GCL 189: The Early Rosenberg
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Over the past eight years, since the release of the seminal Agricola, Uwe Rosenberg has established himself as one of the most celebrated and popular game designers in the hobby. His titles are complex boardgames, deep, usually fairly long, often centered around worker placement, and frequently themed around harvesting. His games win awards, are very highly ranked, and are, for the most part, beloved. It's a remarkable legacy.

But what might be even more remarkable is that Rosenberg had to completely reinvent himself from his previous specialty (card games) to become the designer described above. The transformation was so drastic that many gamers are unaware of the things that Uwe created in the years before the 'Gric. Most know about Bohnanza, but that's about it. This Geeklist is a celebration of the early Rosenberg, who would have been considered one of the most innovative designers ever even if he had never designed Agricola and its ilk. Please feel free to comment about how you feel about these games and fill in any gaps I may have omitted.

Next up:

Kevin Whitmore
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1. Board Game Designer: Uwe Rosenberg
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Uwe Rosenberg was born in 1970 in Aurich, Germany. His first games were published while he was still carrying out his studies as a statistics student. These include Marlowe and Times in 1992 and Lifetime and Komme Gleich in 1996. (I'm a little uncertain about the publication date of Komme Gleich; the Geek lists it as a '96 design, but the only version shown is from 1999.) All of these are reasonably short and straightforward card games; not as mundane as yet another Rummy variant, but still pretty indistinguishable from the huge number of similar card games published in Germany every year. There was no real indication of the gaming sensation that Rosenberg was about to bring to the world.
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2. Board Game: Bohnanza [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:371]
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I suspect just about all of us have played "The Bean Game", but I wonder if people are aware of just how big this game was in its time. In 1997, one of the main delights of Essen was still the surprise of the unanticipated gem that takes the show by storm and Bohnanza was definitely the shocker that year. The "can't order your cards" mechanic, so simple and yet so audacious, was hugely admired and it was a game that everybody played. To say it was popular is an insane understatement--it was the #1 game on Funagain's Best Seller list for years and stayed in the Top 10 for a decade or so (for all I know, it's still there). And, of course, it led to about a jillion expansions and spinoffs.

I've always found it to be a fun game and excellently suited for play with more casual gamers. There is definitely a skill to playing the game well, which is as much social as strategic. It rarely comes out at my regular games group. I like the game and admire it enormously, but there are other early Rosenbergs I like more.
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3. Board Game: Bargain Hunter [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:2080]
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I know the game's entry is now Bargain Hunter, but this will always be Schnäppchen-Jagd to me. I've loved this game for a long time and consider it to be one of my two favorite 3-player trick takers (Flaschenteufel is the other one). In its time, it was very innovative--the idea of setting a different trump each trick was new and the scoring, while reminiscent of avoidance games like Sticheln, still felt fresh. Like so many of Rosenberg's card games, the strategy is far from straightforward. Playing well is a real challenge, without it being a brain-burner. The game was impossible to find in the States for a very long time, but that didn't stop it from being a regular part of the rotation in my games groups. Just a supremely clever and very enjoyable game.
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4. Board Game: Klunker [Average Rating:6.23 Overall Rank:3050]
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Another non-intuitive game from Uwe. What's a good play and what's a bad one? Hard to say, but you start to get a feel for what works once you've played it a few times. I absolutely hate the artwork on the cards, but the game has a strange appeal. I don't think it was a hit, but it used to get quite a lot of play in our group.
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5. Board Game: Mamma Mia! [Average Rating:6.48 Overall Rank:1282] [Average Rating:6.48 Unranked]
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More innovation from Rosenberg. It's a memory game which doesn't really require a good memory! Instead, a general idea of what's been played and good judgment about which cards to keep in your hand works just as well as a photographic memory. The game is fast, fun, and plays like nothing else. And the theme helps a lot. It got nominations from all three of the major awards (SdJ, DSP, and IGA), a sure sign that the gaming world was well aware of what Rosenberg was cranking out. Once again, this got regular play in my group for many years after its release.
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6. Board Game: Space Beans [Average Rating:6.08 Overall Rank:3051]
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It's got beans, but it doesn't have trading, so it's not really a Bohnanza spinoff. It never did much for me and rarely got played in my group, but I know there are some folks who really like it, so maybe we have some fans of the game who can tell us its good points.
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7. Board Game: Babel [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:1055]
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Another game I love. In fact, it's one of my favorite 2-player games. All kinds of scope for planning and clever play, dynamic moves and come-from-behind victories. Many complain that its too swingy and chaotic, but if you concern yourself more with your card position than with your current VP status (which I think is more indicative of how well you're doing), you'll realize that there's a good deal of control.

