Where should I start? I have a strong opinion about how modern technology and, also, Kickstarter devaluates certain professions, not using the experience of the old ’uns and e.g. how many newer publishers can’t playtest a game, write a a well-structured and playtested rulebook and create a look for their game that is not only eye-pleasing but also helps the gameplay as much as it can. I could go into detail about how many production design problems one of Reiner Knizia’s finest ever games (Babylonia) has (I’ve mentioned them in our review), after which Ludonova’s next Knizia was a huge step in the direction of usability (the only real problem Sumatra’s look has is the hard-to-read fonts used for the numbers) or how hard it is to see the special cards in Whale Riders: The Card Game (see my comment there) but it seems the problem is timeless, as one of the two games I’m going to talk about will show.***
Especially because the first game I’m talking about was published in 2008 by Twilight Creations, Inc.. They published four Knizias with an oldschool horror look and theme within a short time. Since they were a small and then relatively new publisher who made fame creating the Zombies!!! series I guess it would be unfair to complain that their games are not exactly what one would call ’eye-pleasing’, as most certainly they don’t even try to be. In this aspect Gravediggers is the best one, it might have been illustrator Miguel Coimbra’s entry to board games (before he made fame by games like 7 Wonders, Cyclades or Small Wordl) – even though the item cards’ layout is cheap, both the theme and the usability are fine.
The other three are way worse. I have mentioned Zombiegeddon’s look in my old review for Jäger und Sammler, a fine Knizia (that was – not only chronologically – halfway between Through the Desert and Blue Lagoon). In short, while the horror theme was okay, the look wasn’t simply ugly (forgivable for such a game) but it was pretty hard to see what was happening on the board.
picture credits: Chris Norwood
Mmm... Brains! has a fun trademark ugly look and theme; here the problem was using (bright) yellow as a color on white dice. As you can expect those faces of the dice are really hard to see by artificial light.
picture credits: Chris Dorrell
Too bad, because the game, just like the aforementioned ones, is fun (if you want a stacking dexterity game based on the same core idea, look for the recently published Ice Tumble).
Oh, and I’m already at the first game I want to talk about. Cthulhu Rising has a pretty nice cover image (quite unusual for the publisher) probably by Juan Manuel Serrato, and... that’s the only good thing I can say about the look. If you open the box you can find the board inside. The horror! Under the two large, bland, colored squares (one red, one blue in the players’ colors) you can see the cover image stretched to fit the board (and mirrored), and above the squares you have a scoring track with parts of the same illustration narrowed and mirrored on each space. Poor painter.
After the first schock you encounter the tiles. Another illustrator, Phil Velikan created some uglyish-fun illustrations for these, drawings that fit the Twilight Creations style. Then the publisher decided to fade these illustrations and put large numbers on them.
As a result
The illustrations are hidden, looking like some noise on the tiles now.
The theme choice was already pretty risky (sell a numbers abstract for horror fans with the promise of a battle against Cthulhu) but all thematic detail that could have helped a bit (images of tools of the good guys on one player’s tiles and monsters on the other player’s tiles) were lost.
And as the illustrations are so hard to recognise, it is really hard to find out if I can see a 6 or a 9 on the tiles (hint: a line under the number or a point after the number could have helped).***
So, with its 5.34 rating Cthulhu Rising is one of the lowest-rated Knizias amongst the gamer-friendly ones (I mean excluding kids’ games, magazine inlays and the ones for general toystores). Did Knizia’s design deserve it? Heck no! Just look at the ratings of Dragon Master (6.4) or Robot Master (6.4) or Criss Cross (6.4), each of them being kind of variations of very early Knizias Sono and Prisma (mostly published in books). Each are fine but I’d say Cthulhu Rising is definitely more interesting than any of them. In each of these games you place tiles (Or cards. Or draw symbols rolled.) on a 5x5 grid and both the rows and columns are scored (with multiple tiles of the same symbol or number scoring higher). In Cthulhu Rising you place tiles in two 5x5 grids, players with the majority of tiles in a row get the score for the given row and the scoring happens in a tug of war way, and you instantly win the game (or a ’round’ if you play more rounds in succession) if you gain a 10-point advantage over your opponent.
Of course this tug of war mechanism has pretty interesting consequences: you can’t wait for ideal rows and columns and you often finish your opponent’s lines just to make them score lower than they could. As soon as Player A has two tiles in a line and Player B has one, it becomes evident that line will be finished by Player A (unless there are even better options and player B can arrange traps as if it were a kind of five in a row game). Some of the scoring options are also interesting, like scoring 3 points for a single-color row but only if there are five different numbers in it, or losing 3 points (giving 3 points to your opponent, that is) if the multi-color row you win has five different numbers in it. These are more or less easy to avoid mid-game but need some attention and you need extra effort to be able to avoid them when placing your last tiles.
But I don’t want to write a review here – I knew the game for long, only it did not get played much because of the usability problems and the hideous look of it. Probably if the look and usability of the old version were better it would still be a loathed game by Lovecraft fans, after all, Game of Thrones: Westeros Intrigue is also only at a 5.28 rating despite the okay look and good usability it has – if theme (and a geeky theme) is the selling point of your game then fans of that theme probably won’t be happy to find a numbers abstract inside the box (even if I think the Game of Thrones theme fit better for that game than the original idea of penguins standing on each other’s shoulders).***
In one of my recent blogposts I mentioned I’d love to acquire the recent Russian editions of two Knizias and one of them was Нептун и Веста which is the same game as Cthulhu Rising, only (now that I own it I can say) it is done right. Yes, it still has a non-abstract look, it’s about simply water (blue) vs. fire/terra (red) with a way less geeeky theme – Roman Mythology. Yes, if you want to know, the titular Neptune was the god of freshwater and the sea, pretty close to who Poseidon was in Greece, and Vesta (Hestia in the Greek mythology) was the virgin goddess of the hearth, home, and family, often represented by the fire of her temple in the Forum Romanum.
And the board illustration also shows a mostly blue (water) part and a mostly inhabited terrain part.
Even the beautiful marker on the track shows the sea battling a lighthouse with (presumably) fire inside.
And, yes, the illustrations on the tiles are also very suggestive. And as you can guess, they are visible this time, while the numbers are clear and visible. And the illustrations and the border of the tiles make the tiles distinct enough so they stand out from the busy illustration on the board.
There are no words how much better the new version is. Are the numbers smaller? Yes, they are, though still clearly readable (and no 6/9 confusion here) and they are on larger tiles. What’s more, all the scoring combinations are shown on the board (also with symbols, luckily for those who can’t read cyrillic letters) – where the original only said pair – 1 pts, trio – 3 pts, here it’s also shown that 2 pairs are 2 points and a full house (a trio plus a pair) is worth 4 points. It’s not a big deal, yet another little sign showing the publisher cared about providing enough information.
This edition just does justice to the game after so much time. I played Neptune and Vesta with my 11-year-old daughter. Then she was curious what the old edition looked like. 'Eww', she said. 'I would have never wanted to play that version'.***
Times Square / Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb zwei is a different case. It is a 2006 game with a VERY functional look. No surprise here: while you might say not all Claus Stephan games had beautiful artwork (I do think they still have a charm and a nice look), they were all functional. Just to name a few Knizias, his Lost Cities artwork was great and functional, just like the board game adaptation Keltis, while Lost Cities: The Board Game was already less functional (not that surprisingly, as it was not his artwork).
Originally published by Kosmos, the game had a story that possibly did not appeal much outside Germany (where even the title referred to an old movie, see more details in my early review) which might explain why this gem never shone as much as it deserved. It's also relatively complex for how luck-dependent it might seem at first sight. My (face to face) most played Knizia had a 6.32 rating not so long ago, before the new edition arrived (more about that one soon).
Based on old articles, it would seem that "Times Square" might have been Knizia's original or preferred theme (if it wasn’t already about nobles and royals), and "Auf der Reeperbahn" was the retheme as a business decision of German publisher Kosmos. “I do trust the publishers to know their markets,” Knizia said in an interview, “and if you let them do the game, then they have the responsibility to make the game successful. (...) I say this most kindly, but I’ve seen Kosmos get it wrong, for example, changing the theme of Times Square [released in Germany as Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb zwei] and putting it in the red light district in Hamburg.”
This, of course, did not stop me play the game more than 150 times by now. And though I have a lot to say about Auf der Reeperbahn... - it's not just another tug of war game, it's the culmination of tug of war, you are not just pulling one or more ropes here, you are actually manipulating a web of ropes - I won't go into detail now (and I guess I should not write another review of a game I already wrote a kind of first impressions review about before). Let's just say it's a great game, and while not everyone is a fan of tug of war games, I believe this one deserves a place among the very best Knizias, showing his mastery.***
I made a few gaming buddies (and my son) a fan of this game in the past decade (I had to, since my wife is not a fan, unfortunately) but whenever they wanted to buy a copy (or I wanted to buy them a copy) we just saw it was OoP.
When the first images of Royal Visit appeared I started to worry. In the first image of a prototype on display even the figures did not have colors, but possibly it was an intent to make them colored
It's hard to tell, since the cardboard figures of the Japanese version also had white background each...
picture credits: W. Eric Martin
But I bought the game anyway as soon as it was available here. And I was rather disappointed. It just seems to me that while look became the most important value of a game by now (yeah, I’m strongly blaming Kickstarter for this), sometimes even more important than the gameplay itself (luckily you won’t have this problem with Knizia games), the importance of usability was forgotten.***
I might seem to be nitpicking here. I am not. When you create artwork and layout for a game, it can (should) be beautiful and stylish but first and foremost it needs to be functional. Don't make me think, says Steve Krug in his book about web design, but what he writes in that book applies to any interface that tries to give information to those using/reading it. What do I mean?
If you inspect the board of Babylonia (1st ed) you can see small, hardly visible signs on the river spaces and even the borders of the playing area are visible. The cards of Royal Visit *can* be used, at least that's what my buddy for whom I bought it says, adding the usability is way worse. Still they could get used to it, and as it's a great game it's still good that it is available at all. But designing the look and components of the board game should be like designing a web page or an everyday object like a chair. Yeah, you can sit on almost any chair, but not each of them are comfortable. When you play a game you don't want to use your brain to decipher symbols, look hard for hardly visible signs on a board and so on (unless that's the aim of the game). You want to focus on the game and if you need to use your brain on anything else (like deciphering what you can see) it is distracting. When it comes to thinky board games, „don’t make me think” means don’t make me think of what I should see, don’t make me look for small signs on the board or on cards, let me only think about my strategy and tactics and help me get the necessary information for this as easily as possible.
Those making the layout and illustration of cards should really take care of this. Many of the problems Royal Visit has could have been avoided even if you wanted to update it for a fresher look.
Okay, but it uses small symbols under the numbers on the card, you might say, also asking me the question if I have problems with the look of a traditional standard deck as well then - and you will be right. Well, while the symbols are smaller and the muted colors less different than in a standard deck of cards, I must say, having played a few traditional card games, I remember I did make the mistake of mixing hearts with diamonds, spades with clubs, especially in large hands, and I did it numerous times (maybe drinking beer while playing traditional games also helped).
These four suits are printed in two colors probably because of some old printing techniques and possibilites that were available in the very early times but they would be definitely better in four different colors (like, say, a Tichu set). Still, it’s way easier to make difference between the cards of a standard deck than the ones in Royal Visit (e.g. the busy and similar large illustrations aren't distracting there), especially in poor lighting conditions, and not only that, you need to connect the cards to pieces that are moved and this is where this edition is the weakest. Add that most of the time a standard deck in your hand does not change in such a dynamic way as your deck in Royal Visit so it’s easier to keep the different suits of the same color separated after it was dealt.***
When I wrote about Knizia's 2021 I mentioned Cthulhu Rising and Royal Visit has beautiful Russian editions, asking for help in ordering them from Russia. What I certainly did not expect was a mail from Knizia Games, telling me they have a spare copy left of each and they would like to send it to me. I jumped for joy! And indeed pretty soon a box arrived with the two games inside, accompanied by a mail by Reiner Knizia himself (joking "Happy Russian Reading!").
