Telecom Tower) but a little more rational thought may not go amiss. Nevertheless, the fact that it generates such intense feelings, from what is essentially an abstract system, is to be commended. Best Fluffy of the year in my opinion and with the Parr Variations to come (where you tweak the point allocations for tallest skyscraper, city majorities etc) it should survive for a while yet.
Chris Harding shared a stand with Jack Jaffe and was demonstrating his Edges abstract game. Merfyn Lewis forced a gift copy upon me and I have yet to play it properly, but it looked interesting on a first playthrough. Coloured triangles are placed on a grid and your opponent must lay his tile so that any adjoining edges share the same colour. The general aim is to `edge out' or `edge in' the opponent depending on the rules being used. It sounds a bit Triomino-ish, but I'm sure there is more to it than that. I have yet to try this but at £6 it might be worth pursuing from 23 Fairfield Gdns, Glastonbury, Somerset BA6 9NH, England.
Hugendubel were showing Reiner Knizia's New Games of Old Rome which I hope to cover, at least in part, next issue. The set comprises no less than fourteen new games, of varying complexity, but all under the hour (and sometimes no more than ten minutes). Based on those I have tried, the omens are good and I look forward to playing the other nine
Jumbo had very little of interest to gamers, which is both disappointing and unusual. Perhaps a clue here is that Dijkstra and Van Dijk, part of their talented design team, seem to have moved on to freelance work -- putting out Verkehrs Chaos for Klee among others. The only title that might have passed muster was Das Pferd von Troja which was duly dismissed after a demonstration and quick playthrough. The game is extremely simple and seems to derive its `excitement' from pushing two soldiers into the plastic Trojan horse supplied and remembering what colour they are before they pop out again. That's it really, and unless the Jumbo staff missed out something major from the description, I think we can safely move on to the next company.
Moskito The Essen Barometer has completely blown his reliability. Given that it is Herr Schmiel's official off year (Was Sticht '93, Packen Wirs '92, Extrablatt '91), the '94 offering should have been a duffer. Fortunately, by all accounts, it was the best new game around. Now if that sounds a little vague, it is because I didn't actually play it. Das Regeln wir Schon is one of those games full of German text and language nuances, and therefore not too approachable until someone has performed heroics on the rules, card translations and layout. I did establish that the game is basically about card play on a grid which amends both the game conditions and rules, which in turn affect the victory conditions. Opinion was mixed on whether the game would translate to English or whether the entire concept would need adapting. However, Alan Moon's group, who played it recently, indicate that the game does work, that it is totally excellent in every way and they will be producing the necessary translations. I'm not sure if they'll do card overlays, but that can be handled here. We await developments and if it does stand conversion, I'll certainly be first in line to try it.
Walter Muller had nothing new but was pushing his old soccer game, Flusspiraten and, of course, Rette Sich Wer Kann. Anyone played that recently?
Queen (formerly Laurin) are still top in the graphics category but continue to need work on their designs. Their new release, following last year's somewhat flawed Ringgeister, is Hobbits. The game is designed by Jean Vanaise of Flying Turtle fame and once again it uses the old chestnut plot of dunking The Ring. The board is wonderful, you get four metal Mithril yobbits and plenty of bits. Sadly (again), there is lots of text on the cards and the system looked a lot like Kalahen to me (this will be good or bad news depending on your outlook). I didn't play it and didn't buy it but I am intrigued by the news that ICE may well be doing an English language edition. Some readers may be interested to note that Robin Hood, Julian Musgrave's best piece of work so far, surfaced again on the stand but seemed to be unavailable for sale.
Ravensburger had nothing new beyond Erbraffer which appeared at Nuremberg and which was reviewed in issue 16.
