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Subject: A BROG Threepeat: MANHATTAN, MODERN ART, SETTLERS rss

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Richard Berg
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Again, a review obviously dated. but only in terms of age . . . interesting to read the opening comments vis a vis today's market.


THE GERMAN INVASION

THE SETTLERS OF CATAN by KLAUS TEUBER
MANHATTAN by ANDREAS SEYFARTH
MODERN ART by REINER KNIZIA

from MAYFAIR GAMES

Reviewed by RICHARD H. BERG

About five years ago I made my first trip to Europe to attend a Euro-game Con, a guest of the don of the Dutch Gaming world, Michael Bruinsma. Aside from the interesting week ogling the women from outdoor cafes, listening to Winston Hamilton insult everyone not American, and trying to figure out where Kevin Zucker had wandered off to now, the most interesting aspect of the convention was how many “German” board games were not only available for sale but were being avidly played by the attendees. The games were generic and abstract, although many, such as Reiner Knizia’s Quo Vadis, had a tenuous connection to some historical or real life event.

Upon returning to the states, I tried to interest several companies in licensing these potentially viable games for play in the US. No such luck … and their loss. However, the Casey Jones of Mayfair Games, Puffin’ Darwin Bromley, with his background as a licensing attorney, knew a good item when he saw one, and Mayfair is now putting out a host of German (and other Euro-) games over the next few years. That this was a sagacious move was instantly obvious to anyone attending the Columbus Con and wandering through the open gaming rooms. For every wargame out and about, there were a half dozen - maybe more - games of The Settlers underway. Some of the more flush attendees even went so far as to cough up $90+ for an item entitled El Grande, which looked like an overblown version of Risk set in Medieval Spain. Darwin’s got that one, too, but not right now.

What he does have right now are three games of varying interest for this audience, and I qualify that because, while each of the three is a nice little item in its own right, many of you (but not a great many) may find at least two of the three a bit “thin” in terms of what you want from a game.

Take Manhattan (but not the Bronx and Staten Island, too …). This game, featuring lots of plastic buildings of various height, a deck of cards which says where you can build, and a mounted board with six actual Manhattan neighborhoods, each comprising a tic-tac-to-ish grid of nine possible building sites. This is a handsome game, for sure, far more attractive to the eye and touch than the usual wargame. However, like most wargames, it is not without its innate stupidities. Here the dumbing is from the graphics department and one Ramon Mascareñas who, based on his game board, has about as much knowledge of Manhattan Island as I have of Bulgarian literature.

There are six different Manhattan “neighborhoods” you can build in, from SoHo to the Upper East Side. Each such block of building sites is superimposed over a map. One would think that the graphics folks involved here would use maps of the titled neighborhoods. That sort of design acumen, however, seems to have eluded those involved, for, instead of a map of SoHo for that box, we get a map of eastern Queens and Long Island. It gets worse. Midtown gets the Bushwick section of Brooklyn, a place no developer would venture into without a police escort, and Downtown Manhattan and the upper West Side are represented by Bloomfield and the Oranges; that’s New Jersey. Not one of the neighborhoods has a background map of Manhattan. Granted, this has little to do with the game, but it does make one wonder exactly where all those German tourists that land in Miami are really heading. Maybe Ramon is running the rent-a-car service there.

Alas, the game isn’t that much more interesting, probably the weakest of the three. The rules are short and breezy; 7 big-print pages. Players will understand the mechanics after about 2 rounds; the game takes, maybe, 45 minutes to play. the object is to get the most points by building the tallest or the most buildings, and variants thereof. While the game does require a bit of foresight and planning - do you start big, or wait to see what the others will do - it has only that one thing going for it. And, despite the randomness of the card draw, the game is really for those people who like to have their little plans, and very little interference thereunto, thank you. I would say that those wargamers who love stacking units might get a kick out of the piles created here. Then again, when was the last time anyone got a kick out of piles.