I thought okay, I know the rules of these games but I did check them anyway for any small changes.***
And my daughter (11), who's already seen me play Auf der Reeperbahn... both with a buddy and my son (13), said she would like to learn it now, when she looked at the contents of the box. We played it five times in a row, then she asked me to play with the original edition as well. So what's her opinion on the three copies of the game I own? She said the original edition had the best usability, Royal Visit has the worst (she didn't even want to try that one). She said she likes the look of the Russian version the most, Royal Visit the least. Indeed she said the old version looked way better than Royal Visit, saying those old cards had a strong atmosphere.
Colors have changed which is not a problem (though in Times Square it was a nice touch that the two figures that you could lure to your bars - thus winning the game immediately - were of the same color). Royal Visit had illustrations on the pawns, the wooden figures in this one are more detailed than the original (to keep up with the times); I must say I love the large wooden pawns in the old game as moving them felt like moving Chess pieces, they have weight, they are great. Still, the pawns of Twilight of Venice are pretty functional, they look nice with distinct colors.
The cards that move them are also easy to tell apart - to help this, you have colored flags under their numbers on the side of the card so you can immediately know which card moves which figure with 8 cards in your hand. The illustrations are nice (can't tell the name of the artist since only a studio is named for the artwork), though some might have problems with the female jester's classic 'ass pose' (mind you, my daughter did not) – I must say that a small plus point goes to the Royal Visit edition for the guards (my daughter liked that they are women).
And there is a small extra help on the board, something that none of the previous editions had: numbers. And if you have played the game you can tell it actually helps. Of course whenever you move your figures 6, or maybe 13 steps, you can count the steps on the board - but this makes counting easier and it shows how much those who made this edition cared for usability; they visibly understand the concept of usability.***
Just a short visual comparison between the three editions side by side:
While the guards of the original edition (left) are more or less the same color as the original board, their poisition is pretty much defined by the green figure; all the power figures have a clearly distinct color from the board. These are also distinct enough on the way busier Russian board (right) but they are just featuring the colors of the board in the Royal Visit edition (middle). I know it’s stylish but... Why? (And I make an educated guess: because these were actually planned to be white as seen in the prototype image...)
And compare the cards. Each card seems to try to tell something about the special rule of playing the Lilli/King/Doge cards (on the right), though maybe the original edition only says it should stay between the guards; none of them succeeds though Royal Visit tries to use some complex iconography. Icons for cards that move both guards next to the main figure are clear in two versions, less readable in Royal Visit. And the special card that moves the figure to the middle of the board? It’s clear in two editions but uses an M for middle in Royal Visit – there is a fountain in the middle of the board, there is a star sign at the middle space, why did they go with a sign that can’t be found there? It’s a mystery to me.
Overall, if you can’t grab a copy of the long-OoP Times Square/Auf der Reeperbahn... version or if you prefer the new theme, new look, I think the Russian version is overall waaay better than the European one. Royal Visit is still playable and the cards might be slightly better quality than those in the Twilight of Venice, though the game is so great that whichever version one buys, card sleeves should be applied as if you find gaming partners for it, 50 plays won’t be enough.***
It’s too bad that I can’t praise the artists/layout designers for the Russian editions here; I would if I could (only an illustrator studio is mentioned on the back of the box). Without speaking Russian it’s hard to find info about the two-player series these two games were published in; the only other game I found that was also part of this family is Hanamikoji (2019) which is a clever and very Knizian game (feels like a minimalist, twisted take on his large family of Schotten-Totten-like games), also with a bit of tug of war present. I think tug of war is kind of a basic feature of 2-player games anyway, since whatever you score is kind of a negative score for your opponent. In these three games, just like in a real play of tug of war, the main difference is the importance of timing – the game ends when one side wins by pulling the rope far enough from the centre.
So, looking at these three games, it sems the editor of the series has a pretty good taste in choosing the games And the presentation of the two games I own is also pretty consistent (just look at the box covers and sides side by side). (These troubled skies are pretty popular on board game boxes now, aren't they?)
So, I don’t know you, Russian people (well, I’m lying, I do know some of you, I just don’t know you in general), but if I were you, I would surely subscribe to this series by Zvezda.***
Oh, and a short footnote about the rule changes between the three editions. The Russian edition (unlike the other editions) suggests playing the game until two wins, just like Neptune and Vesta, which is all right, both games are pretty short anyway.
For Royal Visit, the 'discard cards' option was trashed (it's still there in the Twilight of Venice) and it's... okay I guess, though not perfect. Most of the time you wouldn't use this option at all, though in very rare plays it might happen that you won't be able to use any cards in your hand. This rule was addressing this issue but was useless in the large majority of plays so uhm, it's okay that it's not included until it blocks the gameplay.
Another rule change is also about something very rare - what happens if the deck runs out a second time and Lilli/the king/the Doge is in the middle of the board? In the original and Russian editions the position of the other scoring figure (Champagne Charlie/the Favourite) decides the game which is how I think it should work (it happened maybe twice in 151 plays); this is missing from Royal Visit. And what happens if it's still a tie? In the original version the game ends in a tie. In the Russian version you play the deck a third time. In the Royal Visit edition you continue playing until, uhm, either victory condition is met. Maybe they meant play whole decks until either victory condition is met, I can't know, but the rules as written suggest something else - if the next player (whose turn it is) has one figure at their castle or can move any figure there (which should be the case in 9 of 10 times), then that player wins.
I certainly like the other two rulesets better, but of course if you can only find the Royal Visit edition nothing can stop you from using the better ruleset.***
Finally, a warm thank you to Reiner Knizia and Knizia games for the two games provided. I was already a fan of these two before they arrived so I can’t say my opinion on them was distorted by getting these boxes as a present in any way. I’m just really happy these games got some really nice editions that don’t hide their true values.
Knizia. Spiel des Jahres. Some other thoughts, but only rarely. I'm not that much of a big thinker, you know - but I love games.
20 Oct 2021
- [+] Dice rolls
I own quite a few Grail Games Knizias. I really appreciate what they were doing and I'm also a fan of Vincent Dutrait's bright and clean Knizia artworks.
I really like the enthusiasm in the approach of Grail Games editions. Also they were very sympathetic (well, mostly still are). When my copy of Yellow and Yangtze arrived after lots of postal service and customs problems (even with me having to pay extra for the customs), none of which were their problems, they even made me a generous offer - a review copy of their then in-development Knizia which turned out to be Whale Riders a few years later.
By this time, sadly, the offer was completely forgotten, but since it wasn't something that I really deserved or something they owed me at all, I backed the game anyway. What's more, as an extra, one of their loved games, Trendy also got a new skin in connection with Whale Riders and you could add it to the pledge very cheap so I did.
To make things even better, a Hungarian publisher I know announced the Hungarian version of Whale Riders is coming and it became an option to choose that one in the pledge manager.
Then, though production of the game already started and you could not change the pledge anymore, it was announced the card game would also get a Hungarian version. Since it is a language-independent game I did not find it to be a problem that I would get the English copy of the cardgame - Trendy was one of the old Knizias I always wanted to try but could not.
Then, not long after this, maybe in connection to this, something happened. First came the news about Grail Games suddenly stopping to publish any Knizias, therefore giving up a few already announced and pretty exciting new ones like Yellow and Yangtze: The Royal Palace and Medici Reformation, allegedly because the Knizias didn't sell well, which sounded strange given the KS pages clearly show these games usually sold more copies than most other Grail Games games, at least on Kickstarter.
Then it turned out a breach of contract happened.
To clarify some misleading communication from GRAIL GAMES: My games leave Grail Games because I terminated licenses for breach of contract ☹— Reiner Knizia (@ReinerKnizia) June 22, 2021
It didn't even really surprise me that the Hungarian version of the card game was cancelled in the end, even though it was already translated.
I was sad for Grail Games, for Yellow and Yangtze and for Medici Reformation, but I was waiting eagerly for the games I backed. And the game started to arrive to people in the end of March, beginning of April... but not to me. It turned out I need to wait more for the Hungarian edition. I wasn't happy since the big game is also a language-independent one so I should have backed the original instead, but I waited.
And waited more.
On July 15 a project update mail arrived and it stated "All thegames have now been mailed to our backers!" (in the EU). I asked them and it turned out they meant Hungary excluded.
And the Hungarian version hit stores in the middle of August. Even Hungarian bloggers started to write about it. I still didn't get my copy; the Hungarian publisher informed me my package would be sent by Grail games.
So I waited more.
By this time I was starting to get fed up.
- For a long time I did not kickstart anything. Then I had a terrible experience with my first kickstarter, it was Kingdom Builder: The Island by Queen Games, it was set to arrive by summer - many years ago - and it was already available in Essen - for a way lower price - in October but my copy arrived only in January. I did not kickstart anything for years after that again. Please, publishers, I don't want exclusivity when I back your project but I'd expect to have my copy as early as non-backers and hopefully for a price that is at least not higher than the retail price. -
My copy of Whale Riders arrived on 2nd September. I got my box from abroad - could have bought it in the nearby FLGS weeks earlier - and I found the Hungarian copy of the base game inside. No, the Card Game wasn't there.
And then, after a support ticket and their apology the card game was also posted. It arrived two weeks later, on the 15th September. In this condition:
I guess it was one of the leftover copies. I wasn't angry, I didn't open another support ticket (the cards themselves are intact and I'm not one of those who really care about minor damages on game boxes I buy) but I was sad. I got another game in our household, I should have been happy, but I was sad as I liked Grail Games and I just could not get what went so wrong with this project. Possibly I would give up on Kickstarters again for a few years but I have a few backed projects now (I also take part in a group order of the next project by Grail Games) and I can only hope those bring back some hope.
Okay, but I won't complain much about the games themselves. Vincent Dutrait's artwork is beautiful as usual, and...
Hm, wait, maybe one complaint. Whale Riders: The Card Game was a really cheap one and I know you should not look a gift horse in the mouth but... if I can make an educated guess I'd say Vincent Dutrait had nothing to do with it. I know illustrations are pretty expensive for publishers, and it is understandable if you don't want to play extra price for extra artwork... So the card game simply reuses the illustrations of the board game, even the lightnings on the snow storm cards are reusing the lightning cards from the board game (a part of them can be shown in the left corner, and a mirrored version in the right corner) and while the '1' and '5' coins used different illustrations in the base game, now the '5' coins' artwork is used under each number on the cards.
But as I said it's not a problem. My only problem is that even with the 'snow' illustration on the cards, it's hard to tell the snow storm cards apart from the normal cards in hand. A lightning icon under the numbers would have definitely helped. Publishers really should take care of giving the look of their games - not only the illustrations - to pros.
update: according to David Harding of Grail Games - see comment below - the card game was still by Vincent Dutrait so it's all his fault.
But how is the game itself? It's surprisingly good. I mean 'surprisingly' for a game that is rated 6.22 on BGG right now. It's pretty much a usual Knizia card game from 2000, and usual Knizias were all great at that time. It's not without some luck factor (therefore the rules also suggest playing it a few times in a row, just as you would with classic card games or Lost Cities) but it can be evil and it is strongly player-dependent as it's all about deciding to follow the trends or go against them. Gameplay is Modern Art-ish (as it's without auctions, it's even closer to Modern Art: The Card Game which was published many years later) with only one winning artist, I mean type of good in each round. It's evil, because you lose cards of any other goods played (and this idea feels close to his 'dollar auction games' in a way) while everyone gets the goods cards of the given type they played (like in Tutankhamen or Bunte Runde). Double goods cards make things less calculable while snow storm cards are a powerful (and evil) tool to clear up some goods cards played. It's fun with any player number (though probably I would play it 3- or 4-player if I were to choose), it can be played friendly or very aggressively, and who knows why, but my 7-year-old immediately became a fan of it (even though she only won our third play).
What the Whale Riders Card Game adds to Trendy is a variant with different rules revealed for each port (=for each 'round' that ends with selling a goods type). It could have been an addition by the Grail Games team (as it happened with different publishers for a few games) but I guess it's also designed by Knizia as it's just the same kind of addition as the rule card (with 6 rule variants) added to East-West to create Head-to-Head Poker or the 8 special cards added to En Garde to create Duell. I must play it before I form an opinion but it seems to me maybe they could work better if, say, the next 2 rules were always available so I could have an idea what I should discard or keep.
