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Subject: Auf der Reeperbahn: Terrific Knizia Game for Two rss

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Stven Carlberg
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Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb zwei: The oddly lengthy German title of this game arises via the equally lengthy title of a German movie from 1954: Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb eins. If you know any German at all, you know that eins is one and zwei is two, and in this phrase they are numbers o'clock, referring to the wee hours in Hamburg's famous legal redlight district. I'm not sure what the variation is supposed to convey, the two instead of the one. Maybe because the game is for two players?

This review will be an enthusiastic one. Apparently only about one person in five who tries this game likes it, but some of us REALLY like it. For such a quick game, the rules are stunningly complicated, so you can easily spend more time learning how to play than actually playing your first game -- which can detract from first impressions! But I urge you to persevere. Once you know what you're doing, this is a delightful game!



The week it arrived here from Germany, I played Auf der Reeperbahn fifteen times, thirteen of those with my girlfriend. At first I, the more experienced gamester, won against her steadily, but she soon caught on and has won three of the last six. This is about the same number of games it took her to catch on to Schotten-Totten, an acknowledged classic -- but we didn't have so much enthusiasm that we played all thirteen games of Schotten-Totten in the first week.

Several times she remarked that the game is like chess. Eventually I saw her point. Obviously it's not a LOT like chess, but there are some flavorful similarities: There are several different kinds of pieces, each with its own peculiar rules for movement. You can be beaten by one final, decisive move, like a checkmate, so you try to stay on guard against possibilities a turn or two ahead.

But, surprisingly, this is also a card game! That's what makes it fascinating. You can't do more than your cards let you do. Sometimes the most powerful move you can make is not at the top of your priority list. It's important to seize and exploit the initiative, but it's essential to reply to your opponent's moves as well.

THE RULES:

It's almost too complicated to explain. In fact, I'm tempted to say: The rules are in the box. They're complicated. Go learn them.

But several people have said they've had trouble learning the game from the rules as written, so I'm going to take a stab at explaining them from a different angle. (Wish me luck.)

The board set-up:

There are six pieces in play, set up at the beginning near the center of the board as illustrated in the rules. The players take turns moving them, their choices limited by the cards they hold. It's a 17-space board marked in the middle with a manhole. The pieces only move in two directions, forwards and backwards. Generally speaking you want to attract the pieces toward your end of the board.

The cards:

Each player gets eight cards. There are four different colors of cards. On your turn you can play only one color, but you can play as many cards of this color as you wish, then refill to eight at the end of your turn. You can only play a card if you can play the full number value of it on the board. The card distribution makes it so at times you make big, dramatic moves and other times you make feeble, desperate moves.

The four colors of cards correspond to the four types of figures on the board:

goo
Green for Brilli-Lilli (known in the American edition as "Saucy Sue," though a better translation would have been "Diamond Lil").

gulp
There's another green figure on the board, too, Schampus-Charly (translated exactly as "Champagne Charlie"), but it's not the cards that move him. More about that in a minute.

ninja goo ninja
Grey for Brilli-Lilli's bodyguards. This is a good time to explain that the bodyguards always stay on opposite sides of Brilli-Lilli. Any move that would move a bodyguard onto the same space as Brilli-Lilli, or past Brilli-Lilli, or any move that would move Brilli-Lilli onto the same space as a bodyguard, or past a bodyguard, is illegal and cannot be made.

kiss
Red for die Rote Lola (which means "Red Lola," and the color association could help you remember her, but they call her "Dancing Deb" in the American edition).

meeple
Yellow for the accordion player, der Blonde Hans, which, as even a monolinguist could guess, means "Blonde Hans." (Nevertheless the American rules-writer refers to him as "Handsome Hal.") Hans and Schampus-Charly, by the way, are the central characters in the Auf der Reeperbahn movie from which the game takes its name.

The game's goal lines:

The last two spaces at each end of the board constitute each player's "nightclub." You can imagine yourselves, if you like, as having two competing nighteries across the street from each other, 13 spaces separating.

+ To achieve the "checkmate"-style win, your goal is to get one of the two GREEN figures to step into your nightclub: either Brilli-Lilli or her chum Schampus-Charly.

+ Failing that, the deadline for victory is the draw pile running out for the second time. At that moment the winner is the player who has Brilli-Lilli on their half of the board.

(If Brilli-Lilli is exactly in the middle, Schampus-Charly's position breaks the tie; so far we've only seen this come into play once. So let me emphasize the important thing: When the deck runs out the second time, it's over, and you win if Brilli-Lilli, the GREEN lady, is anywhere on your half of the board.)

Since one of your options is to spend your turn discarding as many cards as you want and refilling to eight, if you're near the bottom of the deck on the second time through and Brilli-Lilli is on your side of the board -- even just one space on your side of the board -- grab your chance to end the game!

What you do on your turn:

Okay, I've warned you this was complicated. Here, aside from discarding and refilling to eight, are your many options.

Green cards: All green cards are 1's. When you play one green card, you move Brilli-Lilli one space. But when you play a pair of green cards, you have a choice between (a) moving Brilli-Lilli two spaces and (b) moving Brilli-Lilli and her two bodyguards one space each. Remember you can play as many green cards as you wish on your turn; you can use some for (b) and some for (a) on the same turn if you wish.

Grey cards: Grey cards move just the bodyguards. There are two special cards which draw both bodyguards right next to Brilli-Lilli, wherever she is on the board. Also there are 1's and 1+1 cards, where each 1 is a single space of movement for a single bodyguard, but these can be divvied up between the two bodyguards however you like. Any or all of the three kinds of grey cards can be played on the same turn.

