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Kabale und Hiebe (Ruse and Bruise)
Majority control card game with a fantasy/renaissance theme. Each player begins with a shuffled deck of identical cards, from these taking a hand of just three. Laid out as the tops of columns are victory point cards. On a turn a player chooses one of his cards and places it face down at the bottom of a column. This reveals the value of the face down card immediately above it and also any special powers it may have, which depending on what they are might get applied immediately or deferred to scoring time. Scoring is a matter of having the highest total in the column. Some of the more interesting cards are the Beggar which gives the win to the player with the fewest points in the column; the Prince and Squire which win automatically if both are present; the Musketeers which cancel all special powers; and Romeo and Juliet who are worth much more together than separately. While all of this seems fun at first, as one is unaware of what has already been played, essentially this is a blind bidding system, which has the usual consequence of frustration and annoyance that such find difficult to avoid. Another issue is that the deck ordering can make a big difference. If cards meant to work together are widely-separated, the player is at considerable disadvantage. The deck is re-shuffled once and a little bit of it used a second time; those who get powerful cards in this second deck also have a nice advantage. The consequences of all of this are that it's not hard for a player or players to get out to a big lead and for others to fall away to a point of no longer being able to compete as there isn't really any catch-up mechanism. Another bad idea was giving extra points to certain cards if they match the victory point cards (which have types for a set collection game at the end); this increases the tendency to play just to get points and ignore whether the player being attacked is leading or in last place. One pleasing feature is that a round does not end until there are at least as many cards in the a column as there are points it offers, ensuring that the larger-valued cards are sufficiently competed over. In addition, the card artwork realized by Christof Tisch and Julien Delval is quite attractive, though it does contain language-dependent text. In addition, the text on the Kupferkessel Co.,-sized (why is it out of print?) cards uses a typeface and colors which could have been easier to read. Thematically, it's fun to have the various characters, but who the player or what the activities represent are both far from clear. Overall, the probable goal was another card game along the lines of the very popular Citadels and Titan: the Arena, offering big fun in a small package, but it's really kind of a misfire that can take too long to complete as well, especially when five or six participate. It's barely possible that the fundamental system could be made to work if the card powers were different, the goal cards steadily increased in value and hand composition were treated differently (perhaps each deck could be handicapped?), but this cannot be recommended as shipped. While the German title means "Cabals and Lashes" – a play on Schiller's play "Kabale und Liebe" (Cabals and Love) – the English version, equating a verb and a noun doesn't really work. It does however suggest the title "Roues & Brews", which would be something to conjure with. Someone should make a game on that.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Lutz Stepponat; Hans-im-Glück/Rio Grande; 2006; 2-6 [Buy it at Amazon]
if no image, probably out of print
It's a spirit, a dancer or a wooden doll, but now it's also a tile-laying game with a Pueblo theme, which is a good thing, this topic being underutilized so far. Tiles range in value from 1 to 9, each player holding a hand of five. The basic mechanism is that a piece scores for the length of a row and/or column if its value is the highest one in the line. Naturally this is difficult for the lower-valued tiles so they have special powers (which are described by a player aide). The value 1 kachina tile reduces all of its neighbors to zero. The value 2 hummingbird automatically wins if it occupies both ends. The value 3 is a tile swapper and the value 4 wolf travels in packs, meaning that its value is augmented by other wolves. The value 5 eagle can cover most other types of tiles while the value 6 ogre cannot have other types of tiles placed next to it. Play continues until all sixty tiles have been used. The trouble is that the amount of time can last way longer than appropriate for this simple situation. The first cause is that all the special tile rules continue to apply even long after a tile has been played. So every player must go through and figure out a number of board realities that the game makes absolutely no effort to help with. Maybe some actually enjoy this sort of grunt work, but it's doubtful, or if they do, that they will want to do so for long. Second, because of this and because of the large hand size, there's a strong tendency to play, not with an intelligent sizing up of the situation, but with a brute force algorithm that tries out every single possibility. Because they've been thinking about points rather than the complicated legalities, it frequently happens at the end of this that the player ends up trying an illegal move and then must start up all over again. Finally, using all of the tiles means that during the end game players are counting to see what's missing and planning their moves with these in mind, which takes up even more time. The production is decent. The tile quality is good and the artwork attractive, especially the cover, though the tiles perhaps a bit busy. The insert is so snug that no baggie can be added, but then it may not be needed either. The instructions show insufficient blind testing as the important question of which of kachina or wolf dominates when the two are together is never addressed. At least this is easily fixed by on-line errata. But the fact that the first player does not score isn't. There are no special markers provided by which players could indicate changed tile values or unusable play spaces. There is no uncertainty introduced by removing unknown tiles from play. These development problems in what may have begun as a decent idea doom this to be an analysis-paralysis nightmare when the number of players exceeds two, and maybe even then.
LLHH5 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 5)
Scott Caputo; Bucephalus Games-2009; 2-5 [Buy it at Amazon]
"Cockroach Poker" is a card and near party game of bluff. Players try to get rid of their large hand of cards by playing them face down to another and declaring the type of bug hidden beneath. The recipient has three choices: believe, doubt or simply accept. If either of the first two are chosen, the card is revealed and a wrong recipient must put the card into his pile; otherwise it is returned to sender. If the card was simply accepted, then the recipient takes a look and becomes the new sender. As no player may be the recipient more than once for any particular card, eventually it does land in someone's pile. Why should anyone lie or tell the truth about a card in particular? The chief reason is that someone who receives four of a kind ends the hand, by losing it. After playing just a few hands, subtleties not obvious from a mere recounting of the rules become apparent. Some players may seem harder to disbelieve than others, a good place to get your cards accepted. Others may have tells. As someone's collection of a certain type of card grows, it's possible to play with the idea that he is being force fed that particular card. Or is he? Etc. The cards depict eight different types of bugs and yet each card is unique, the groupings or suits being shown mainly via color. The art feels both personal and attractive. Playing times are generally short and virtually anyone (the game spaces ages eight and above) can participate and enjoy. Other insectoid games by Jacques Zeimet, who also invented Bamboleo and Schiki Micki, include Kakerlakensalat (cockroach salad) and Kakerlaken-Suppe (cockroach soup). Just disgusting enough to get the attention of children? And hey, the title, which sounds something like "cockerlockin'", is just plain fun to say! [Frequently Played] [6-player Games]
Jacques Zeimet; Drei Magier Spiele GmbH; 2004; 2-6 [Buy it at]
LLML7 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 7)
if no image, probably out of print
What is there to say, really, about a game we've all played as kids. Remember the magazine pictures where you had to find as many images as you can starting with a particular letter? That's this game, combined with a Scattergories scoring system where only words not found by others really count. The letter is chosen randomly and there are twelve different paintings. The paintings are interesting enough, being cram-packed with various images. And it's a particular talent to develop: finding images based not on their shapes or colors or similarities, but on their first letter, a weird image-to-language linkage that is perhaps not natural in the human brain. But as play continues it seems this is maybe not the best way to play. Better may be a thesaurus approach. You should not see a lion and think "lion, ah, L, too bad I wanted a 'K'", but rather, "lion, hmm, but what else can we call him? Ah yes, 'King of beasts', that'll do." Of course maybe your group won't accept such terminology which points out the problem in such games if they are to actually be played competitively – the vagaries of language admit of no hard and fast rules. In the end this is more activity than game, and probably only truly repeatedly amusing for the younger set.