Two days later I was able to teach Whale Riders to the family as well. I'm not sure how much Dutrait's artwork matters but my older daughter, who is in her early adolescent years, did give the game a more positive reaction than to anything I taught her in the summer (and her "it's pretty good!" reaction would translate as "It's great!" for others). Now in this game that artwork really shines, it's evocative and even the inside of the box is beautiful.
There is a definitive base idea present in many Reiner Knizia games. He is not the 'many different action possibilities' kind of designer as it might be most evident from many of his tile-laying games where your action is simply 'place a tile/two tiles' and everything else comes from the scoring rules. In quite a few of his other games, often card games, the main idea is adding the twist that you can play your cards/dice/money to several possible places and you have to make the choice where you play them on your turn. It can be several poker hands (Head-to-Head poker, Schotten-Totten/Battle Line), or maybe simply a 'who plays the higher card' contest (Tabula Rasa), a thematic fight at each area (Scarab Lords), outbidding each other (Amun-Re) and so on. Sometimes this is done one after the other (like the bidding in Taj Mahal, winning tricks in MEOW etc.) but even then you may have an early knowledge about what is to come at the next contested points.
I'm not sure I have seen Knizia use the card row/Supply track/sliding market/card stream mechanism (why doesn't it have an official name by now?) in his first decades but he sure did use it for Yangtze - as you can read in Qwertymartin's geeklist "the hallmark of this mechanism is a row of public cards available for purchase, with cards at one end cheaper than the other, and more expensive cards sliding down the row as the cheaper ones are purchased." In Yangtze that was used as an additional set collection mechanism in a game full of auctions, but here it gets the Reiner Knizia treatment. You have not one but seven (eight) card (tile) rows of this kind this time, with one common deck to add new cards to the top of these rows. I'd say this may have been the basic idea, and then it quickly became clear choosing a tile from any of the seven rows is just too easy so lining these up (not unlike in his linear adventures) makes more sense. Or maybe it started more or less Sumatra-like, after all, you all follow a path and take tiles at every stop, and you even get scoring cards for collecting sets shown on cards.
Whatever the starting point was, the resulting game is still very Knizian - including the achievements variant which has an element that you can see in quite a few recent Knizias e.g. Tajuto or Babylonia; here adding some common aims might make the game even better since you don't know anything about what others try to collect otherwise. In a way the game is a Ticket to Ride-like fun (with the addition of money) with less spatial blocking but more interesting timing considerations. I don't go into the delicacy of the decisions you make partly because it would be too early after one play and partly because Suhail Habib wrote a beautiful analysis of it in his review. Four months ago.
What's sure is this game excels at one of the features I love in Knizia games and many modern games just don't care about: it's all about watching the other players and making your decisions, timing your actions based on their actions even if obvious interaction is very low-level in this game. So, just like the card game, how much you can enjoy Whale Riders strongly depends on your co-players. For me, that's what a social activity like board gaming is all about so I can't be thankful enough for Knizia games.
- [+] Dice rolls
20 Sep 2021
I had written a blog post about a recent trio of Knizia roll and write games and then found out I haven't talked about his 2020 crop. How could I miss this? I wrote one every year in the past decade (That makes it the tenth post like this!). So then I quickly added a note that you could "expect a summary in a few days"... Even when I wrote this I thought 'whenever I said this it never happened' (for example I had a Hungarian blog about playing with my kids and when my third kid was born I wrote I needed some pause but would continue in a few months... She is 7 years old now and it did not happen) but then I said I can't see a reason... Well, so it took more than a month, sorry.
Of course the list is long as always, and not all games are aimed at board game geeks since the good doctor designs games for various ages and target groups (including general toystores, of course). And he's pretty popular in Poland so he often provides simple designs to that market. For example Pierwsza gra Mniam! is an age: 2+ game for the smallest kids, it has large cartoon fruits and vegetables, a huge die, even a tale included, and as you may expect from a game for this age group, it's mostly about placing fruits in the baskets or taking them out from there. Glutostwory is also a game for small kids, not completely unlike Hisss where you create snakes - here you keep revealing tiles and try to create amoeba-like monsters out of them. Dziobaki is a late entry in the long list of Knizia's Take it Easy!-like MPS games (that BGG strangely calls Bingo as a mechanism which is as silly as calling half of the dice games 'Yahtzee-like') where each player has to place the same revealed tile on their own board. With a geometry that is more or less similar to that of Cucina Curiosa/Tajemnicze podziemia, this simple game offers a somewhat similar experience where you get 1 point for each animal in each enclosed area where there is only 1 animal type.
KaZock, published for the Central European market - and also for the French market, interestingly with a different look, thanks Zerbique - by Piatnik, is another very simple but interactive dice game where you roll dice and collect carrots - or others collect them from you. MEOW is by Cranio Creations (Italy), it's a trick-taking game somewhat in the footsteps of Relationship Tightrope/Fifty Fifty and Voodoo Prince/Marshmallow Test where you have a randomly determined row of award tokens (some of them giving negative points and some of them being even trickier) and the winner of each trick gets the next token in the row - meaning you must try to time winning tricks wisely. (Actually a little miscommunication about this game made me hope I can get a copy of it in Spring so it was the main reason why I did not write this summary before).
And it seems GOLD - the first game listed that I own) only got French, German and Korean editions - it's a fun and short, newbie-friendly memory variant that actually fits in any pocket (it might be my smallest-box Knizia overall). For such a small and simple little game it's pretty thematic (oce again about gold diggers like the very first Knizias) and one with healthy laughs - on your turn you turn up two cards and as a result of this you may collect gold or let your opponents collect gold, chase your rivals away, maybe blow up some of the gold or some of the rivals with dynamite.
As usual, there are quite a few games published by Simplyfun, a publisher that focuses on kids' games that can help develop skills. (Too bad their games almost never cross the Atlantic.) For example, Is or Isn’t is actually a bingo game, not the first Bingo-based game Knizia ever designed (and I'm not even talking about the aforementioned mechanism BGG strangely calls Bingo), though (unlike Family Bingo or IQ Bingo) it might be the first completely luck-dependent one where simple die rolls determine which of your fields you might mark with your tokens. The catch is teaching synonyms, antonyms and developing kids' vocabulary, and for this it won a PAL (Play Advances Language) award. Acorn Paws is a pretty interesting kids' game teaching division (and, as you may expect from Knizia, developing probability skills as well). Players try to receive the most acorns from a day's collection (and 7 days - rounds - are played with 99 acorns in total). For this they simultaneously choose cards from their hand of 5 cards, showing pawns, a dog or... a skating squirrel. If at least one dog appears, all the face-up cards are discarded and new cards have to be chosen. If a squirrel is played then this skating figurine goes to the single player who played it (if multiple squirrels are played nothing happens). If no dogs can be seen, the loot (e.g. 19 acorns) is divided by the number of pawns in total and players get acorns accordingly while the leftovers (remainders) go to the player with the skating squirrel.
What's not that usual, Simplyfun also published two family games: yes, these are almost as simple as the above kids' games, but still, they can be enjoyed by older kids and families. Phantom Seas is a fun-looking simple treasure collection family game where players draft direction cards to move their ships on the map, trying to collect as many treasures as they can. And there's also Ice Tumble which uses some of the Mmm... Brains ideas in a dexterity game. In the first half of the game you keep taking 3D tetris pieces from the middle in a Jenga/Pick up Sticks-like way, but dictated by dice, and when all the pieces were taken, you place your blocks in a new common structure in a middle (or give them to other players, depending on the dice rolls, in an Animal upon Animal-like way). Being fun does not mean it can't help kids develop skills though, and it won the 2020 National Parenting Product Award for its spatial reasoning and fine motor skills focus.
Of course the list of 2020 Knizias includes many localised versions of older games which I won't list here, though some of them might be worth a mention for their retheme. The old Selecta kids' game Mago Magino became Vampire Party (in a Middle European edition) showing how kid-oriented themes changed recently (for the better? I'm not sure). For an opposite change, Cthulhu Rising, which had terrible graphics and was very badly themed for a numbers abstract, became the mythology-themed Neptune and Vesta with attractive tiles in its Russian edition. (
If you live in Russia and can help me buy a copy of it along with the best - Russian - recent edition of Royal Visit, PM me, please).The German-only Heisse Ware Krimi-Kartenspiel became Choco Smugglers in Japan before it becomes Soda Smugglers this year.
There are also new variants of old games with very small differences. Marshmallow Test is the "designer's version" of Voodoo Prince which got its special cards added probably to fit in the Skull King/Vampire Queen line previously. (And if you haven't seen the Good Doctor's wonderfully bizarre Marshmallow Test advertisement which is also a parody of today's board game consumption habits, just click here.) Kajko i Kokosz: Szkoła Latania is a new version of Escalation!/Kampf der Magier with the optional addition of special items that spice up the game. Dragon Land also adds a few (unicorn and witch) tokens to the old Dragonland game paths on the board and changes the look to more childish, more kid-friendly, and I'm not sure it was a good idea since now it's an age 9+ game with an age: 5+ look where the board even looks a bit too colorful (possibly hurting usability).
L.A.M.A. Party Edition is pretty much still LLAMA but with a few additions. The "party" title is quite right: the pink llama that is worth 20 points and you can play on any card, the pink (20) token and the number cards that let you take another turn immediately each move it to a fun direction. Yeah, they might increase the luck factor in a game that already had quite a bit of it, though maybe it's more like you must take these new elements into consideration when evaluating risks. And moving LLAMA, a game that is even fun for non-gamers, in the direction of fun seems to be the right thing to do.
Maybe that's why the Israeli LLAMA variant called צ'יקן (Chicken) also offers some other fun additions like an additional single wild card (its face value is 1 higher than the top card while in scoring it equals the last-played card) and instead of returning tokens, rolling dice to determine the points reduced from the score.
Another card game also got a new version, though this time 'new version' means a new game as it even has a numbering in the title: it's Schotten Totten 2. Interestingly before this title was announced there were prototype images surfacing about a game called Siege Line which was to be a sequel to Battle Line, but since Schotten Totten and Battle Line are almost the same game by now (ever since tactics cards were added to Schotten Totten), one can imagine the two games are the same. So, Schotten-Totten 2 is an asymmetric game where one player is the attacker and one is the defender. Both sides have special actions, the wall cards each have special rules (probably somewhat influenced by Battle Line Medieval which was a non-Knizia development on the original game before) and even the tactic cards have more variety. So there would be a chance that the game gets broken or overcomplicated. But no, it's a Knizia - it is insanely fun and, based on my limited play experience, surprisingly balanced.
After two sequels and a card game adaptation,Medici also got a dice game version now. Medici: The Dice Game (published by Grail Games) is more like Medici: The Roll and Write Game as players use sheets and pencils to fill their boats three times for a scoring that is pretty much the same as in the previous Medici games. On your turn you roll five dice, choose a maximum of three and let the passive players choose one of the remaining dice. It's a pretty fast adaptation and while it never will be such a classic as Medici is, it is a great possibility to play a Medici game two-player or even solo.
The other Knizia roll and write game published last year is Space Worm, an adaptation of the old video/computer/phone game Worm/Snake. Dice are drafted from a common pool to create your 'snake' eating as much fruit and visiting as many planets as possible. And while it's pretty simple (though more variation is provided by the four different levels) it's really tense. While I have read comments like 'The drafting feels very restrictive, there being almost no options and no alternative uses or safety valves of any kind' I think that's a strength of the game - just like how the real game is constantly about trying to avoid death in the last second, here you are constantly trying to survive using your limited possibilities, taking risks and also expecting the worst from your opponents. The game is really good; actually a lot better than it seems from the rules.
Reiner Knizia didn't have much luck with these publishers though - the long partnership with Grail Games ended this year because of a breach of contract and Inside the Box Board Games, the publisher of Space Worm had one month to sell the limited edition Space Worm before they lost the rights. (More about these two games and another at my blogpost here.)
