The Nuremberg trade fair has been and gone and once again the big German companies seem to be making their major effort here rather than at Essen. It makes commercial sense, to my mind at least. A February launch gives the game time to be reviewed and to acquire a reputation and then in October, if the omens are right, you can pile the boxes high and sell lots of copies. The Nuremberg releases have not yet arrived in the UK, but, thanks to Mark Green, Eamon Bloomfield and German posters on the Net, we can mark your card, and Dave Farquhar's position as official playtester to Reiner Knizia means that we also have some early reviews.
The fair seems to have been dominated by the big name designers: Klaus Teuber, Reiner Knizia, Stefan Dorra and Tom Schoeps. The early favourite for `Game of the Year' is Klaus Teuber's Die Siedler von Catan. This is about the development of a large island, with each player starting with a village which they then expand by building roads and new settlements, acquiring natural resources and trading. There is no fighting; the key to success being trade. The buzz on this one is very positive and it certainly sounds interesting. There have been loads of games where players seek to build an empire by fighting and none of them work as well as you hope, because all run up against the problem that while A and B fight, C and D rub their hands with glee. With competition based on trading, the incentive is to get involved, rather than to hold back, and in game terms that has to be good. The publisher is franckh and that means that the components should be special as well.
Klaus Teuber's other big release is Galopp Royal, a race game about sedan chairs in which you have to bid for teams of carriers having only partial information about their strength. It has a playing time of 30-45 minutes and is for 3-6 players, although Dirk Bock, reviewing it on the Net (in Ken's Game Cabinet), reckons that it works better with fewer rather than with more, because with 5 or 6 those players who get off to a bad start find it very difficult to recover. This one is from a welcome new entrant into the boardgames market. Simba are a big toy company who have decided to expand into adult boardgames and have done so in some style with four major releases, all of which have met with favourable reaction. The other three are Linie 1 from Stefan Dorra, which is a track laying plus race game with tram cars as the theme; Bakschisch which is a bidding and race game which Mark describes as being simple and elegant with vague echoes of Adel Verpflichtet (Teuber is the co-author of this one, along with Hering, a new name to me.); and Sternen Himmel from Tom Schoeps, which is reckoned to be the best of the four. It is a placement game with beautiful components and lots of scope for bluff. There are twelve cardboard tiles each depicting one of the constellations of the zodiac. Each player has stars of varying values and properties and points are scored by being either first or second most powerful player on each tile. It is for 3-5 players and takes 30-45 minutes. The Simba games are being marketed under the label Goldsieber.
Reiner Knizia seems to have a whole shelf full of new releases, with High Society (Ravensburger) and Medici (Amigo) being the ones attracting most of the early attention. Both of these are reviewed by Dave later in the magazine. The others of Reiner's that Mark drew attention to are Stonehenge and Feet of Kilimanjaro, both from Hans im Glück, but I have no further information on either of these as yet. The other tip from the Hans im Glück list is Canaletto, a supposedly interesting auction game.
Beyond that it is not much more than a list of names that could, at this stage, be anything, but two that did catch my eye were Condottiere from Eurogames and Auf Teufel komm raus from ASS. The former is a German release for the French game that I mentioned last time and since Dan Steel of Esdevium Games was making enthusiastic noises about it, it could be one worth looking out for. The other was described by the German poster on the Net as ``a laying game''. Sounds like fun!
About two years ago I wrote a variants article for Sumo in which I expressed the view that the starting mechanism for 1835 didn't work properly. If you have four players who know what they are doing, the one sitting fourth gets stuffed before a tile is laid. I also supported the view, previously expressed by Francis Tresham, that the asking prices for some of the shares in the Initial Offering are out of balance and that in particular those for most of the Vorpreußische companies are too low. My suggested solution was to destructure the Initial Offering and to clip the wings of these over profitable minor companies by putting further restrictions on their train holdings. Other players had apparently also been coming to the conclusion that the Start Paket didn't work, notably a group of German players who sought to deal with the problem by letting all the starting shares go to auction. They lay out the Initial Offering in the order stated in the rules. There is then a `round-the-table' auction for each item, with the first player to bid for a share being a privilege that circulates. The opening bid on each item is normally required to be the printed price and there are rules to stop the last player with spare money picking up stuff on the cheap. This is a good scheme and avoids the need for the train restrictions that I introduced, but it is likely to mean that fewer shares from the Initial Offering get sold in the first share buying round, because higher prices will mean that the players run out of money, and that is a definite drawback. Now Dane Maslen has come up with a very clever idea which seems to solve everything. It is this:
Give each player the standard starting capital as prescribed in the rules. The procedure for selling the shares in the Initial Offering is then as follows: On a player's turn he or she chooses any so far unsold share from the Initial Offering and puts it up for auction, with the printed price as a reserve price. The share goes to the highest bidder after a standard open auction. The difference between the price paid and the reserve price is then placed in a kitty. At any time a player can demand that the money currently in the kitty is shared out equally as far as it will go. The effect of all this is that the pool of money that the designer intended as being appropriate for the sale of this initial parcel of shares is, as far as the bank is concerned, unaltered in size, which means that the same number of shares should be sold. Companies also still get the starting capital that he decided was appropriate. However, the recirculation of the money means that the pool is elastic sided and that the market determines the price paid for each share.
