Extra Blatt

Reviewed by Mark Green

Extra Blatt is the recently released newspaper game from the prolific and varied mind of Karl-Heinz Schmiel - he of Die Macher, Tyranno Ex and A la Carte fame. Extra Blatt (which seems to translate as Extra!) has the quality of Die Macher without the complexity, the fun of Tyranno Ex without the silliness and the universal appeal of A la Carte without the lightness. In short, it is the second excellent game I have discovered this month.

Extra Blatt is for three or four players and can be played in about 2 hours. Players take on the role of a newspaper editor and try to put together a paper that will outsell its rivals. Daily papers have to be prepared quickly, so there are twelve clock chits which regulate the hours in the game as they tick towards deadline - when they are all used, the game ends.

There are a lot of components in this game and it scores highly on the heft scale. Each player has a large gridded board, representing the pages of his journal, and a store of a variety of different sized cards which represent the range of stories available to the editor. The actual stories, when laid out on the board, are distinguished by headline tiles which appear on a fax machine, no doubt wired from Reuters. As each tile has a representation of newsprint, the graphical image of your paper builds very nicely before your eyes.

Players start filling their pages by selecting headline titles from the fax machine and matching them to whatever sized story cards they choose. This is the meat of the game and deserves some detail. Stories come in six categories - general, local news, sport, politics etc and stories of the same type must be grouped together representing the sections of a real paper. There are three tiles of each headline (the German is very witty, I'm sure) and it is very important to get better (ie bigger) coverage of each story than your rivals. If a rival editor has the 'Gold for Ana Bolika' sport story with a story size of eight squares, it is a coup to take that same headline from the fax and top it with a twelve block piece in your paper. But beware the rival getting the third headline as this will be used for a photo to boost his coverage back above yours.

Players have a limited choice of faxes from the central board and this will often entail tactical decisions about which areas to free up. An alternative to acquiring a fax is the removal of headlines from the game, thereby safeguarding your story. The clock chits mentioned earlier also accumulate on the fax board. Players with a fairly complete paper will wish to take these to finish the game, while others will want all the time available to complete the front page scoop. However, taking a clock chit also gives several advantages, namely the ability to attack your rivals and the possibility of gaining extra turns.

Using cheque cards, which bear a striking resemblance to the Adel Verpflichtet system, you try to beat a selected opponent in a cash deal - chequebook journalism of a sort. If you succeed, you get to place an advert for a 'model' onto your rivals page, thus causing havoc with his layout. Later on in the game, placing of adverts is replaced by the ability to turn a rivals story into a lame duck. The latter doesn't translate well, but basically indicates a story that has made the paper but, perhaps because of factual inaccuracy or a duff title, is inferior to that of a rival. Either way, it is worth nothing at game end.

Eventually the time runs out and the papers are compared. You score points for a number of things; front page coverage, best coverage in each of the six categories and individual stories. Larger stories negate smaller ones, so having exclusive stories and the best mix is very important. Stories are valued differently depending on when they are placed - early stories are older news and so are less interesting, while late news scores highly. The best combination for selling papers is to have a late breaking exclusive on the front page - which is pretty close to real life.

I can only think of one other game that attempted this topic seriously and that is Scoop. Extra Blatt is a much more serious game while retaining a good sense of humour. Wrecking a section of your opponent's weighty political journal with adverts from Monika, Xsa Xsa and Gunther has a peculiar satisfaction. This is a game I will play a lot in 1992.

Mark Green

On to a Digression by the Editor or back to the review of History of the World.

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