How to win a Kniziathon
Tim Shippert
United States
Richland
Washington
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Last weekend, at Gamestorm 9 in Portland OR, I was fortunate enough to win the Kniziathon (http://www.convivium.org.uk/kgkniziathon.htm). Afterwards, people would ask me how I did it, and my initial reaction was, "I don't know." I played a lot of Knizia games and won a couple of them, but I'd also stunk up the place more than once. And while I met the second place finisher, Tom Powers, in a couple of my games, I never played with third-place Zontziry Johnson (who, incidentally, is also in my game group at home) at all, at least during the Kniziathon itself. So, while there's probably many ways to do well in a Kniziathon, here's a geeklist exploring how I did it, the games I played, and general thoughts about the Kniziathon experience.

I'd like to thank Chris Brooks for running the Kniziathon and the selfless, overworked volunteer staff that made Gamestorm a great con. I'd also like to apologize for not giving the names of the great people I played with; I neglected to write them down, an oversight I will correct at future cons.

Final Kniziathon score: 136
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1. Board Game: Tigris & Euphrates [Average Rating:7.70 Overall Rank:96]
Board Game: Tigris & Euphrates
Tim Shippert
United States
Richland
Washington
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I call do-overs!

The way a Kniziathon works is you play a bunch of Knizia games, and total the points you get for each, based on your position and the "weight" of the game. If you play a game more than once, only your best score counts. Thus, it pays more to play many Knizia games rather than the same one over and over - which is good, because why do a Kniziathon if you don't want to cram in as many Knizia games as you can? T&E was the only game I played in more than one session, and I did benefit from the replay: my first game I came in last, and my second game I came in first, both times with three players. But this kind of point grubbing was mostly incidental; I signed up for both sessions just to make sure I got into one, and I would have given up my seat if somebody else needed it. But we had multiple copies of the game, and playing T&E multiple times is a worthy end unto itself - especially since I had only played once before, about 10 years ago - so I probably would have replayed this one even without the Kniziathon.

This is a deep game where I feel like I'm reacting rather than planning; in the second game I was able to grab a bunch of green tiles at the end during an external conflict that got me the last treasure and ended the game. I ended up winning on the second tie-break, with the green tiles the difference. I would like to claim it was brilliant strategy, but the best I can say is that I did recognize what to do when the green tiles came up.

Weight:4
Position: 1 of 3
Kniziathon points: 20

 
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2. Board Game: Amun-Re [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:395]
Board Game: Amun-Re
Tim Shippert
United States
Richland
Washington
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Winning isn't everything

This is on my lifetime "nickel" list, and I was happy to have a chance to play this again. Unfortunately, the player to my left bigfooted me out of a couple key provinces in the New Dynasty, starting a downward money/point spiral that left me in last place. Some Knizia "expert" I turned out to be.

So, losing a game badly obviously doesn't disqualify you from contention in the Kniziathon, even with a heavyweight game. You never actually lose points, so play a lot and you can cover some stinkfests.

Weight:4
Position: 5 of 5
K-points: 4
 
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3. Board Game: Quo Vadis? [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:2288]
Board Game: Quo Vadis?
Tim Shippert
United States
Richland
Washington
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The game's the thing

This game was a blast. We had five guys who caught on quickly and we steamed through one game with enough time to play a second. A negotiation game like this requires that everybody be in the right frame of mind, and we all were - lots of good-natured finger-pointing and complaining and negotiating and weaselling in and out of deals, played at warp speed with a bunch of great people. Absolutely the best experience of the con for me.

This game has a K-weight of 3, which I think is too high; the guidelines suggest "3" games should be an hour long, and this group could have finished three games in that time. The speed helped me in another way, too, by allowing me to play a second game, which I won. I would suggest that anybody who wants to compete seriously in a Kniziathon include a few games of this. The K-point to effort ratio is probably as high as any game in Knizia's catalog - and it's pretty fun, too.

Weight:3
Position: 1 of 5
K-points: 18

 
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4. Board Game: Palazzo [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:2018]
Board Game: Palazzo
Tim Shippert
United States
Richland
Washington
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Winning is something, though

This was maybe my fifth or sixth time playing this fun and lightweight game. I was stunned when I actually won, because I had no 5 story buildings, which is usually the kiss of death (especially if others do). But an early ending just after I reconstructed into two homogenous 4-buildings was enough to put me over the top.

This is another game with a K-weight of 3, which puts it on par with Taj Mahal and Ra. I just can't see that, even if (or especially if) the weightings are supposed to represent time commitment rather than some abstract measure of actual weightiness. There's no way this game should take more than 45 minutes, even with new, slow players (one of which we had).