The other good news on the 18xx front is that I now have a copy of 1837, the Austrian one. This, like the Italian versions that I reviewed last time, is a `publish it yourself' effort from an enthusiast with some interesting new ideas. It is probably most easily described as 1835 with extra whistles and bells in the form of more financial options for the director of a major company and a bigger strategic role for the private and minor companies. The main feature of the former is that a director can pay out all, none or half of a company's earnings, while the biggest novelty in the latter is a collection of companies based on coal mines. Each of these has its own exclusive base (the mine) from which it runs coal trains to the cities. They build track in the usual way, but their trains are different and operate under different rules. Later in the game they get absorbed into the major companies, of which there are ten, three being ``mini-Prussians'' that begin life as a collections of private (non-freight) companies. It gives the impression of being a rich and interesting brew and I look forward to trying it. The components are good quality DTP, laser printed on to card, which you need to cut up for yourself. The map is colour photocopy and the game is boxed. The designer/publisher is Leonhard Orgler, Donaustraße 4, 2344 Südstadt, Austria. Eurocheques to Austria do not work conveniently, the banks over there not being happy with the idea that the scheme should be for their customers' convenience rather than their own clearly very fat profits, but Leonhard has checked with his post office and reckons that C.O.D from Austria to Britain is possible. I haven't verified that from this end, but if the game interests you, doing that should be your first move. I have mislaid the letter with the information about the exact cost, but my recollection is that with postage included it was around £18-£19. The other drawback, apart from the Eurocheque business, is that the rules are in German, but I intend doing a translation as soon as I have got this issue of Sumo out of the way and you will be able to get that either from me or from the Rules Bank. I also intend to do a full review of the game next time.
On the professional front the 18xx news is only slightly better than last time, even though we are another three months down the road. The 2038 picture is more hopeful, the 1825 one less and the 1856 one about the same. TimJim posted a notice on the Net in mid-February to announce a shipping date in the second week of March and then again three weeks later to apologise for the fact that an illness to Tom Lehmann had put them back by three weeks and to say that they were now hoping to ship on March 31st. I haven't yet heard if they made it. Jennifer Schlickbernd, who is a friend of Tom's, has played the final version and is very enthusiastic about it. Apparently it has a company structure of the standard 18xx type, complete with its own equivalent of the Prussian, but instead of the usual track building and station acquiring routines you have spaceships which are sent out to explore for minerals. When a spaceship explores a hitherto unexplored hex it draws a tile from the pool and this determines what it finds there. This introduces an element of chance into the proceedings, which some 18xx enthusiasts won't approve of, but it is in keeping with the theme and according to Jennifer doesn't seem like the sort of thing that decides the game. As she also points out, there is a good side to this in that it means that the board will vary from game to game.
With 1825 the picture three months ago was that Hartland had been sending out flyers soliciting orders and making ``any day now'' noises. Since then they have again gone silent, a silence not broken by my phone call to Francis, when I was told merely that I should be patient. The latest story from Mayfair is that everything bar the rule book is back from the printers and that the rule book has gone to the printers. This should mean a shipping date in the first week of May. However, you will note that I describe this as ``the latest story'', rather than as ``the latest news''. I am believing nothing about the existence of 1856 until I have at least three confirmed reports that it has been seen in the shops.
Of the rest of Mayfair's announced projects, 1870 is, of course, still stuck, waiting for 1856 to clear the line, and both Brickyard (the re-release of Formel Eins/Daytona 500) and the Sim City Card Game remain gleams in the Sales Manager's eye. Iron Dragon is one that has finally appeared. As far as I can gather, this seems to be ``Eurorails with elves'' -- a very odd combination and I shall wait for the reviews before parting with my money, but it is attracting a fair amount of discussion on the bulletin board and people in the States seem to be enjoying it. Mike, however, has played it and did not.