MLLM5 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Low; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5)
Spartaco Albertarelli; Editrice Giochi-1995/Ystari/Cocktail-2008; 2-10; 8+ [Buy it at]
Kampf um Rom (Struggle for Rome)
The most recent installment in the apparently bottomless well that is Catan distances itself even more from the original, even omitting the name from the title. Here it might otherwise have been "Barbarians of Catan" as each of the players represent such, invading the Roman empire in its late stages. The Settlers of the Stone Age began the experiment of having pieces move across the board and decide where to settle. Now this novelty is taken further with pieces never finding homes until the game's last third, yet providing "production" at their interim locations. Meanwhile these armies – each player fields two – are moving to conquer non-player forts of various strengths, resolution being provided by simple numeric comparison. For this they receive randomly drawn rewards which are generally balanced, even if they have no correspondence to the difficulty of the task. In addition, each reward has a color corresponding to which of the five regions of the empire it's in. Collect three in the set and the army can stop moving and become an expanding kingdom. Resource cards are used to strengthen armies, buy wagons (which give handy gold) and buy development cards. Coming in only four types, they are not strongly differentiated in their functions. Everybody needs everything and thus the usual differentiated strategies are oddly absent. As a consequence the trading rules have become an appendix, a leftover feature that's not really used or needed. Some will welcome this, to be sure, but it must be considered, after strategy and negotiation have gone, what is on offer? Well, tactics. Trouble is, there really aren't enough of them to keep players interested. At most, players can grab a stronghold before someone else, but as targets are plentiful this usually doesn't mean much, leaving as the main challenge the mechanical one of analyzing the map to find the best route, etc. There are at least two design paths that could have been taken. The obvious one of increasing the tactical considerations by permitting inter-player combat would have been very surprising for Kosmos. The other, increasing the emphasis on theme by giving each tribe an historical name and appropriate special powers would have been so as well, unfortunately, and less justifiably. But there are at least three bright spots as well. One is the component quality, now featuring plastic pieces – these have become the norm for Catan games in Germany, but may be strange and surprising to us Americans who have grown to love the wood. Kosmos have stated that they prefer the more detailed plastic for its ability to resemble more clearly what it represents and thereby hope to heighten the atmosphere. A second highlight is the movement system which makes simple and fun something which in other games can be annoying and overly detailed. This is done with strategically placed arrows in the travel paths. Instead of counting hex to hex, one just pays every time an arrow is crossed. This also lets the map stay fair with compromising Europe's geography. The last innovation is that all four production dice rolls are doine at the start of the round and none may be duplicated. Players who believe Catan is too subject to the whims of dice may be pleased and this rule could well be backported to other editions. The mechanism handling this could be improved however, by use of a card or chit draw which would avoid the inevitable re-rolling. So like trading, the dice become another appendix. Another concern is that the deck of special cards is somewhat unbalanced, especially when the different natures of the game stages are factored in. Overall, it's not so much that the game is bad, but rather that not enough of it is good. What is there is simple, straightforward and playable – for this reason it might not be too bad for the younger set. The rest of us are better off staying with The Settlers of the Stone Age.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6
Klaus Teuber; Kosmos; 2006; 3-4
Hard-to-classify self-published game by Günter Cornett is at least outwardly similar to his popular Kahuna. Players traverse a Pacific archipelago via a network of directional fish, the clever aspect of which is that travel is only allowed on fish of one's own color or fish that are upside down, but using a fish turns it over. The purpose of all this travel is to collect items which can be sacrificed to the gods of Hawai'ian mythology which yields temples, the real competition in the game. Temple-building is made more challenging by a scoring mechanism reminiscent of Euphrat & Tigris. Layered on top of this are achievement awards akin to those of the Longest Trade Route and Largest Army from The Settlers of Catan, but here the reward is not one of victory points, but of extra capabilities which "break" the normal rules. The result is a rather deep game which still has rather simple instructions and short turns. What is the minimum number of points one can expect to achieve and still win? How many powers do you need? Which is the most important to have, and in what combinations, in the early, mid and end games? Should you collect just a few colors in great quantity or all colors in lesser quantity? Such questions will bedevil and entertain players as they engage in their first, second, third and tenth outings. Production is impressive with quite a bit of wood, especially for a self-published effort. Strategically, it seems, at least so far, that sixty points has a good chance of being a winning score. As far as the gods go, players often seem to postpone temple-building until they can win the gods card, but the second place gods protection cards are quite worthy as well. Some players may feel a bit hamstrung by the number of movement choices they have, especially in the case where there is exactly one path off an island – such players should try to claim the Kanaloa card early. Rewarding as it does the ability to foresee the most likely risks and eventualities at least a couple turns down the road, this is a game recommended for master strategists. Also works well with three, the added complication of the protection cards being omitted. Slightly reminiscent of both Time Pirates and Captain Park's Imaginary Polar Expedition in that all feature movement to collect sets, but rather deeper than either. Thought for winning play: the power of Lono, particularly that of being able to swap two tiles before moving, may be significantly more valuable than the others. At the very least we have seen several Lono players win and perhaps Kanaloa players should work harder to limit their travels. [notes]
Günter Cornett; Bambus; 2001; 3-4
This is the second two-player only Bohnanza offering (after Al Cabohne). Just as it sounds the topic this time is cannibalism, apparently because this version is so antagonistic. It comes with its own bean cards, illustrated by Meuterer. inventor Marcel-André Casasola Merkle. There are just 33 of them and some special rules to account for this, such as limiting hand size to just four cards, turning the discard pile into an entirely visible queue of cards and tracking points on paper rather than by flipping cards over. There is no bean trading, but there is the possibility of leaving for the opponent any unwanted beans, just as in Al Cabohne. That game's rule of taking the top cards from the discard is also used here. And there are a couple other minor rules changes, but the biggest one is that about half the cards carry extra text giving special powers when at the top of one's bean fields. Some of these are a bit fiddly, but others permit asking or stealing a card from the opponent's hand or preventing him from harvesting for a turn. Unfortunately the texts are all only in German, probably too large an irritation for those who cannot read it. Otherwise, this card set – made up of Cocoa, Red, Black-eyed, Barf, Bush and Kenya beans (the first type that can be turned in for five) – makes for a version with many new challenges, considerations and chances to hand out some "take that!".
Uwe Rosenberg; Hanno Girke; Lookout Games; 2006; 2
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7
Kap Hoorn (Cape Horn, Cap Horn)
Board game about sailing around Cape Horn. Of some interest, but a bit anti-climactic as the winner becomes apparent quite a bit before the game actually ends. It is vitally important that each player carefully study the activities of the player to the immediate left as it is not always obvious when someone is about to win and whether it is the last chance to stop that player.
Blind bidding game about camel racing. Easy to understand, but difficult to win. Highlight is probably the extremely nice presentation including four-part interlocking water gourds and nicely-made "bale of silk" tiles.
Multi-colored, free-form abstract of city building for four. Finishes in twenty minutes and provides a nice side entertainment of watching the five-color city grow before your eyes. Playing a good defense, i.e. limiting the opportunities of the player to your left appears to be key, so to that extent there may be a bit of a kingmaker situation.
Kardinal & König (Web of Power)
Essentially a tile placement game where placement is based on cards in hand. Cards are replenished via a limited drafting mechanism. Ostensible theme is about placing monasteries and king's counsellors throughout Europe – although never stated, I believe this is inspired by the Templars, who have become so well known from the popular book, The DaVinci Code. There are three strategies to pursue: long connected strings of monasteries, counsellors in connected capitals and dominance of various countries. Ornamentally nice graphics are functionally challenged at times, particularly the connections between capitals, which should have been done by drawing lines between the capitals themselves. Very quick turns and a rather short, elegant game results in a satisfying experience. Initially appeared to share a problem with the inventor's Kontor, that if one is unable to draw the right cards there is significant penalty, but sustained play will reveal that even when the cards are not right for play of monasteries, there are still good possibilities for playing counselors, even in the first round. [Holiday List 2004]
Strategy: High; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 8
Michael Schacht; Goldsieber/Rio Grande; 2000; 3-5
The China re-issue preserves the feeling and gameplay of the original almost entirely intact while transporting it in space and time to the Warring States Period in Ancient Cathay. Of course this means a new board layout, but even this works quite similarly to the European version. There is even a France equivalent in the same color (Chu). What's innovative about the board is that it's double-sided and when playing with four or fewer, a number of the usual road connections are omitted. The only change with respect to the cards is that when drafting there are now four visible rather than three, which lessens either angst or frustration, depending on point of view. Finally, and most significantly, there is no longer a scoring round at the midpoint of play, thus reducing the importance of the houses by almost a factor of two. It's still necessary to participate in houses to win, however, if for no other reason than there are not enough emessary pieces available to make a strategy based solely on them feasible. But houses and roads can be made to count more if the new, optional fortifications rules are employed. Six neutral fort pieces are provided. One of them can be placed along with one's house, which costs an extra action and card. The benefit is that whenever this house participates in majority or road scoring, the score achieved is doubled. Since these are so valuable, it behooves each player to use his share of these neutral items. Letting someone use more than his share may well be permitting an easy victory. For this reason perhaps some later rules revision may assign these to players for their sole usage. The new setting is a clear indicator that theme is not a major feature here, but with no Templar-equivalents in China it's even more difficult to guess who the players might represent. The production is quite nice, featuring attractive yellowish shades for most of the countries and mushroom looking pieces for the emissaries. That the boards show how many players they accept not by printing the number but by showing the number of figures in the corner is cool. There are round tokens used to indicate when a region has been scored (so that players have some idea of how each player is doing as play goes along). In the department of things that are slightly annoying but in the end don't matter, these tokens seem exactly the right size to place on the circles that indicate each country's capital. But doing so is troublesome because then it's necessary to pick up the advisors and put them back down on it as well as the fact that the disks are not really large enough to securely hold these mushrooms. Perhaps the original board is slightly more artistically drawn, but overall this is no less a product than the original and the choice of which to get can only come down to rather minor and personal factors. At the time of this writing there are also three add-ons available: the two-player variant, China – Das Duell, as well as the expansions China Erweiterung and China – Grenzstreitigkeiten.
