Niels Peter Q Marstrand
Denmark
Copenhagen Region
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Not all board games have their World Championship.

This, to bring the provocative viewpoint first, could be due less to economic constraints than to the simple truth that not all board games are worthy of their own World Championship. For some games, a World Championship would expose what’s already painfully familiar to any Board Game Geek who has ever played a game he or she was truly enthusiastic about, rated it an 8 or a 9, played it a few times more, & then, by some fortuitous process, never touched it again.

We might as well own up to it. Many board games, even reputed ones, are too one-dimensional to be played more than 5 or in better cases 10 times. They don’t all reward the preparation, practice, & usually voyage, required to partake in a World Championship.

Of course this is facetious. Many more good board games would benefit from formalized procedures for pitting good players against even better ones, including championships of an international nature. Friedrich may not be your absolute #1 board game on the market (though it is in my own top 5). Yet my experience with the 2nd Friedrich World Championship in Berlin, Germany would tend to confirm at least a softer version of my provocation above:

That the Friedrich World Championship is not (or not only!) a mere marketing ploy. Friedrich is one of the games which can stomach such an event in the essential aspect that the game is not exhausted by the process, only strengthened & made deeper. To be sure, I have my own issues against how Friedrich gets played today - I’ll get back to these – but none challenges the depth or richness of the game as such.

For a more conventional, hour-by-hour Championship report, I recommend the publisher’s inspiring pages at www.histogame.de. I'll mainly touch on 2 experiences: First, the championship as it unfolded through the 4 games I happened to play in. Second, the intensely stimulating area of Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg – in which everything was located: the ho(s)tel (comfortable as a hotel, cheap as a hostel at $35/night) where the foreign participants stayed, the happening cultural venue where the Championship took place, & everything we did on the way to & from these 2 abodes.

But first, back to the tournament. One of its several niceties was that all participants (18 full + some fill-ins) played at least 4 games. The 5th was the Final, for the best 4 players from the 4 preparation games. In each of these preparation games, each player had not only a new role every time (Prussia, Russia, Austria, or France), but also faced 3 players not met before in this tournament. So we all played the game’s 4 possible sides, & met 12 different players in total. This aspect seemed central to the organizer, Richard, who I think went through quite some reflection to work it out.

Different players or not, a tendency emerged, at least in my games: cautious, gradualist, conservative, & often defensive play & thinking. In the first 2 games I followed that pattern & did well, but in the 3rd game, playing Austria, the 2nd strongest power after Prussia, impatience grabbed me. I felt very strongly that Austria had to play much more aggressively than I’d seen it played in the first 2 games – admirably within that style, it must be said, by 2 gifted players who both went to the Final, one being the highest ranked in the preparation games, the other winning the world title!

Their impeccable claims notwithstanding, I believe that a strong army should be played vigorously or at least along more daring & imaginative lines. This I now tried as Austria - & failed. The reasons don’t matter much. I simply wasn’t good enough.

Yet I stuck to my cannons. For my 4th & final game, playing Prussia, I decided I couldn’t endure more of the downtime & triple-checking so characteristic of Friedrich even at its best. I therefore chose a rare & drastic strategy, a legitimate rule variant, widely considered almost suicidal: Prussian Offensive Option. It basically means Frederick has to win much more offensively, while the others, Austrians especially, have easier terms defeating it. There’s practically no advantage for Prussia in this strategy, except the one which to me was the whole world: that I, as Prussia, would be pushed to be extremely offensive, imaginative, flexible, manoeuvrable - & really (yes, really) make use of those superb “inner lines”. Then the others would have a hard time reading Prussian action, & would therefore have to be on their toe tips too. Greater fun & intensity in what might, perhaps, be a shorter game.

Again I failed to win, irrevocably freezing my total ranking toward the bottom end. & again I’ll state that I simply wasn’t good enough.

What’s the sense of all this “good enough” talk? Not self-hatred, but a simple truth: The strategies (or doctrine, to abuse the military lingo) for my final 2 games may have been sound enough & deserve more attention. What was most deficient was my competence & implementation.

I won’t elaborate much further. Friedrich is one of the very best games today, with a bright future ahead. However, at present (& certainly in the Championship) a somewhat slow & overconsolidated playing style is perhaps too much in favour, adding to the heaviness already experienced because of downtime. It might help if the organizers instituted a special prize for innovative play (AND productive results, ie not rewarding unfruitful attempts like mine), such as “the most imaginative player who also makes it to the Final”, or something to similar effect.

Yet in the end, all this may just be private sour grapes. So I leave the matter up to Richard, who on all these issues is not infallible, but close enough, a little like Aldie on any BGG question.


(The image above is a 360 Degrees picture, which you can cause to rotate, from Schönhauser Allee - very close to where the foreign participants stayed.)

Now a few vital remarks on the tournament city.

Having visited Berlin a couple of times before gives me better conscience, but had this been my first Berlin trip ever, I fear the outcome would have been the same:

Except for getting to & from the Berlin Central train station, I didn’t set foot outside the neighbourhood where I stayed.

