Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de

Table of Contents
Updated: 10/25 21:30

[SPIEL.Digital]

Welcome to SPIEL.digital!

[SPIEL.Digital]

Sunday - 25th of October 2020

[SPIEL]

Welcome back to the final day of SPIEL.digital. I must confess: I am no less tired than in a normal year. Although the nights were much longer than usual, I feel exhausted. I think that the long time in front of the computer and many more digital devices is the main reason for this. And I also have to confess that I miss seeing all of you in real life.

In normal times, I would have met many of the authors and publishers, and I would have talked face to face about upcoming games and insights of the novelties. Of course, this was also possible in the virtual world, but it doesn’t feel the same.

I think that the Merz Verlag has made the very best of the Covid-19 year, and has established a really great digital show. There were so many offers that you had not really a chance to see at least 10% of that you were interested in. So, this is pretty much the same as it is at the regular SPIEL. And playing games via Tabletopia or one of the other platforms while at the same time communicating via Discord was much better than I had imagined. But still I hope that all this Covid-19 thing will be over soon. My wife was tested twice in the last month, because she had contact with a positive person. Fortunately her test results were both negative. But I am really fed up with this pandemic, and I definitely want to meet friends again for a normal boardgame night. I hope that you and all of your friends stay healthy and that we will have some vaccine soon.

Fortunately, I have the advantage that my two sons love playing games too, and so I will be able to tell you more about the novelties in the next weeks to come. So stay tunded. But for today let’s focus on two more games I have played in the days of SPIEL.digital:

Review: Unicorn Fever (HEIDELBÄR GAMES / HORRIBLE GUILD)


Everyone knows that there is a pot full of gold coins at the end of a rainbow, where the rainbow touches the ground. But you probably did not know that unicorns love rainbows and leave everything behind to have a race on the rainbow. It was only a matter of time before ruthless business people established an event around this unicorn race, including dirty deals and the bet mafia. But people loved it and so whenever there is a rainbow, there is also a fantastic unicorn race with a large crowd of visitors and many bets.

In Unicorn Fever players take part in the unicorn race as bettors who know all tricks of the race. Manipulation is only one method to reach your goals. Each of the four rounds a new race takes place, but the unicorns take over their odds from one race to the next one. Six unicorns take part in the race.

[Unicorn Fever]

Click on image to enlarge!

Now on their turns the players place bids for one or several unicorns, either for the winner of the race or for for the positions 1-3. Depending on the odd of the unicorn, the player multiplies his money bet and earn fame. To have money is nice, but in the end it’s the fame that counts. As a result money is only a means to an end. For example money is good to close deals with some miraculous creatures from the world of fables that offer offer services and are represented in form of cards in the boardgame. Contracts are manifold and can influence the race.

Moreover, players can play magical cards to a unicorn to manipulate the race. These cards can have positive or negative effects and are hidden until the race begins. Of course placing bids, making contracts and manipulating the unicorns, all of these actions are performed before the race begins.

[Unicorn Fever]

Click on image to enlarge!

The race itself is carried out in the next phase of the game. Step by step movement cards are revealed and - depending on the odds of the unicorns - the card tells us how far a unicorn moves forward. Of course with all manipulations in mind. The higher the odd, the higher the chance that a unicorn makes a huge step ahead. But that’s not for sure. As a result a unicorn with a bad odd can win the game too.

The round is completed after all players have cashed in and the odds of the unicorns - depending on the race result - are adjusted.

[Unicorn Fever]

Click on image to enlarge!

Unicorn Fever seems to be a children game. In fact when I got the hardcopy of the game this week, my younger son said: Wow, a baby game! But quite the opposite: Unicorn Fever is a tough tactical betting game. A race of the unicorns that run on colourful rainbows. Players influence the speed, the individual abilities of the unicorns and much more details of the race, while at the same time they bid on the outcome of the race.

Unicorn Fever impresses with its shrill colours and the cute unicorn pieces. The race of the unicorns itself is exciting and I caught myself deeply engrossed in the race. It’s not the game I had expected, it’s more challenging than my first thought. But it’s no complex game in the end. The funny humour is already an attribute for Lorenzo Silva and HORRIBLE GUILD. And this is again true for Unicorn Fever. The more people, the more unpredictable the race, but in the end the luck factor is not the main reason why someone wins the game. Great work as usual of this design team! Only thing I have to criticise: I finished last!

Let’s remain at HEIDELBÄR GAMES, but let’s change the partner publisher:

Review: 2491 Planetship (HEIDELBÄR GAMES / MEBO GAMES)


There was quite a buzz for this game before SPIEL.digital. But as I had only seen some promising pictures and hadn’t had time to read more about the game, I was quite curious to learn more about how game is played. So let me take you with me to a time travel to the year 2491 when planet earth and all other inhabited worlds completely consumed all of their natural resources. Some may say that we won’t have to wait so long for that, but a boardgame says always the truth, doesn’t it?