Weight: 3
Position: 1 of 4
K-points: 15

 
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5. Board Game: Taj Mahal [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:473]
Board Game: Taj Mahal
Tim Shippert
United States
Richland
Washington
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Numbers Matter

I was the only one of the five of us who had played before; this is not quite a "nickel" for me yet. With two full tables signed up, it fell to me to explain most of the game as it went along, and I found myself not paying a great deal of attention to actually playing, at least at first. I ended up going for resources (i.e. elephants and octogons), which I think is a much easier strategy to figure out than trying to form city-chains. So I was surprised that none of the others were doing the same thing - at least until later, once they saw how many points I racked in by picking up my sixth tea and fourth rice. In the end, however, one other player had kept control of the +2 card most of the game, managed to grab the +4 Agra token, and ended up acing me out by one point by having an extra white card at the end. One thing about the elephant strategy is that you don't win a lot of cities and thus don't pick up a lot of bonus cards. So you have to rely on the other players to grab those two yellows and steal the +2 card away from the guy who has it, and the only times that happened he stole it right back.

Does this really have a K-weight of only 3? I feel it is one of Knizia's deepest and most strategic games, and certainly stacks up with Amun Re. The Kniziathon guidelines suggest that the 4-weight games are those that last over an hour, and I really think Taj Mahal qualifies on that score. It certainly lasted long enough to make me miss the game of Cities and Knights I had scheduled.

A five player Knizia game also hits some K-point sweet spots - the position points go 6, 5, 3, 2, 1 for first through fifth place, which means coming in second in a five-player game nets you as many points as winning a 4-player game (which go 5, 4, 2, 1). As long as you can avoid third or worst most of the time, these five player games are a great way to rack up the K-points.

Weight: 3
Position: 2 of 5
K-points: 15
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6. Board Game: Blue Moon City [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:663]
Board Game: Blue Moon City
Tim Shippert
United States
Richland
Washington
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Pack your schedule

This game fits a nice niche of 45-minute games that take some thought to play but not a lot to learn. Most of the time I see at least one player try to close the others out of their buildings, which I think is usually a mistake; you get more bang for your buck if you spread your contributions around and give the other players a reason to finish buildings for you. The difference in reward between winning a building and merely contributing is not that much, especially later when the neighborhood is built up.

The main reason I played this game at the con was that it fit nicely into my schedule. Pickup games do count towards the Kniziathon, but most of the games I played I signed up for ahead of time, and that was a good way to make sure I packed as many Knizia games in as I could. I like the game, but I don't know if I would have gone out of my way to play without the Kniziathon. On the other hand, because it plays so quick, it probably sees a lot of pickup play, so who knows.

Weight: 3
Position: 1 of 4
K-points: 15

 
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7. Board Game: Ra [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:180]
Board Game: Ra
Tim Shippert
United States
Richland
Washington
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Experience counts, but not that much

This was the only Kniziathon game on my lifetime "dime" list. With three experienced players and one newbie, "Ra" was called a lot less often than I was used to, so it was easier to get larger sets. This benefits people with the high numbers (the low number folks should call Ra quite often), but I don't know if that actually made a difference or if I'm just complaining because I never got the really high Sun tiles. I was able to get 7 monuments by the middle of the second round, and actually passed up a chance to get the 8th because I was waiting for a flood. In the end that might have cost me, as my chief rival did complete his 8th in round 3, making it impossible for me to catch up at the end.

On some level, playing games you know well seems like a waste of good convention gaming time. Why bother playing a game you get to play all the time anyway, unless you are grubbing for easy Kniziathon points? But because Ra is an auction game, it depends a lot on group think, and thus it provides a different experience at a con than at home. And while an experienced player probably has an advantage, it's not an overwhelming one.

Weight: 3
Position: 2 of 4
K-points: 12

 
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8. Board Game: Modern Art [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:222]
Board Game: Modern Art
Tim Shippert
United States
Richland
Washington
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Do the math

This is another game I'd previously played just once, and that was almost 15 years ago, with the original German edition. I liked it, but my group (which was my family, back then) didn't, and I never got around to bringing it out again. So I was happy to have a chance to play this again, with (presumably) people who would appreciate it.

I thought the other players were bidding too high for many paintings - once you go above 50% of the likely value, you are making more money for the auctioneer than for yourself, which seemed like a losing strategy.

I finished in fourth place out of five, which shows what I know; in retrospect, it seems obvious that spending 40 to make 60 or whatever is not a bad outcome for you, as long as you get a similar payoff when you auction. A tougher question is when it makes sense to buy your own paintings; it seems clear that usually you want to sell, to get more money and to get another guy working with you. But the eventual winner bought his own painting towards the end, which was a key move since he won by less than 10 bucks out of 500.

Weight: 3
Position: 4 of 5
K-points: 6

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9. Board Game: Dragon Parade [Average Rating:5.78 Overall Rank:8027]
Board Game: Dragon Parade
Tim Shippert
United States
Richland
Washington
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Don't hate the player...

This was a mini-tournament for this new game from Z-man. I wasn't even going to play, but I wandered over while waiting for Winner's Circle (aka Royal Turf) to start, and Dr. Knizia himself asked me if I was going to play. So what could I do?

