The German Invasion - Phase 3

The trouble with having an editorial emphasis towards general or family games is that you rarely get much to sink your teeth into. As I've said many times before, the games tend to have a simple mechanism and as such really defy the possibility of an in-depth review or analysis. Of course, the occasional relative middleweight such as Airlines does come along (much to my relief as a reviewer), but in the main I can easily spend a pleasant afternoon's gaming and cover six or more short games that barely raise an intellectual sweat. These do not, as a rule, fill me with a desire to go away and write a page of review. This reaction mainly applies to those games that have become known as 'German' but the recent crop of new US and UK releases often don't add up to much either.

There could be several complex reasons for this phenomena but I suspect the main factor is nothing more than my changing tastes. It may be much easier for me to spot than for the readers, but the short history of Sumo runs roughly parallel with my enthusiasm for simple German games. With each issue, albeit with only three months between snapshots, I have increasingly felt that Sumo needs to gently move somewhere else. To an extent this is no surprise to me as I have been a flitter for as long as I can remember, but I normally come back eventually. The trouble is, with the German games, I feel I'm drifting off with few incentives to return. Compared with the peak in 1989 when I would play absolutely anything, the more basic and mindlessly funny the better, I have swung right back to preferring games with some bite and mental challenge. Just call me Mr Fickle.

It is interesting to surmise whether these games encourage a phased relationship over time, or again it may simply be the curious way my brain works. For me, phase one is the initial euphoria of finding an entire untapped source of superbly produced boardgames with consequent pain to the wallet area, storage problems and long, long games sessions where it was difficult to resist ripping open the next box. ('My name is Mike and I have not ripped cellophane for three weeks.')

The second phase is one of consolidation, where one has tried and played the bulk of the games, eliminated the chaff and established a few favourites, and moved on from even those games that seemed to offer unlimited replayability. It now takes a lot of encouragement to get me to play Six Day Race for the umpteenth time.

The third phase, I suspect, is where I am now. 1990 (and '91 so far) quickly showed me that great German games don't appear every year. Yes, you get a few good ones but once you have tapped and exhausted the premium reserves, the new supply may not be quite so appealing. It is here, as a reviewer and a gamer, that one has to be more than careful with the Emperor's new attire. In common with almost any other area, the mistaken belief that a new field is a rich one (with resulting excitement and interest) often leads to disappointment.

I can draw close parallels with graphic novels and comics which I 'discovered' a couple of years ago, naively expecting new vistas and fresh quality material, only to find that 99% of everything is indeed crap. The German games have a much better working average than that (I must have added more than twenty top notch games to my collection), but it is no good me finding each and every obscure German game in the hope it will be another Formel Eins or Energie Poker.

Another angle, and one that I've alluded to before, is the price of these games. Needless to say, they ain't cheap. Post VAT increases and taking account of inflation for the last three years, basic card games weigh in at £6-9, 'small' games are £10-15, anything substantial, be it family or adult, is £18-25 and esoteric or French stuff can cost you £35 or more. This is a lot of money; in fact about as much money as you can pay in the boardgame hobby as a whole. It hits home more when you hit a run of duff games but, even adding up the mixed bag of games in this issue of Sumo, one quickly runs into the hundreds of pounds. I don't know about anyone else, but I find that it is starting to represent a poor return on funds and I have cut back recently.

So does all this whining mean the end of 'German' game coverage in Sumo? Of course not. If nothing else, there will always be the surprise game that may merit wider exposure (I think specifically of the forthcoming Droids and the already popular Cloak & Dagger) and of course the German games still offer excellent coverage of the convention, late night, fill-in and family areas that still have a place in the hobby and here in Sumo. Reviews of these games will still appear, but probably in shorter form as befits those offering shallow play depth.

As for the likes of Leiber Bairisch Sterben (review coming soon, now that we have the rules), Hatunaleken, Manager and Playboss, which should all offer rather more scope for analysis, these will continue to get more in-depth coverage. Aside from that, Sumo's content will probably reflect more or less what I have been playing (Siggins states the obvious) and if the German quota decreases, as I suspect it well might, then you may get some slightly different angles on this wide ranging hobby. Just remember we offer a full, no quibble, money back guarantee here at MegaSumo Inc., should you decide the magazine has moved away from your tastes. Enough self-analysis, on with the games.

Back to Daytona 500 or on to Express.

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