Strategy: High; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 8
Michael Schacht; Abacus/Ueberplay; 2005; 3-5 [Buy it at Amazon]
Kardinal & König: Der Vatikan
is a free expansion kit for those who love the game too much. Now counselors can be used to double any of the valuations on a first come-first served basis. Do you jump on the opportunity before you have the base points secured or wait and risk someone else jumping on it before you do? This is good for players not investing much in counselors, but those who are need to be careful not to be caught short. This is completely unnecessary for first time players, but if after dozens of playings you but need just a bit of variety, check this out.
Strategy: High; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Michael Schacht; Spiele aus Timbuktu;
Kardinal & König: Das Duell
is a cut and play expansion enabling a two-player situation. This is accomplished by addition of a virtual third player, the king, who has his own cards and whom the players take turns taking turns for. The king does not gets own points, however, but instead grants them, per color, to the player who has played the most cards in that color. In addition, each player receives three chits by which the normal rules of the game can be broken, once. A three-person playing of this game already sees quite a lot of the board unused; here the effect is even more dramatic, the more so since cards are constantly being removed from play in order to track the five dominance races pertaining to the king. This also makes the game go rather quickly, probably too much so as there isn't time to develop all one would like. But the king's presence changes strategies quite a bit and old hands will need to revise their approaches in order to do well here, a healthy challenge. For example, few points are available from chains since the king can always be used to easily cut them off. On the other hand, card dominances are very important. The old ploy of getting down three cards every turn is dramatically weakened since only one card per turn may be saved for dominance contests. While this is not an ideal two-player game and something done from scratch with this in mind would probably be better, this offers sufficient interest for repeat play.
Strategy: High; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Michael Schacht; Spiele aus Timbuktu;
Kardinal & König: Das Kartenspiel (Richelieu)
Web-published card game version of Kardinal & König. Each country location is represented by a card, all of which are randomly dealt out in a face up 14x4 grid. Players take turns drafting a card or two from the long edges, trying to dominate some regions and get a lot of points by being second or third in lots of others. Although the visual fun of extending roads is gone, this is probably more strategic as it's no longer necessary to depend on luck of the draw to determine where one can play. Rewarded instead is a healthy ability to look ahead and guess what others will do before one's next turn is rewarded. Recommended for times when more than two players want an challenging strategy game which is not too long. The professionally published Richelieu depicts the struggle between the notorious cardinal and Queen Marie de Medici for control of the mind of King Louis XIII and is intended for only two players, which seems the least interesting option. In this mode, any good opportunity not taken is a gift to the opponent so many choices become meaningless. Victory is only a matter of tiny shifts and luck in chit draws, reducing interest considerably.
Michael Schacht; Spiele aus Timbuktu;
Multi-player card game is about trading commodities in old Cathay. About collecting and trading cards and deciding the best time to turn them in for points. Offers at least two possible strategies, one of achieving a large, valuable collection, the other of turning in several smaller collections, but rather quickly. Of course which one to use greatly depends on what the other players are doing. Definitely worthwhile for just about all players.
Katzenjammer Blues
Quick Knizia set collection card game. Of some interest, but over too quickly for the taste of many. Try it with three or fewer players to address this.
Kaufleute von Amsterdam, Die (De Veilingmeesters van Amsterdam, Les Marchants d'Amsterdam)
Knizia game about merchants in Amsterdam and around the world. Glorious game with a single, but very glaring flaw. The graphics are simply gorgeous including a wondrous historical-looking map depicting Amsterdam and various exotic trade locations around the world. Around the border is a time track which is that rarity, both historically significant and tightly integrated into the play of the game. Not to mention a large, faux marble spring-loaded ticking clock. Play of the game is also a fascinating challenge for game players as they may try to navigate their way to victory via three separate strategies. But on to the problem. This clock is meant to simulate a timed Dutch auction, meaning that the auction winner is the first one to smack the clock on its top. Not only do I have no desire to relive childhood days of playing Slapjack, but a game with real-time features does not strike me a desireable or cerebral form of entertainment. It might also be mentioned that at the time of this writing, when the game has just begun to be played, already at least two different reports of clock malfunctions have appeared. Plays just as well without the gaudy gadget if you used in-the-fist bidding and count down from 200. Use player order to resolve ties in this case. All titles translate to "Merchants of Amsterdam".
if no image probably out of print
This is Knizia's multi-player board game using the fundamental idea of his Lost Cities card game. Essentially players are receiving a steady stream of random cards in five suits and do their best to play a lot in the same suits, in sequence, without playing any in the other suits. Each card played advances the player's pawn on the track corresponding to the suit. The more progress, the more points. One of the pawns is extra tall; its value is doubled. Distributed randomly on the tracks are tiles that confer extra benefits, e.g. extra movement for any pawn, rocks that participate in a set collection sub-game, etc. For those familiar with Lost Cities, the board means that the card values do not matter anymore and so they may now be played in either ascending or descending order, which relieves some of randomness. Another change is that it's now not sufficient to just play the hand; it's also necessary to play the board. In particular, one track is generally a "fast track" and players who receive a lot of cards on this one are going to be happy Kelts. Theme does not appear to assert itself here at all, but the look is quite attractive, with plenty of green and Celtic motifs. Somehow game play isn't as fun as the memories of playing Lost Cities, when the world was yet new. Perhaps the game would have been great had not its predecessor already existed, but as it does, more innovation was needed this time around. On the other hand, it's neither taxing nor long, the end usually coming faster that one expects. Apparently an English-language version is to appear, but re-themed back as Lost Cities: the Board Game. No doubt this will have the benefits of being more thematic and capitalize on the previous success of the original, but considering the number of copies of this one – which is language free – already sold, and that it's already September of 2008 and it has yet to appear, can this really make up the difference? Also, since this version has won the German Spiel des Jahres (game of the year) award, will the re-themed one be entitled to carry the award sticker? Also, now that it has won there will no doubt be expansions and spin-offs. "Under the Kilt" anyone? How will these be re-themed? Maybe success isn't always such a good thing. It would be a great irony if after years of not winning the award that when Knizia finally does, he's not in the position to take full advantage of the American market. [Spiel des Jahres Winner]
Reiner Knizia; Kosmos-2007; 2-4; 30
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6 []
Game for children builds a lattice with sticks and then watches marbles fall through the gaps. Not of interest to serious players.