Knizia has a fruitful partnership with other publishers though, and of the new ones Ludonova must be named. The first Ludonova/Knizia game is one of the good doctor's best games all time (Babylonia) and their third, ambitious game is coming pretty soon. 2020 saw the release of a more modest game but it's still fine: it's called Sumatra. While theme and the 'move along a path to collect stuff' mechanism suggests some Tokaido-like game (collecting different sights and knowledge along the way while everyone moves more or less together) it's actually the kind of "collect tiles and score them in various ways" game Knizia's done quite a few of since maybe It's Mine! (the most famous one being Ra) with a very simple base mechanism that adds some tactical timing to the game. This base mechanism is not bad and adds some things to consider but of course just like those older games, Sumatra is driven by the different scoring possiblitiies of which some are familiar (like the locals that score almost exactly like pharohs, some tiles that need other tiles to score like the Nile or some tiles - crafts - with a scoring somewhat resembling triangular scoring) still it offers a various portfolio of ideas like the animal+flower pairs (score the lower one), the GPS+wifi pairs that may win you the game as these bring you bonus tiles but also make it possible to score villages, or the equipment tiles that not only let you score volcanoes (taking a risk with them) but also, seemingly in a Vikings-inspired way, let you score your tiles *at all* in given columns. The scoring possibilities generally seem to bring some Kiesling games to my mind. As usual, the game is more interesting than it seems from the rulebook and even better as soon as you can understand the fun consequences of the scoring rules.
And finally, from a gamer's point of view maybe My City was the most important Knizia game of 2021. After all it even got a Spiel des Jahres nomination and it's also his first legacy game. As usual, it is most definitely better than I expected - not that I did not expect a fine game from Herr Knizia but from what I read before I really expected a FITS-like experience and it was already more the first time we played and even better the second time (that's where colors of the tiles start to matter). Too bad as it's a competitive legacy game my kids who just did not win any of the first five episodes just don't want to keep playing it so I still don't now everything this game offers.
- a lame but at least authentic and spoiler-free pic about our very first play -
My City is tense and thinky - despite looking very-very simple. As usual, some tiny rules already make the game interesting from episode one, though the way the game gets more and more complex (at least for quite a few levels) does not seem to be very Knizian at first sight. After all, he is often quoted saying "people think that a game is finished when there is nothing more to be added. I believe a game is finished when there is nothing more that can be taken away and still leave a good game", so if it's already a good game at episode 1, why keep adding rules and elements? Well, partly because the game gets more interesting with some of the additions which may justify adding them (see my old geeklist - yeah, it should be updated now) and also because if you look at any of his game books you can see he usually lists many variants of his games there, so he likes experimenting with how little changes may have huge effects on your decisions and the game experience. Also it seems from the last few year's 'Reinerssance' he's more open to more complexity (just like to trending new mechanisms) in his designs in these years - and this is not going to end with 2020.
2021 offers whopping four new big games, like the already-released Whale Riders, the Feldian co-design Witchstone, the modern-looking drafting game Mille Fiori and the cooperative deck building tower defense game, The Siege of Runedar. Of course new versions of old games are also in abundance, be it Colossal Arena with two new races (Equinox), Tutankhamen with new special tiles (Tutankhamun), LLAMA dice game (L.A.M.A. Dice), Lost Cities Roll and Write, a Trendy retheme (Whale Riders: The Card Game), also smaller games like Family Inc., Hit!, Into the Blue and High Score, and since I'm writing this in September, many of these have been published already. Once again it won't be a boring year for Knizia fans...
- [+] Dice rolls
Full of own ideas, Knizia did not jump on any bandwagons for many years. In the past few years, however, he did try many of the new directions with quite a bit of success (e.g. his first deck-building game The Quest for El Dorado and his first legacy game My City both became Spiel des Jahres nominees) so it's not that big surprise that recently he came up with a few roll and write games. Or is it?
Well, roll and writes often tend to be multiplayer solitaire games and while he had a share of these games in the 2010s - mostly in the 'everyone places the same tiles to their own board' sub-subgenre, from FITS to My City) his games are most often about interaction and playing the players, not only the game - so how interesting his games get often depend on how interesting your opponents are (and that's why I suggest anyone not loving Samurai yet to play it against experts online, not your boring friends or SOs. ). And in this sense, this current wave of 'everyone looking at their own board' games is not that Knizian.
However, on the other hand, he was experimenting with (and categorising) dice games from the beginning of his career. I have already written two geeklists about these and those only cover a part of his dice game output. His 1990 book New Tactical Games with Dice and Cards already had a few roll & write-ish (maybe you might say Yahtzee style) dice games; his Criss-Cross (1995) was included in his 1999 book Dice Games Properly Explained besides a few other original designs - and as that was the game that got published in 2017 as Criss Cross (well, one of the several versions) I won't talk about this design now.
The three games I want to talk about were all published in 2020 or 2021 so they are new designs, even though each of them are adaptations of earlier games. It is seemingly obvious that these took some inspiration from some of the very popular German roll&write games. The basic, somewhat interactive dice mechanism of these games can be found in the popular and multiple award-winning/nominated Schmidt Klein & Fein line (that includes games like Encore!, Dizzle and That's Pretty Clever; I've written about all the games in the series here and here). So, are they worth a mention at all? Pretty much.
Probably the oldest design here is Space Worm. You could preorder it years ago, then it was cancelled, then the publisher (Lunchbox Games), seemingly afraid of losing the rights to it pretty soon, published a small print run (1,000 copies) with a one-month deadline to buy it. I did (it was not easy because of timing it to Brexit, thank you for the help, qwertymartin), so now I own a copy.
Space Worm is the adaptation of a game as old as I am (while the concept originated in an 1976 game, Worm was released in 1978 and started to take its form in 1982 under the title Snake). The look of this game represents the known 1980s (and later) versions where the snake was collecting different fruits (shown by simplified, few-pixel artwork on screen). The look very successfully recreates those memories and for this quite a bit of printing ink was used: the background is black on each pad and players use quality felt pens that create light grey snakes on that paper. Dice also show the few-pixel designs of the original fruits which - despite a slight usability issue - works fine (even though it's not a new idea: Brikks, Wolfgang Warsch's Klein&Fein Tetris adaptation - one that reminds of but is satisfyingly different from Knizia's FITS - also used this kind of retro design to appeal to players of that old classic).
But let's talk about the gameplay itself. Just like in Sagrada (2017) or the Klein&Fein game Dizzle, a player rolls a bunch of dice and then players draft one die in turn and apply its effect. Here that effect means drawing a line (extending your snake, I mean space worm) the rolled number of spaces in any direction; of course not crossing your own line, like, ever. If you can't move you cross off one of your four hearts that would otherwise give you two points at game end - something also familiar from Klein&Fein games like Encore! or Brikks -, though here you can't pass if you can apply the effect of any one die which makes it all the more stressful.
And the further details make it way more fun. Like, dice also have colors, not only numbers, and if you pass a fruit using the matching die, you might score 1 bonus point - but you get these bonus points only if you collect all the fruits of that kind. So you can try to go for collecting all the fruits of a kind, and even race for this, since the earlier you finish it the more VPs you might get (providing a race amongst players). You also try to reach as many planets as you can since each subsequent planet passed score more and more for you.
And, of course, an adaptation of a very old PC game should have different levels included (no, once again it's not a new idea for a roll and write, e.g. Dizzle and its expansion also had 4 levels, the more recent Kannste Knicken also has four) so on level 2 you get superfruits (allowing to take another turn), level 3 ofers wormholes also known in some variants of Snake (going out at one side of the board and reappear on the other) and level 4 has aliens (a nice nod in look to Space Invaders, another 1978 game) that cost you lives if you cross them.
So, are there any features that make it a Knizia game, not only just another roll and write? Definitely. Drafting those dice means high stakes - you must be prepared for the worst dice to remain for your next turn(s) and you constantly need to watch others' pads to see what they (don't) need. Gaining the possibility to score many bonus points is fine - but you need to collect all fruits of a type to score them and it can often be challenging. Racing to finish a set of fruits earlier adds to the interaction. Just like in a game of Snake, tension keeps rising - your shrinking space is more and more limited and you have only 4 lives. And as soon as a player loses all their lives the game ends. overall, the game is as tense as any good Knizia with lots of risk evaluation and players do keep looking at each other's pads during play.
Medici: The Dice Game was a Kickstarter project (back when Grail Games had a good relationship with the good doctor ) and maybe it could have used the popularity of r&w games better, calling it Medici: The Roll & Write Game which it is. The look of the game is the same fine Vincent Dutrait style as the other Grail Games Knizias, and though some more distinct colors should have been used, we never had problems with differentiating the different wares.
The base is the same as in Medici or Medici: The Card Game, players filling their ships with wares of different type and values (1 to 3 of them in one turn) three times, and score them the usual way when ships are full. Basic dice rolling mechanism is the same as seen in Encore! and others - the active player chooses (1 to 3) dice and then the passive players may use one of the unused dice. So it's just a slight effect on each other - until you take the scoring into consideration. Because in Medici and its adaptations the scoring is all about comparing what you collected to the others' wares. You don't get scores for the face values. You get your ship scored based on who has the highest (second highest etc.) sum of wares on their ship, and then collected wares are evaluated also based on majority - collected during the whole game. So the game is about players' relative positions and you just can't win focusing on your own pad during the game.
Lost Cities: Roll & Write sounds like 'just another Lost Cities game', probably the Knizia that had the most published spin-offs and variants (see my ever-growing list of Keltis/Lost Cities titles). Hey, after two Keltis dice games it's also the second dice game adaptation for Lost Cities! It is once again published by Kosmos, an old publisher that hopefully won't have problems after the publication like Lunchbox Games or Grail Games had. They just routinely published the - at least - dozenth Keltis/Lost Cities title and to tell the truth I didn't even expect much from this one. But I was surprised.
The basic dice mechanism is straight from Encore! - roll six dice (3 colored dice and 3 number dice - here, d10s), choose a color+number combination, others choose from the remaining four. Slight but important differences are already visible though, as role of luck looks to be higher, since there is no joker color - no, this time you don't go on 5, but 6 different-colored expeditions - and the d10... is a d10. While this basic dice mechanism might be straight from Encore, it does not mean lazily copying everything: after all, a mechanism where instead a hand of cards (like in Lost Cities and Keltis) you get a result and choose if you want to take it or let others take was already present in Keltis Mitbringspiel and Lost Cities To Go, and here you're doing something pretty similar. Well, to mitigate luck, unlike in those, it is allowed to write the same number in a column again and again (like in the board game) instead of keeping the much harder 'strictly ascending' rule. You also use the 0s for doubling a score of a column (before starting that expedition) or as a 10 (at the end of an expedition). Of course acceleration spaces (clover spaces in Keltis) also help: reach one of these and you may move forward in any column, again writing the same number as the one before.
Collecting artifacts is not really competitive like in some earlier games: reach certain spaces and you get an artifact (here, jug) without competition. You can even collect artifacts as a reward for being able to add another number to a full column. Competition is introduced in the form of a race for reaching the 7th space of any of the 8 columns - yeah, it's also straight from Encore!, whoever reaches these points first wins 20 points and this opportunity is lost for others.
Uhm, did I say 8 columns? That must be because there are 8 and here's the best new part of the game. You have 6 columns for the numbers rolled, one column for the artifacts and... one column for passing. Whenever you don't like the numbers rolled, you may pass. For the first 9 passes you mark it on your pad and it gets scored just like artifacts. 1 pass during the whole game, you score -40 points. 3 passes, -20 points. 4 passes, 10 points. 7 passes and you might claim the 20 point bonus if you were the first to reach it. 8 passes, 70 points. 9 passes... and you get zero points for passing! And this is very clever, also very Knizian. Stretch it to the highest possible point... but not more. This is how you try not to score early in Voodoo Prince/Marshmallow Test but not be the last. This is how you run with your mice in Abandon Ship to finish second... but not first.
