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SPIEL '18 Preview: Pandoria, or Stand By Your Man's Region

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game: Pandoria
When you do what I do in the hobby game industry, you meet a lot of designers and publishers, and over time you develop relationships with them, even if they never quite reach the stage of friendship — or maybe they are friendships. I don't know. I'm a poor judge of such things.

That said, I do consider designer Jeffrey D. Allers a friend, so much so that I don't use the "D." when I talk with him. Sometimes I even call him "Jeff".

Jeff was writing for when I took over the site in November 2006, and I was delighted that he continued his monthly "Postcards from Berlin" series of articles into early 2010. (He's also continued the series on an irregular basis on Opinionated Gamers, with his Dec. 2016 post on how he interacts with refugees from the Middle East through the medium of games being especially good.)

We also have a small role in the fate of one of the Spiel des Jahres winners. As Chris Wray explained in his re-review of Qwirkle on Opinionated Gamers:

After Qwirkle was released in the United States, Susan's husband, Chris, started sending out review copies. He sent a copy to Scott Alden, founder of BGG, for use at one of the early BGG conventions. He also sent one to W. Eric Martin, who ran Boardgame News. Scott called Qwirkle the sleeper hit of 2006 on the Garrett's Games and Geekiness podcast, and Eric named Qwirkle his game of the year in 2007.

Scott and Eric's enthusiasm led to game designer Jeff Allers asking Eric to bring a copy of Qwirkle when he visited Berlin. Eric and his wife, Linda Formichelli, met Jeff and a few other game designers at Michael Schmitt's game café, Spielwiese, for the first-ever "After-Essen Party," which is now an annual event. Eric and Linda played Qwirkle with designers Thorsten Gimmler and Andrea Meyer. As Eric once wrote on Boardgame News, "Andrea made light of the game, as many do when they first hear the rules for Qwirkle ('That's all there is to it?'), but Linda and I crushed the two of them, with me barely eking out the win." As Eric has said, though Qwirkle's rules are simple, it is a game where experience matters.

As luck would have it, Thorsten Gimmler was an editor and product manager at Schmidt Spiele. He contacted MindWare about releasing the game in Germany, and he started working with them to do so. The German edition was published in 2010, giving it SdJ eligibility. Susan said, "I'm deeply grateful for the chain of events that led to Qwirkle being published by Schmidt Spiele. I think they’ve been the perfect publisher for Qwirkle in Germany."
Strange how things happen sometimes! Similarly, in 2016 Michael Schmitt from Spielwiese launched game publisher Edition Spielwiese, so you never know who you're going to meet that may turn up in a different role in the hobby years down the road. (Another example: The BGG user who added links to game listings for our Gen Con 2018 broadcast schedule turned up at my house to game for a few weeks in September 2018 after being driven out of his home due to Hurricane Florence. His hand is visible in the image below. Odd coincidence!)

From gallery of W Eric Martin
Note the handmade components!

In any case, ideally I'm being objective in this overview of Pandoria, a co-design between Allers and Irongames' Bernd Eisenstein that will debut at SPIEL '18. This 2-4 player game has a summary that hits the standard marks of a Eurogame — place tiles, collect resources, build stuff, score — yet the hook of the game comes in the slightly different way that such things happen.

In short, players add a tile to the board each turn, typically a double-hex terrain tile similar to those used in Ingenious, and you can place one of your people on one of the hexes of that tile. The terrain tiles give resources or points when a region is closed — that is, when it's completely surrounded by different terrains, the edge of the board, or lakes on the board — but it gives resources only to those people standing next to that region. If you're actually in the region that's closed, you're kicked out.

This small change to your gaming intuition — scoring adjacent regions and not the region you're in — drives a lot of interesting play as you sort of co-operate with others to close regions while of course not really co-operating at all. You're trying to eject their people from the board to both starve them of resources and prevent them from placing their leader, which can be placed on the board only after all your other pieces and which counts as two people. With the resources you collect, you cast one-time spells, build buildings that provide a permanent bonus, or build monuments that cover buildings but provide endgame points. Spells and buildings come from cards in your hand, and you can acquire new cards only if you close a region on your turn (and you have the gold needed to buy it). This requirement gives you an incentive to close regions as the cards provide great advantages during play, especially since you can't build a monument unless you already have a building in play to serve as its foundation.

Thanks for giving me an advance look at the game on this handmade prototype, Jeff, and best of luck at SPIEL '18!

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