by Patrick Korner
Four of us (Tim, David, Dan and Patrick) decided to try our hand as studio heads in Tinseltown – and what better way to do that than play Traumfabrik?
Quick aside for those who haven’t played this game yet: It’s a total blast. You get to use REAL actors and REAL directors while trying to make REAL movies. Inevitably, you get miscast oddities like Gone With The Wind starring Boris Karloff – and it’s a hoot. I am and will likely always be amazed that a game company (granted, even a giant game company like Hasborg) would be able to put out a game like this that uses real intellectual property and not get sued to kingdom come. Okay, yes, they were sued – but I believe for the name only. This is why you can no longer buy “Traumfabrik”, but you’re welcome to go ahead and buy “Fabrik der Traume” – out with Dream Factory and in with Factory of Dreams!
The game itself is a well-balanced bidding game from bid-meister (and all around Good Guy TM) Reiner Knizia. Each player starts off with 12 “vertrage” or contracts – these act as money in the game. The game board features a number of spaces, each of which has an assortment of tiles on them. The idea is to go through the board, space by space, bidding on the lots of tiles therein. At the end of each round spaces are re-filled and at the end of four rounds, whoever has made the best movies wins. Simple, right?
Well, not really. As with all Knizia games, there’s a lot more to it than that. The tiles you can bid on consist of Directors (with star values between 0 and 4), Actors (with star values between 0 and 3), Guest Actors (including Reiner himself – worth –1, though!), as well as Music and Effects tiles of varying values. There are also Agent tiles which act as ‘wild’ cards – they can be used in place of any of the others.
The first space on the board will always be an auction for a four-star director. You want Alfred Hitchcock? Go get him! The tiles on the rest of the spaces are distributed randomly from the supply, which should either be in a bag or face-down on the table.
Bidding goes around in turn order, starting with the player that won the last auction. You may only either pass (and sit out the rest of this auction) or bid higher than the previous bid. Whoever wins the bid puts the requisite number of contracts into the centre of the board, where they are re-distributed evenly to those who didn’t win. Leftover contracts stay on the board until the next auction and get added on when that auction gets divvied up. Thus, there is a finite amount of bidding power in the game, which keeps shifting hands - an elegant way of fixing the resources of the game.
Two spaces on the game board contain tiles that get claimed without bidding – these are the Party spaces. Tiles on these spaces are kept face-down, and only revealed when that space is reached. Each player then gets to pick a tile, starting with the player who currently has the most Actors in their movies. Ties are broken by following the turn order – that is, whoever won the last auction would have the highest tiebreak value, followed by the others in clockwise order.
Each player gets three movie boards to start the game – a green one (with a starting value of 4 stars), a purple one (3 stars), and a yellow one (2 stars). Each one has a number of spaces that need filling, and each space also specifies what type of tile (role) can be played there. Some also have extra spaces for Guest Stars which, while not required to finish the movie, will help out with the overall rating of the flick. When you win an auction, you get to put the tiles you won into any space that can take them – you are also permitted to place a tile on top of another of the same type (note that you’ll only count the stars of the topmost tile, though). If you like, you can also discard a tile entirely – it gets put aside and is out of play for the rest of the game.
When a player finishes a movie, they count up the total stars in the show: the stars the movie starts out with and any star power the director, actors, etc. lend to the show. That player then takes a scoring token from the supply (which ranges from 0 to 22) and places it on the movie. That movie is now complete and the player may (if there are any left) take another fresh movie board from the face-down supply to get back to 3 movies-in-the-making. Some important notes on the scoring tokens: While most numbers occur only once, some occur twice, with one token having a “+” on it. So, for example, the first movie completed that scores 8 stars gets the 8+ token, the second one takes the 8. Should a third movie worth 8 stars get made, that player is out of luck: they must take the next-highest token available (in this case a 7). In this way, the game avoids ties among movies.
There are a couple of other ways of scoring points in the game: The first green movie completed gets a 5 point bonus (marked by a little green statue that looks suspiciously like his name is Oscar), likewise for the first purple and yellow movies made. At the end of each round, a 5 point bonus statuette is conferred upon the best completed movie so far – note that the movie doesn’t have to be made in that round. If your great movie from the second round held up through the third round, you get the round three bonus too.
At the end of the fourth round, the big awards get passed out. The best green, purple, and yellow movies get 10 point statues, the best movie overall gets 10 points, as does the worst movie overall. Leftover contracts are each worth 1 point. Players total up their points, and whoever has the most wins the game.
In the game we played, David and I felt like we were re-learning the game, as it had been a good year since we’d last seen it at a gaming evening. I in particular felt like I had trouble distinguishing directors and music tiles (I know, I feel dumb about it) which didn’t help me much. Tim hadn’t played it before, and Dan was also playing it for the first time in a while. But he seemed to know what was going on more. Maybe he pulls out rules from random boxes in his collection and reads them as bedtime reading? That could be it. I’ll have to interrogate him about this further.
The game moved along at a decent clip, with some truly monumental bidding wars breaking out here and there. For some reason, these tended to be between Tim and David more than anybody else – perhaps they were thinking alike? All I know is that there were several times where a carefully thought-out bid from David would be followed by a lightning-quick response from Tim. I hadn’t seen a bid of 13 before, but I have now.
One last thing worth noting: The final Party space, during the final round, contained three (THREE!) tiles which would let me finish my green masterpiece: a three-star Music tile, a two-star Agent tile, and a one-star Agent tile. The last tile, a Director, was worthless. Dan has first pick, followed by Tim and then David. Me, I have to settle for last because, bottom feeder that I am, I have very few Actors. I guess my contract language was too harsh or something. But then, I’ve always been a fan of docking pay for bathroom breaks. In any case, Dan picks the Music tile and…discards it.
Tim picks the two-star Agent…and discards it.
David picks the one-star Agent…and discards it.
Patrick picks the worthless Director…and discards it because he doesn’t have any room for it. While this discard is taking place, Patrick is muttering things beneath his breath that would, had any members of the Anti-Vitriol League been present, caused them to all faint dead away.
I’ll let the final scores speak for themselves:
*Evil Dan* 88
Evil Tim 72
Evil David 65
Poor Patrick 48
You know what? I still loved the game. And THAT is what sets a great game apart from the rest, at least for me. I can get brutally, wilfully, maliciously stomped into the ground and pulverised into teeny-tiny pieces, but I still have fun. We forgot to rate the game, but I’m guessing an 8 average would be about right.