This is my report of the new board games launched at the 2004 Spiel games fair. There's quite a lot in this article, so you can use an index to find the bits you want. Or just read it as a narrative. You can also read or print the PDF version (you will need Adobe Reader to do this – it is free from Adobe).
I enjoyed Spiel as ever. It is always refreshing to see the enthusiasm everybody (customers, publishers, designers, journalists at al) brings to the show. Not to mention all the new games. Experience has taught me that it just isn't possible to see everything at Spiel. Scour the halls for the four days of the show and still someone will tell you about a great game that you missed. Nowadays I don’t even try. Particularly this year when another hall has been added to the show, making it bigger than ever, and I only had two days to do the rounds. So this report is very selective: it covers just a few of the 400+ new games that were on show. But then, I was only one of 149,501 visitors!
I have been adding to these notes as I have played games since Spiel. I shall continue to do this, so keep an eye out for new versions of this report.
As always, I must give my usual disclaimer. I often describe games by referring to other games. This is not meant to imply that one game is a copy of another, it’s simply a quick way of getting across what the game is like.
2F Spiele had no new game this year as designer Friedemann Friese has been busy. Not least with the new editions of Funkenschlag (as Power Grid) and Finstere Flure (as Fearsome Floors) with Rio Grande Games. Power Grid is a terrific game – improving on the already good Funkenschlag – and Finstere Flure is a strong favourite at Swiggers games club, so I recommend both games.
Abacus had several new games, as well as Michael Schacht’s Hansa, published earlier this year. Moguli is a two-player abstract designed by Reinhold Wittig and published in a nice wooden edition. Uwe Rosenberg has come up with a new pizza-themed card game, which can be played on its own or as an expansion to Mamma Mia!. It’s called Sole Mio. As a fan of the original game, I’m interested to see how the new game works. There’s also a new edition of Ein Solches Ding (Urs Hostettler), which is a neat game in which players build up a list of characteristics until it’s clear there isn’t any " such thing" . As the game is entirely text, this edition is really only going to work for German speakers. The same applies to Wie ich die Welt Sehe (How I See the World) from the same designer. This sounds similar to Apples to Apples as players pick one of the several answers available to a specific question.
As expected, Adlung Spiele had a selection of new card games from a variety of designers. The most interesting of these was Im Auftrag des Königs (On Behalf of the King), designed by Lorenz Kutschke. Players compete to complete knightly quests and thus win the favour of King Arthur. They have to improve their abilities to successfully complete the quests and this means competing with the other players for the available action cards. Not too demanding, I suspect, but it sounds interesting. Teamwork (Michael Andersch) is a card game version of the parlour game where two players, speaking one word each in turn, try to describe something to the rest of their team. The remaining new games seem to be aimed at children. Flix Mix is a pattern-matching game from Bernhard Naegele. Geister und Gespenster is a ghost-themed game by Eugen Wyss. Oups is a memory game by Karsten Adlung.
Ravensburger subsidiary alea used their space to show the prototype of their new game for next Spring. This was Louis XIV by Rüdiger Dorn – subtitled intrigue at the court of the Sun King. It’s a card game in which the players – courtiers at Versailles – try to get the King’s ear. There was a lot of competition to try the game and I didn’t get a chance to do so. It was received well by those who played it, so I look forward to seeing the production version early in 2005.
Alea’s production games this year were Wilko Manz’s Fifth Avenue (English language version from Rio Grande), which I found disappointing, and San Juan (another Rio Grande publication in English), the card game developed by designer Andreas Seyfarth from his earlier board game, Puerto Rico. Stefan Brück, main man at alea, was very pleased to be awarded " Card Game of the Year" for San Juan by Fairplay magazine.
Der Untergang von Pompeji (The Downfall of Pompeii) comes from Amigo. " Escape from Pompeii" might be a better English version of the title as that’s the theme of this board game from Klaus-Jürgen Wrede. The immediate attraction is the conical volcano in one corner of the board. Yes, you get to chuck your opponents’ bits into it! (Sound effects are optional.) The first stage of the game has everybody placing wooden cubes in their colour around the city. Then Vesuvius erupts. Now you move your cubes out of the city and spread lava tiles across it. Whoever saves the most pieces from the destruction wins.
The game encourages players to think carefully about where they’re placing their cubes in the first place. And then to plot their moves in the second part – there’s a clever movement mechanic, which provides some tactical options. For me, the thinking doesn’t match the fairly lightweight theme in what is meant to be a fun game. I can see that the game is aimed at the family market, but I’m not sure throwing my nieces and nephews into the volcano will go down too well!
Geschenkt is an addition to Amigo’s fine line of card games. Designed by Thorsten Gimmler, this is a minimalist game. It consists of a set of cards, numbered 3-35, and some chips. Players get 11 chips each and 24 cards are selected at random to make the playing deck. The first card is turned up and the first player has a choice: take the card (and any chips on it) or put a chip on it and pass the decision to the next player. Who then has the same decision to make and so on. When all the cards have been taken, the players score the values of their cards as penalty points less the number of chips they have. However, anyone with a run of consecutive cards (12-13-14, for example) only scores the lowest card.
This is a fiendish little game. With only two-thirds of the cards in play, you cannot be sure that any gaps between your cards will be filled. The first impulse is to avoid high value cards at all costs, but they can be attractive once they have a few chips on them. And there’s always the chance of stringing together a run that means only one of them scores. Aagh! The game reminds me strongly in style of that other great simple filler: 6 nimmt!. However, this game has a higher skill level. Or, at least, it appears to have…
Talking of 6 nimmt!, the co-designer of that game, Wolfgang Kramer, has come up with Tanz der Hornochsen (Dance of the Ox-heads – which are the symbols on the cards in 6 nimmt!), a board game version of the game. This sounds very silly, but the charm of 6 nimmt! is that it plays very quickly. I’ll be surprised if this has transferred to the board game.
Another re-working from Amigo was Razzia!, a card game version of Reiner Knizia’s Ra. The game has been re-themed to gangsters instead of Ancient Egypt (presumably by the other credited designer, Michael Menzel), but is virtually identical to the original game. Apart from the different physical components, the only difference is the absence of ‘disaster’ cards, which players don’t want. This may make it more acceptable as a family game, but I’d rather play the original.
Other new games from Amigo were:
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