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Ulm» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Ulm –Old-School Euro or Fresh German Strategy? rss

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Alexander G.
Germany
Frankfurt Area
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“Truly I was born to be an example of misfortune, and a target at which the arrows of adversary are aimed.” ― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote
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First Impressions – Ulm

“Ulm” is the new 2016 strategy game from Günther Burkhardt and published by R&R Games and Huch!&Friends. The author’s prior works have rather average track records on BGG, so let’s see whether this game is a step upward for him and the city of Ulm is actually worth a visit.

This review is based on first impressions of a 2-player game with advanced players and a 4-player game with mixed experience levels. The following lines are solely intended to describe my initial view which should allow you to decide whether you should make a visit to Ulm or avoid that place.


Background & Goals

The medieval Ulm is a rich German city dominated by patricians, guilds, its river and the huge cathedral. Each player represents a wealthy family influencing the different districts of the city while travelling river with the goal to get the most victory points.

You can achieve victory points by different means. First of all, the closer your river boat is at the end of the river, the more victory points are made at the end of the game (and vice versa). Additionally, you get victory points by playing cards either immediately or by collecting them in front of you at the end of the game, where special sets give bonus points. Furthermore, you can achieve points by placing your family seals in certain districts and, e.g., thereby purchasing the coat of arms of that district. Finally, the game play also allows other effects which are worth victory points, for example any unused joker tile (so-called Ulm Sparrow) is worth 1VP at the end of the game. Money, cards still in your hand or any other collected action tiles are not worth anything at the end of the game.


Game Play & Mechanics

While the historical theme is implemented with a lot of love for details starting with the little cardboard cathedral as simple round counter via a lot of local names of districts and facilities to the river boat mechanism, this game is still to be considered as a typical Euro strategy game.

The first key mechanism of Ulm lies within the action selection phase. Each player has usually three actions per round which he can’t choose by his own but on the basis of a 3x3 action token grid. As a first step, he draws one action token randomly from a bag and may then select a row of action tokens by pushing the drawn action token from one selected side into the grid (thereby kicking one action token from the grid). As a second step, the player will now - in any order - activate each of the actions of the selected row (including the drawn tile, but not the tile which has been kicked out).
The following 5 actions are available:
- Take one silver (mostly required to place seals in districts);
- Move river boat by one space;
- Take all (i.e., 1-3) action tokens which have been pushed out from one side of the grid (mostly required to pay for cards);
- Place own seal in a district for 2 silver;
- Make a card action with could be either playing a card or purchasing a card for two collected action tokens (same symbols allow to draw 2 cards and keep one);

As you can’t select a row with 4 action token (i.e., one token has been kicked out, but is still there), the amount of available actions is determined by the randomly drawn tile, the available action tokens in the grid and the amount of still free rows. However, there are some mitigation actions possible. For example, you can use an Ulm Sparrow joker to replace the drawn tile with one on a side board, some cards allow instant actions and also seal actions may provide needed resources for later actions.

Cards are the second key and rather limited element of the game. Each player can only play exactly one card per round (but at any time before, between or after his actions), so getting any cards or playing more than one card requires a card action or a similar effect triggered by a seal action in a district. Cards first of all offer an immediate effect which may require the payment of silver or collected action tiles, but then provides either resources, river boat movement or victory points. Cards played that way are discarded. Alternatively, players can choose to play a card in front of them to trigger the second effect which is usually a way to get victory points at the end of the game. You can collect 3 similar or different types of goods, 3 areas of the cathedral or get points related to your position or area control on the board.

The third element of the game is the river boat position. While it’s obvious to ultimately get down the river as far as possible as each step is simply worth 1VP, the position of your river boat also determines the available two districts for the seal action. Each district offers a unique advantage, but once your boat has left that district, you may never get that advantage again (boats move only into one direction). For example, you can get a descendants advantage permanently improving a specific action at the rather early Oath House quarter, but once your boat has reached the border of the Town Hall quarter, you can only choose such district advantage.

After exactly 10 rounds you count all accumulated victory points (especially of your collected and played cards after checking their prerequisites and limits).