Kette von Saba, Die (Das Kollier der Königin von Saba)
Game ostensibly about the re-assembly of a necklace supposedly given to to the Queen of Sheba by King Solomon is close to pure abstract. Seems unfortunate that the necklace design is determined so early and strictly as perhaps more creative plays would otherwise be possible. Auctions seem to go rather predictably as, contrary to all expectation, best value for a jewel is very often achieved by immediate placement rather than delaying until a judicious moment. Finally, luck of the draw, especially bad luck in drawing worthless tiles seems to swamp most of the skill. It's all a bit unfortunate as there are interesting, elegant ideas here and nice-looking artwork. Though not by Rudi Hoffmann, slightly reminiscent of his Café International and Maestro. [6-player Games]
Key Harvest
if no image, probably out of print
The latest entry in the Key series starts out looking like an SUV, but turns out to be a roadster. For starters, players have lots of items to play with. Each gets a board showing a labeled hex grid, a smaller "show window" board, a screen to hide item cubes which come in five colors, a set of worker tiles and a player aid card in English and German since options and scoring are complicated enough. With all of this one is already expecting a substantial game. Now add to them a main board which holds a number of neutral workers, board tiles on offer which have been randomly drawn from the cloth bag and the event tiles drawn so far which constitute a ticking clock measuring the length of play. Victory points are achieved by constructing two large groups of tiles. This isn't that easy since every tile is labeled for only a single location, meaning several players may want it. The other main source of points is in placing workers, especially the neutral ones. These have requirements about the number of tiles they must touch and so one needs to acquire surrounding tiles for this purpose. Acquiring tiles is a strange process. One of the actions is to take tiles from the main board and place them in the show window, setting a price using one's own items. It's as if a store owner wishing to charge $10 for an item had to put out a ten dollar bill as an example. Then too, setting prices is a tricky business. If one wants the tile, it's necessary to give every other player a shot at it first, so how high should it be priced to scare them off and yet not cost too much? If instead the idea was to make a sale and earn some items, how low does the price need to be and what are the correct types for the hoped-for buyer? Not mentioned yet is the fact that placing workers has useful side effects and also that placing a tile on a worker's space lets the worker be immediately placed anew, re-triggering the side effect. But just when all of this starts to look like it's at the Die Macher or Reef Encounter level of complexity, the random events and neutral workers start showing up. These include things like stealing tiles from other players, being forced to give a tile to the righthand neighbor and receiving one from the left. In effect, whatever elaborate plans have been made are very much subject to change. Some may feel that this trips up a highly analytical exercise while others may find that the system overly complicates an essentially simple situation, but either view is to fail to embrace the improbable rollercoaster ride that this is. Maybe allowing only a single action per turn would have been a win since it would have simplified the rules and many actions generate so many side effects, but we'll trust Mr. Breese that this was necessary. It would have been nice if the apple products were represented by red rather than orange cubes. But these are minor points. Hiding here is an enjoyable family-style game once one has managed to wade through its rules and systems.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7
Richard Breese; 2007; R&D Games; 2-4 [Buy it at Amazon]
Innovative allocation system in a fantasy kingdom is interesting but seems to suffer from repetition and kingmaking in the endgame. [Periodic Table of Board Games] [more]
The ecclesiastical chapter of Richard Breese's "Key" series (see Keydom) is concerned with ownership of those precious front chairs, no doubt representing the highest social positions, within a cathedral. The way to obtain them is by purchase and the way to acquire the funds is at the heart of the game. The production system looks as if it started with The Settlers of Catan, changed the hexagons to octagons and put the ownership markers in the resulting square-shaped gaps. The analogy even carries further as these ownerships may be doubled much as Catan cities are. But it's in its method of distribution, being diceless, that it shows innovation. Here players take turns going first and deciding which category of markers will produce, the key being that each "land" only produces once per round and first come-first served applies. This leads to all kinds of cascading effects which may be worth study as taking a land away from an opponent may later force him to take away something even more valuable to you. This makes the pre-game setup decidedly strategic as players can approach it in different ways, e.g. reducing the left hand neighbor's output, avoiding the right hand neighbor, avoiding all neighbors, maximizing surrounding lands, etc. For the strategist this process is probably the height of interest, the remainder being mostly tactical as it's a question whether anyone can win without a policy of building up production as fast as possible. Trying to buy the cheaper chairs early doesn't seem to pay off and buying the special effect "law" cards – because a law is anything that lets you do something the king does not want? – are rather hit-and-miss. (They can be rather frustrating to others however and render completely meaningless a couple turns of careful planning.) Other factors such as duration, accessibility and graphics are fine. As workers, pawns might have been easier than tiles to pick up without disturbing the map, but would not have been as aesthetically pleasing. It might have been nice to print game information on the inside of the player screens, but maybe the text would have ended up too small to read easily. Most of all it would have been nice to have a game centered around its most innovative idea, the world building, but what we have is mostly logistical and tactical after the pre-game and somewhat random. It is also in the Anglo-American tradition, there being plenty of chance to mildly ruin the day of one's fellow cathedralgoer. Succeeding in what it attempts, Keythedral is that unusual beast which doesn't fit cleanly into any single genre or audience, but succeeds at combining bits from several.
Personal rating: 6
At least one insight is something every novel should have. Of course the best of them include many. But finding insight in a society game is much rarer. That's why it's so special to find that this game of time travel makes the nice realization that in the Age of Might religion and civic institutions were subservient to military power, that in the Age of Faith religious institutions were paramount and that in the Age of Reason the focus became the city, with the castles and monasteries of former ages becoming valued as relics for tourists. The technique is to represent the same region on three identical boards, one for each of the ages. Players lay tiles on any of the boards based on cards in hand. They may create a new building or enlarge one of their existing ones. Buildings which reach a certain size are duplicated in the same locations in the later ages, possibly obliterating something else should it be in the way. Similar to Euphrat & Tigris, each group of buildings is a kingdom and when they are joined, there can be disruptions. But her players do not get to play hand cards to affect it, however, and there are no leaders to remove. Instead, the issue is that there can only be one largest building of a type and any others must be reduced. This system leads to the interesting novelty that conflicts now now occur not just from kingdom joinings, but also from break-ups. As in Euphrat & Tigris, as well, there can be some frustration in that it's difficult to always build what one wants. For one, the player's time traveler pawns must be in the right age and moving them costs money. Second, saving cards between turns is not allowed – one is stuck with the four received. The ability to pay to discard and re-draw is probably a foolish hope in most cases. As a consequence, a good player will probably set up ongoing projects of all three types. On the other hand, the board gets crowded, especially with five players, so it will be useful to specialize in a particular era. Production is handsome and functional. Some might wish for grid numbers on the boards to facilitate time rippling effects, but really the rivers provide sufficient landmarks to make these superfluous. A card summarizing play might have been nice. The deck is small – only twenty-nine cards – which leads to lots of re-shuffling, but this helps to prevent wildly-skewed hands. (I still remember too well playing a game of Euphrat & Tigris when for four turns in a row I could draw nothing but river tiles.) The game misses an opportunity by not tying its map to some real world location, but probably makes up for it just on the strength of its concept. Downtime and chaos might be a bit much here for five players, but otherwise this is both worthy and fun.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 7
Ludovic Vialla & Arnaud Urbon; Matagot; 2006; 2-5 [Buy it at Amazon]
King Lui (King's Breakfast)
Childrens card game of repeated drafting by Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum. The breakfast dishes that players draft are essentially treated as stock shares. Then, similar to Paris Paris, the card not taken is added to the king's table to strengthen this particular "stock". This alone would be pretty interesting as one must always think in two different ways at the same time, first to find the most valuable card, second to worry about who will be helped most by the one which is left over. But added to this are two further wrinkles: (1) dragon cards – thematically something seems lacking in this – which are used to delete two items from the king's table and (2) that collecting more of a stock than the king yields one nothing. Just as in Paris Paris, can be frustrating and perhaps a bit unfair if the card selection and rotating turn order do not work out to advantage, but at least it's short enough that few will mind overmuch. Attractively cute illustrations leaven the experience. This is another of those precious few which can be played by children and yet still enjoyed by adults. [Holiday List 2003]
Alan R. Moon
King of Siam
Majority-control game set in the Thailand of 1874. Other than the starting cube locations and player and scoring orders, there is no randomness. Players all hold the same sets of cards which permit adding cubes to the board, swapping cube locations or changing the scoring order. Playing a card has the side effect of allowing the player to take a cube from anywhere on the board. There are only three factions – in the primary colors – and no player is intrinsically attached to any of them (although each begins with some leaning). Rather, the player tries, by the end, to have taken the most cubes in the color which ends up controlling the most provinces. In case too many provinces end in a tie, the Imperial British are considered to have taken over and the player with the most diverse cube collection wins instead. The physical and artistic qualities are very good. The cards are successfully iconic once explained. As with Clans this one is for fans of the elegance of the nearly pure abstract. But for theme fans there is hardly anything at all. Factions do have names and areas of concentration, but nothing else to differentiate them. It's unclear who players are supposed to represent as well. All of this is a real shame as not many games have this setting. In terms of mechanisms, the elements have been seen before, though not quite in this combination. Victory most likely depends on the number of times one can take just the cube color needed and still have that color win. Of course the more a color is taken the less its chances since it leaves the limited supply of cubes which can enter the board. With four players this is played in partnership which is fairly weird as it can be quite difficult to tell what the partner's plan is and whether he is indeed trying to pursue one or is simply attempting to help oneself. [Two vs. Two Games]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5
Peer Sylvester; Histogame; 2007; 2-4
Kings Progress
In the days of yore, the kings kept moving around, not just to keep an eye on things, but also because feeding that court could get damned expensive. Why not visit a vassal and let him pick up the check for a few weeks? Sure it's a subtle form of taxation, but it worked made to look like an honor, it worked. This is the situation we have here as Henry VIII pays a visit to three different castles over as many rounds. Meanwhile, courtiers scramble across a representation of the roads and towns of England to be the among the first five to welcome him there. Player turns consist of three basic activities: drafting cards, playing cards and moving courtiers. Each card corresponds one of the eight courtiers and playing the highest card value (calculated from the rank of the showing card plus the number of cards in that color) gives "major control" of a particular courtier. It may be said that no man may serve two masters, but here the player with the second highest card value receives "minor control" of the character. Once control is established, it's time to move the courtier toward the king as nice rewards await, including the chance to draft cards used in a majority control contest at the end of the round. Tricky here is the fact that control may be lost en route, and also that the board has choke point towns which prevent more than one courtier from ending on them – some of those courtier entourages must have been unexpectedly large. Keeping the situation dynamic is the fact that at the end of each round the top cards controlling each courtier erode away. The end of the game adds special scoring for each major control, which is one of those gotchas as it never happens during play and is thus easily forgotten until it's too late. This scoring often tends to decide matters, however, as a system which rewards both major and minor control and both first and second place tends to generate rather close scores. There are lots of choices to make here, but sometimes there is the irritating feeling that nothing can be accomplished as either control of the courtier one has been moving is lost or control is only established when it's too late. In both this and in the need to pay close attention to the hidden goals of others, there is clear similarity to Phalanx's Maharaja. As observed above, a lot of the theme doesn't make much sense, but the card illustrations are attractive, as are board and pawns. There can be some confusion distinguishing the pink and purple pawn locations, but it's surmountable. Physically the materials are not as sturdy as the top of the line German productions. May be better with three rather than five as the system may run out of cards. This is mainly a tactical affair of creating possibilities and seizing opportunities. A good memory for what others are drafting won't go amiss either. And maybe someone with such a memory can figure out who misplaced the title's apostrophe.