This is a fun, light filler-type game, although with five players and five rounds it might take the better part of an hour. You play cards that move the Chinese dragon parade back and forth, and try and put your merchants close to where you think the dragon will end up after four rounds of card play. So there's some guessing what kind of cards the others have in their hands based on how they play, and it was kind of interesting seeing where things actually end up.

For this tournament, the winner at each table got to keep the signed copy of the game we played with. Which brings up a similar problem with the Kniziathon: I'm not used to caring very much how I do in any particular game. If somebody beats me by being skillful or lucky, or screws me up with some move, what do I care? Well, if there's a larger context to the game, such as a metagame like the Kniziation or a prize for the tournament, suddenly I have a reason to care. When the dragon lands right on your guy because somebody had a red 2 rather than a yellow 2, that's my signed copy of the game you are taking from me! So, in both this tournament and the Kniziathon in general, I made an effort not to think like that and to just enjoy the experience. The Kniziathon is like any other game: it's the playing and not the winning that's important, although you might as well try to win.

This game is new enough that its weight isn't yet listed in the Kniziathon notes. From my total, I think it must have been a weight 1, although I think once you do 5 rounds it probably should be a 2. Regardless, I was the guy who got lucky when the parade landed on my guy, and I ended up winning and keeping the coveted signed copy. I think Z-man lost a sale there, because I would probably have bought it anyway.

Weight: 2
Position: 1 of 4
K-points: 10

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10. Board Game: Through the Desert [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:515]
Board Game: Through the Desert
Tim Shippert
United States
Richland
Washington
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Play the favorites

Every time I get to play this game (and it's been several years), I'm amazed at how much elegant game play is packed into the playing time. Even with five players, including one newbie who required a rules explanation, we finished in under 40 minutes. Several of us managed to block off sizeable areas, but I actually had two such areas; the total number of spaces was about the same as the others, but that also gave me two long caravans and I was able to cash both of them. I also got to all the reasonably close oases, and in the end I was more than 10 points ahead of my closest competitor.

People would ask me what my favorite game of the Kniziathon was, and I would think of the great time I had playing Quo Vadis and what an excellent heavyweight game Taj Mahal is. But in the end I might just give the nod to Through the Desert; it hits the mark it is shooting at so perfectly. Playing games like this, that I love and don't get a chance to play often, is really the point of participating in the Kniziathon.

Weight: 3
Position: 1 of 5
K-points: 18

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11. Board Game: Pickomino [Average Rating:6.56 Overall Rank:1274]
Board Game: Pickomino
Tim Shippert
United States
Richland
Washington
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Point grubbing for fun and profit

The game of Through the Desert ended with 20 minutes left to go in the Kniziathon, and one of my friends grabbed this game and claimed we had just enough time to squeeze it in. And she was right - ring up those three extra points, baby!

A quick filler, with some decisions and a lot of luck, that plays quickly and is a good time. (I do have trouble with worm-based arithmetic, though - I keep thinking they should be worth "6"). There are dozens of games that fit this niche, but more good ones are always appreciated, to play at the end of the evening or while waiting for the other table to finish or just to introduce to your grandmother or something.

Weight: 1
Position: 2 of 3
K-points: 3

 
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12. Board Game: Unpublished Prototype [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:2947]
Board Game: Unpublished Prototype
Tim Shippert
United States
Richland
Washington
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I also had the opportunity to playtest with Herr Knizia on Sunday morning; this wasn't part of the Kniziathon, as everybody got the chance to sign up for one of the several sessions, and I got lucky enough to be selected at random for one.

We (three lucky gamers and Reiner and his British friend, who I'm sorry to say I've forgotten the name of) actually playtested two games. One was an abstract that was very close to being finished, and there wasn't a lot of feedback to give on that one. But the second game was in the early stages of development, and while there were some problems with the game play, the big issue was with the theme, and we had a really interesting discussion about that. I've always thought Knizia's games get a bad rap for being "themeless"; while he doesn't make simulations, elements of games like "Ra" are clearly informed by the theme. Monuments and dynasties and farmland last forever, while floods and money and the favor of the Gods are fleeting.

The issue in this game was trying to figure out what the players actions were supposed to represent; in general you just placed a tile on your turn, but the effects of that tile placement didn't really fit our thematic understanding of what was happening. So we had a long discussion of possible changes in the theme, or changes in the game play or scoring mechanisms, to try and make the game work. Reiner mentioned that, from experience, he knows that when they find the right theme, that will direct the way the gameplay evolves, which will probably solve the play problems we were having.

It will be interesting to see if I even recognize the game when it finally gets published; I suspect the scoring mechanism, at least, will find its way into some published game in some way or another. I wish I could be privvy to all further discussions and permutations of this game as it develops, as I think that would be really interesting. At any rate, it was a wonderful opportunity to see how a game designer works.
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