Schmidt had several new games, the most interesting of which was Sid Sackson's Kohle, Kies & Knete. This is a fascinating game which combines the deal making qualities of Trump with the diploming and back scratching/stabbing of Intrige or Rette Sich Wer Kann. Deals are offered to each player who must arrange the correct combination of investors to bring the deal off. As each player will own one or more investors, each can usually bring something to the party in exchange for a share of the cash on offer. When it is your turn, you must organise all the required parties and set a mutually agreeable price for each to participate. Often, you will be able to invite one or more investors owned by other players, leading to favours and future return thereof. A number of event cards, playable at almost any time, can wreck a deal, remove investors due to business trips, steal investors from other players or block any such move. The net result is surprisingly absorbing (must be my Essex ``Ere ow much for that then mate'' upbringing) and potentially noisy with the right players, but not for me an instant buy. As you might expect, buying and playing of this one will be strongly dependent on your affinity with the negotiation games genre.
TM had nothing new and accordingly were showing only Knock Out, their post Nuremberg release. I cannot recall seeing much about this one in print which is puzzling but perhaps reflects the nature of the game which isn't quite what you expect. It is actually pretty good, but isn't really about boxing as such. The fight mechanism, based on numbered card play, is so basic that it is incidental to the main thrust of the game which is a unique betting system. The key is that bets can be made on the fighters by all players, but with the `trainers' allowed to place bets based on their inside knowledge (including throwing the fight), which can be optionally `accepted' by rivals so that the money passes between the players rather than the bank. The upshot is that it is very easy to lose large sums of money and quite difficult to make it. As with all betting games, I am hopeless at it but this has prejudiced me in the past. It is then a solid if unexceptional game, with excellent if sparse components, but not in my opinion nearly as good as Vernissage from the same company. Designed by one Herr Manning, one wonders what has happened to the prolific Klaus Teuber recently (counting his sacks of money probably).
Warfrog had their new boxed edition of Lords of Creation on display and it was selling well. The production is impressive (though I still have a liking for the gamekit's more muted colours), but this comes at an increased price. Either way, the use of diecutting and professionally printed cards make the game much easier to prepare and the overall effect is certainly improved. Well worth your time if you missed the gamekit.
White Wind had two new blue boxes on display, the first of which marks the first departure from the 1200 limited edition series. Phantoms of the Ice comes in a small box, retails for about £8 in an unlimited edition and is effectively a re-issue of Gamma 2's Team. This is an ice hockey management game that enjoyed more visibility as the not dissimilar, and now very hard to find, Slapshot (AH). With little fear of contradiction, this was the success of the show, selling hundreds of copies every day and well over a thousand in total. Impressive, eh? The graphics have been upgraded to an excellent standard (some of Doris Matthaus's best work here) and it represents superb value for money -- rumours of extra card sets are already circulating. I initially had mixed feelings as the game is one I thought I was familiar with, and as such would have preferred something new, but having played it again recently I remembered just how good it is. Highly recommended. Another bonus is that I finally got a Sumo character in print and he also happens to be the best goalie in the game. See the cover for details. Thanks Alan.
The latest issue in the 1200 line is Mush (pronounced as in the South London vernacular, ``Oi! Moosh!''), a game about husky sled racing as popularised by the Iditarod. As you might expect, this is an unusual race game which uses a variety of systems with plenty of decision making, bidding and strategy. I have not yet played it in full, but the short game (with only three of the five boards, around 45 minutes with 3) was interesting and I want to play it again as soon as possible. I don't think it sells it short to say the game isn't as good as Elfenroads or Santa Fe, for me lacking that extra special ingredient, but is good by any standards. Full review inside. White Wind were also responsible, inadvertently, for my biggest disappointment which was missing a superb scale model of the Elfenroads terrain, complete with mountains, roads and metal miniatures. Rumours that the gamer was Paul Jefferies have proved untrue, so there must be more than one keen DIYer out there.
Wizards of the Coast: You want stories of Magic excess? How about tales of forgeries, single cards selling for £50 or more, Magic winning best game awards (jeez), gamers spending upwards of £4,000 on cards or the sad soul who considers Magic artwork comparable to the Old Masters. Or alternatively you could get a life and just play it for fun. Even better, play Spellfire. And remember, investments can go down as well as up (I speak as the owner of the `can't miss' Loony Tunes Baseball card set -- with holograms. Any offers?). Meanwhile, it seems I am not alone in finding Jyhad a tad opaque in the rules department. Freely available on the stand were revised rulesheets, clarifications and frequently asked questions which I would recommend you obtain. More care next time chaps.
