Designed by Rudi Hoffman and published by Pelikan and TM Spiele
In 1998, the Spiele des Jahres award worked somewhat differently from the today. Officially, no games were nominated – roughly 10-12 games were recommended each year, and a single winner was announced. Oftentimes, the recommended games were referred to as “nominated”, but there weren’t really. The current system helps build even more suspense into the award while also recognizing more title and a broader array of games.
One aspect of the award that hasn’t changed is the eligibility of reprints and reworkings. In 2007, one nominee is Jenseits von Theben, which was “released” in 2004 with just over 100 copies, supplemented in 2005 with another 300 copies. Many Americans were surprised to see it on the list of nominees, then, since it’s not a new release. But the Queen edition is new, and is actually the first readily available edition; many familiar with the process even anticipated the inclusion of Jenseits von Theben on the list.
But in 1998, a game made the shorter recommended list which wasn’t 3 or even 10 years old, but more than 20. Minister was originally released by Pelikan, one of the many companies in Germany who tried to capitalize upon the international success of 3M’s bookshelf game series. A number of interesting and innovate games were released by Pelikan, including Eric Solomon’s Agent, Alex Randolph’s Präirie (more commonly known as Buffalo), and Rudi Hoffman’s Ogallala. Each of these games has been reprinted since, often in many editions. But Minister remained out of print until 1998, when the folks at TM Spiele – being fans of the original – decided to reprint the game. Other than the recommendation, the new release was not wildly successful, but it did introduce a new generation of gamers to the game.
And, frankly, they hated it.
The game is a simple one, and fits the model of the 1970s German game very well. Players take on the role of the people behind the scenes, working to bring their party to power in the German chancellery. Each turn, players roll a dice, and advance one of their party members toward a few critical spaces, each of which offers the opportunity to add members to various cabinet posts. If a player can’t advance a party member, she advances the game time marker, potentially triggering special events. The game ends when the timer reaches the end of the track – or when one player takes over the whole of the chancellery.
The original version offered the same basic format, but some additional twists. First, the track was entirely different, making for different choke points and different decisions. Second, there were fewer opportunities on the board to add cabinet members. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the timer for the game was operated very differently, with each player tracking their age – and being forced to retire from the game at 65. Finally, there was no alternative victory condition – the player with the most cabinet members at the end simply won.
As noted before, Minister doesn’t have a good reputation. It is one of the lowest rated games on BoardGameGeek, and in fact one of the few with an average rating below 5. And the reasons given are simple – the game is all about rolling well and there are no real choices to make.
And there definitely is something to this criticism. There are decisions to make in the game, but they’re all in die rolling percentages and deciding between pressing one’s luck and leaving more opportunities for the future, which (with the notable exception of Can’t Stop) don’t tend to thrill gamers. And rolling well is definitely strongly advantageous. On the other hand, Minister was clearly intended as a social game, with some subtle jibes at politics and politicians. This theme definitely doesn’t translate particularly well. In addition, some of the enjoyment of the game is clearly a result of nostalgia – which isn’t going to be a factor for those who don’t remember playing the game as children.
All of which makes Minister a game I enjoy – but don’t love. The subtle choices are nice – and the original Pelikan edition has more of them, which makes it the better choice IMHO. And I’ve quite enjoyed the game with the right crowd. But the very negative reactions the game engenders in some definitely limit the opportunities to play it.
Neither edition is particularly fancy – a few wood pieces, a bunch of plastic ones, a simple board, and a die. The original edition scores with me for being smaller – but the cover on the TM Spiele edition is great. The game is not one that will inspire lots of short term repeated play – it’s the type of game that one will close with, when everyone wants something lighter.
Overall, I would recommend Minister – but note that the appeal of the theme will matter significantly in terms of one’s enjoyment. I would also specifically recommend the Pelikan edition, though they both work well; the Pelikan edition plays a bit faster, and overall I prefer the artwork, in addition to having a movement track I believe offers more interesting choices. However, the TM Spiele edition is much easier to acquire – given the low popularity of the game, it’s not a difficult game to track down.