Six different races are taking part in 2491 Planetship, but you are not obliged to play only with one of this races. Instead each player is a commanders of a planetship that is populated by a variety of these races. The resource DNA is needed to keep everything running and to prevent incest, but it is rare. So lucky for us that the planetship ALPHA has been destroyed and we can now collect survivors and use their DNA on our planetship. But of course, other captains had the same idea and so a competitive race for the retrieving of the survivors starts.

[Unicorn Fever]

Click on image to enlarge!

The game is setup by building up several randomly drawn zones of planetship AlPHA and placing a survivor in form of a character card in a specific quarter of each zone. The three other zones are spaces for our own characters that are operatives and sent to retrieve the survivor of a zone. So on a player’s turn, they choose a character card from their hand and play it to one of the free spaces on one of the zones currently available. In most of the spaces the card is played faced down unless another effect says other. To indicate who has played the character card, the card is marked with a ship token of the player’s colour.

Once all players have played all of their ship tokens, the round ends and the zones are resolved one by one. Every character card has its own strength and the total for all players is calculated for each zone. The player with the highest total wins the survivor and the players returns all their played cards and ship tokens.

[Unicorn Fever]

Click on image to enlarge!

Pretty straight forward and nothing special so far. That’s what gives the game that extra something are the individual character abilities and the special rules of each zone. And that makes the game indeed tricky. The character abilities and some of the zone effects do not only have impact on the zone itself. Instead other zones are influenced too. For that reason it is important that zones are concluded one by one with the zone with the lowest zone number beginning.

To understand that principle an example: A character with the tractor beam ability can pull another character card from an adjacent zone to its zone as long as there is a free space for the other card. And this can be an own character as well as a character from one of your opponents, may it be hidden or revealed. If now the adjacent zone hasn’t been resolved yet, the effect of the tractor beam does not only effect the current zone, but the adjacent zone likewise.

[Unicorn Fever]

Click on image to enlarge!

A messy task if you wanna be on the top at the end of the game. Ah yes! Who will be on top? Well, that’s quite simple: Each character card has victory points and at the end of the game these victory points are summed up. Additionally players can accomplish missions during the game and take the matching open mission card to further improve their victory points.

2491 Planetship is an easy game to learn. But it is quite a challenge to send your operatives to the most effective places. During the game you gain more and more powerful characters as you retrieve the survivors and can use these new characters in your hand immediately for the next round. The game reimplements mechanics from a City of SPIES, but it still feels different and unique in my opinion. Stay tuned for my final review, but I think that my two sons (and I) will have some fun with the game in the next couple of weeks.

I still would have liked to play many more games, but the convention is over now and so is our coverage. But I think I will keep trying more games in the next couple of days as the platform remains open. So for example I think I will try Furnace from HOBBY WORLD and Rush Out! from SIT DOWN!

[Rush Out!]

And with these last words I am leaving you alone with Frank who has the last words. SPIELdigital was a great new experience, but I still hope seeing you again in reality next year. It will be our 25th year reporting from SPIEL, so stay tuned and let’s hope that we can celebrate this big event together!

[Farewell!]

Last but not least: A big thanks to my wife Andrea who not only took the load off from me during the last days, but also made our great merch like the shirt and the masks....

Ralf

[SPIEL]

SPIEL.digital - Final Day - Ladies Day (Part 2) !

Hello everyone for our final day of SPIEL.digital reports! Once again a SPIEL week has passed, and once again the time passed so quickly that it seems like it's been only a day or two. Tonight the official SPIEL.digital will end, but of course the virtual halls will stay open much longer, giving you a possibility to come back and check out the wagonload of information which can be found on the website.

After spending some more time in the theme world today, my wife Nicole and I simply wanted to do another gaming session in real life, and so we took another of the hottest news from the SPIEL.digital in order to give it a closer look. So, we played a round of Paleo by HANS IM GLÜCK, and it's another game which Nicole was really looking forward too. We both love playing cooperative games, and so games like Journeys in Middle Earth, Zombicide Black Plague or B-Sieged are regular visitors on our gaming table. Our attention had been turned to Paleo by an article in the German games magazine SPIELBOX, and it has attracted us with it's nice artwork and a quite new playing mechanism, the choice of hidden Story cards which give you some hint on their contents already on their backsides.

[SPIEL.digital]

So, welcome to the Stone Age everybody! In Paleo the players are leading clans of humans who are trying to survive in the hostile environment, trying to make a living as hunters and gatherers. On the short term, the aim for the players is quite simple, because they need food in order to get through the night phases of the game. If the players have not collected enough food during the day phase (a round of play), they will receive a Skull token for each clan member which cannot be nourished. The game is over when the players have collected a total of 5 Skull tokens, making food clearly the top priority and the daily to-do list!

However, the true goal of each game of Paleo is to solve the goals which can be found in the Story cards which have been chosen for that game, and the story is decided by choosing two out of ten Story card modules which are available in Paleo. The players do not know the cards in each module, and they really shouldn't look at the cards before playing, because discovering the cards is part of the game's playing fun. Furthermore replays at a later time will stay attractive, because you never discover all Story cards of the two modules in the course of a game. When chosen, the two module decks are shuffled together with one basic deck of Story cards, giving the players their joint playing deck.