Two additional points about this. I play with a variant that I think really adds to the game and makes it much less likely the game will lock up. The other thing is that when Z-Man reprinted this last year, they changed the number of cards the players start with (it used to be 5 cards per player, but now the first player only gets 3 cards). That strikes me as a bad change and gives the second player an advantage. A 4-card hand for the first player might be okay, but I'm inclined just to keep things the way they were with the original game.
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8. Board Game: Bali [Average Rating:6.07 Overall Rank:6277]
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One of Rosenberg's least known early games and perhaps his strangest. It almost feels like a boardgame, in that there are four sites you can visit and each one has four cards at it. You can play cards to visit a site and use the cards there, replacing some as you do so. It has a very strange feel and is extremely unintuitive. But the game is unique and challenging. I could never quite wrap my head around it, but enjoyed playing it anyway. I've also seen some really clever plays from my opponents.

Bali has been almost totally forgotten. One reason may be that a good memory is really an asset and that's a turn-off to a lot of gamers (including me, although I made an exception in this instance). Another is it's just so hard to grasp the strategy. But I still consider it another highlight of Rosenberg's early career.
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9. Board Game: Bean Trader [Average Rating:5.80 Overall Rank:5766]
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Bali came out in 2001, so that's a five-year period where Rosenberg was absolutely at his peak and one of the best designers in the world. The next five years were pretty bleak ones for Uwe and his many fans. Bohn Hansa (clever name) was his first attempt at a boardgame and though it was a lot of fun with the right crowd, it didn't do well. Most of his other games were spinoffs of earlier games or very light or party games. It seemed as if our hero had only so many designs in him and had run dry, a fate that befalls quite a few designers. Little did we know that during those so-called barren years, Rosenberg had cocooned himself away, working on a completely different kind of game and that this card-playing caterpillar would emerge as a glorious butterfly in 2007, with the debut of Agricola. Like most of the rest of the gaming world, I love the new Uwe and adore his designs. But I still think back fondly on that caterpillar and play his early games every chance I get. Maybe some of you do too.
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10. Board Game: Troia [Average Rating:5.62 Overall Rank:11824]
Joe Huber

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Highlights of games played 5/5-5/11:

One thing I do, most years, is to create a list of the games I haven't played in too long - which for me, means that I didn't play them in the previous year. This list serves two purposes - it draws my attention to games I haven't played in too long a time, and it draws my attention to games I don't really need to keep in my collection. I'm working my way through the list; I've done all of the culling I expect, but there's more playing to catch up on. I'm currently down to 16 games on the list.

Troia (Joe=13) was one of the games on the list. It's by Thomas Fackler, one of the folks who seem to view games as works of art. (Wittig and Weissblum are other folks in this crowd, IMHO.) Troia is one of his more commercial designs, and I think is brilliant. I'm in a minority with this opinion, as the ranking suggests.

Tricks & Deserts (Joe=4) - while I'm still awaiting the card that will let me play with four, I'm still really enjoying this one. As Joe Rushanan notes, the game is much like Honeybears crossed with a trick taking game - and it works well, as such. The second winner from the Japanese trick taking box, for me.

Bohnanza Schnupperspiel (Joe=93, counting this as Bohnanza) - I was really curious about this. My curiosity has been sated.

Oswald B. Lord's Game of Politics (Joe=8) - Once I got hooked on Mr. President, I started looking for other election games. And, generally, came away disappointed. But I found the board for this game in an antique store, tracked down the parts to play - and discovered a very clever game. That was then neutered in it's 1950's edition, unfortunately. Play the original.

7 Symbols, and 7 Nations (Joe=3) - winner #3 from the Japanese trick taking box. And, on the whole, sufficient reason to keep the box. However, I'm _not_ convinced the game will hold up with 3 players - all three of my plays have been as a partnership game, and I think it shines there. While it's the third that's hit the "keeper" label for me, it still might end up being my favorite of the lot...

Starship Catan (Joe=17) - another one off of the "unplayed since 2013" list.

Puerto Rico (Joe=84) - another one off of the "9s and 10s unplayed in 2015" list. And boy, do I prefer the cleanness of the original design to the anniversary edition.

Die Steven Seagal (Joe=40) - Having whetted Geoff's appetite for a trick taking game, but having five, we pulled out this classic. In the first hand, no one took Steven - haven't seen that happen often.
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11. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:50]
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skippen's Week(s) that Was/Were:



Face 2 Face Games:
Race for the Galaxy x8 -- recently sat down again to play this one, and I have finally managed to enjoy it. I also taught my wife at a local brew house as we waited for pizza, and she both understood my explanation, and was not overwhelmed by the icons (which I now have to agree are pretty darn good).
The Witcher Adventure Game -- I do enjoy this one, but after 2 plays now, I will say, 3 or less for sure, and regardless how many you are playing with, settle in for a a long game.