And this is exciting. Especially because of the endgame conditions: the game ends when all the 8 20-point bonuses were claimed OR when everyone passed 9 times. Should you accept less than optimal numbers for your expedition columns so you won't pass 9 times? You just can't keep passing (unless you all keep rolling dice equally bad for everyone) as then you won't get any score for passing and others may end the game before other columns proved fruitful enough. But you should pass enough to score high and possibly get that bonus. Near the end of the game it can even be advisable to start an expedition instead of reaching the top of the 'pass' column.
But once again we're at a point where it is strongly advised to look at each other's pads. Not only for the bonuses. Near the end of the game I might even decide to take dice that are bad for me just to force my opponent(s) pass so that they lose the possibility to score their pass column. That is going to hurt them a lot! Of course you can play friendly as well - but fun starts with the interaction. At least in Knizia games.
So, in short (tldr):
1. For those not familiar with the works of the good doctor, or those who have a bad opinion on them, these Knizia roll and write games just seem to reinforce the 'Knizia is only copying and remaking earlier games' stereotype, being adaptations of earlier games and using proven RnW mechanism ideas for this.
2. But actually each of them are cleverly designed ones with one or more interesting new ideas added and making the games more interactive than your usual RnW games (with a more 'real' interaction than e.g. the solution in Cartographers), turning them into true fine Knizias.
p.s. There is one aspect where you might consider these games lesser than the Schmidt Klein & Fein line. And that is the lack of a solo option (well, in 2 of the 3). As each of these games are so much built on looking at each other's pads maybe it's not that surprising. These roll and writes are built on playing them multiplayer, their fun factor comes from players' decisions affecting each other's gameplay. And in this aspect Knizia games might feel slightly oldschool for some while some (like me) prefer this approach.
You know what, it's not that hard to find out solo rules for these games. Medici The Dice Game has an excellent official solo rule with a dummy opponent that gets everything you don't take (so, in a way, you are interacting with yourself). I have already made a solo rule for Space Worm (based on the solo rules of Dizzle) and it works fine. Making a solo rule for Lost Cities: Roll & Write also seems like a pretty easy task, it would need only a bit of experimenting. Based on the Encore! solo rules (that's where the basic dice mechanism was taken from) probably you should play with 2 color and 2 number dice and end the game after crossing 5 '20' bonuses and/or using your 9th pass. If 4 dice proves to be too few then I suggest giving an option to the player to decide which 4 dice to roll (2 numbers, 2 colors or 1+3 or 3+1) before each roll. Here you are. You can test it and work on the details if you like. Enjoy!
p.s.2. Hey, I just found out I haven't written about Knizia's 2020 yet! Expect a summary in a few days.
- [+] Dice rolls
I'm a fan of tile-laying games. Just look at my current avatar (didn't I want to change it back?) which shows my four - possibly - favourite Knizias, each of them about tile placement. On the other hand it seems I own too many of these, probably because I'm a fan of them. Looking at my collection it seems I have more than one hundred games where BGG lists tile placement as a mechanism.
But now I made a decision. I sold 5 of my big (family-size) box games! Being the collector I am, it was slightly painful, I would have loved to explore each at least a bit more, but I had to admit I'm not sure these would have ever gotten any replay. So... I guess it was the right thing to do.
The games I sold and the reasons:
Carcassonne used to be popular here and I'm sure it's going to be popular again (in the moment my older daughter stops saying Carcassonne sucks). I used to own the base game and all the spin-offs (not the special editions or Wheel of Fortune etc.) but Safari (which was released in a time when Carc already became unpopular here). The one I owned for the shortest time was Leo Colovini's version (The Discovery) which is an interesting, intriguing variant but still feels a bit too different from Carcassonne and... Yeah, I must say it, it looks terrible which made it rather unpopular. There are two Carcassonne spin-offs I was thinking of selling and the other one is Carcassonne Mayflower/A New World, which (yes) looks beautiful but also has a pretty interesting mechanism (the provosts) that I (unlike many other Carc fans) find fun and interesting.
Carcassonne Amazonas looks great. It has vivid colors, easy to distinguish icons and a fun theme and setting. However I'm ambivalent about the real novel idea it offers, as I like the tension of the race down the titular river, but it feels like it adds the game some unfortunate luck factor. If a player keeps drawing the Amazonas tiles they can't really achieve enough in other fields, or you can be blocked in finishing your features started or can't join an important farm because of drawing the Amazonas tiles instead. The rest of the game is just a kind of uninspired mix of earlier proven scoring ideas, adding the Huts for Over and Hill and Dale for the worse (it worked splendid there, they are just limiting here).
I still liked the game (I rated it a 7), but I still have ten other versions to play and frankly I would play any of those over Amazonas. Also, it seemed to me selling a Carcassonne title would help selling this bundle in one (probably it did; I sold the bundle in minutes).
Oh no, I sold a Knizia. We did play its predecessor that was published for Eastern European markets (Mise: Kolonizace) and Forbidden City is the better one in every aspect, it has a larger tile size, these tiles look way better (still not nearly as nice as they could in the time of Kickstarters), it has an impressive-looking central pagoda on a 3x3 central starting tile which gives way more options for the start, so, well, the whole experience was enhanced by this edition.
And how is the game? It's pretty interesting. It is easy to compare it to Carcassonne since you try to have the most of the figures of your color on finished areas - rooms - even though they are printed on the tiles this time. Still it is quite different (especially because when scoring you look for figures in rooms directly accessible through an archway as well) and to play fine you have to forget your Carcassonne tactics.
It is a game I would have loved to explore. Sadly, no one I played it with saw the potential and no one (but me) was enthusiastic to play. It made no sense to keep it.
Maharani + promo tiles
Maharani is a nice game. It's probably the best game Wolfgang Panning ever designed alone (I mean when he was not designing one of the numerous expansion modules to various Queen Games - he seems to be 'the' official expansion designer for the publisher; even I did playtest one of his expansions with him). Showing how times change, I commented it looks impressive when I played it in 2015 while I think I must admit one of the main reasons it was not played since is the boring Euro look it has. Don't get me wrong, for me mechanism is way more important than the look but when playing with family you just can't ignore how attractive a game is for them.
I guess the worst I can say about Maharani is... I have no idea about the gameplay. I played it two times in 2015, I liked it, I found it to be abstract but tricky, but it seems it just did not make any memorable impressions. I'm sure if I replayed it I would have enjoyed the gameplay again; I just didn't ever want to.
Kerala: The Way of the Elephant
Now this game is definitely beautiful. Yeah, those golden ornaments on the large wooden elephant pawns do try to hide the fact that it's a pretty abstract game. Once again it's quite interesting - or not. It's one where you have enjoyable decisions, but also the only one where my kids said "It looks great but it's not a good game". I wouldn't say it's bad, but I'm not sure it would have soared, ever. Off the trade pile it went.
Okay, this is the only game of the bunch I felt really sorry to sell. The Japan-themed, oh-so-slightly optimised rerelease of Eine Frage der Ähre/Heartland did earn its 2019 Mensa Select award, it offers a very interesting combo of strategy and tactics as you place domino tiles possibly half-covering each others, possibly enlarging same-colored own areas and cutting opponents' areas - or go forward on tracks in a riskier race for bonus tiles. This is a decision you have to make each turn and it's cool.
Had the game gotten a warmer response at home, it would have definitely been a keeper. I still hope it gets an online or app version as I'd love to explore it more.
- [+] Dice rolls
23 Jul 2021
So, let's talk about how the perception of weight changes over the decades.***
First of all, just let's run through the well-known and obvious.
Yes, BGG weight rating is a strange animal as it is a mixture of 'depth' and 'complexity' which are rarely related. For a single example, just look at the weight rating of Go, possibly the only game that would deserve a clear, resounding '5' for depth (being levels deeper than Chess) while its rules complexity is '1'. Go is a 4. The single 'weight' rating on BGG might have been result of times (was it introduced in the mid-200s I think?) when most games weren't nearly as complex as today's gamer favorites.
Yes, you can only use integers when rating a game. It still makes a difference between games with a weight rating of 2.6 and 2.4 as, in an ideal case, that simply means more people think one is more complex than the other one.
Bias. It does matter who rates the weight of a game. You can't compare the weight rating of a wargame and a family game because the majority of those who rate wargames are wargamers and the majority of who rate family games are not. They just have very different impressions about how complex games can be. Also, popular gateway games get lots of votes from newcomers who don't even have much experience about comparable games. Memoir '44 has a lower weight rating than Settlers of Catan or 7 Wonders - and Catan and 7 Wonders (the first Kennerspiel winner) have the same weight rating without objectively being on the same level.
Taking all of the above into consideration, weight rating is still informative to me. Playing a lot with beginners and family, it does matter to me when I check a game I'd like to try.***
However, recently I found a new dimension in these weight ratings, and just like in sci-fis where they explain what the 4th dimension is, it's the same here: time.
And now I'm going to focus mostly on Eurogames as I don't know nearly enough about wargames or Ameris ("thematic games"). 15 years ago they were really different categories anyway, so ameris were mostly played and rated by ameri players and so on. While games like Die Macher did exist as an exception before, popular gamer's games like Caylus and Agricola ('the' two Spiel des Jahres 'Complex game' extra awards winners before Kennerspiel existed) opened the way to complexity (even for complexity's sake) as many hardcore gamers happily discovered them. As (partly because of this) board gaming became more and more popular even for those who liked complexity, it did result in some interesting changes in the hobby (or, more like, in the section of the hobby we see on BGG).
Catchy themes and production values did make complex games like Terraforming Mars or Scythe popular gateways for many and lots of gamers became more complexity-obsessed than ever before. Until the 2010s Eurogames were said to be (highlighting the difference from 'AT') simple, elegant, rarely strongly thematic; now we call those 'oldschool Euros' or 'German games' as the current image of an Eurogame (if these categories still exist at all) is of a complex, often strongly thematic one (and lots of thematic chrome is meant by strongly thematic). So while 15ish years ago family gamers and Eurogamers were rating games more or less the same for weight, by now Eurogamers use a different reference system.
As a result, a game that got, say, a 2.5 weight rating in 2010, now gets maybe 2.3 or lower. Is it just a guess? Not really, though it's not that easy to find good data for this. Why? Because if that game was popular, probably it saw many rereleases since and it gets played even today, so it's hard to differentiate today's ratings from the ones it got then. If it was not popular, probably it didn't get enough weight ratings either.
So there are two things you can do:
check the internet wayback machine for games' weight ratings many years ago
Look at games that had almost-identical rereleases (so they are separate items in the BGG database) and compare their weight ratings.
As for #1, it can be done. You can see Tikal had a 2.96 weight rating in 2006 and 2.79 in 2021. While it clearly shows the trends, unfortunately it's not telling enough. Tikal (1999) had new editions since 2015 so many might have bought and rated its weight - but I have no idea what ratio their weight rating is, while those old weight ratings are still making it look higher.
As for #2, it may work better - with caveats. You can see Agricola (2007) has a weight rating of 3.64 and the revised (not in any way simplified) version has 3.51. But Agricola has garnered new fans ever since its release so it's not necessarily the 2007 weight rating you can see there; also many fans of the original have also bought the new one (because it had ani- and vegimeeples and supposedly had better balanced cards) so their perception of weight is the same as that of those who rated the old edition.***
So the best you can do is check new versions of games that are not the same entry in the db because of insignificant changes. Some weeks ago I found the best comparison in the Mask trilogy (Tikal, Mexica, Java), each of them re-released a few years ago, as the rerelease of the third one was rethemed (well, themed back to the original theme idea) and had a very-very small rule change that doesn't really affect the game weight in any significant way. What I found was quite interesting. Tikal had a weight of 2.96 in 2006, has 2.79 now (as written above) and Mexica had 2.79 in 2008 a and has 2.7 now - both changed slightly downwards, both had new editions in (and since) 2015. Episode II, the most complex (and most AP-inducing) one of the trilogy, is Java, a game that had a 3.63 weight rating in 2006 and has 3.39 now. Back then it was almost notorious for its complexity (which you might fight strange with 2021 eyes); maybe that's why it only had editions in 2000. Maybe that's why the rerelease was rethemed-relocated. Now Cuzco has a weight rating of 2.45, which strongly suggests Tikal and Mexica wouldn't be above 2.4 if they got all their weight ratings now.