According to the chosen modules two Mission cards will be revealed, and these Mission cards list additional requirements which the players have to fulfil for each night phase. Of course these cards differ from module to module, and so the nighttime requirements which the group of players will be facing can be quite many sided. In the introductory game they need additional food and a tent marker for each night phase, but who knows what will be required in later games with different modules?

[SPIEL]

Click on image to enlarge!

Ultimately the players aim to finish a 5-part cave painting, but at the beginning they won't have an idea how this can be done. To give you a clue, it has once again to do with the two modules of Story cards chosen for the game, and on these cards you will find the requirements how parts of the cave painting can be gained. In the first game you are out hunting for food, and you are on the tracks of a group of horde of mammuts. Finding a way to slay some of these mammuts certainly might be an idea to fulfil your main task and thus get parts of the cave painting.

But how are the story cards handled? Well, at the beginning of a dayphase all Story cards are shuffled, and the whole deck is distributed equally between the players. Each turn all players now look at the top three cards in their individual card stacks, and each player decided which of the three cards he chooses to encounter. The card backsides give a hint what can be found on this card, and the players may discuss which card each of them should reveal. For example, revealing a Wood card may give the players wood or food, whereas a card with a mammut may be a possibility to slay a mammut, provided the players are well enough equipped to go hunting.

The question whether a card's task can be solved successfully depends on the abilities of a player's clan members, and perhaps he also has some helpful equipment. For example, there may be an animal which requires three Hunting symbols for slaying, and a player can do this if he has two clan members with a Hunter symbol and perhaps a weapon like a spear. If successful, the player will get benefits like food and perhaps a skin token, another piece of equipment which can be discarded to heal a wound or used to build a tent. However, the solving of a story card often requires the player to additionally drain some of the still hidden cards from the top of his deck, and due to these drain requirements the players never see the full contents of all their Story cards.

[SPIEL]

Click on image to enlarge!

Furthermore, sometimes draining cards can be a tough decision, because there are cards with red backsides from which the players know that these often display a danger, possibly wounding their characters. However, draining such a card is not useful either, because this results in an automatic wound. That's indeed a difficult decision, especially since a clan member can only receive a limited number of wounds, and if a clan member reaches its maximum of wounds it will die, once again resulting in a Skull token which brings defeat one step closer.

However, quite nice is the fact that many story cards offer a possibility to help another player instead of fulfilling the card's own task. If a player chooses to help, he may add his skills and equipment to another player to solve the Story card of that player, and with combined forces the players often have a better chance of success.

During the course of the game the deck will get thinner, because animals can only be slain once and so they are removed from the game. However, players may also receive new cards for the deck by specific actions, and so there may be some new in-game surprises. Very important are also the cards showing a campfire on their backside, because this usually means that a player will perform an action in the clan's home cave. Here the players can use resources like wood, stone or skins in order to build different pieces of equipment. In the beginning this equipment is quite basic like a spear or a torch, but the players may get new Invention cards which give them access to new types of equipment.

Really nice is the fact that Paleo has a very pronounced teamplay aspect, and the cooperative gameplay really carries the players through the whole game. As a group the players can discuss their best way of action, and due the limited amount of information available on the card backsides there will be a lot of surprises especially at the beginning of the game. For example, you may well come upon a dangerous landslide on an otherwise quite safe Mountain card, whereas a supposed Danger card may give you a possibility to tame a wolf and gain a valuable ally.

[SPIEL]

Click on image to enlarge!

However, Paleo really is a game of exploration, because the players will slowly discover the deck of Story cards, making their guesses at a card's contents more precise and also increasing their options to plan ahead. So, if you discovered a cave during last dayphase, you now may know that you need torches to explore it. If you have the torches in a later round, you can solve the cave card and gain some nice benefits.

Nicole and I got beaten in our first game, but it was tight because we nearly finished our cave painting before running out of food. However, this was only the beginners mission, and the rulebook lists a total of 7 missions which will use different combinations of the 10 decks of Story cards. These missions will scale from easy to nightmare levels, giving the players an ever increasing challenge for many a game to come. Furthermore, the different composition of each module ensures for a lot of variety, so that there are many surprises which remain hidden from the players at the beginning. The game definitely fits our taste of cooperative games, and at this moment I can't wait for our next round of Stone Age survival!

Once again, the hype is justified!!!

[SPIEL.digital]

The Farewell Party

However, this gaming session in real life actually reminded me strongly of the most important element which I am missing here at SPIEL.digital, the possibility to chat to real people! Of course, yesterday morning I had the possibility to chat to my fellow gamers in our round of Paleo at TABLETOPIA, but all this certainly cannot replace meeting other gamers, real people in the halls of SPIEL. For this reason I was really looking forward to my final SPIEL.digital event, another visit to the 3D world created by CGE, HEIDELBERGER and HORRIBLE GUILD. I had received an invitation to the after show party tonight, and so I went there not to play some games, but for an opportunity to meet and chat with some boardgamers whom I know for many years.

[SPIEL.digital]

In this world I got together with Petr Murmak, Jana Mikulova and Vlaada Chvatil from CGE, and while we were chatting in a video circle we were joined by quite a few other people from CGE, HEIDELBERGER and other media. After four days of point and click, it was a great change to actually see so many familiar people, and the possibility to have a chat together for me was a great finish of the show.

