HAMSTERDAM - the real lowdown
(Note: this review assumes readers already know the basic rules of the game as outlined in the "How to Play" section within the description.)
the QUICK evaluation:
The game is cute, and I am happy to have added it to my collection, but I have found that the actual gameplay is somewhat uneventful. Most players distribute their hamsters more or less in the same pattern (i.e. with more hamsters at positions like 7 and fewer, if any, at positions like 2 or 12) which results in players accumulating flood tokens more or less equally. Usually the games end very closely. The difference between player outcomes often depends on which 2 "special" hamsters they have (there are 8 types, each with a special power). There is also little to "do" other than roll the dice again and again (with the exception of possibly moving 1 hamster 1 space between each turn). Another downside is that creating your "dam" requires quite a bit of table space.
The first thing that should be mentioned, perhaps, is that this is a game produced through the website www.thegamecrafter.com - in essence, it's self-published. The fact that no physical store will have this game on its shelves increases the potential amount of pompous pretension it can bestow upon its owners (the "I've got rarer and more obscure games than you do!" factor). But the downside is that The Game Crafter doesn't put as much individual effort into its games as a "real" publisher would: for instance, the box that my game came in was a plain black box with the Game Crafter logo on it and nothing else - it didn't even say "Hamsterdam" anywhere on the box. Also, the rulebook that was included wasmissing a third of its pages! If the rules weren't downloadable for free I would still be scratching my head over the thing. The pages that were there looked like badly aligned Xeroxes. But that said, the other components of the game were not lacking in quality. I've heard some bad things about boards and figures associated with Game Crafter, but Hamsterdam includes neither: it includes only cards (good quality), some plastic tokens (noticeably cheap but acceptable), and 2 d6 (how can you mess that up?).
The price of the game is $17.99, and for that price you get 140 cards, 70 tokens, and 2 dice (plus the intangible prestige factor mentioned earlier). I would say that is not a bad deal.
Or at least it wouldn't be a bad deal if the value you placed on a game was based on the quality of its components. But when you buy a game, you're not just buying a set of components - you're buying an experience. The total experience of a game is influenced by many factors. Let's investigate a few of them:
The visual experience: You get 11 dam cards, each of which displays a number, with no additional imagery. You get 20 regular hamster cards, all of which look exactly the same - sort of cute, but also pretty basic (not too much of a step above stick figures really). You get 2 special hamster cards, which are relatively crude variations on the basic hamster image. So what you see when you play this game is a row in front of each player containing 11 piles of cards that essentially all look the same, and all look bland. Also, since the cards take up so much room, it is likely that players will have their cards squeezed onto the playing surface in unnatural, messy ways. If games were scored on prettiness, this one would rank quite low.
The time/pace experience: At first the game seems to go nice and fast, because you never have to wait for players who are slow at making decisions, you just roll the dice, then the next person rolls the dice, then the next person rolls the dice, and it seems to all move along very quickly. But this does not mean that the game ENDS quickly, and the mindless, repetitive rolling of dice can soon become something that feels endless - the sort of thing you wish would just hurry up and end already. This is a relatively short game that feels much longer than it is.
Narrative experience: Does a story unfold as the game progresses? No. The backstory is interesting (or at least amusing), but playing the game doesn't add anything to plot.
Emotional experience: Overall emotional involvement is very low. Mostly this detracts from the experience: Is there suspense? Only with regards to what number will be rolled next. Is there joy? Not really - nothing spectacular happens based on your roll, you just spring a leak or you don't. But in some ways the lack of involvement is positive: Is there outrage? No - there are no actions a player can take that negatively impact any other player, so there is no way for resentment to arise.
Experience of novelty: One game of Hamsterdam will be pretty much the same as any other game of Hamsterdam. Don't buy this with expectations of flexibility of play.
Potential for satisfaction: You really can't take much pride in winning this game, because winning is a result of random chance and says nothing about how cunningly clever you are. But it can be satisfying to chat and be social while playing instead of remaining completely silent so as to concentrate better.
If you like hamsters and you want to have something silly to do while chatting and hanging out, this is a good game. If you like bad puns and have a fetish for owning obscure games, this is also a good game. If you want just about anything else, you should probably get something else.