Want some further examples? I do list (quite) a few as I want to show Cuzco is not the exception. Puerto Rico had a weight rating of 3.34 in 2006 and has 3.28 now. So does that mean it did not change? No, it means it is a classic that is still loved by many or not tried a lot by new players. I mean, when they try it they try new editions. So Puerto Rico is 3.28. Puerto Rico (with two expansions), released 9 years later, providing further complexity, is 3.27. And Puerto Rico, released last year, also including the expansions, is only 3.11 (and comments show many who have rated the game are old PR players so probably new players once again give it an even lower rating).
As Alea likes to re-release their biggest hits there are other examples: San Juan (Second Edition) from 2014 has all the expansions to the 2004 original (2.29) yet is only 2.07. Notre Dame(2007) is 2.75; Notre Dame: 10th Anniversary with its extra characters is 2.46. In the Year of the Dragon (2007) is 3.10, In the Year of the Dragon: 10th Anniversary with the increased expansion complexity is 2.96.
Mafiozoo (2017) reduces some of the luck factor of Louis XIV (2005) by some added little extra complexity. Yeah, Mafiozoo has a 2.45 weight while Louis XIV (no new edition listed since 2005) has 3.01.
El Grande (1995) is often cited for being such a complex Spiel des Jahres winner that even new Kennerspiel des Jahres winners don't come close. Maybe memory is also tricking those who have played games for a long time, thinking their perception does not change even after playing hundreds of complex games. El Grande was 3.21 in 2006, it is 3.05 now according to BGG. The expansions added more complexity (weight: 3.09). Still, the decennial edition (2006), including all big and small expansions, is 2.97 and the El Grande Big Box (2015), including the same, is only 2.77.
Reiner Knizia's Colossal Arena (2004) and Titan: The Arena (1997) (under the same game item, following earlier BGG rules) have a 2.02 weight rating; recent rerelease Equinox (which adds two more creatures for more variety) is 1.67. Leo Colovini's Clans (2002) is 2.03, Fae (2018, with an identical ruleset) is 1.83.
Even Michael Schacht's often-remade games' weight rating is telling. Web of Power (2.45) had several simpler incarnations until it reached Iwari which has several boards and variants included (2.23). The card game version of Web of Power didn't have new editions since 2001 so it has an even higher weight rating (2.57) than Web of Power, and while Richelieu (2003) indeed did simplify some aspects so the 1.92 weight might be understandable, recent new version Spirits of the Forest (2018) did bring back some of the complexity and added lots of extra rule modules - making its weight rating (1.36!!!) all the more shocking.***
So what can one learn from data like these above? (I think I have already written about them above but it's worth repeating in the end; also this way it looks like there is some conclusion).
Does the weight rating really mean nothing then? No, but they are less easy to compare than it would seem obvious. If you want to compare the weight rating of a game to others you not only need to look at the genre and the target group, but also the year they were released in and how popular they were since.
So simple conclusions like 'Tikal and El Grande were way more complex than Paleo or Arnak' cannot be proven by their BGG weight ratings as, just as the above examples show, current players (would) probably rate both old classics below the two recent games. It seems, on the contrary, Kennerspiel des Jahres usually still shows the weight/complexity of the more complex earlier Spiel des Jahres games (just what it was created for), occasionally possibly even more (at least among the nominated). (Can't not list further titles - back then, Dominion was one of the examples why Kennerspiel should be a different category and I have seen families bringing back the game to the FLGS as they did not understand it. Dominion - 2.23 - which stayed popular and its sequel Dominion Intrigue - 2.42 - both had revised new editions, both with lower weight ratings: 2.16 and 2.23, respectively.)
'But Tikal and El Grande were actually so much heavier!', older gamers might say, and that's how your mind tricks you. I'm not a complexity-obsessed gamer but still have 13 years board gaming experience. Replaying games that I hadn't played for ten years or so, I was always surprised how simple they seemed to be. (Most recently it happened to me with China and San Marco.) They definitely didn't seem so simple when I learned them. Yeah, because I had a very different reference system, a very different level of experience. If you keep playing them every year, you won't notice this change as you keep seeing them the way you looked at them when you learned them. You need a very long break for this. (Just like if you keep watching your favorite childhood movie - e.g. Star Wars, Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Matrix, choose one depending on your age - every year, you will keep seeing them perfect, but if you rewatch them after 10 or 20 years you might be surprised why you loved them so much).
Go and replay a game you found complex 10+ years ago and haven't played since. You'll see.***
But what about newcomers?
Those (already mentioned) who are drawn to the hobby via relatively complex games like Terraforming Mars or Scythe, won't have problems; maybe they get somewhat surprised how simple some of the 'classics' are as they expected something else from their weight rating.
For others, you know, the kind who think board game equals Monopoly, or if they are more up to date, maybe Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and Dixit, it's just pretty confusing. Looking for a game with Carcassonne complexity (let's say between 1.8 and 2) they would get Kennerspiel-winning games like Quacks of Quedlinburg, That's Pretty Clever! or The Crew, each of them a bit heavier than what they are looking for, but if they thought they can handle a bit more complexity they might easily run into games that were definitely considered gamers' game complexity a few years ago when BGG wasn't full of gamers who can handle complexity. They might have changed/evolved and gotten used to more complexity, but these new players haven't.
And this is where BGG becomes less and less useful for them. BGG top 10 has always been a bad place for newcomers as it's a gamer site so most of the games are complex there. Right now the BGG top 10 has an average weight rating of 3.78 and since the oldest one is from 2015 that weight rating pretty much shows the current values. Still, 15 years ago, the average of the top 10 was 3.4, and checking the former ratings of those games and taking some of the examples above into consideration, currently those ten games would be rated something like 3.1 on average. It shows how gamers' tastes move to the direction of complexity, but it also makes BGG less and less useful for newcomers. Maybe this seems like the topic was derailed now but no, this change in harcore gamers' tastes is the main reason for all the weight rating changes over the years. And this is what makes a part of the gamers kind of elitist and make the hobby not really easily accessible for many.
So what is the conclusion? Should there be an option on BGG to reorder everything for newbies? I don't know, but that sounds too cool. Like, there could be adjusted weight ratings (just like ratings are adjusted for rankings), but maybe the best solution would be a personalised chart based on what games you like and have experienced - and this could (should) take weight changes into consideration as well.
Probably there are other conclusions as well. Comment if you like, I just run out of thoughts for today. Maybe we can have a good conversation.
- [+] Dice rolls
Today, within an hour, Spiel and Kennerspiel des Jahres (Game and ~Advanced Game of the Year) winners will be announced. Kinderspiel des Jahres (Children's Game of the Year) was already announced a few weeks ago; the winner is Dragomino which is the kids' version of Kingdomino, developed by 2019 Kinderspiel des Jahres Valley of the Vikings designers Marie Fort and Wilfried Fort. Both are pretty clever games for their category, so the win was well deserved.
This year, unlike before, I did not play any of the nominees before they were announced. Now that I have played one of both category, I do root for them as I think both deserve the award.
MicroMacro: Crime City aka Where's Waldo? The story-driven board game is engaging, fun and unique so even if it's about different murders I can imagine the jury awarding it the main prize this year. The other nominees are Zombie Teenz Evolution which is not said to be better than the (otherwise fine) first part and The Adventures of Robin Hood which is another fine-looking game by renowned illustrator Michael Menzel whose first game (Andor) won Kennerspiel so anything might happen.
As for Kennerspiel, I saw claims Lost Ruins of Arnak was too complex to be even nominated. Having played the game twice with my kids I disagree. It just looks complex, but it's a pretty straightforward, theme-driven, somewhat but not entirely luck-dependent, rewarding, family-friendly experience (even with quality components) that has a well-structured rulebook helping non-experts learn the rules fine. It is definitely lighter than KdJ winner Village and not more complex than another KdJ winner Istanbul. The other two nominees are Fantasy Realms which is a 2017 game that was first published in Germany only recently and Paleo which could be a chance for Hans im Glück to win after quite a long time without winning. I'll watch the ceremony which is starting pretty soon.
And Kennerspiel des Jahres 2021 goes to Paleo (a game with about the same complexity as Arnak). Congrats to Peter Rustemeyer and the Hans im Glück team (turning their 5th Kennerspiel nominee into a win at last; they won 6 Spiel des Jahres but none after Dominion in 2009 - but a Kinderspiel win for Stone Age Jr.) - and now I really hope a Hungarian version of this cooperative Stone Age game will be released so I can give it a try.
And indeed MicroMacro: Crime City wins Spiel des Jahres - not that surprisingly, though in the USA maybe it would get a parental advisory and not nominated at all for a family-friendly award (for them, the sequel is going to mark each case with symbols so that parents can decide which cases the youngest investigators are cleared to research). What I can say is none of my kids (7, 11, 13) found anything offensive or disturbing in the game which uses pretty simple, cartoon-like artwork. Congrats to Pegasus Spiele (their 2nd SdJ after distributing Blue Moon's Kingdomino a few years ago) and Johannes Sich for the award!
- [+] Dice rolls
A year and a half ago I wrote a lengthy post about how I found the roll and write games I can really enjoy (after many failed attempts and only a few ones I could enjoy in the decade before) and how, partly thanks to a family tragedy, I recorded many-many plays of them. All these were games from the Schmidt Klein & Fein line which started as a line for small-box, simple but clever games but thanks to the success of the roll and write ones it became a line of roll and write games, exclusively it seems. (The English versions are usually - or exclusively - published by Stronghold Games.)
When I wrote that post I was at more than ten plays with the games of Wolfgang Warsch (That’s Pretty Clever!, Twice as Clever!, Brikks), Inka and Markus Brand (Encore!/Noch mal) and Ralf zur Linde (Dizzle), mostly but not exclusively played solo. I also played the Encore! expansions and the app-based, then-unavailable PnP unofficial That’s Pretty Clever alternative board. That’s where the new list starts.***
That’s Pretty Clever is, in a nutshell, the Kennerspiel-nominated roll and write game where you roll six colored dice, cross or write number fields of the corresponding color on your pads and these colors all have different rules and scoring. The most fun part comes from the bonuses you unlock for completing certain fields as these bonuses can have an effect on other areas thus creating chain reactions.
By autumn 2019 the alternative board for That’s Pretty Clever was released officially – well, more or less the same as what I printed from BGG. I guess they wanted to make a distinction between the first and the second episode and from Ganz Schön Clever – Challenge I they deleted the feature that was borrowed from Twice as Clever – the bonuses for encircling all bonus actions. Bonus score (+11pt) for the 12th blue cross was (strangely?) also deleted; as I did have reach that one in my previous plays I think that might have proven to be putting the strategies off-balance. Playing this expansion (a lot more with the published one) I found I don’t know if it’s more or less ’solvable’ than the original but it sure is fine for variety.***
Ganz Schön Clever – Challenge 1 wasn’t the only one I bought in October 2019 – the sequel to GSC, Twice as Clever! also got its expansion in Doppelt so Clever: Challenge I.
It changes quite a few areas but still keeps the main features. Grey area got an extra column which made it possible to score a few number+dice combos multiple times, but not only that: with the extra space in rows you can score more for each row – and to balance things, you already get more points for 2-6 crosses in a row (1-5 extra points per cross plus 8 points for the seventh cross). Yellow (which had been very dominant in Twice as Clever!) was a bit restructured and scores changed – it’s still very strong but more balanced now. With all the minor changes added for bonuses, the board became more balanced and pretty soon I found it became my favorite one of the four Clever! titles.***
Oh, Dizzle also got its expansion then (Dizzle: Levels 5-8). In my previous Klein&Fein post I said I had a strong Kingdom Builder feeling with the game that was about spatial expansion on a map and „the 4 different levels and the special spaces brought back the Kingdom Builder variety quite a bit.” The expansions brought proof it has the Kingdom Builder/Carcassonne kind of strong base you can build any variation on. Levels 5-6 only provided this, fun variation layouts using the original elements.
The other two are (even) more interesting. On level 7 you get some Pompeii-inspired volcano action, lava flowing from volcano spots and blocking certain (high-scoring) areas. And on level 8 the designer proves (maybe inspired by the likes of Railroad Ink or Avenue) that this system can be used even for railroad-building which is quite a departure from the original concept but still works perfectly.