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Steve Kingsbury; JKLM Games; 2005; 3-5
Dice and economic engine game set in a medieval fantasy time frame. It's unclear who put out the memo, but dice games in which one rolls to claim something seem to be breaking out all over (see To Court the King for another attempt). Each turn all players simultaneously roll three dice and then take turns, lowest roller to highest, assigning them to various locations on the board, based on number of pips. Each location has a unique personality offering a different combination of items including gold, wood, stone, victory points, military power, military scouting and the ability to alter rolls. If players don't allocate all of their dice in the first go they may place the rest later, leading to some need to figure out what others are doing. The raw materials earned are used to construct buildings, of which there are twenty depicted on the player's personal tableau, each of them offering a different special ability. Interest is added by forcing buildings in the five rows to be constructed from left to right. Players have the choice of being a generalist or specialist, each row having its own theme – one for improving the engine, one for war, one for free items, one for getting points right away but in a vulnerable condition, etc. Vulnerability comes in during the winter when menacing raiders (goblins, zombies, demons, etc.) threaten in the form of a card. Each player adds his personal war abilities to a common die roll. Exceeding the raider number provides a reward while falling short causes losses as specified by the card, sometimes even a building and its associated victory points. Most of this works fairly well, but certain factors combine to the detriment. Two stand out. The first is a lack of engagement. Because choice of a board slot locks out all other players, it's practically impossible to plan one's turn as one doesn't know what choices will be available. Meanwhile, player turns take longer than they otherwise would. The downtime, especially with five, can be noticeable and annoying. The other issue is that it's difficult to stop a runaway leader. There is a catch-up mechanism provided which helps to prevent a fallaway loser, but the battle mechanism which was probably meant to stop a runaway can easily fail, depending as it does on a die roll. If the roll is always high in the latter turns, the leader can easily skate home to victory. Lesser quibbles are that making an extra, but different special thing happen every turn is more annoying than charming and breaks up flow of play. These could have easily been done all at once. Moreover, the turn track which indicates these is poorly illustrated and thus difficult to use. The artwork in general is rather garish and cheesy-looking. There are some strange features as well, such as the fact that gold, which one would think the rarest commodity, is actually the easiest to come by. Well perhaps it's a very small amount of gold indeed, and maybe should have been represented as coins. Another oddity is that the queen, at 17, appears to provide more valuable rewards than the king, at 18. Finally, and perhaps significantly, at just 15 rolls of three dice each, there may not be enough rolls for things to balance out statistically. But overall, most of these issues can probably be fixed with a judicious variant and if played with fewer than five. This done, players will probably find this easy to learn ndenjoy exploring for several replays the various building paths. Note that with small numbers of players neutral dice are added to make matters more challenging, so it may not be a good option for two-player play either.
Strategy: High; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6
Andrea Chiarvesio & Luca Iennaco; Mario Truant Verlag/Elfin Werks; 2007; 2-5 [Buy it at Amazon]
King's Gate
Reiner Knizia multi-player tile layer, set in a medieval city amid a few fantasy elements. This is a revision of his earlier Der Herr der Ringe: Die Gefährten das Kartenspiel and also has features familiar from his Samurai. Here each player has an identical set of square tiles and works with a randomly selected subset. On a turn they place one or more of these adjacent to the current rectangular scoring tile, which is complete when surrounded by ten tiles. The players with the most surrounding points receive victory points while the completeing player gets to place the next scoring tile. Some scoring tiles provide special powers in the form of a wizard or sorceress or similar. Another fantasy element is the dragon tile which permits removing another's. The artwork probably is overbalanced in favor of communication as the tiles are quite readable, but the backgrounds so busy and monochrome that they leak aesthetic appeal. The game itself should work better than it does – this may be a rare Knizia misfire. The ideas (1) that one person gets points and another chooses the location and (2) that what was previously played on the board for a wholly different purpose now matters again are very good ones, but the bonuses for winning just seem to be too much. Too often a payer just builds on this success leading to an unstoppable rich-get-richer steamroller.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low
if no image, probably out of print
Opening the yellow box might make you wonder if you stumbled into not a game, but camping equipment. Here's a loop of rope, an aluminum plate, four wooden cups and as many tin pans. But it's dexterity game, and rather unlike any other. Out of a bag the current player draws three marbles, puts them in the plate and attempts to "pan" them out. The rope is a clever restraint; placed on the table around the plate it keeps the marbles from rolling away too far, usually. Yellow marbles represent gold which are good to keep in while black marbles are dross to be removed. Keeping some marbles in and sending others out merely by tilting the plate back and forth is not easy, at least not at first, though eventually most adults should be able to do it perfectly. But this is not the end of the matter. Layered on top of this are the secret bets that every opponent will make about how much gold the player will save. If they are wrong they must hand over the wager, but if they're right, they get paid by the panner. Players who draw a gray marble from the bag (also dross) get the wooden raccoon piece, meaning that he gets a gold anytime a player's draw is all gold. There are also advanced rules – in English as well as German – that provide that if the wagers exceed the amount of gold panned, that nothing is paid out. For all this is fun and different to watch, but it's more fun for kids who might not have complete control over the panning. With adults that question of failure is not really there, unless it is intentional to foil wagers, but then it's just a matter of making an impossible guess about the wagers might be. For repeat play this is not one of those which adults and children can both enjoy to the same degree. On the other hand, its emphasis on action and gambling can probably draw in those kids who otherwise find games too sedate an activity.
LHMM6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6)
Stefanie Rohner & Christian Wolf; HABA-1993; 2-4; 6+ [Buy it at]
if no image probably out of print
Another card game from Uwe Rosenberg, designer of Bohnanza and one which is arguable more intricate. While appearing simple, it can be deceptive trying to look ahead and figure out what all of your opponents are doing and how to beat them. The idea that you don't want to accrue too many extra goods saw an earlier work out in the original version of Bazaar. The title is German slang term for jewelry that was never translated for the English-language version. [analysis] [variant]
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6 Uwe Rosenberg; 1999 [Buy it at Amazon]
Uwe Rosenberg; Hans-im-Glück/Lookout; 1999; 3-5
Knatsch (Knights)
Dicing contest for up to six players. Not so different from Fill or Bust really apart from the addition of being able to affect other players. Dissatisfying aspects are lack of general strategy, considerable downtime and too many opportunities to pound down a leader, leading to the experience outlasting its welcome, all with luck of the dice being over-dominant. [6-player Games]
Knights of the Rainbow (Im Schatten des Sonnenkönigs)
Very disappointing 1999 card game in a fantasy setting has almost no strategy. German re-issue of 2002 means "In the Shadow of the Sun King" and transfers setting from fantasy knighthood to the court of French king Louis Quatorze. The new version succeeds in increasing tension by means of many more special cards which are auctioned off and once owned, permit either enhancing one's holdings or lessening those of an opponent. The other change in this regard is an uncertain ending. The result is like Union Pacific sans board and with dominance of a stock conferring special powers. But to truly understand how the new game plays, imagine several people building up structures with wooden blocks. When you're not looking, an opponent goes over and knocks down most of yours. "Hey, stop that!" you say, at the same time knocking over someone else's. And on and on until Mom comes in the room to stop you. Whoever's blocks are highest at that moment wins. This virtual video clip does not show the tendency of the rich to get richer, but I think does make clear that the only way for the weak to catch up is to gang up on the strong and the very live inherent kingmaker possibilities. This game of immediate gain is not for long-term strategists as there is little to plan. The audience is clearly players who enjoy the sudden tactical strike. The artwork is nicely realized although some might have preferred wood or plastic to cardboard for the gold and strength markers. Unlike Bang!, no attempt has been made to internationalize the many cards so readers without German will need at least a couple of cheat sheets, unfortunate because this is the type of game which needs to be played quickly to really enjoy.