Not because Friedrich took most of my energy - it certainly did that - but simply because everything important, sleep, play & friendship, took place in what must be one of the hottest neighbourhoods on the globe: Prenzlauer Berg.

I’m a Geek of the World. I like East Village. I’ve shopped for old rags in London (& hated it). I almost moved to the real Paris Latin Quarter, the one a few quiet blocks away from where the tourists, against all evidence, insist on thinking it is. I know what, in my own beloved but hardly gigantic city of Copenhagen, Denmark, passes for a hot hood. Yet nothing had prepared me for the extensiveness of Prenzlauer Berg. It’s hip to a fault, sure, but it’s mainly just enormous, & still only half-developed. Man-sized weeds everywhere & buildings in every stage between total decomposition & smart refurbishing. When the Wall fell in 1989, Prenzlauer Berg became the new urban Frontier. People such as Friedrich’s designer moved in early, & enjoyed the magic months when telephone & other infrastructure barely existed, & people left messages scrawled with pencil, chalk or ink – not email, not voicemail, not sms – by each other’s apartments, arranging to meet in the midst of the then emerging restaurant, bar & night life.

Some of that spirit remains, though the frontiersmen/women of the early 90s already mourn its decay. Things are still very much like a good board game. Seemingly chaotic & restless, but strangely self-regulating & warming to the heart.

In Prenzlauer Berg, other jaded & pretentious board gamers (they exist, else how could someone design the cocktail microbadge?) will experience shops selling gizmos they didn’t even know anybody could ever believe anybody needed, vinyl records with rare readings by Sidney Poitier & Lee J. Cobb, clothes that turn looking like absolute shit & yet be fashionable into a discipline of severity, minimalism, & the active but constrained use of bright colours.

Some will say none of this has nothing to do with gaming, but boy does it ever! Somewhere out there, must be a gamer minority feeling they haven’t the dime to go to some big convention in some big industrial city, European or American, knowing that both hotel & convention are by the airport, & that the incentive to take a cab downtown will never be compelling. Well, no risk of that at a Friedrich Championship, so long as it stays in Berlin. & why move? Indeed how move, when Berlin was the prestigious capital of the King the game commemorates?

I do have one caveat for those tempted by the voyage. Prenzlauer Berg & the rest of Berlin deserve your undivided attention. But so does the Championship game! I had the 2 all mixed up - major fault of judgement. So set aside 3 very separate & disciplined days for one, 3 following days for the other, & round up your journey to a full week. Eating & sleeping is still very cheap, so a couple of days more won’t kill your budget. But the “worthwhileness” of shelling out for a plane ticket will double.

Time for a showy conclusion (& for fully courting the Flag of irrelevancy):

Instead of playing, as I ought, a better last game, I went & invented a cocktail in homage to Berlin, of Prenzlauer Berg, & of an exclusive example of its fine denizens, the Prenzlauer Schönheit, or Berlin Beauty. The object & mission of the Berlin beauty is, very simply, its own end. She may study, work in a bar or in a fraction of the urban culture, but that’s not her true vocation, not at this all too brief interlude of her life. Her vocation is to resemble a blend of Aphrodite & the 20-something mermaid. To be a Beauty. Believe me, she succeeds spectacularly. So, in her honour, Europe brings to America:

kiss The Berlin Beauty, Very Dry, Very Cooled kiss
(Appropriately built on the James Bond Vesper, also a tribute to a lady & to the Cold War)

Stoli Vodka & heaps of it
Lillet Blanc, the original, 1/8 of the Vodka measure

plus (here’s where Berlin comes in):

Forget the very notion of Gin from the 1953 Vesper.
Buy the Stoli Peach flavoured (I know - but do follow this advice)
Plenty of cooling, not forgetting the cocktail glass, which should look frozen
1 thick sliced orange, &/or fine orange peel
Chambord Raspberry Liqueur, the original

(This last Raspberry step is the challenge. Its measure is never determined by your taste buds (what have they to do with beauty?) Instead, pour the dark Liqueur very deliberately, until your drink achieves a hue of both elegance & depth – not one at the other’s expense. A harmonious marriage of Aphrodite & Poseidon. Experiment.)

Shaken or stirred? Gee, I just make sure I look on top of the world sipping this thing.

But much more than this chatter more germanizing than germane:

Deploy every asset, & battle your way to the next Friedrich World Final!
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Richard Hutnik
United States
Poughkeepsie
New York
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I would like to see a tabletop games universal championship where all tabletop games can get together and battle it out, have all the champions resolve at the same time, and make it a huge media event.
 
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Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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There are a number of such "world championships" at the World Boardgaming Championships:

http://www.boardgamers.org/

To be fair, some of the games that are featured appear only briefly, for a year or two, then fade away, but others have been fiercely contested for over a decade. Although it may be presumptuous for an event to call itself the "world championships," it sure is fun to play other enthusiasts in an organized setting. My family has attended WBC for several years now and we've had a blast. See my reports at

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/15890

and

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/23759

I think Friedrich is a game that belongs in the WBC list, but it will have to be voted in.
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Mark Delano
United States
Stamford
Connecticut
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To be honest I was surprised that in the final there wasn't a major battle until late in the game. As an Allied player I don't think I've delayed a response forcing attack until later than the fifth turn. Waiting longer is giving too much of an advantage to the Prussian player.
 