PBEM/Web (started):
Race for the Galaxy -- playing on boardgamearea. Pretty slick.


PBEM (in progress):
Lots of games going on stuck at the moment due to my being sick for the past week and my getting ready and being at ReaperCon.

Advanced Squad Leader -- Toothless Tiger with Ron. He awaits my movement.
Advanced Squad Leader -- Bread Factory #2 vs. Luke, but I think he dropped our game.
Reluctant Enemies
Case Blue
Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar
The Castles of Burgundy
Thunderstone
Roads to Gettysburg -- vs. Patrick, but I think we are done. I think he gave up on my slowness as I passed the file back a couple weeks ago. Sad skippen.
Great Campaigns of the American Civil War -- Atlanta is Ours playtest with Chris. We are ready to get going again. Almost done. I have just been sick.
Great Campaigns of the American Civil War -- Atlanta is Ours playtest with Brad. Waiting on me to start again.

PBEM (finished):


Acquisitions from the Collection:
My wife broke me game buying hiatus, so that is ok by me. We stopped in a new local FLGs where an old employee of her owns and picked up a few games.

Jaipur
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game – The Lost Realm


Departures from the Collection


On the nightstand (currently reading):
The Murder of Roger Aykroyd, by Agatha Christie
Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson
Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood

In the life and Times of skippen: Well, a lot has gone on. I have been to and back from ReaperCon (which then got the con crud from which has sucked, and it has been years since I have gotten con crud). While there, I took a plethora of miniature painting classes, entered 3 items into the contest, and managed to take home 2 bronzes. Not as good as I wished, but hey, it was first time. This is chronicled here if you are interested: http://dwarfpainter.com/2015/05/05/my-very-first-reapercon/, and other adventures of ReaperCon are noted there.

Other than that, nothing other recovering from a cold which has taken longer than normal. Gaming due to my Gathering of Fiends trip in April and ReaperCon two weeks later has been on a hiatus to be with the wife. I expect to be back to gaming next week.
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12. Board Game: Duel of Ages II [Average Rating:7.50 Overall Rank:972]
John Bandettini
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London
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Tuesday night at LoB


After owning it for 18 months finally managed to get Duel of Ages II to the table. A four player two teams skirmish and it was a lot of fun. I ended up with an all female team of three, one that really kicked ass. Though I am not sure how they determined that my great hulking cyborg was female.

My team took out four of the other team whilst only losing two ourselves. The game ended with the two remaining characters on the other side cowering in their headquarters while our team was camping outside waiting for them to come out. A win for my team.

We then played Grog Island, a light quick and IMO rather clever little auction game. I was quite lucky with the initial scoring cards getting two copies of the Yellow Island majority scoring card. I made sure of taking control of the yellow island taking three of the buildings and locking another couple. It paid off as that plus a few building cards saw me finish on 30 points for the win. A rare game that I have so far been very consistent at, with three wins in four games.

Finished off the evening with Rent a Hero, a Japanese hipster game that was not total rubbish, not that great either. File under, once is enough.


I usually manage two game nights a week, but I sacrificed my other session as my good friend Leonie AKA
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was in town with her husband and children. I took them down to Canary Wharf for the evening to have a look around and have dinner together.
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13. Board Game: Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:124] [Average Rating:7.62 Unranked]
Jason Lott
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I still have to finish my big geeklist on games played from the weekend, but thought I'd at least post this here as a preview.

Acquired:

We were at the Oops! Outlet recently and I went ahead and picked up two super-cheap games:

Travel Blog
Stack Market

Plays:

These are my face-to-face plays from 4/10 - 5/11:

Red7 4
Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game 3
BANG! The Dice Game 2
Pandemic: The Cure 2
The Phantom Society 2
Alea Iacta Est 1
Camel Up 1
Cards Against Humanity 1
Cards Against Humanity: First Expansion 1
Cards Against Humanity: Second Expansion 1
Cards Against Humanity: The Bigger, Blacker Box 1
Cards Against Humanity: Third Expansion 1
Cards Against Humanity: Fourth Expansion 1
Carnival 1
Dampfross 1
David & Goliath 1
Diamonds 1
Dominion 1
Dominion: Black Market Promo Card 1
Dominion: Dark Ages 1
Dominion: Hinterlands 1
Dominion: Intrigue 1
Dominion: Prosperity 1
Dominion: Seaside 1
Elfenland 1
Fürstenfeld 1
Fzzzt! 1
Gloria Picktoria 1
King of Tokyo 1
King of Tokyo: Halloween 1
King of Tokyo: Power Up! 1
Mutant Meeples 1
Pick Picknic 1
Qwixx 1
Sentinels of the Multiverse 1
Skull 1
Take It or Leave It 1
Torres 1
You Suck 1

Other than CAH, all the rest of the games were from just one weekend with my family! Stay tuned for the saga in geeklist form.