Alan R. Moon
Euro-political card game features quick play and some interesting decisions. Could really use a spreadsheet so that each player has ready access to the current situation. Or perhaps a white board. Luck of the draw tends to make the party points at the end difficult to come by reliably. It feels like strategy would have been rewarded had cards been retained between hands. Length-wise, recommend that three hands are probably sufficient to resolve matters.
Andreas Steding invention about Hanseatic trade on the Baltic Sea for up to four. The first difference one detects from the usual travel-and-trade vehicle is that adjacencies change all the time. While we saw a bit of this in Fische Fluppen Frikadellen, here it is ubiquitous and profound; in fact it's often possible that from a given point A it's impossible to get to B. Moreover, these variable routes are controlled by the players who swap out directional chits for replacements whose identities only they know. The second difference one notices is how tightly everything is integrated. These same chits are also used in a Poker-like auction system that determines turn order and the chits have the side effect of producing goods for trade in each of their corresponding cities. But we're not yet done with all the uses of chits as they may also be spent to get extra moves, to buy a raid opportunity from the guild master or to get a good. Goods on the other hand, besides being traded for other goods, can be used to buy chits, trade offices and even better special advantages. While the concepts are relatively simple and nicely explained by the help sheet, the best way to win is far from clear. For one thing, there are two sets of victory conditions. One involves purchase of five offices in which case the game ends immediately, but this is a difficult road which often involves weakening one's position as the offices are both expensive and lower one's chances for the timed ending. The second is based on victory points granted mostly for purchased special advantages and goods holdings. Production is good for a small press effort. The rather large wooden cogs of the title are better than could be expected and there are plenty of wooden cubes for trading. The cardboard chits are serviceable, but perhaps a bit fragile. Fortunately extras are provided in case of accident. The hardback board features an attractive pale sunlight view of the Baltic, probably color laser-printed. This is not a light affair; it will probably require a little over two hours and its systems and considerations are so novel that most will want to play more than once just to be sure of understanding the strategies and tactics and to learn to play it well. Wanting to try out the different advantage markers as well as advanced rules for taxation and combat will provide more plays. There may be too much negativity for some since raids can be used to take half another player's holdings, but otherwise fans of thoughtful, challenging games should find plenty to chew on here. Rules and information are provided in both German and English, including on-line at MOD Games. [JL & KM Games] [Traveling Merchant Games]
Kohle, Kie$ & Knete (I'm the Boss)
Sid Sackson game of many negotiations. In turn, players either draw cards or initiate a "deal", the value of which is determined by combination of the topmost tile and the space landed in. The board space also indicates which cards, and thus which players, are entitled to be in the deal. The dreaded "I'm the Boss" card about which I'd heard so much in advance actually does nothing more than guarantee that its owner is in the deal, if there is one at all. For it may be that players cannot agree on how to share out the proceeds and in this case nobody receives anything, which is often a net loss as players will have shown some cards and lost others in the course of it. You should be getting the idea that with this one we're not in Kansas (or Knizia country) anymore. Things can happen which are totally unfair and they don't even depend on anything as impersonal as a roll of the die, but on the whims of one's fellows. Another issue which can rear its ugly head is the excessive downtime that is the inevitable result of two or more obdurate negotiators who refuse to conclude, but nevertheless continue to go on and on and on ... This becomes especially prevalent toward the end when no one knows for sure who's winning because holdings are private, yet everyone holds a different suspicion, or at least claim about it. The moral of the story is to choose players carefully, but on the other hand, by the end of play you may discover qualities about them you never knew. In terms of good play, it's never a good idea to start a negotiation without power, which probably means holding a full hand, or at least more than the opponents. When your hand is full, preferably including "I'm the Boss", "Stop", most of the colors and a steal ability, feel free to start a deal, but in doing so, try to hold back playing cards until it's truly necessary and advantageous. When everyone else is playing and you're still holding, you're in the driver's seat, if not for this deal, probably for the next. Of course it's also a good idea to mentally track where the money is going and avoid inviting into deals those already doing well. The American I'm the Boss edition has some presentation issues, especially the travel cards which look too similar to the personality cards. Keep a close eye on the card corners to avoid mistakes. The design feels almost as if it grew out of dissatisfaction that nobody was playing Monopoly as intended – unowned properties are supposed to be auctioned. This game's ideas were groundbreaking when it first appeared in 1994, but it feels too wild today, as if proper safeguards have not been installed. At least players could receive some compensation for a deal gone bad, for example. In the negotiation games field, Chinatown makes for a more intelligent situation due to the tactical decisions on the board while Republic of Rome offers a deep theme and much more structure. If you're up for a no holds barred contest in which anything may happen, you artistes of the deal, this is your game; most others are advised to stay well away. It's interesting that the idea from Mah Jongg was used here, and wisely so: the current turn moves to follow the last to play of an "I'm the Boss" card. German title is a reference to three slang words for money, e.g. it could be translated "Dough, Chips & Bread". [6-player Games]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium
Kollier, Das
Card game about auctioning jewels to construct the most valuable and symmetric necklace may remind some of Das Kollier der Königin von Saba. All about close calculation and timing, it is surprising that such a small package has such a relatively large learning curve. In addition, takes on a rather different character depending on the number of players. To improve competition, probably a good idea to have purchased jewels openly displayed rather than hidden in the hand. The rules, at least the English rules, fail to cover the situation of a jewel failing to receive bids during the start-up portion of the game. They also mention a "refund" — I believe this would have been better translated as "overpayment". Title means "The Necklace".
Komme Gleich
Uwe Rosenberg card game on the popular restaurant theme (cf. Café International, Café International - Kartenspiel, Restaurant, Lord of the Fries, Lord of the Fries De-Lux). Play is quite simple. Five different menu items are openly lined up. One player chooses a hand card to change one of them and then all players can either relocate one of their cards or draw and discard one. Anyone who can fill the order by matching a sequence of at least three cards shows them and stores the cards. This is done simultaneously, not as a race, but simply because what one player does at this stage doesn't really affect another. Accumulation of ten cards gives a tip (victory point). Matching all five cards at once yields a point immediately instead. Play until all the point cards, or point chips (which are curiously not mentioned by the rules), are used up. Much as in Klunker, there are a couple of different strategies to pursue, either quality or quantity, but less successfully here because frequently it's impossible to fill any order at all. Most players will thus probably prefer Klunker or Bohnanza. There is one amazing technical innovation, however. Just as in Bohnanza, the card order in the hand is critical and normally may not be changed. But how to enforce this? Each player is given a waiter card indicating either Left or Right. This is the card fanning order the player must use throughout the game and any who fails to do so, will be immediately noticed by his opponents. No more worrying whether the opponents are playing you fairly. Card artwork is average or above, but the application of color rather arbitrary. Why should salad be yellow? More seriously, the baguette is a powerful wild card, but is far more bland than either lobster or soup of the day. Title means "Come Quickly".
König der Elfen (King of the Elves)
Essentially a card game version of Alan Moon's Elfenland. Instead of a board, over a series of rounds players in effect build (and de-build) the board by playing cards representing different destinations and then when all is complete, peregrinate using travel cards à la the original game. As in Elfenland, cast in a negative way – plays which hamper others are the ones most rewarded. More seriously, breakable by simple expedient of collecting, but never playing any cards until the final round.
Alan R. Moon
König Salomons Schatzkammer
King Solomon's Mines was H. Rider Haggard's Victorian novel of African adventure. "King Solomon's Treasure Chamber" is an elaborately-produced game of excavating the treasures themselves having only a rather tenuous connection to the topic. Treasures are loaded four deep onto a six by six grid. Players are dealt cards, each of which bears a number and a pattern on the grid. Each chooses a card to use and they are revealed simultaneously. The lowest-numbered card, which will also contain the smallest pattern, excavates first while the highest-numbered (and largest pattern) goes last. Excavations might take tiles that are all at the same level – which at first can be difficult to discern – and cannot fail to take tiles from any space. This situation is mitigated by rules permitting players to shift tiles around a bit first, though each costs a gold. Findable items are treasures valued 1-5, costly curses, scrolls which are are part of a set collection sub-game and magic objects which convey special powers (basically avoiding one of the above restrictions). Scoring at the end counts treasure values, gold and also very high points for the top two in the curses race and for unused magic objects. What's most impressive here is the physical presentation. It's generally unusual to find a reasonable strategy game paired with a large, deep and well-made plastic board and impressively illustrated and thick tiles. On the other hand, though the scoring system often provides a fairly balanced result, it's neither strongly thematic nor truly innovative. It's probably also best with about three players, both for reasons of downtime – players can spend a lot of time trying to figure out where to use their cards and shift tiles around – and because with more players get very few cards. At five players one gets only five cards, all of which might be very low- or high-numbered, either of which is unfair as sometimes one needs to act early, but at other times late. As a variant players might ameliorate this by pre-sorting the deck into three ranges and letting players draw from each.