These expansion boards add so much variety that soon I found I played them more than the base boards.***
And it wasn’t all – I even bought Noch mal so gut!, or according to its newly announced title, Bravo! in October. It’s an interesting culmination of the Klein & Fein line. The Brands took Encore! (originally known as Noch mal!, the first roll and write game in the family) and spiced it up with ideas from the popular (and less popular) Warsch games of the family. Namely, it takes hints from the bonuses and chain reactions that made the Clever! games so popular and fun; in a way these were present in Brikks as well, where you could get bonuses or bonus possibilities for certain crosses (or filling rows) on your scorepads.
So here comes Bravo!, the advanced game where you may get the possibility of using an extra, ’bonus’ die by crossing certain spaces or filling rows on your scorepads. So, first of all, you get these possibilities just like in the Clever games: when you cross a field like this on the map, you encircle a bonus die symbol and in any later turn, if you want to use the bonus die instead of the color+number combos, you just cross one of these circles. In general, these bonus die faces might give you hearts (and the more hearts you have the more you can score for finishing columns) or various possibilities to cross further spaces on your scorepad... which might give you further bonuses... and here you are, chain reactions Warsch-style from the Brands.
You score not only for the columns this time, but for rows as well. And you may gain, yes, you guessed it, bonus actions for filling rows, so, just like in the Clever! games, you may have several chain reactions in the last rounds of the game.
So, overall, how does it compare to the original? It’s hard to tell. Yes, it’s more complex and offers a lot of possibilities, also the fun of chain reactions, so on one hand I’m sure many appreciate this one more than the original. On the other hand it loses the simplicity (a major part of the charm) of the original and it might also break the game a bit, forcing horizontal expansion (for scores and bonuses for rows) instead of how naturally it happened in the original. Also, a more complex decision tree does not necessarily make the game less luck-dependent or maybe it has a larger dose of luck in the box: I did fill the whole board in one play and came close in a few others, thanks to some lucky combination of the chain reactions, and while I was slightly amused I also thought it was wrong, like, I should not have reached this point.
So, I like this one, I enjoy Bravo! but am not convinced it is better than the original.***
As the ideas of the family culminated in the game above, I was curious what might come next. Does this family get stuck in these ideas or may it bring something new? And the new game was published in February 2020 but I wasn’t sure it would be fine for me, then it became OoP...
And then lockdowns started in March and ordering games from anywhere abroad became near impossible for a while. Playing a lot with my family, I did play the Klein & Fein games but not nearly as much as in 2019. I’m not sure why. Maybe because we were together 0/24, playing literally hundreds of different games together, trying to find variety in a year that did not deliver lots of exciting adventures, and in the evenings I also rarely felt I wanted to play solo games.
Still, a friend living in Germany sent me the new Klein & Fein game in August but I only had the German rules and while I understood most of what I read I just didn’t feel like I comprehended how it should be played and I just did not feel the motivation to look up some videos. So it just collected dust for a while.
Until Covid arrived. First my older daughter got sick and tested positive, a week later my wife and my son as well, and while they stayed in separate rooms I played with my younger daughter who started to get the taste of learning new board games. Finally, less than a week later I tested positive as well. I had a few bad days but then things started to get better – I just felt weak and I needed to spend most of my time in bed. So I started to play my roll/flip and write games. All of them. Yes, I acquired a few that are not part of the Klein & Fein line since, maybe I will write about those in another post. But my Klein & Fine games all got further solo plays (I’m way over 100 with the K&F family) and at last I had time to read the Divvy Dice rules and watch some videos. No, it’s definitely not this complex. So I played it at last, I played it five times in that week.***
So, Divvy Dice, designed by Ulrich Blum and Jens Merkl. Playing it in bed showed its main disadvantage compared to all the other Klein&Fein games: while the box is the same small size, it needs quite a bit of play area. In this game you try to fill requirements on aim and helping cards that you buy (with your rolls) from the common area (two rows of cards in the middle of the table) and form a 3×3 grid of those cards in front of yourself. No, you can’t play this one on the train, unlike the other Klein & Fein episodes.
And in this game you don’t have pads to write on: you write on cards. No, there is no legacy element here; you just draw on shiny cards and can erase everything in the end of the game. And the design of the artwork is very clever: it looks slightly ’dirty’ so no one will notice if you leave some minuscule felt pen dirt on the card. These Germans surely do pay attention to small details!
Only activated cards (the ones where you cross all the numbers/spaces based on your rolls) can help you and only activated cards bring you points in the end of the game. Both main card types come in a variety: helping cards may let you change die faces or colors, let you use fewer dice for buying cards, determine the color of the card (for scoring) etc. while scoring cards give you points for different kinds of finished cards (like, different helping cards, different colors, specific colors, finished columns or rows or finished cards adjacent to the given card).
As usual in the Klein & Fein line, quite a bit of the interaction comes from choosing what dice you choose and what not on your active turn. In this one, you may use your dice to cross or write numbers on your cards only if you finish a card this way; otherwise you may only use these (3 or 4 dice of the same value) to buy new cards. You may cross or write one or two numbers on your active turn only if you failed to do either after two rerolls (and then you also have the option to take the topmost face-down card from the drawing pile). When you reroll some dice, other players may use one of the dice you locked so you need to choose wisely. (As a similar form of interaction, you might take cards from the middle that would be great for other players).
But this time, interaction does not stop here. In all the previous installments, the game ended after a fixed number of rounds. This time it’s triggered by the player who places the ninth (last) card in their 3x3 grid. This puts a focus on the timing – okay, I might need a few helping cards but when should I start to go for victory point cards? In this way the game is closest to ’big’ engine-building games and offers a distint and fine experience.
Solo play is slightly different though; you do play a maximum number of rounds (less is often enough and may you score more) and since others won’t take cards you need, you need to discard a card in the end of each turn. Also the number of rerolls you have on your ’active’ turn determines how many you may use in the ’passive’ part that follows (the fewer rerolls, the more you can use). It’s pretty clever even though others won’t mess much with your plans this time. Still, in some ways it feels like the most gamery episode of the series.***
Okay, for some diversion, let's have a look at the weight ratings of the Klein & Fein games. Yes, weight rating has its problems at BGG as it tries to show rules and decision complexity and depth simultaneously but that's all we have. So, according to BGG users, the average weight of the Klein & Fein roll and write games are as follows:
Noch mal!/Encore 1.15
That's Pretty Clever! 1.85
Divvy Dice 2.06
Twice as Clever! 2.35
Clever hoch Drei 2.55
(expansion scorepads usually have a slightly higher weight rating than the base games and that's something I can agree with).
While yes, people only can vote 1 or 2 or 3 or more, these numbers are still quite comparable most of the time. And I must say some of these feel a bit off to me. While I might agree with their order, I just don’t think Encore is as light as simple the rules are and I also That’s Pretty Clever! is underrated for its complexity as I did agree with the decision it was nominated for Kennerspiel, not Spiel des Jahres (I would never say it’s a heavy game but it’s way too complex for beginners, and Kennerspiel usually starts somewhere around 2.2). Twice as Clever! felt slightly more complex when I learned it but nowadays I don’t even feel much difference between their weight. And Clever Cubed... well, more on that later. However, I do think Divvy Dice is about the same complexity as the Clever! games.
Even with the games that got a lower weight rating, it seems to me the Klein & Fein roll & write games have something in common: these all have the ability to appeal to gamers.***
And that might be the reason why Noch mal! Kids is not a part of the family even if it really belongs there since this is the kids’ version of Encore!/Noch mal! (that my 6yo daughter got for Christmas – by that time we all started to get better – while my 10yo girl mastered the gamer version listed above).
This is another prime example of how you make a kids’ version of a popular family game – simplify everything to the core where it still does not get stupid but is more luck-dependent, and add some kid-friendly theme. Here „feeding animals in a zoo” is the story. You don’t have number dice, only colors and you fill all the spaces of a color area when you choose a die. You still get points (0/1/2 buckets) for completing columns and a bonus point (visitor) for completing them earlier and you also get a color bonus (2 points – meal – for feeding all the animals of a type). Also you have another example for Germans paying attention to details: unlike in the other boxes, you don’t have felt pens but pencils here – the small fingers won’t get black all over, and it’s much easier to erase if the kid makes a mistake.
It’s really nice for what it is – and, I forgot to add, it's not playable solo, but my 6yo is enthusiastic about it (while the 10yo wouldn’t miss a chance to show how much it bores her ).***
Unfortunately Clever Cubed (released months earlier) did not make it to Hungarian FLGSs (not even to the official distributor) before Christmas but I could not wait more so I started the new year ordering it from a German webshop. I refused giving it a try online, I wanted the physical copy!
So how much is it a new game? Well, it’s at least as (or maybe more) different from the previous games as Twice as Clever! was from the original. Yeah, I know some players already said TaC was just a variant and a rip-off, but to me the two games felt quite different even with their similar basic mechanism. And while I thought Twice as Clever’s lived up to its name providing double choices, Clever Cubed (Clever hoch Drei) is... well, not about triple choices but it does use the number three (Drei). The first two areas (the turqoise and the yellow ones) make use of the order of the three dice you use on your turn.
The yellow area contains three rows and you can cross the number in the first row with your first die, the one in the second row with your second die and so on. In the turqoise area you have 6x6 spaces for the 6 numbers; when you choose the turqoise die you check the other dice you have already chosen in your turn (as 1st/2nd dice) and you cross a space for every matching die as well. The blue (+white) area is, like purple before, about descending/ascending numbers, only this time you start from the middle and go to both directions (but only three numbers are okay: 1 higher than the highest, 1 lower than the lowest or back to 7). Brown simply takes clues from Qwixx: „you want to mark off as many numbers as possible, but you can mark off a number only if it's to the right of all marked-off numbers in the same row” (and you get a bonus for crossing two numbers next to each other). And any pink number can be chosen but you must make a decision: write the number (sometimes doubled) for score or only half of it for the bonus.
So, for blue and brown, if you want bonuses, you really need to roll specific numbers and even with yellow and turquoise you need to roll „more accurately” than before, so no wonder you get another new bonus action (that you may collect the possibility of, just like rerolls and +1 dice symbols) – using the dice as another number (a 3, a 4, a 5, a 6 and if you collected more, a few wilds as well). Probably it was planned like this from the beginning but it still feels a bit like an „oops, it’s too hard to get the necessary numbers by rerolls, so let’s find out something to help players” aid.
Overall, the game is still fine – I’m only at ten plays while I’m at over a quarter with the other Clever! boxes so maybe I still don’t know enough. And while I can understand why many might think this is the best box yet, I think right now it is my least favorite. That’s Pretty Clever! was unique because it was first and both Twice as Clever and the expansion scorepads felt like the designer was trying to make it even more balanced, more interesting, with less obvious recipes for highest scores. The design aim of Clever Cubed feels different, it’s more like an ’okay, the series is too successful so I need to make another one... Let’s experiment with the format’ one, and while the first two areas are really about the number 3 and the three die spaces, other areas just feel like a bunch of random (I’m not saying bad) ideas without much cohesion.
Also, something puts the game slightly off-balance for me, not in the sense that one area is strong and the other isn’t (though probably you won’t ever score much with pink as bonuses make the game). Since rolling specific numbers is key at quite a few areas, the first half of the game does not go that smooth and if you aren’t lucky with your rolls you just keep crossing numbers in the pink area as much as you can. Then you reach bonuses and you just find you get bonuses for nearly everything. The first game had 25 bonus action spaces (plus 5 foxes; the expansion had 27+5), Twice as Clever had 38 (+6 foxes) and now this one has 46 (+6)... While making chain reactions is the most satisfying part of the first games, here it does not feel like a big feat since you almost can’t avoid having lots of bonuses and overall that takes a bit away from the fun. Still, a nice one, but I guess I like the previous ones more. But varietas delectat.***
So that's where the series is now.
And it does not stop here, though it starts to feel it needs a bit of a fresh blood injection. And that’s exactly what it gets from a new game slated for this year.