Strategy & Difficulty

As usual for Euro games, Ulm requires some strategic prioritizations from a player, e.g., focusing on specific district advantages or collecting card sets, while the constantly changing action tile grid will also require a lot of tactical flexibility to make the best out of available actions. Therefore, it’s always important to keep some options for your turn avoiding to be completely out of silver and resources at the end of your round just to find out that there is no free action row with silver or getting tokens when you start you next turn.

The overall game flow is rather fast and less than 60 minutes for two players is easily achievable, while even 4 players may end a game in less than 90 minutes. The action grid selection works very well and may require some thinking especially concerning the action order, but does usually not end in endless staring at the board or giving the other players the feeling that they are totally bored while waiting for their turn. Hardened Euro veterans are rather surprised how fast 10 turns can be in a Euro game…

Experienced players may increase the difficulty level a little bit by additional round events which can already been seen the round before and have to be considered for the own planning.

Ulm is not a light-weight and less experienced players may have trouble to understand the action grid mechanism and the river board relationship to the available district actions. Therefore, the entrance level difficulty of Ulm is surely lower than Madeira, but could possibly be compared with Signorie or Orléans but without actually reaching the game depth or complexity of such comparisons. The actual game play complexity may be more on the level of Council of 4.


Presentation & Rule Book

The presentation and art work of Ulm is definitely to be highlighted. The publishers have really done their best to paste the historic theme on this Euro game with a rich (but maybe a bit overloaded) game board, a lot of nice local details like the Ulm Sparrow, the local river boats and gimmicks like the cardboard cathedral as round counter.

There are two rule books which are clearly structured, well written and easily understandable, although it’s not fully clear why they have not put it in one rule book. After my last readings of the exhausting “Plus Ultra” rules, I really enjoyed this writing. The second book even includes a bit of interesting historic background about the city as well. Nevertheless some players in my group have also been asking for player aids which are unfortunately not part of the game.


My Opinion

I’m pleased with the rich presentation and pleasant game length of Ulm and its light to medium Euro mechanisms. Players who understand the basic principles can enjoy a good game flow without the feeling that this game overstays its welcome.

However, this is not a game for everybody and less Euro-experienced players get quickly frustrated as they have difficulties to see the interdependencies despite the simple amount of actions and will be far behind on the victory point scale in the middle of the game. On the other hand, the hardcore gamer nevertheless faces rather limited options by drawn tiles while shipping down the river and may not be happy to have the freedom of a sandbox-style game. The “sweet spot” of the audience for this game seems to be somewhere in between, i.e., players with some Euro game experience aiming for a limited hour of nice, but limited game mechanisms without too much brain freeze will be happy with this game.

I may not be sure yet about the long term replay ability especially in view of the limited key mechanisms, but I would immediately play another round again. Therefore, in my humble opinion the author Günther Burkhardt has developed here possibly his best game until now and can be proud of the result, so Ulm is definitely worth to be visited if you are looking for this type of game.
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Nicola Bocchetta
Italy
Milano
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Thanks for your review.

How do you rate the interactiveness of the game according to your experience?
 
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Alexander G.
Germany
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“Truly I was born to be an example of misfortune, and a target at which the arrows of adversary are aimed.” ― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote
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Interactivity / Player Interaction:

Pros...

There are several elements of interactivity between players without actually leading to any direct conflict:

(+) The action token grid is always influenced by the selection of the prior players, but I tend to say that you would normally choose the best options for you thereby maybe "accidentally" limiting the options of the next player, but you usually don't try to actively spoil the grid, because your own three actions are too important.

(+) The position of your river boat towards the other boats is always relevant as there is only one boat on any position and you "jump" over boats in front of you instead of landing on their position. A good move with several boats directly in front of you can bring you from the last to the first river position, in case you fall too far behind, you will surely have the red lantern in this race.

(+) One of the most important interactions are driven by the district options. There is only limited room for placing seals in each district and some of the fist districts allow you to take control of a district providing you victory points for seals placed therein. There is also a limited amount of benefit tokens available in another district. It's not really super tight as you usually have 4 or more slots available per district and you can always decide to race further down the river to grab any advantages there, but in case you follow a specific strategy, you need to keep these limitations in mind.


Cons...

(-) As far as I remember, there are actually no "in your face" actions or any other direct conflict options available via the cards as well. You can actually play this game in a rather friendly way (with the one or other hidden smile when the other player has to select a less useful action token row thanks to your prior action).