Knizia’s Modern Art is a card game that uses auctioning as its premise. Auctioning seems to be rather popular with the Euro-crowd, as there are several games in that ilk being played hither and yon. I, myself, have little empathy for this sort of thing. Players sit around with a handful of rather dreadful art - which, admittedly, is not the point - trying to corner the market on a certain artist each hand. They do this by buying more of his paintings than the other players, while bidding up their worth. There are various ways to sell/buy the cards, and there is some good strategy decisions on how to apply this. However, as with Manhattan, this is a one-trick pony. All you do is auction and bid. That’s it. And we found, in our two plays - these games don’t take long to play, which is a major plus in the Euro market - that the player who jumped out to the lead had a great advantage, mostly because of all the cash he accumulated when he sold his paintings at the end of each turn. Maybe it was us, but this was not a game we would come back to.

The direct opposite is true for the extremely popular Settlers of Catan, perhaps the single most played game at both Origins and Avaloncon! Our Crack Playtest Crew has now spent three separate weekends playing this at least twice. Now this is something I rarely do; but since I’ve won three times (two more than my usual yearly allotment of victories), the game must have something going for it.

Settlers is a game which requires a plan, but the plan is usually a prisoner of the randomness of dierolls. The premise of the game is that the players are settling a newly discovered country, and the one who does best in building his little fiefdom is the winner. The “map” is composed of huge, puzzle-cut hexagons, which represent several types of “terrain”, each one providing material (wheat, sheep, wood, etc.) from which you build towns, cities, roads, etc., all of which garner you victory points. The catch is that each of the hexes is randomly assigned a DR #, those numbers being controlled statistically. You place your villages and roads along the edges and corners of the individual hexes, and, if that DR# for that hex is rolled, every player with a settlement tangential thereunto gets a product card. Amass certain numbers and types of product cards and you trade them in for more settlements, more roads, and a variety of special cards which give you often big advantages, such as armies (not used militarily; this is a German game and such aggressive thoughts are officially verboten these days), product monopolies, etc. As a kicker, any DR of ‘7’ produces a robber, which is placed by the rolling player to block production in a particular hex.

It all plays rather swiftly, with players trying to craftily figure out which scheme will work best for them, making sure they don’t amass too many cards (the robber DR forces you to get rid of half your cards if you have too many), while trying to extend the spidery reach of their domain to the needed terrain types. There is no conflict or interaction between players, although trading is allowed (it is fairly common)’ placing the Robber in a hex populated by an opponent’s settlements is about as aggressive as one gets here.

However, it is lots of fun, and there is just the right mix of Planning and Fate so that play does not become stereotyped. I do note, with some interest, that Settlers has received somewhat less than glowing notice from our British brethren for just the same reasons that we liked the game: not enough control, too much randomness. Long explanations and much commentary has been batted around, back and forth, in the estimable “Sumo’s Karaoke” magazine about this situation. The BROG Game Gods (my wife’s most recent, printable appellation for the crew of usual suspects that gathers weekly) were universal in their failure to understand why the lack of control was an issue, as it was the one feature that we felt made the game most enjoyable. Must be a societal thing.

We don’t usually dwell too long on non-historical games. However, the obvious popularity that these games are garnering, and the fun we had in playing them, was enough for us to say that you ought to give one of these a shot, preferably Settlers. Remember, now, these are multi-player games, with no value solitaire. But if you do have a group that’s looking for something new, some fun that can be resolved in about an hour or so - even while you let Elwood, over there, move all those Hube’s Pocket counters - we recommend this series of Mayfair Euros quite highly.





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Stephan Rasmussen
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Wow this was fun to read... The european invasion indeed! I was not around at the time of this but I can understand just how revolutionizing the german games must have been back then and it would take some degree of courage to invest heavily in them.. Today wargames are considered the "riskier" investment I would bet.

All in all I would say this is a good age for gaming of all genres though.
 
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sunday silence
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BROG wrote:
Again, a review obviously dated. but only in terms of age . . .


Is there any other parameter?
 
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Nathan James
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sundaysilence wrote:
BROG wrote:
Again, a review obviously dated. but only in terms of age . . .


Is there any other parameter?


Often when people say something is date they mean that it is not relevent. So I think dated could be in age or in relevance.
 
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