Kannste Knicken is designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede (of Carcassonne fame, whose interest might have been piqued by that Pompeii-inspired Dizzle scorepad, but he already designed the non-R&W Mistkäfer for the series earlier) and Ralph Querfurth who co-designed quite a few EXIT games. It seems to bring new dimensions to the genre by adding... folding (the corners of) your scorepads to the mix! I think this designer duo will deliver – I’m looking forward to Kannste Knicken just as impatiently as I did for the previous installments of the Klein & Fein family.
- [+] Dice rolls
16 Sep 2020
I like quite a few complex games but to me, complexity does not equal quality. Following the ongoing online criticism Spiel des Jahres gets for awarding very light games (just recently on Hungarian facebook forums), but not only because of this, I decided to make a top 10 list about games I love or really like and are "very light" by BGG weight votes (max. 1.5). I excluded kids' games that I play a lot; it will be only about games I (also) like to play with adults and gamers. On the average even I like more complex games than these, but all the games I mention in this post got at least a 7, sometimes an 8 or even a 9 from me.
KLASK (2017 SdJ recommended)
All right, so a dexterity game gets the top spot; I guess I lost all credibility here. This magnetic mix of air hockey and bar billiard is huge fun in a small size (compared to those) and in one and a half year it became my most played game (which, of course, was helped by the 5- to 10-minute playtime but still). It's hugely addictive.
I have no clue how this game ended up with an 1.27 weight rating while comparable games are around 1.5 or higher (maybe it's because it got a popular new edition that looked attractive even for those who play modern complex games?). Whatever, For Sale is one of the bidding/auction game classics, the most Knizian non-Knizia (by Stefan Dorra).
Codenames (2016 SdJ winner) (+Codenames: Pictures and Codenames: Duet)
What can I say? It's a great game where both the clue giver and the players who try to decode the clues try to avoid risk (especially that damned assassin) while they are pressed to take risks (giving clues to/decoding as many cards as they can) because it's a race between two teams. Add the interesting association feature which requires a different way of thinking than most games before.
Escape: The Curse of the Temple (2013 SdJ recommended)
I know, for many, Magic Maze (the one that got even a SdJ nomination!) is the Escape killer. While I admire the novel core idea of that one, well, not for me. Yeah, Escape is about frantically rolling your dice for ten minutes, sometimes shouting to each other, but it's stressful and cooperative in a positive way. (Cooperation in Escape: "Please somebody help NOW!" Cooperation in Magic Maze: "Hey, can't you see we're waiting for you? Wake up!") Also, here you can be the adventurer.
Coloretto (2003 SdJ recommended)
Michael Schacht's classic card game, just like For Sale, was released in a time when small-box card games had no chance to win SdJ. No wonder it got a blown-up board game version a few years later, and Zooloretto indeed won SdJ although it could not come close to the geniality and elegance of the card game. Both this elegant and clever classic and For Sale are card games I am still ready to play with gamers any day.
And another card game - is it a coincidence that its board game adaptation Keltis won the Spiel des Jahres a year after Zooloretto? (Probably yes; Knizia already made a board game adaptation of another one of his card games in a similar fashion two years earlier - see Tibet). It's a clever card game with clever Knizian features and clever illustrations. It's often called a "couples' game" which is not entirely untrue - I usually play it with my wife and quite possibly she prefers it over the Keltis follow-ups I love.
Fauna (2009 SdJ nominee)
Okay, so enter a trivia game as well. Well, but this is by far the best trivia game I know, adding a little Euro spice and tactics to the mix. Probably theme also matters; I like Fauna way more than Terra (partly because I did not really like the way Terra simplified the scoring even further). When it comes to Friedemann Friese, it's hard to decide if I like Fauna or Power Grid more.
PitchCar (1996 SdJ special award: Dexterity Game)
I'm not sure what's more fun, building the racetrack (with a few expansions added) or playing the game itself, but this flicking + race game is real fun with kids and gamers alike, and the more the players the more fun it is.
The Mind (2018 SdJ nominee) / The Mind Extreme
Yeah, I know many enjoy hating this one but... As you can see from my older blogpost I was even somewhat rooting for The Mind to win over Azul. While Azul is nice and clever and pleasure to play, The Mind was truly innovative in its approach and through its revolutionary gameplay revelations it becomes a game that works despite all odds. On the other hand I (and not only me) have still played Azul a bit more than The Mind since, so maybe the jury was right. However, for those who say "The Mind is too easy, you just have to count in yourselves" The Mind Extreme provides additional challenges. (How do you count in yourselves when the ascending pile is at 10 and the descending one is already at 25?)
Ticket to Ride London (+New York and Amsterdam)
Ticket to Ride (Spiel des Jahres 2004) is probably still the best gateway game out there, and the small city versions are fine each. As the rules are practically the same I'm not sure how this one gets a much lower weight rating (okay, I agree it is slightly more luck-dependent) but whatever, I can't not list at least one of these in my top 10. And yes, New York and Amsterdam are also very good TtR fillers; I just find the London special rule might be the addition that fits the TtR spirit the most.
I chose my top 10(ish) but there are way more that I like to play with adults as well. This is a selection of some of the best ones. As you can see there aren't many strategy games among them; I love strategy/tactics but I don't believe only those qualify as board games or great games. There are lots of great party game, dexterity games, even speed (reaction) games out there...
As for party games, I did not list Dixit (SdJ winner) in the top 10 only because I've played it enough by now and don't really suggest playing it, but I'm still happy to play whenever my 10yo daughter asks. Just One (SdJ winner) is a fine mix of some ideas in Dixit and Codenames; indeed it's inferior to both BUT it's got some exceptional party game features: it's not only that you don't need a table to play, but it's also a game where anyone can join or leave the table mid-game and that won't break any strategies or cause any harm to the enjoyment of the game. Then there is Pictomania (Second Edition) which is a somewhat streamlined version of the original that got a SdJ recommendation; it is still a bit too fiddly for a party game but it's good fun. And yes, in the 90s and the beginning of the 2000s we played Time's Up/Word in Time quite a few times and I still think it's a fun party game (and it was a Deutsche Spielpreis nominee to schock those who prefer DSP over SdJ).
As for dexterity games, it seems I love flicking games: I really enjoy the western-themed, scenario-based Flick 'Em Up! (with focused players; otherwise it may get too long) and Crokinole. Stacking games like Animal upon Animal (SdJ recommended) and Junk Art (with lots of variety) are also great fun with anyone. And Bamboleo too, which is a kind of reverse stacking game: you try to take wooden pieces off the board.
I enjoy quite a few speed/reaction games as well; Spot it! is great fun even in pubs, Panic Lab is crazy while One Minute Game (Omiga/Flanxx) is a one-of-its-kind "speed shape recognition abstract strategy" or what, recommended for anyone.
And then there are lots of card games. Just like in case of For Sale, weight ratings feel a bit arbitrarily given by those who don't really play many card games to see the possibilities these offer. Of course there are really light ones like Love Letter (SdJ recommended) and Diamant/Incan Gold (SdJ recommended) that I enjoy, but I also think Linko!, Too Many Cooks and RevoltaaA are really good (and quite special) each.
And of course there are a few 'real' board games there as well, although few hardcore gamers would want to play a general toystore-game-looking roll and move: That's Life! (2005 SdJ nominee) uses the mechanism in a surprisingly clever way. I'm not sure why Indigo (2012 SdJ recommended) has a lower weight rating than Metro but well, it is listed as 'very light' and I think it's the best version of the Metro/Tsuro idea out there. And I'm ready to play FITS (2009 SdJ nominee) and its follow-up BITS any time.
Just a short note: in 2009,FITS was nominated for SdJ alongside Fauna - and Dominion, Pandemic and middle-of-the-road Finca. No wonder the award was split (into SdJ and KdJ) in the next year - not to award gamer's games, only to make a difference between simpler, beginner-friendly and 'next level' SdJ hopefuls.
Possibly I should also create a "my favorite complex games' list as well but BGG is full of these so I won't. If you'd like to list your favorite 'very light' games - even if you don't have ten - just use the 'advanced search (game weight between 1 and 1.5). Let me know your favorites!
- [+] Dice rolls
German Games of the Year (Kennerspiel des Jahres and Spiel des Jahres) announced - updated with results! Plus Knizia, the City Builder
20 Jul 2020
So the Spiel des Jahres ceremony is being held just now. As this award has way more effect on the gaming industry than any other awards, it is an award that does matter whether you agree with it or not. I was curious which games win (I have only played 1 of the KdJ and SdJ nominees each but also what kind of dress we might expect from Reiner Knizia who dressed as an adventurer for The Quest for El Dorado and, uhm, in a Llama for L.L.A.M.A..
Photo credit: W. Eric Martin
A city-building legacy game did not offer so interesting possibilities, I thought. But he managed it, using minimal dress and one of his trademark bowties.
Shot taken from the SdJ live stream, with a carefully positioned shelf full of awards
Also it was known the ceremony would not be the 200-guest event that it was before because of COVID-19; only designers and publishers were invited (and not even each of them were present). COVID-19 is also the main reason why I could try only Nova Luna and The Crew of the nominees so far. On the other hand COVID-19 might make (have made) family gaming more important than ever.
The ceremony started with a look back at the game that defined Eurogame as a genre and made the Spiel des Jahres logo more important than ever before: Catan, which celebrates its 25th anniversary now. While it may feel dated for experienced gamers now, it still lures many gamers to the hobby in 2020 so its importance is undisputable.
So the Kennerspiel des Jahres (which is the award for players with some experience, still not really a gamers' game award!) goes to the game I hoped would win even without playing the other two. The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine is a fantastic introduction to trick-taking card games for beginners - but also for those many gamers who think optimization Euros are the way to go and trick-taking card games are just too luck-dependent. With its missions and cooperative play it teaches clever play of your cards in an ingenious and really engaging way. It had to win, I felt, even though as a relatively small-box card game it had a disadvantage. Congrats to Thomas Sing and KOSMOS for the wonderful achievement!
For Spiel des Jahres my guess was either Nova Luna or My City would win. Pictures looks nice and I'm pretty sure it's fun to play but it still does not look very novel, and I guessed an enjoyable but still not that great party game winning last year meant the other two games have more chance.
Nova Luna is a fine mix of Uwe Rosenberg's Patchwork and Corné van Moorsel's Habitats, maybe not as great as each, but a fine game anyway, especially for the general crowd Spiel des Jahres is aimed at. It fits the group of (more or less) themeless games that had many fine nominees and winners in the SdJ history (games like Just4Fun, Bloxx, Splendor, Kingdomino, Azul). Reiner Knizia's My City is, on the other hand, a tile-laying legacy game with tetris-like pieces and a possibility to play the game any number of times after the legacy campaign is over. The latter and the beginner-and-family-friendly simplicity of the game makes the game a rare winner even if it does not feature many novel elements.
And the award goes to Pictures, much to my surprise (and it seems to the surprise - and, of course, delight - of the designers as well). Not questioning the decision of the jury, I just have to hunt down a copy and give it a try. Until then I just copy what the game is about here:Quote:Form the image on your secret picture card with one set of components, either shoelaces, color cubes, icon cards, sticks and stones or building blocks in such a way that the other players guess what image you have pictured:
Pull out a marker from the bag that determines your secret picture card.
Then form that image with your components in such a way that it is recognizable.
And finally guess what image each other player has pictured.
The players get points for correctly guessing other players images and for other players guessing their image.
Congrats to designers Daniela und Christian Stöhr for the win!
+ I think it's worth a mention that Kinderspiel des Jahres (Children's Game of the Year) was announced a few weeks earlier (and I'm a happy owner of the game). It went to Hedgehog Roll, an age: 4+... er... roll and move game, but of a cute and special kind: here you roll a hedgehog (suspiciously looking like a tennis ball) that collects mushroom, fallen leaves and apples and you move your figure based on the collected objects. It's got a coop mode (where you run from the fox) as well. It's lovely, enjoyable for small kids, an award much deserved. Congrats to designer Urtis Šulinskas and artist Irina Pechenkina for their game!
- [+] Dice rolls