Jenseits von Theben was designed by Peter Prinz and distributed in limited quantities (100 first edition, 300 second edition) in 2004. It is playable by 2-4 players about ten and up in around 90 minutes.
What You Get
This was totally made by hand, and came out rather well considering this. There is a simple white box with attractive image stuck to the top cover. Inside is a folded semi-hardback map, simple but colorful and useful. There are numerous decks of cards with nice illustrations and brilliant color. There are four pawns, a die, and a plastic see-through thingamajig to place over the ‘study charts’ to determine the number of digging cards you get. In all, the package is really excellent for a self-produced game. The cards must have taken forever to prepare: the rounded corners were a nice touch.
What You Do
You are an archaeologist in the year 1900. The idea is to collect artifacts from a number of extinct civilizations (the Greeks, Mesopotamians, Palestinians, Egyptians and Minoans, if I recall correctly) and put them on display at various exhibitions, while also attending seminars and generally making a name for yourself in the archaeological world. You have three game years to become as well-known as possible.
The interesting innovation in this game was the use of the time track as the determinant of the next player. Whoever was furthest behind in time gets the next move. You can spend the time in any way you like, and can take multiple actions before the next player as long as you stay behind on the time track. Ingenious.
On a turn you basically have four choices. The first is to travel: each space on the map counts as one week travel time. On the board there will; be four location cards, listing a European city (like Moscow, Paris, London or Berlin, among others) and an item or knowledge that can be gained at that city. Possible acquisitions are shovels (multiple shovels allow you more chances at treasure), assistants (multiple assistants allow more opportunities to find objects), horses and blimps (to speed travel), seminars (attending these gain you prestige), and knowledge, either specific to a culture, or general knowledge. To pick up these items, one needs to travel to the location and spend the required time to claim the card. For example, hiring the assistant may require you travel to Rome and spend two weeks in negotiation.
At some point, you will want/need to go on expeditions. Each player has five expedition cards, meaning you can only explore each cultural area once (unless you manage to pick up a false digging permit in your travels, then you can try twice). Once you get to a location you want to dig and provide the permit, you then check how much knowledge you have of the area: this is the sum of values of the specific knowledge cards you’ve acquired and the general knowledge as well, but general knowledge can only be applied up to the value of specific knowledge you have of the region. Then, you need to commit a number of weeks to the actual dig: the more knowledge and the more weeks spent, the more cards drawn. The dig consists of shuffling the dig deck, which consists of a number of discovery cards mixed with a number of ‘dirt’ cards: a number of these cards having been secretly removed before game play, cleverly disguising exactly what may be in the deck. You then draw a number of cards equal to your knowledge/time spent intersection, keeping the items but discarding the dirt. All the dirt gets re-shuffled into the remaining cards for the next player.
Periodically, exhibition cards are revealed which signal a major show to take place sometime in the future, a point value, a list of cultures to be exhibited and a location. If players are in the correct location at the correct time, they may give a show at the exhibition. You total up the number of finds corresponding to the cultures being shown and add a die roll for you ‘show score’. High total wins the exhibition card.
The game continues until 3 years have been played. Final tally is as follows: you find who has acquired the most specific knowledge for each culture, and they each get 4 points. The player with most knowledge in the least knowledgeable area gets 7 points. Add to this the points from your exhibitions, seminars, and the point values of your finds and you arrive at the final score.
What I Think
This game is a very good marriage of theme and gameplay. The use of the time chart to track player order is excellent, and the digging action by drawing cards works great. As the finds are depleted, future expeditions come up with more and more dirt. And since you don’t know how many artifacts actually are to be found in each deck, it keeps players guessing. I really like the timing of the exhibitions as it forces you to plan ahead. Unfortunately, the scoring of the exhibitions is not high enough to offset the player who focuses solely on digging of artifacts. As published, it will take players more into the theme to overcome this deficiency for a player determined to just win can do so without ever venturing to show his objects, which is a pity. Perhaps double their value? The other problem is the winner of the shows is a bit too random, often just decided by the die roll.
I was very happy to be able to get a copy of this from the designer at Essen in 2004. It has since been picked up by Queen Games and published in a very handsome package. I have not played this version, but I do not see the need for me to do so, as I am quite happy with the version I have, and it takes up much less space. In addition, you know the copy I have was produced with loving care and devotion, and the counts for a lot in my enjoyment of the thing. Not a game I will play very often, but have always enjoyed it when I have, and not too very upset to be thwarted by the hazards of fate.