I'll just say now that Legendary was the big winner for me - not one I expected to like as much as I did. I kept asking to play it again!
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14. Board Game: Deus [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:304]
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Last Saturday was my final boardgaming opportunity for a while--the games group is taking their one break for the year and then I'll be getting together with my old Bridge gang for consecutive weeks. So it was nice to get in four good games. Uncharacteristically, I actually won three of them!

Deus: My second time playing this. I struggled with my first play, but I had a much better idea of what to do this time and eked out a narrow victory. I scored in a lot of different areas, which is kind of what this game requires (even though you want to focus on a type of building, to get the multiple benefits, you're limited in how many buildings of each type you can construct). I definitely have a greater appreciation for the game now and list it in my top 10 for 2014. It really is mostly multi-player solitaire, but at least it's MPS with interesting decisions, as opposed to, say, Historia, which I played the week before and struck me as mundane MPS.

Endeavor: I've always liked Endeavor, but much prefer it with lower numbers of players, so I was happy to play it this time with 3. So what's the truer sign that you don't grok a game: when you lose by a ton, but at least realize that you didn't have a chance, or if you assume your play has doomed you, but you wind up winning anyway? The latter is what happened here. I thought I played like dogcrap for the entire game, always reacting, always feeling a step behind. So I was truly shocked to find out I had won (and by a reasonable margin). I'm still not quite sure what happened, other than that cards that yield VPs, but no other benefit, are more powerful than I had thought they were. Quite the surreal experience, but it was good to play this title again. Maybe the next time I play, I'll do well and know why I did!

The Castles of Burgundy: Burgundy is one of my favorites, a top 20 game, and thankfully one that gets a good deal of play. We played with 3 and it was close throughout. I usually like to focus on ships and go first if I can, but one opponent went crazy with that approach and locked up going first from wire to wire. I don't think I've ever seen anyone go that aggressively after ships. Ultimately, it worked, as he beat me by about 5 VPs. Great game, as always.

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar: I love Tzolk'in, but really struggle to play it well, or even competently. I just find the level of lookahead necessary to succeed to be very difficult to do. This time, my initial tiles included two advances on the Agricultural track, so I decided to go in that direction and milk it for all it was worth. That translated to a Temple strategy. I pushed to the third stage on the Ag track early on and then repeatedly used it to convert a resource into an advance on a temple. I wound up leading on the Yellow and Green temples for the entire game. Other than making a couple of sacrifices on Chichen Itza, that was just about all my points. My strategy was so single-minded that until the last turn, I hadn't bought a single building or monument and I hadn't advanced on any other tech track (and the things I did on the last turn only gave me a few points). But it turned out to be successful, as I won by about 5 VPs. I think my Keep It Simple Stupid methodology helped me and I'll have to think about a similarly streamlined approach in my future games. But it was really nice to play this great game and not only be competitive, but win!
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15. Board Game: Troyes [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:67]
Froggy McFrogface
United States
FORT COLLINS
CO
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When green is all there is to be, it could make you wonder why. But why wonder? I'm green, and it'll do fine: it's beautiful, and I think it's what I want to be.
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May 4 - 10
Troyes: May 5 - Once & Future Gamers. Gary, Lenny, & Matt

Matt had been wanting to play this game with Gary for awhile, and since none of us were really prepared for Greenland, we played this. Gary was not a fan.

This session was on a Tuesday; on Thursday, we left for a big trip to Mexico!
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16. Board Game: Evolution [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:330]
Chester
United States
Temple
Texas
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Games Played (5/3 - 5/9)

The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game x5
We continue our journey through the scenarios. At the time we played these, I think we had gotten to Conflict at the Carrock (which is known to be on the difficult side). We lost a couple times, then (without changing the decks from what we'd BEEN playing) we adjusted our playing strategy. Part of it also comes down to being lucky in which hero is captured at the beginning of the game.

Ultimately we defeated it twice, allowing us (by my rules) to move on the next mission.

Evolution x1
This one didn't feel particularly well balanced, but it was thematic and fun, and didn't overstay its welcome. I enjoy evolution games, but this one was less appealing than some others I've played. Not a big fan of having to single out a victim for each predator, but again the game plays quickly and there are other ways to score points even if you manage to wipe out a species.

Smash Up x1
I wanted this game to have more than this. I've played it before. Its definitely better as a game with multiple players, but still not enough to justify playing it more (for me).
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