More information on the French games from Azure Wish Edition that I mentioned last time: Catherine Soubeyrand sent me a note to clear up the confusion about the time period for La Foi et Le Glaive. It is 8th century and concerns the Christian/Muslim fighting in and around the Mediterranean. She also passed on some information about prices. In the catalogue of Descartes (a French shop that does mail order) both La Foi et Le Glaive and the fantasy game Xhenor are 340 francs. Europa Universalis is 399 francs. With the franc at around 7.75 to the pound, this makes them expensive and the Just Games price of £55 for Europa Universalis the sort of thing you thing you have to expect. There was a sharp intake of breath at my end of the phone when Just Games gave me the price, especially in view of what I had been told about the quality of the components. However, I swallowed hard and bought a copy anyway. The good news is that, whatever may or may not have been true about the first edition, in this second edition the components are not only fine, they are colourful and very attractive. The game is about European rivalries in the period 1492-1792 and in the box you get about 1500 counters, two large maps (one of Europe and one for playing out the colonial aspects of the struggles) and four fat books (rules, scenarios, player aids and historical & designer notes). The books are in English. Of the scenarios, five are solitaire, twenty are 2-player and eight 6-player. I have only had the game a few days and so do not know as yet whether that figure for the number of players in the multi-player games is rigid. I hope not. I hope also that the designer Philippe Thibaut is better at history than at geography. In his maps of the British Isles the ancient Irish kingdom of Munster is labelled Monmouth, which will come as a shock to all those inhabitants of Monmouth who thought they were living in Wales. You will also find that Edinburgh's river is called the Tyne and that Yorkshire is south of the Humber, with York clearly marked as being about 50 miles south of Hull. It is all reminiscent of the Pax Britannica map, which has Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope on the wrong continents. I can only guess that M. Thibaut was using one of the disinformation maps that the British Government circulated at the time of the threatened Napoleonic invasion. If the Azure Wish games are of interest and you have difficulty finding them, try writing to Azure Wish Edition, 9 rue Mandar, F-75002, Paris, France. This might also be the least expensive option, as the box contains order forms aimed at American customers which offer Europa Universalis at $40 plus $14 for postage.
Avalon Hill have put back the release of Geronimo by three months to allow them to concentrate on their computer games. Slightly disappointing, but we can have no complaints, since they have told us already that that is where their priorities now lie. They have also announced as forthcoming items a couple of new boardgames and a new edition of Acquire. Mike has seen a promotion leaflet but wasn't able to tell me more than that the new ones were called Colonial Conquest and Global Survival and that they were multi-player and sounded as though they could well be long. He also told me that the new edition of Acquire was to have cardboard pieces rather than plastic ones, as this was more environmentally friendly. We believe that, don't we, Henry? Certainly it is a good enough story to have put me on the lookout for the computer version of 1830. I can't wait to see the world's first cardboard floppy disc, featuring a program that doesn't require electricity to run.
About six months ago Kris Gould, a friend of The Games Report's editor Peter Sarrett, began subscribing to Sumo and in his letter introducing himself mentioned the fact that he had taken the plunge and set up his own company to publish a family game that he had designed. If a casual gamer tells you something like that, the best course is normally to change the subject before they start describing some clone of Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit. However, Kris is the real article, with a huge collection of games. He was not likely to be suffering from that sort of self delusion and so I wrote to ask for more details. The game is called Legend of the Moonsword and is a fantasy game set in the fairy tale world of the Grimm Bothers. The basic plot is the standard fairy tale one of evil threatening the kingdom, evil that can only be defeated if someone goes on a quest to find a magical artifact. Judging from the photographs in the promotional material that Kris has sent me, the game looks well produced, with an attractive looking board, nine decks of cards and lots of bits. The cards provide the flavour and help drive the action, where, in proper fairy tale manner, each player sets out on a journey partly under their own control and partly determined by events and by characters met on the way. Players have the option of either helping or hindering each other as they choose and so it sounds like an ideal game for playing with kids -- a quick moving game with enough there to keep the adults interested and a level of competitiveness that can be varied according to who is playing. If you want to know more, write to Kris. His address is 12943 SE 23rd St, Bellevue, WA 98005, USA.
Among the magazines I mentioned last time was Games, Games, Games. If you haven't already seen this one, now is your chance. Paul Evans and Mike have decided to do some recruiting among each other's readerships and to that end Sumo readers are being offered an introductory free sample of G3. It is a good magazine and so I recommend that you check it out. Write to Paul at 42 Wynndale Road, LONDON E18 1DX, England.
I have mentioned Ken Tidwell's WWW page Ken's Game Cabinet before as a good source of information for those with Net access. This is part of a recent posting by Ken dated 1st April and giving more news from Nuremberg:
Digestion is a race game in which each player takes the role of a piece of food and tries to hurry from the mouth, through the stomach, on to the intestines, and out the back. Each player is dealt a hand of cards which control the movement of the various food pieces. Cards include saliva, bile and bowel movement to propel your food along. Ulcer, gas and belch cards slow your opponents. The cramp card can send everyone back one space and the dreaded green luncheon meat will send everyone back to the start. It's a ripping game with lots of tension and player interaction. The game has one downside: early results show that the corn has the best chance to make it through in one piece.
His Sumo subscription is being confiscated.