Petr told me that the this virtual fair had turned out to be the most frequented online event which CGE has visited yet, and the online playing tables at their booth have been frequently filled with gamers. We also discussed the general organization of the SPIEL.digital, and many people in our circle agreed that it had been a very good effort considering the limited time frame and the current circumstances of COVID 19. However, we also agreed that this virtual fair also will have seen mostly real gamers as visitors. From our perspective there will have been less bypassers, occasional gamers or even spontaneous visitors, because you actually had to be prepared to make the best possible use of the SPIEL.digital website. As for myself, I bought a webcam and a microphone for this event, and it's a question whether many people did the same.

[SPIEL.digital]

On a more personal side, all of us just hope that we will be able to meet again in the real halls of SPIEL next year! I think we all just long for a bit more "normality", but with winter season just beginning and COVID numbers rising everywhere it's a question whether we will be back to normality soon. As boardgame fans, we are all social people, and so I think this longing to be back among fellow gamers can be understood all too well. So, when I took my leave from the others here in the 3D world, I really felt kind of sad because it's still uncertain when we will meet again. However, seeing some friends at the end of this show was just wonderful!

Well, this actually brings me not only to the end of this day's report, but also to the end of my convention reporting for this year. The four days at SPIEL.digital have been a rather unique experience, but sitting in front of the computer for many hours also is a quite exhausting business. In summary, I think it was definitely worthwhile to attend the fair, and I am really glad that Dominique and Max Metzler from MERZ VERLAG took so many efforts to keep our favourite fair alive in this fashion. For me, SPIEL.digital meant a nice break from day-to-day life and a possibility to spend some time once again for our favourite hobby of boardgaming.

[SPIEL.digital]

I hope that you enjoyed my part of our annual reports as much as I enjoyed writing them. I know it's much less information this year in comparison to a normal SPIEL, but in these special circumstances I am just happy that we were able to write a decent report at all. As you have seen in the previous days, we tried many new things this year, and Ralf, Lutz and myself would love to read your feedback in our guestbook in order to see how you liked this year's SPIEL.digital coverage!

So, it's time to say farewell, and what could be more fitting for this than Ralf and me sending some greetings from a virtual world!

[SPIEL]

Click on image to enlarge!

Stay healthy everybody wherever you are around the globe! We hope to meet you all back here at our hometown Essen for a real SPIEL next year, celebrating a grand reunion and our 25th Essen report. Yes indeed, next year we are here for a quarter of a century!

See you all next year!

Best greetings from Essen from Lutz, Ralf, Nicole and myself!

Frank

Saturday - 24th of October 2020

[SPIEL]

Hi there and welcome back to the third day of SPIEL.digital! Today, the veterans of Kulkmann’s G@mebox, Frank and Ralf, decided that I would go first. So let me take you with me to my virtual walk to a small Swedish indie game developer that I have visitec at SPIEL in real life in the last two years. I remember still that Tobias Hall from ALLORNONEGAMES had a small, well-attended booth at the edge of hall 5 near a shutter door when I first met him in 2018. At that time he presented his debut work, Dicetopia, which he successfully financed on Kickstarter. In 2018 he wasn't at the vonvention till the end, so when I wanted to visit him again on Sunday to tell him about my first impressions of Dicetopia, the booth was already empty. For a small publisher, the booth prices in Essen are certainly not always easy to finance. All the more I was, of course, happy to see him again in 2019 with a much bigger booth. This time he had the first expansion Dicetopia - Roll with the Punches in his luggage.

This year he is bringing two new games to the SPIEL.digital trade fair. Already last year I was able to report briefly about Goons, which was already financed at that time and will be shipped in the next couple of weeks. Tobias also completed the second and last expansion for Dicetopia, which is also already available for purchase at the convention.

Review: Goons (ALL OR NON GAMES)


Goons is a strategy board game that focuses on the careers of henchmen. After all, every good villain needs people to do the dirty work for them. The players slip into the roles of very different crooks who use their energy and talents to make themselves popular with the big bad guys. Their goal is to increase their reputation on the street, collect as much cash and cool gear as possible to gain as many victory points as possible.

I've noticed that, as with Dicetopia, two important elements of Tobias Hall's game designs play a fundamental role in Goons. First, the game principle is based on the placement of cubes, which results in one (in this case already two) actions. Secondly, it is the attention to detail in the story and the abilities of the characters, which also brings a great depth to Goons. The game also brings a lot of cool material into the box and will certainly fill the game table quite a bit. Nevertheless, the gameplay seems to be well structured. A round is played in four turns, in which a player takes a coloured cube from the board and places it on his or her player board. Cubes may only be taken from the edge of the large area of cubes on the board. Afterwards, the player may perform two actions, depending on the colour of the cube taken and the colour of the space on the player board on which the cube was placed.

[Goons]

Click on image to enlarge!