MMMH6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6)
Alessandro Saragosa (developed by Venice Connection); Clementoni; 2005; 2-5; 8+
Two-player tile-layer using cards set in the waterways of Amsterdam. The important thing is to use all of the advanced rules. It seems the publisher was hoping to position this game for a wide market (which didn't work), but for experienced game players, it doesn't get interesting unless all of the rules are used. I suspect that a lot of the early comments on the game only used the basic rules and were disappointed to find what is basically a kid-level game. But if the full rules are used, the game looks nice and is quite challenging actually, especially the tactic of running the other player out of cash. There are also four-player partnership rules that don't work out very well. Usually such games work because there is a set hand and each partner knows what role to play, but here either player can take on either role and also the hand is changing all the time. It's chaos, and not the "good kind". [Two vs. Two Games]
Update: In 2008 Tilsit announced plans to re-publish this as Amsterdam.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Michael Schacht; 1999; Goldsieber; 2, 4 [variant]
Business takeover game based on rolling dice. What's nice is that the rules provide a whole host of options on how to count the dice and to what use to put them. The endgame conditions can create tricky considerations as well. By the way, according to the designer, when placing a new market segment, choose it randomly. Also, legal, but not spelled out in the rules, is the ability to discard as many of your cards as you like during your turn. [errata] Fanfor
Koplopers & Dwarsliggers
The strange-sounding title of this Dutch train game is one of the cleverest in recent memory. A koploper is a type of train and a dwarsligger is a sleeper car, but the first is also a general term for a "front runner" while the latter can mean a person who gets in the way. Both apply to this pick-up-and-deliver game set in the Netherlands. The map is criss-crossed by rail lines similar to their real life counterparts, the inventor being an employee of a Dutch railway company. Contracts, always representing passengers rather than goods, appear in the form of chips distributed semi-randomly, one per station. Each shows the number of passengers and the destination. Movement is controlled by a fixed rate action points system, which also subsumes putting new trains into service, turning them around, coupling and decoupling and even passenger exchanges. An unexpected and challenging rule is that a train having space that either stops or delivers at a station must take on any passengers waiting there, even if their destination is horribly far away from where one is headed. The other challenge players face are the obstructions. Players have a never ending supply of cards, each matching a different station. There are three obstruction chips, one of which is placed next to a station whenever its card is played, but the chip to be moved rotates. This, and the fact that each player may only use one card per turn, means that when a card has been used on one, it takes a while before the situation can be cleared, though each player has a one-time chip dispersal card. Play is somewhat annoyingly limited to a fixed number of turns, something which is all to easy to forget to update. It's too bad no alternate method could be devised. It is all nicely made; indeed it's overproduced in a few aspects. The map is rather large and includes a lot of unused space. There's a station decoder card which is only necessary for flavor. And each player gets an unnecessary small plastic cup such as one would use for pills to store completed contracts. The instructions are clear, but there are minor language issues. The cards have flavor text describing what has happened at each station and other cards describe the various ways to spend action points. In practice one doesn't need the first and the rules about the second are clear enough that they can simply be remembered. Thematically it's a good and simple merchant system, though it's a rather odd that passengers are willing to get on trains liable to go just about anywhere. As is often the case in this genre, play tends in the direction of multi-player solitaire for a while as everyone needs to think carefully about optimizing their routes, but takes on an obstructive character as leaders develop and matters come to a close. In this way the system achieves that important change in feeling as it progresses. There isn't really any sense of re-investment here and as already mentioned, the ending is a bit artificial. What's most impressive though is how the overall system, combining as it does contracts and "goods" into the same item, is so clean, and also how it doesn't last much more than an hour. There are also rules for an advanced version which do not require any pickups and in which any undelivered passengers deduct from one's score. This is Dutch publisher Giuoco's first game and we can hope not the last. [Traveling Merchant Games]
MMMH7 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 7)
Chislaine van den Bulk; Giuoco-2009; 2-4 [Shop]
In this multi-player contest for dominance of 14th century Crete, Stefan Dorra has created a game decidedly unlike any of his previous efforts, yet strongly reminiscent of the many majority-control efforts of others. Each player has an identical set of cards and their play controls units in five different types – peasants, abbot, village, fort, ship. There is also a king card which repeats any one of the functions and most powerful of all, the castellan which triggers scoring and resets all of the hands. But this is not the end of its powers for its player may also veto the next site to be contested – only 11 of 26 are – and draw its replacement at random. It's likely that a variant preventing the leader from simply using the card every turn to trivially maintain his lead could be useful here. There is a slight logistical side game as to earn the right to build a village, a player must cause a product to be shipped. Maybe this was once more central to play, but now feels like it may be too many rules for a minor feature. The general feeling here is of a wrestling match as one constantly looks for opportunities, often not finding much as certain areas will be already too sewn up. Sometimes the next two areas to be contested – both are known – are adjacent and if the player is weak in both, it's rather deflating, and probably best to trigger scoring immediately so as to be able to have something to work on. The abbot is a powerful piece which excludes others' peasants so it's probably wisest to keep him centrally-located and avoid visiting the map extremes as he may be trapped out of the action. Presentation includes a beautiful map of the long island and wooden pieces in several interesting shapes. Overall this should appeal to neo-war game fans who will relate to the territorial nature of the contest. From a design perspective, it feels a few years old and maybe we have seen too many of its type already. Even the card system was used for Lunatix Loop back in 2000 – there with simultaneous play which adds excitement (at the expense of science), which might have helped here.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Stefan Dorra;
Krieg und Frieden (Charlemagne)
Mostly a card game set in medieval times, using wooden pieces to track statuses and keep score. The design grows out of the interesting idea that in early, pre-coinage times there was no ability to "make change" and thus exchanges might not always be equal. Unfortunately, players must be chosen carefully because the too-flexible system permits a single player who feels vindictive to largely ruin matters for another. Called Charlemagne in its first, low print run edition which included wooden tiles, probably a better name than its current one whose meaning, "War and Peace" has nothing to do with the Tolstoy novel and at the same time kept it out of consideration for the Spiel des Jahres for sounding too militaristic.
Krone & Schwert
"Crown & Sword" is the multi-player game by the inventor of Carcassonne. Tiles are placed on geomorphic boards delineated with octagonal spaces. Placement depends on having the right cards, their acquisition and playing regulated by an action point mechanism. This system can be a source of imbalance as one can never build, for example, any of the countermix-limited cathedrals if not lucky enough to draw a cathedral card. The idea is to acquire victory points, mostly by evaluation of holdings when "Wertung" cards appear à la Venture or Union Pacific. But there is also the possibility of being king which permits a taxation each turn. When others tire of it, they may, Junta-style, declare a revolt. Each then secretly decides which side to support and may even play extra cards in support. The system provides a built-in bias toward rebellion so that by the end it becomes rare for any king to last more than a single round unless he has luckily drawn the right special cards preventing revolt. So there is lots of card conflict and a bit of outflanking on the board, that is, a lot of tactics, but not much strategy. Revolts become commonplace, their fun decreasing with their novelty. Considering the level of chaos, this might work best for a group of military game fans in need of something shorter, that is, about two hours. Others are likely to be bothered by the randomness and repetition. Includes generously-large wooden castle and cathedral pieces.
Personal Rating: 5
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The name of the second highest mountain in the
Karakoram range, and also in the world, is both easy to remember and used for the title of this game. That it doesn't have a local name stems from its very remoteness. Not only that: it is considered one of the most difficult to climb; as the game will tell you, it kills one in four who try. Each player controls two climbers trying to reach the summit, or at least as high as possible, and also returning safely back again. As in its fellow racing games Ave Caesar and Fast Flowing Forest Fellers, each player has an identical set of cards and each turn plays from a randomly-determined subset of them. Cards let mountaineers move, but may also permit preparing for bad weather or even hunkering down for a while by going into a tent. Other features include multiple paths up the mountain, different weather situations depending on the elevation and the ability to foresee upcoming conditions to some extent. The weather can get so bad that it's possible, but not likely unless one is careless, to be killed on the mountain. At the top two spaces on the mountain, and to a lesser extent at other places, space is limited so climbers block one another, which, combined with the blind choice of three cards and the limited cards one gets, can mean that a player is prevented from ever moving up, which can be frustrating to the point of becoming not fun. The start player moves left each turn so at the very least players need to plan carefully where it may be possible to move after opponent activity. The board is double-sided, one depicting an easier and one a more difficult approach to the top. Likewise there are two sets of weather cards, one for summer and one for winter. From a design perspective, the acclimitization cards are a new wrinkle, but not a major one. What's best here is that the game bites hard into its theme, but unfortunately this is not one that necessarily makes for an appealing game. This is probably best then for those already into mountaineering and in the take-it-or-leave-it category for others, which is completely okay. With so many games these days it's not necessary that every game appeal to every player (not that that was ever true anyway). Every field of endeavor should be happy to have a game this good to represent it. The 2011 K2: Broad Peak expansion provides a board for the world's twelfth highest mountain.