(-) There is also no trade or negotiation taking place between players. Each player focuses on the available options and his long-term strategy without much direct communication. I guess this is a rather typical Euro engine issue...


Summary

So in a nutshell, I would rate the interactivity as "low-medium" as actions of players have an effect on other players, but there is no other communication or interference mechanism implemented as part of the game. So this may not be the preferred game for heavy negotiators, diplomats or war mongers, but all players share the same board and action grid which ensures a common theme on the table (and not each player playing on its own).
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Ernie Darby
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Question -

Was there a sense of progression? I love a good Euro but I want to feel that I am building up to something and not just doing the same thing for 10 turns. I had that issue with Burano as much as I want to love it you spend almost all your turns doing the same actions with no real sense of progression or forward movement in the game.
 
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Nicola Bocchetta
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There is a nice sense of progression, but is not really due to your engine growing, but rather it's a built-in characteristic of the game.

Your barge moves along the river. You can only influence the 2 neighbourhoods on the sides of your barge. The effects you get from influencing the neighbourhoods are different from one to the other.
At the start, you can get vistory points from putting your crest on the 'hoods, if you draw the right tile. After the 2nd part of the river, there is no more this possibility, but the effect change. IN the 2nd part you can get permanent bonuses, that can drive your strategy (e.g. more tiles, more barge speed, more money). In the 3rd part the effects are still different. In the last part you can get an easy way to get cards (you draw cards to collect symbols that will give you points at the end of the game).

So there is defintely a progression.
 
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emperors4 games
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diometes wrote:
Question -

Was there a sense of progression? I love a good Euro but I want to feel that I am building up to something and not just doing the same thing for 10 turns. I had that issue with Burano as much as I want to love it you spend almost all your turns doing the same actions with no real sense of progression or forward movement in the game.


I'd like to thank you for finding the issue with Burano. I used many mechanisms try to make the game more diverse. But player always doing the same actions with no real sense of progression. I think that my mistakes, And I'll try to make better next time. Thanks for your feedback.
By Eros lin
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emperors4 games
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Faso74it wrote:
There is a nice sense of progression, but is not really due to your engine growing, but rather it's a built-in characteristic of the game.

Your barge moves along the river. You can only influence the 2 neighbourhoods on the sides of your barge. The effects you get from influencing the neighbourhoods are different from one to the other.
At the start, you can get vistory points from putting your crest on the 'hoods, if you draw the right tile. After the 2nd part of the river, there is no more this possibility, but the effect change. IN the 2nd part you can get permanent bonuses, that can drive your strategy (e.g. more tiles, more barge speed, more money). In the 3rd part the effects are still different. In the last part you can get an easy way to get cards (you draw cards to collect symbols that will give you points at the end of the game).

So there is defintely a progression.


I played Ulm yesterday. I really like the mechanisms. especially,Your barge moves along the river. You can only influence the 2 neighbourhoods on the sides of your barge. I had saw the mechanism working in this game:
on 2015 Tokyo gamemarket. You can drive your strategy that depends on your location.
very nice idea!
By Eros lin
 
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Jeremiah Power
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Gilbert
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emperors4 wrote:
diometes wrote:
Question -

Was there a sense of progression? I love a good Euro but I want to feel that I am building up to something and not just doing the same thing for 10 turns. I had that issue with Burano as much as I want to love it you spend almost all your turns doing the same actions with no real sense of progression or forward movement in the game.


I'd like to thank you for finding the issue with Burano. I used many mechanisms try to make the game more diverse. But player always doing the same actions with no real sense of progression. I think that my mistakes, And I'll try to make better next time. Thanks for your feedback.
By Eros lin


That's admirable that a designer takes criticism so well and uses it to improve in the future. Good on you, mate.
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Ernie Darby
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emperors4 wrote:
[q="diometes"]Question -

I'd like to thank you for finding the issue with Burano. I used many mechanisms try to make the game more diverse. But player always doing the same actions with no real sense of progression. I think that my mistakes, And I'll try to make better next time. Thanks for your feedback.
By Eros lin


Also I really liked Burano and have played it three times. I still think its a good game and extremely diverse my only complaint (or issue) which may not be the same for everyone is the progression.

Thanks for the game!
 
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