The actions that can be executed are indicated by the four corners of the game board. There are two possibilities per colour. On the one hand, you can provide your energy token to the villain of the corresponding colour in order to benefit from the villain's scheme at the end of the round being the player with the most supplied energy. For example, you can receive benefits such as money or suchlike. On the other hand, each colour is connected to places where you can also improve your skills or equipment. For example, you can get an energy token with a red action in the dojo, while in the supermarket you can buy necessary things for criminals. A baseball bat can be used for very different purposes. After three rounds, there is a final scoring, where you get points for the remaining energy tokens, the available items and the remaining money. The player with the most points wins the game.

[Goons]

Click on image to enlarge!

After checking out the available information, videos and rules on SPIEL.digital and Kickstarter, I think that Goons is a pretty good strategy board game. If you look closely at the explanations of the villains' plans in the rulebook and the way the game elements such as the items work, you can see that Goons will have great depth and replayability. Every player can specialise by further developing his own Henchman and develop skills that in certain situations will not be surpassed by his opponents. At the same time, of course, he must be careful not to concentrate on just one strength, otherwise he can easily be seen through and overplayed. In addition, the graphics and the equipment of the game are really outstanding. The comic style fits perfectly with the theme of the game. Anyway, I can't wait to try Goons in real life, on a real table with real people!

[Goons]

Click on image to enlarge!

Review: Dicetopia – Crashing Waves (ALL OR NONE GAMES)


With Dicetopia - Crashing Waves the second and last expansion to Dicetopia is released. After Roll with the Punches already introduced a new board with new locations, with which you could protect some cubes and you could play Dicetopia with 5 players, the Dock Board is now added. You will find the Crashin Waves Stock Exchange, the Cutthroat Prison and the Molotow Market.

This introduces new places that can have interesting influences on the final score or have a direct influence on the value of a cube. Of course there will also be some new Factions and with this expansion and Roll with the Punches, up to 6 players can now play Dicetopia. In addition, some game balance problems will be fixed, which caused imbalances in some constellations. I am curious how Dicetopiawill feel with all expansions.

[Dicetopia – Crashing Waves]

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Playing with Roll with the Punches required some practice to keep track of all the options. As soon as it is possible I will unpack all cubes, cubes and boards of Dicetopiaand the extensions and do a extensive test game and report in detail.

[SPIEL]

Hi there, Ralf speaking again: And a welcome back to the third day of SPIEL.digital from me again. I must confess that sitting in front of my computer, my iPad and my mobile phone all the time is exhausting too. In normal times, I would hurry from one booth to the next one, talk to a lot of authors, designers and publishers and write all of my experiences down in the middle of the night. But SPIEL.digital is exhausting too. I do not only sit in front of the computer, typing our daily reports, I am sitting in front of the computer all the time, watching videos, trying to get into Tabletopia, setting up Discord and much more. I don’t know what is more stressful. But what I am really missing: finding hidden gems I have not seen before. I think it is very hard for some of the smaller publishers to attract visitors. Normally you walk through the halls and if you see something interesting, you stop and have a closer look. Of course, that’s possible in the digital world too, but it is much harder, I would think

Ok, let’s see what I played today (By the way: the halls of Messe Essen are still closed, so I had to sat down in front of the ticket house to play alone with my wife Andrea...):

Review: Caretos (HEIDELBÄR GAMES / MEBO GAMES)


Caretos was one of my highly anticipated games for this SPIEL.digital. I only got the hardcopy on Wednesday this week, so I needed some explanation and introduction berfore I coulöd start to play the game. At SPIEL.digital I found a very entertaining video for that with two nice guys explaining nearly everything you must know:

[Caretos]

Click on image to enlarge!

And after that I found a seat at Tabletopia for the awesome game. Lutz joined in, so let’s see what’s the name and the boardgame is about:

Caretos, that’s the name of a gang of possessed, demonic villagers that scare villagers to death in the extreme north of Portugal. Moreover, this region is also well-known for its large number of supernatural creatures such as witches and werewolves...

[Caretos]

Click on image to enlarge!

I guess that this is some kind of legend or fable in Portugal. Anyway, it’s an unusual theme and the background story of the boardgame Caretos. Unusual mainly, because we play the bad guys, the monsters that capture fearful villagers. Capture is the expression used in the game, and I think the reason for this is that Caretos definitely suits as a family game. All components like the cards, the board and the monster pieces are awesome and illustrated in a comical, family-friendly style. And in most fables nobody is really killed, but instead synonyms are used.

[Caretos]

Click on image to enlarge!

The board has two sides that are used depending on the number of players. At setup villagers are placed in larger groups and with a camp fire on the board. Two gangs of caretos are added and finally each players places his two monsters along the paths.

The gameplay is fast and straightforward: On their turns the players always play one of there hand cards, with one or two actions on each card. These actions are then performed from top to bottom before the next player’s turn starts. To capture a villager you have to move one of your monsters on a space with a lonely villager.

At the beginning this is not possible, as there are only large groups of villagers. So, what you have to do first: You must scarce the villagers by moving a monster on a location occupied by a group of at least two villagers. The villagers will then flee to an adjacent location (each of them to a different one, if possible) and the player takes the campfire as a souvenir. This can also be a place with a monster, the villager is then immediately captured.