LHMM6 (Strategy: Low; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6)
Adam Kaluza; Goblin-2010/Heidelberger Spieleverlag-2010; 1-5; 60 []
Kuhhandel (You're Bluffing)
Card game of horse – and other barnyard animal – trading revolves around around an innovative mechanism not much used before or since. Players are trying to acquire an entire set of animals all of the same type and do so by each offering the other a hidden amount of cash. The high bidder gets the animals. The bluff and psychology involved in figuring out the correct values is very reminiscent of the process of arbitration in real life and presents a constant challenge throughout. One possible downside is that the entire game is basically this mechanism whereas it would have been even more fascinating had it been built into a larger context of decisionmaking. Another is that some players may be knocked entirely out of contention quite a bit before the end, leaving them only the chance to play kingmaker. Duration for this light outing is about an hour. Comes in two versions, one from 1985 and a re-publication from 1998. Although I have not tried the early version, the later one is fortunately said to be the better of the two. Update: re-published 2002 as You're Bluffing.
Kula Kula
Beautiful game about sailing around the Solomon Islands collecting shells based on a real-life game which has been played in the Solomons Milne Bay area for thousands of years. Men sail from island to island giving and receiving elaborate arm shells and necklaces. Arm shells travel counterclockwise while necklaces travel clockwise. Outwardly a ceremony of exchange, it is also considered partly magical, the power (called mana) of the items growing as they travel from person to person. Each has its own name, pedigree and personality and yet is not owned by anyone. Unfortunately, like restaurants with views, with such games it is the rare one which also delivers high quality. Here the wooden ships strangely sail in only a clockwise direction either slowly, or faster if a duel with a deck of cards is dared. But all too often it results in the appearance of an idol which spells no movement at all. This also entails use of a nice-looking, but easily-toppled and difficult to read spinner which distributes new shells to the board. Yes, the game comes with actual shells, cowries and puka-pukas. Collect three of the latter and you can get one of the former. Acquire four cowries and return to your home island to win. You may manage to acquire some of them by bumping others boats along the way. There seems to be a bit of a problem with the movements of two boats which are quite close to one another. Neither wants to take the lead so both will tend to just keep drawing cards so as not to move creating a stalemate situation. But then this problem is dwarfed by the very large degree played by Lady Luck. Well, at least by the end all players will have learned something: the difference between a puka puka and a cowrie as there is no playing without knowing that much. With such nice components, perhaps someone will devise a nice variant? A pickup-and-deliver style game perhaps?
Kunst Stücke
Finding limited edition early works by inventors who later become very popular is quite an art. Should you manage to scoop one up without paying overmuch, consider yourself quite lucky. But are such salad works universally worth the trouble? From Karl-Heinz Schmiel comes this 1995 opus. Later famous for Die Macher, here he features two mechanisms that were fairly novel at the time. One was that a turn can be either placing a piece, moving a piece or the completely original and orthogonal option, taking a victory condition card. The board was novel too, really containing nothing but a boundary and yards of open space. Each player is dealt at random a number of rectangular pieces of varying shapes and sizes and in a variety of colors that eventually will make the board resemble a degenerate version of a Mondrian. Already in the early going its clear that it's not been planned well. Players don't know their victory conditions and so tend to dive into the stacks and choose one. But on the other hand, there is little basis for being able to see any one condition as working better than any other. There's a lot of needless fumbling around. Eventually pieces tend to land on the board and get moved around, more out of a lack of knowing what else to do than any strategic planning. The big goal here is getting pieces of the same color adjacent to one another. Each player holds a different goal in this respect. One wants two, another three, another six, etc. The method of adjustment is to take any single piece and slide it wherever one likes so long as it can physically squeeze between other pieces and the board edge and so that it ends up adjacent to a piece of its color. Of course no one is happy with any color state other than the one that they want, so much of the game is spent just undoing what a previous player did, sometimes what several previous players did. It goes on pointlessly like this for quite a while – sometimes with cooperating players working together to free a buried piece – until finally some pieces become so interlocked and buried that it appears they will never see the light of day again, upon which the ending, probably a dissatisfying one for most, is nigh. In retrospect the problem here is that it's probably too free-form; this is almost a war game because of the way that players are able to make unbridled attacks on one another. For that reason it can involve distasteful petty diplomacy/kingmaker situations as well. At least the title, translating to "Art Pieces", cleverly puns on "pieces".
LLHL4 (Strategy: Low; Theme: Low; Tactics: High; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 4)
Karl-Heinz Schmiel; Moskito-1995; 2-5
Kupferkessel Co.
Two-player card game for children of collecting sets of colorful magic items. These are laid out in a grid, the edges being traveled by the player pawns. The cards are dual use so the decision of which card to extract from a row pertains both to what the player is collecting and what the next move will be. A few cards feature special effects such as forcing a player to discard their top card. Bonuses are given for large and complete sets with penalties for odd lots. Interaction is limited and a good memory helps, but the rules are simple, play elegant and a good ability to look ahead definitely rewarded. Thus, it works fairly well as a quick game even for adults if one wants something not too serious. Inventor-supplied web variant makes play possible for three with simple addition of another pawn. One oddity, especially in this version, is that if a player takes a card indicating a move of four and ends on a corner, if other players can continually get in the way, he will always simply hit the next corner, meaning he is unable to take any points nor even escape from his situation. It's not quite clear whether this is a bug or a feature. Title means "Copperpot Co.". The inventor has since created a similar effort for up to five called Herr der Ziegen. [variants] [Holiday List 2002] [Frequently Played]
Strategy: Low; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 6
Günter Burkhardt; Goldsieber; 2001; 2 (3)
Die Kutschfahrt zur Teufelsburg (The Castle of the Devil)
if no image probably out of print
if no image probably out of print
"Coach ride to Devil's Castle" is that curious, but welcome hybrid of strategy game and party game that's been turning up more and more recently. While more recent examples include Hart an der Grenze, Cash and Guns, or even Shadows Over Camelot and Saboteur, there are examples going back to 2000 in Adlung's own Gerüchte Küche, and probably even further. The theme is a bit strange and welcome because of it: players are passengers in a coach consisting of two teams, but without anyone knowing who is friend and who is foe. What all do know is their goal, to get three of their team's desired items – either the keys or the goblets – in friendly hands and have one team member be able to declare who has them. A player turn consists of interacting with one other player. One can play nice and offer item-for-item trade or play nasty and conduct an attack. The latter is resolved by polling the table to see which side garners more support, the winner getting something out of it. There are items which can help with combats or perform other special functions. There are also special powers, each player receiving one at the start of play and which may be change during play. Thematically it's a bit weird to imagine: is this a series of physical struggles and riflings of pockets in a cramped coach? Mechanically, it's absorbing trying to figure out the sides – intuition can play a large role here, making this one distinct from most others – but there can be some fairness issues. Two of the cards are called "bags" which when traded permit a draw from the deck. If one team has one and the other does not and the other side cannot take it away – probably there is a 25% chance of this happening – the side with the bag has a decided advantage, an unfair and disappointing possibility. The other issue can be addressed: one of the cards can permit a player who has it to achieve a sole victory, i.e. not even including his teammates should he have the correct set of other cards. It's important that all players be made aware of this card's existence before play begins. The card artwork is stylishly and darkly realized. Text is in both German and English, though unfortunately rendered in a difficult typeface. The English is rather small and banished to the bottom of the card. If there were only a handful of new games each year, this would be worth taking a chance on now and then, but as this is not the case, unless one falls for the theme, the possibility of an unbalanced playing is probably not worth the risk. In addition, it seems to work best with around six players, as with fewer there isn't enough mystery and with too many more it can take too long to have anything interesting to do. [6-player Games]
Michael Palm & Lukas Zach; Adlung-Spiele-2006; 3-10
Strategy: Medium; Theme: Medium; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Medium; Personal Rating: 5 Amazon
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