Their new release that has just arrived in Europe, a true boardgame you'll be pleased to know, is Robo Rally. A sumptuous production with little metal robots (one of which looks like TikTok of Oz) and carrying a £30 price tag, this is an early design by Richard Garfield which has allegedly been `in search of a publisher' for some years. Now he has the money and a rather large foot in the industry's door, the game has found a home. For some reason, the words `press' and `vanity' spring immediately to mind.
It would be harsh to condemn a game out of hand, so I played it with a group of willing gamers under the instruction of a company employee. The game is strangely similar to Droids except that you are racing across a set of boards trying to be the first to reach a flag, whereas Droids has broadly sensible missions. Anyway, you program the robots by laying five cards face down in front of you. These are revealed one by one and the actions (move 2, turn right, U turn etc) are carried out simultaneously with the other players. If you end the turn pointing at another robot, he takes a hit from your laser. Hits knock off cards from his hand and eventually send him back to the start. This, together with literally pushing the other guys around, is the interaction element. The robots, all alike in effect, press onwards, trying to avoid pits and making maintenance stops. This proceeds for around two hours, perhaps more. The only saving grace, and we really needed one, is that each board has an array of conveyor belts that carry your robot around as a sort of booster movement -- all of which makes planning a turn interesting. But only just.
Beyond the lack of interest, interminable play length and lack of real interaction, the game has a major flaw and signs of being unfinished. Unfinished because, perhaps baffled by the similarity of the opening moves, each robot is a `virtual robot' (read counter) until they have made enough moves to stand alone as a figurine. This is a fudge rule; no more, no less. It smacks of laziness. The flaw is the old chestnut of falling into a bottomless pit and having to start over again, often from the start. The verdict? After an hour of tedium, I programmed TikTok to hurl himself into just such a pit `by accident' and coincidentally took a grateful rival with me. As far as the game goes, there are far, far better things to spend your money on but this won't stop the Wizards devotees from laying down their credit cards. Needless to say, extra boards, cards and robots will be available as booster kits. Ho hum.
Zoch had an expansion kit for Bausack (tempting, but since I have never used all the pieces in the basic set, I bravely resisted). They also had Scheherezade, a tortuously complicated rendition of Heimlich & Co out of Cluedo. We sat down expecting a classical, simple game with a novel movement system (because that is exactly what it looked like). The rules took a good twenty minutes to explain, the game didn't seem to work cleanly and had more anomalies and loopholes than one would expect for a system of this type. We gave up very quickly but if this another case of Hornberger Schiessen where it is all actually rather clever once you work it out, please let me know.
Misc and that was that: Magic was all over the place (I kept tripping over kids playing it or, more commonly, adults frantically trading) and is fast becoming a pain; MB had a marvellous children's game called Looping Louie which involved a plane whizzing around knocking pennies off your frantically defended base; Herr Fackler, the craftsman with the ludicrously expensive games had nothing new; the man with the wooden ice hockey games didn't show for the first year in six and Wolfgang and Frau Riedesser win Best of Show for a number of reasons. Needless to say, I missed a few games which have since been mentioned in a favourable light: Traumland (Piatnik) is a little trick taking card game reckoned to be on a par with Was Sticht (hard to believe, but I'll look into it); Wurmeln (Blatz) is a little game about worm racing that is a good little fun game (very light though); Verkehrs Chaos (Klee) is rumoured to be an excellent game but I have also heard it has an end game flaw; Entengrutze (Albatros) also received good reports (particularly from the Felixstowe Faction) but I couldn't find their stand ; Crazy Race (FX Schmid) looked nice, and was popular, but seemed a little basic to me.
The German Game Prize was won by 6 Nimmt (not bad for a little card game), followed by Capone, Manhattan, Intrige, Rette Sich Wer Kann, Was Sticht, Heller & Pfennig, Knock Out, Take it Easy and Billabong. I would agree with most of the games (though not the inexplicable popularity of Capone, aka The Mob), but the order seems way off beam. Anyway, it's only an award.