Yellow cards: These come in 1's, 2's, and 3's, and can only be used to move der Blonde Hans. (That's the simplest sentence I'm going to write in this entire explanation.)

Red cards: These come in numbers from 1 to 5, and there are also two special cards showing the manhole cover which are used to move die Rote Lola back to the center of the board. As with all the cards, you can play as many red cards on your turn as you wish, so you might play the manhole cover first to get Lola off your opponent's half of the board and then additional red cards to get her closer to your own nightclub.

However, the red cards may also be used as wild cards, but ONLY WHEN the red Lola is currently situated closer to you on the board than the green Brilli-Lilli. When using them as wild cards, you can play more than one of them on a turn (and you can even use the manhole cover card), but you can only use them on ONE TYPE of figure on that turn, that is, (a) on Blonde Hans, (b) on Brilli-Lilli, or (c) on one or both of the bodyguards. (They cannot be used on Schampus-Charly, who as mentioned earlier is not moved by cards. Also they cannot be used on the red Lola herself on the same turn they are being used as wild cards.) However, note that if you use a wild card to move Brilli-Lilli and that causes the board situation to change so that Brilli-Lilli is no longer farther away from you than the red Lola (even if they are now both on the same square), your power to move Brilli-Lilli with further red cards is now gone.

You also have the power, instead of playing any cards at all, to attract Brilli-Lilli or one of her bodyguards to the square where der Blonde Hans is standing. (This power does not work on Schampus-Charly and does not work on die Rote Lola, who, as the rules tell us, is "onto Hans' little game.") The rule about Brilli-Lilli always having to be bounded by the bodyguards still applies when you do this.

Finally, here's the only way Schampus-Charly moves. AFTER you have made your move with the cards or with the power of der Blonde Hans, you look at the board position and move Schampus-Charly one space closer to your end of the board for each of these situations: (a) a bodyguard is in your club, (b) die Rote Lola is in your club, (c) der Blonde Hans is in your club, (d) Brilli-Lilli and both her bodyguards are on your half of the board. Since one way to win is to get Schampus-Charly into your club, it's a strong threat to achieve any of these situations and an even stronger threat to get more than one of them at the same time, so this pretty much demands a response when it happens.

END OF RULES EXPLANATION.

Wow. I did warn you these were complicated. And all this for a game that's going to take 10-20 minutes!

But once you learn the rules and run through a few games, you'll see what a wonderful web of possibilities they weave.

The punch and counterpunch of the tactics are fascinating. Since you've got four colors and eight cards, the worst your hand can be is to have exactly two cards of every color; usually there's a color you're stronger in, and it behooves you to spend a lot of cards at once in hopes of refilling with cards of a different color so that you can keep moving from strength to strength. But sometimes your opponent will put up a threat -- getting one of the figures all the way into his nightclub so he can move Schampus-Charly, for example -- that cannot be ignored, even if your cards to get that figure back out and onto the street are few and weak. At the same time the special powers of the red cards as wild and of der Blonde Hans to move figures without even HAVING any cards are a dangerous counterpoint which demand keeping a constant eye on the positions of the red and yellow figures. Sometimes you're facing two or three threats and you have to decide which one is most important to defuse first, and without knowing what cards your opponent holds, you can easily choose the wrong one. You can try to keep track of where certain important cards are, like the two that bring the bodyguards back to Brilli-Lilli, especially on the second run through the deck, but even this is an inexact science and may cause you to neglect some other threat.

From our experience with the game so far, I'd venture to guess that the game will end on exhausting the deck a second time in about one game out of three, possibly a little more if our defensive skills improve more than I anticipate. In any case, the "checkmate" possibility is always going to be strong, giving the game a great incisive quality, but the "second deck" ending is going to happen often enough to keep the close games very interesting as well.

In conclusion, I want to say that this game is DIFFERENT from anything you've ever played before. Yes, it has features in common with chess, En Garde, cribbage, Hera and Zeus, and other games, but the overall experience is something new. If you like a tense head-to-head battle of wits, I urge you not to overlook this one!

Stven Carlberg
May 2007
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Billy McBoatface
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Wow, I have this game and just want to say that your rules explanation is much better than what comes in the box.

I've only got a test game out (vs. my 5 year old daughter), but that was interesting and I am looking forward to when I'll be playing it for real!
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Stven Carlberg
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Just a postscript to say that, after more than 100 games of Auf der Reeperbahn, it turns out that our defensive skills DID get a lot better and that our games end on running through the deck twice at least five times more often than by Schampus-Charly or Brilli-Lilli making their way into anybody's nightclub.

Schampus-Charly occasionally -- Brilli-Lilli almost never. To get Brilli-Lilli in, you've first got to have the bodyguard all the way to the back of the nightclub. This telegraphs the possibility so clearly that only under exceptional circumstances (like, absolutely no cards to do anything about it) would Lilli's way be clear on the next move.

Schampus-Charly does occasionally have enough cards and board position working in one player's favor to carry the point. But not nearly as often as he did in our first dozen or two games.

We've also seen the game end more than a couple of times with Brilli-Lilli exactly on the center space and the position of Schampus-Charly to break the tie. We've even had one outright tie, with both green figures on the center square at game's end.

My rating has gone up from 8.5 to 10.
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Michael Deacon
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I've just got this and have been using the rules exactly as you explain them.
Excellent, fast playing game.
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Gary Collins
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Mentor
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A very late but very big THANK YOU for the review that encourages us to grab this game! We love it and "the web of possibilities" is right on. This is a well play-tested game where all the simple rules come together for 20 minutes of brain burn and "oh no!" moments. Highly recommended little Knizia jem.
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