Of course, the player whose monsters have captured the most villagers win the game. Well, that’s basically true, but Caretos also has some bonus cards. And whenever you fulfil a condition on one of these cards, like scaring a group of villagers in a specific location, you can assign this bonus card to the captured villagers. This gives you additional victory points in the final scoring.

[Caretos]

Click on image to enlarge!

All monsters have some unique abilities. For example a witch can jump between four specific locations as if those locations would be adjacent. Now all of this would be quite easy. I mean, going to a group of villagers, scare them to death with the result that they scatter around and then collecting the lonely villagers with your monsters.

But don’t reckon without the host, or better without the Caretos. This group of demonic villagers can be moved by every player and whenever a caretos pieces enters a location with someone else, this creature is captured, be it a villager or a monster. Villagers are simply taken out of the game (if it is a group of villagers they scatter too), but monsters are trapped in the cauldron beyond the board. They remain there until another monster is captured (the first is then released) or if the owner of the monsters pays the release costs of three campfires.

[Caretos]

Click on image to enlarge!

Caretos is really an awesome family game. The Tabletopia variant already looks good, but you have to see the game in reality. But it’s even more than that: To win the game you must think in an area control way. And you must learn how the opponent’s monsters unique abilities work. I take my hat off to HEIDELBÄR GAMES and MEBO GAMES. That’s how modern boardgames should be!

After that, I wanted to play something much easier. A card game! And why not try the newest variant of Bohnanza?

Review: Excalibohn (AMIGO)


In 1997 AMIGO published Uwe Rosenberg‘s Bohnananza and since then a most unprecedented success in the history of card games has taken place. I still remember my first contact with the game. Unusual it was, because cards were not allowed to rearrange in order once they found their way onto the hand of the players. And funny it was, because the artwork of the beans that had to be planted and harvested satirises the name of the bean in a most funny way.

Many expansions, follow-ups and variants followed in the next 23 years, some were great, others made the simple game more complex or much longer. At some point around 2010 I gave up collecting all new versions, mainly because I lost track. And still I love the core game and the 2p variant Al Cabohn because of their simplicity and straightness.

[Excalibohn]

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However I felt that this year it is time for me again for the newest offspring Excalibohn. I think that you all are familiar with the core game (if not refer to our review), so I will just tell you what’s new:

The main difference to Bohnanza is that most beans on your fields have magic power. So for instance with pluck bean on one of your fields you are able to steal the last card of one of your opponents and add it to your hand or plant it on your fields. Or take the swordbean that let’s one of your opponents reveal the top card of her score pile and dependent of the type of the bean revealed a positive or negative effect takes place.

Magic can also be found in form of spell cards that can be acquired by harvesting the new kapbean (at setup each player already gets a first spell card for free). Spell cards are placed next to the beansfields and that further interfere with other players beans. However, a spell card must be activated before it can be used and for that you have the magic bean. This bean is a normal bean in all traditional purposes of play, but it has the magic power to activate your spell cards.

[Excalibohn]

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So what can I say about Excalibohn? I think it plays and feels much like the original Bohnanza, perhaps with a little bit more tactical choices. The new elements of magic powers and spell cards slightly change the way you play and trade the bean cards. They surely make the game a little bit longer, since you have more options in your turn. But you soon get familiar with the abilities of the cards and so the spontaneity I love while trading the beans won’t be lost. A legal successor of the most successful card game in the world and definitely a reason to trade and harvest beans again!

Well, that was nice again. I think the last time I played Bohnanza is at least five years ago. But I still remember how it works. After so many variants and games in the Bohnanza world, it is really no problem to find into Excalibohn.

But now let’s focus on something totally different: Tekhenu, definitely a gamer’s game. I thought about finding a table at Tabletopia, but the game is so complex that I decided to watch a live-video-podcast instead.

[SPIEL.digital]

So here’s what I already have found out about the game:

Review: Tekhenu (GIANT ROC / BOARD & DICE)


GIANT ROC is a German publisher of gamers’ games. In German you say “Kennerspiele”. And in the last years they definitely had a flair for finding excellent games. Board & Dice on the other hand have ties with some very successful game designers. So when a game is published by these two companies, it gets mostly a hit and can often be found among the hotness.

Daniele Tascini (Tzolkin, Teotihuacan) and David Turczi (Dice Settlers, Kitchen Rush). Two of the most successful boardgame authors in recent years combined in a new boardgame. Can anything go wrong? Probably it can’t. The game is already high rated at BGG and it looks great after setup.

[Tekhenu]

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Well, setup sounds to be simple, but whoever knows the two authors also will know that setting up a game will take you some time. At least if you don’t know the game. There is so much material inside the box that you better sort the material wisely. My first set-up took me nearly 30 minutes. Quite a long time regarding that the game duration is about 60-120 minutes. However the rulebook is great and you are perfectly lead through the setup in 13 steps (with some subitems). And it’s not difficult once you are familiar with the different game components.

In the game we take the roles of important officials in old Egypt. It’s our task to create impressive sites like the temple of Amun-Re and at the same time developing the region of Luxor, known as Karnak in our time.