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Niels Peter Q Marstrand
Denmark
Copenhagen Region
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Colour code: #031634. How I enjoy this colour!
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frunkee wrote:
To be honest I was surprised that in the final there wasn't a major battle until late in the game. As an Allied player I don't think I've delayed a response forcing attack until later than the fifth turn. Waiting longer is giving too much of an advantage to the Prussian player.


Unless you bleed him a little, all the time.

But then we're close to the gradualism I'm so sceptical about. Again I wish I had a better total score to back my views, but I do tend to favour as much offensive as realistically possible, throughout the game. If that doesn't seem to work, then practice & experiment your offensive skills, instead of abandoning that whole strategy for a more cautious style of play - & yes, then risking making the opponent too strong, when finally you do confront him.
 
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Mark Delano
United States
Stamford
Connecticut
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petermarstrand wrote:
Unless you bleed him a little, all the time.

But then we're close to the gradualism I'm so sceptical about. Again I wish I had a better total score to back my views, but I do tend to favour as much offensive as realistically possible, throughout the game. If that doesn't seem to work, then practice & experiment your offensive skills, instead of abandoning that whole strategy for a more cautious style of play - & yes, then risking making the opponent too strong, when finally you do confront him.


I agree. I think applying the pressure is critical to force Prussia to either give ground or play more cards than they want to. One of the advantages of early pressure is that Prussia is going to be more jittery. They haven't seen how their hand is going to shape up, and playing spades against Russia now might hinder them later against France. Waiting lets Prussia collect their cards and methodically plan out their defence. Sitting back isn't an option.

I'm not in favor of suicidal attacks, but there has to be the constant threat. The fact that it's there will force more cautious action by Prussia.
 
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Frank van Hasselt
Germany
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As a newbie to Friedrich but a (fairly) long-term denizen of Berlin, I wholeheartedly applaud Peter Q's lavish praise of Prenzlauer Berg.

Concerning Peter Q's comments on the "somewhat slow & overconsolidated playing style" at the World Championship, my uninformed opinion would be that there's nothing to be done about it. Or rather: the only truly compelling argument against it would be if someone managed to beat the overconsolidators with vibrant and offensive play. I don't believe that a special prize for innovative play would contribute all that much. To draw a parallel with the chess world: any chess enthusiast will be able to list (most of) the World Champions, but hardly anyone will be able to recall who won the beauty prize at Avro 1938 or Zurich 1953. It's the results that matter- so if the current Friedrich playing style is somewhat like chess in the 70s, we just have to hope for the Friedrich equivalent of a Garry Kasparov to come along.

In any case, many thanks to Peter Q. for a very enjoyable review and a very complicated cocktail.
 
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Niels Peter Q Marstrand
Denmark
Copenhagen Region
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Colour code: #031634. How I enjoy this colour!
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Frank van Hasselt's reply gives me 2nd thoughts about my abundant use of the words "overconsolidating play", in connection with the World Championship games.

After all, this may just be my convenient buzzword for "a playing style I don't like, & which doesn't lead me to win."

Further, there doesn't have to be anything wrong with overconsolidation. Far from all wars - or sessions of any game - have been determined by lightning action, all finished before Christmas. Not least many conflicts of the 18th Century, where Friedrich is set, were known for their positional, chess-like warfare, first truly upset by Napoleon Bonaparte.

Having said all that, many of Frederick the Great's campaigns remain noted for their flexibility, unpredictability & daring. Plus, yes, the skilful use of inner lines of communication which I still haven't seen exploited as fully as the game allows. Though even Frederick did become more defensive & cautious as the Seven Years War wore him down.

In sum, I guess I'd just like the game to encourage both style options, the meticulous & the impatiently innovative. Perhaps a laureate for imaginative play will not be remembered 50 years hence. No matter. What does matter is that when such play does emerge in a competitive setting, it be highlighted, recorded, studied, & made a base for further enhancements. The means to that, prize or other, are infinitely less important.

By the way: A Berlin Beauty - woman or cocktail - is never simple. You want natural, unadulterated, simple beauty, come to the Scandinavian hinterland. In Berlin, beauty is urbane sophistication made aesthetic!

kiss
 
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Anton Telle
Germany
Berlin
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Yes, there is probably much "overconsolidating play" to be seen at the championship tournament. Probably due to the fact, that no one wants to make mistakes.

Still, you can see people playing fast and innovative, but mostly only as allies. Especially if you see Bernd playing style (last years finalist). It is snappy and he attacks fast. As a prussian player you must play calm in my opinion, whereas as an ally you can take more risks.

Probably the playing style will change over the years. It has already changed since the last world championship. May be we will see more innovative and imaginative playing styles... Another point is, that the other players are too occupied with their own battle theater, and can not acknowledge your beautiful moves . Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
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