I've long been a fan of abstracts, and since a game of Focus when I was very young, stacking abstract have had a special place in my heart. So while I was browsing ebay a few months ago, and came across a listing for 'Towers of Hamburg', and saw those pieces stacked up... Well, I just had to have it. I had it sent surface mail, and tried to forget about it for the 8 weeks it took to get here.
Just for useless trivia's sake, this is the second game I've bought from a german dealer that has arrived in a 'Jade Konig' box. How odd.
The game is named after the well known Mundsburg towers in Hamburg. They appear to be built of layers of white and black, and the playing pieces in this game mimic that pattern.
The box contains a playing board, of white plastic printed in a nice minimalist checkerboard pattern. The rows are lettered, and columns numbered for easy transcription of the game, if that happens to be your thing.
And 18 each of white and black 'stones'. The stones have small pins on their bottom corners which fit in holes on the board and the tops of the other stones. Everything is composed of white or black plastic, and the stones are smooth and nicely solid feeling in the hand. Each piece consists of a thick slab of its color, with a base of the opposite color.
The box comes with a rule book (in german only) and a sheet with a transcript of a game as an example. Which is a bit odd, since the box bottom has a brief description of the game in German, English and Spanish.
The goal of the game is to either be the first to build a 6-stone tower, or to be the last player able to make a legal move.
Many stacking abstracts concern trying to dominate the stacks on the playing area, with the growing stacks often changing in ability as they form. This is typical of well known members of this genre like DVONN and Focus.
In Towers however, players only ever play onto their own color, and the growing stacks allow them to exert control over other pieces on the board.
The basic rule is simple, you may move a single stone a single space vertically onto another stone, anywhere on the board. So to make a 2-stone tower, you need two single stones, one moves onto the other. To make a 3-stone tower, you need two 2-stone towers, and the top stone of one moves onto the top stone of the other. Towers of 2-stones or higher may be moved to any empty square of its color in its entirety. Towers are never broken up once they are formed.
The strategy comes in the 'Blockading' that occurs as the towers grow. At any time, the color owning the tallest tower in a row or column prevents the opposite color pieces in that row or column from being moved by the other player. They are effectively locked in place.
The blocaded stones and possibly towers can be built onto however, and towers can be shifted into empty spaces in blockaded rows. These methods can break the blockade if a tower can be built that is equal to or taller than the existing blockading tower. If no-one has the tallest, no-one has a blockade in effect.
As I said in the beginning, stacking games have always had a soft place in my heart. So I'm probably more than a little bit biased. But this game is a real brain burner, and a lot of fun.
There is a constant trade off as you try to blockade your opponent to slow them down, but must eventually move some of those stones and towers to build ever higher, possibly releasing your opponent for further attacks against you. And as the end game draws near, the pressure of trying to keep your towers growing while depriving your opponent of the same opportunities gets higher and higher as the board empties and you have fewer and fewer towers to exert blockades with.
All in all, I'm really surprised that this gem didn't make a bigger splash than it appears to have. It definately is a fine abstract, and worthy of much wider exposure than it currently has. But there is an upside to its obscurity: its available cheaply. I have to say that if you are a fan of stacking abstracts, this is a definate keeper.