[Tekhenu]

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The huge board is divided into six sections of the various gods of old Egypt and in the centre, most impressively, stands a huge obelisk: Tekhenu: Obelisk of the Sun. And the eponymous obelisk is also one of the key mechanical concept of the game. A rotatable disk under the obelisk has six sections for the six gods. This sections represent the shadow of the obelisk and determines what players can do in their turn.

At setup and at certain points during the game dice are rolled and assigned to the sections around the obelisk. Depending on whether the section is the shadow or in the sunlight, the dice are placed on different spaces, determining what you can do with them in your turn. Moreover there are five different coloured dice, a total of 26, that are randomly drawn and further influence where they are assigned. So a white die is placed on a pure space, if that section is in the sunlight, while the black die only gets pure in the dark sections.

On their turn the players take one die from the rotatable disk, perform a matching action in the same section from where the die was taken (the same god’s section) and place the die on their personal scale board. Pure dice are placed on the pure side of the scale and dark impure dice on the dark side.

Every second round, the disk under the obelisk is rotated and every fourth round, called the maat phase, our scale should be in balance to prevent negative scoring points. Then, every second maat phase, a scoring taking place.

[Tekhenu]

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Erecting new buildings, producing resources for that purpose, hosting feasts for our people, increasing technologies, invoking gods’ blessing, erecting pillars in the temple: the possible actions are manifold and definitely too many to describe them here in detail.

But you will see, after a little bit of confusion at the beginning, all actions fit well. The game is not difficult to play, but it will take you some time to get into it. A gamers game. Again it’s an dice and action drafting game with a lot going on. The main action takes place around the temple complex, but to be successful there, you need to go to the other sections first. I cannot say yet if it is better than Teotihuacan (that I am really fond of). But I can say that Tekhenu is definitely a new star at the horizon from Daniele Tascini and David Turczi.

And with this great gamer’s game, I will finish the day! See you all tomorrow again for a last day of SPIEL.digital!

Yours, Ralf

[SPIEL]

SPIEL.digital - Day 3 - Ladies Day (Part 1) !

Traditions must be kept, and one of my most important SPIEL traditions is to enjoy a day or two at the show with my wife Nicole. That's not too easy on SPIEL.digital because sitting together in front of a computer all day is not really fun, but since I have some of the most popular games from the fair already at home we have arranged for a different approach today. With the games at hand Nicole and I will do a normal gaming session tonight in order to present you one of the really hot games, and this gives me part of the day for another look at the things happening at SPIEL.digital.

[SPIEL.digital]

A different time, a different age: Nicole and me at SPIEL '15!

The first booth where I went today was HANS IM GLÜCK VERLAG, because their game Paleo is one of the most hyped games here at the show. It's also one of the games which I have already at my home, and so I thought that it would be great to join an online demo round in order have an opportunity to learn the game. In addition, something which I really wanted in order to get a taste of the full SPIEL.digital experience was to try the game at TABLETOPIA. And indeed, HANS IM GLÜCK has some gaming tables set up there, and I was lucky to get a seat at a free online table for Paleo!

[SPIEL]

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[SPIEL.digital]

At this point I will focus on my experience related to the use of TABLETOPIA, because Paleo definitely needs at least a second play before I can write a review. However, already this first game turned out to be rather enjoyable, and I can't wait to give the game another try. But let's now have a closer look at the circumstances of online gaming at TABLETOPIA, one of the two channels on which you can test and play games here at SPIEL.digital.

First off, what I really liked in this gaming session was the table host from HANS IM GLÜCK. We were a group of three players, and Laura, our host from HANS IM GLÜCK did a marvelous job both teaching us the rules of Paleo and the functions of TABLETOPIA. I had been a bit afraid of this system, because I feared that only long-times users would be able to use it properly, but these fears have been absolutely unwarranted. Due to Laura's explanation we learned the functions of TABLETOPIA in no time, and so the first hurdle was taken with ease.

[SPIEL]

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Communication on TABLETOPIA was possible via DISCORD, an online communication platform for gaming which allows in-game talk between all participating players. It's another system which I first used here at SPIEL.digital, but once again all technical fears were unnecessary. Despite my comparatively slow internet connection the communication was well and clearly understandable, giving our group the necessary possibility to talk and discuss. After all, Paleo is a cooperative game where you have to discuss your strategy and moves as a group.

[SPIEL.digital]

When using TABLETOPIA, you have to be aware that the game in front of you is placed there in "sandbox" style. This means that you have no mechanisms which guide you through a boardgame's function. So, it's not like you a playing an app version of your favourite boardgame on your tablet, but instead you can use the functionality at TABLETOPIA in order to handle all parts of the game in front of you just like you have the real game on your table!. So, you can flip cards, move tokens etc. whenever and wherever you want. That's a lot of freedom on the one hand, but on the other hand this leaves you with no guidance at all when it comes to playing the game. You either need a good host, or everyone needs to know the game's rules and all the functions of TABLETOPIA in order to fully enjoy the gaming session.

[SPIEL]

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As it turned out, Paleo was a very good game to play here. The fact that it is a cooperative game made it much easier for our group of players to learn the game and grasp the mechanisms, and this was further augmented by the fact that the players have no hidden hand of cards. Furthermore, all players can face the game from the same view angle, and this also helps a lot when it comes to looking at the cards revealed by each player on their player boards. In addition, everyone could participate when it came to sorting cards and components, and this really accelerated our playing. However, all this is definitely not the same many non-cooperative boardgames, and so it will be more difficult when the other players are really sitting on other sides of the table.

As a conclusion, I was positively surprised that TABLETOPIA was really a useful tool for playing games with friends who are far away. It must be conceded that a lot of this positive experience can be attributed to Laura, our great host who did an excellent introductory job, but nonetheless TABLETOPIA turned out to be an alternative for playing games especially in these troubled times of COVID 19. Something I would have wished for would have been that the playing environment itself wasn't purely a sandbox, but instead there could have been inbuilt functions for the management of the game. This is supposedly different in BOARD GAME ARENA, another big online boardgaming site, but I haven't used this platform yet, and so I cannot comment whether the missing of such functions at TABLETOPIA would be a real tiebreaker for me. I was happy the way the gaming session turned out, finally having an opportunity to chat and play with some real people, and if you always wanted to give TABLETOPIA a try, use this opportunity here at SPIEL.digital!

[SPIEL]

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Another booth which I really wanted to visit today was CZECH GAMES EDITION, because it tied in with today's game session with my wife. Furthermore, I have received an invitation to join them in their 3D world, an event which CGE has hosted together with HEIDELBERGER and HORRIBLE GUILD.

[SPIEL]

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I had to go through a quick registration and a download to enter the 3D world which had first been used for "Castle Tricon" a few weeks ago, but it all went smoothly and so I found myself in a new virtual reality. In a way, this was a virtual mini-fairground all by itself, because CGE and the associated publishers had booths in this world, giving you access to their gaming tables and some other features.

[SPIEL]

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I quite liked this virtual world, because it meant a change to the coint-and-click movement through SPIEL.digital by use of the Theme Worlds. In a way, I wish that this world would be bigger with more publishers and more visitor participating, because it was a quite unique feeling really to (virtually) walk from booth to booth and check this world out. In addition, one feature which I really liked here is the possibility to enter a chat area with the avatars of another user. This actually turns on video and microphone for both users, giving you the possibility to talk. This is something which I really miss at SPIEL.digital, the possibility to talk to other people wherever you go, and due to this feature for direct interaction the 3D world of CGE certainly an interesting supplement to SPIEL.digital.

[SPIEL.digital]

[SPIEL.digital]

[SPIEL.digital]

The main reason why I entered this parallel universe was the new CGE game Lost Ruins of Arnak, one of the most hyped games here at the show. Unfortunately I couldn't get a seat at one of the gaming tables, but this visit was useful as well, because I was able to listen to a rules explanation for a gaming group at TABLETOPIA. This certainly helped to get ready to play the game with Nicole this afternoon!

[SPIEL.digital]

[SPIEL]

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After these experiences I left the halls of SPIEL.digital, returning to my home in the blink of an eye. Nicole was waiting with tea and biscuits, and so we embarked on our gaming session. And I can promise you, the following game is one of the best which Nicole and I have played in the last years!!!

Review: Lost Ruins of Arnak (Czech Games Edition)


It's already 12 years ago that Dominion, the forefather of all modern deckbuilding games, has been released, and since 2008 more and more game designers have tried to embed a deckbuilding mechanism in their games. There have been quite a few very creative approaches, and games like Clank! have developed the deckbuilding mechanism much further, combining it with different elements of other traditional boardgames in order to create a wholly new playing experience.

Today a new contestant is on the table! CGE is releasing Lost Ruins of Arnak for the SPIEL.Digital, and in this game the players have to resort to deckbuilding in order to lead their expeditions to the mystic island of Arnak, a remote place which is rumored to be the home of a lost civilization. However, the beginning of an explorer's career is always characterized by missing funds, and looking at the starting decks of each player, everyone starts with a meagre deck of two Funding and two Exploration cards, plus two Fear cards which represent the setbacks and misfortunes which may happen on an expedition.

[SPIEL.digital]

The cards within the player decks can be used in two different ways during the course of the game. They can either be played for their general function, so for example the playing of a Funding or Exploration card will give a player one coin or one Exploration token. Alternatively, each card (including the otherwise useless Fear cards) also lists a travel value, and this can be used by the players to send their Explorer pawns to different locations on the island of Arnak. However, the travel value varies from hiking to vehicles like cars, ships or planes, and to reach the more remote locations on the island the players will need to play cards with vehicles since the distance is too far to hike there on foot.

Quite interestingly, the player decks are staying in a semi-fixed order, because at the end of a round the players will take all the cards which they have used during the round, shuffle them and put them at the bottom of their decks. In addition, this reshuffling of the used cards only happens at the end of the round, even if a deck is exhausted during the round. This approach is remarkable due to a number of factors. On the one hand the deck composition is slightly more predictable because cards which have been used during the same round will be within the same shuffle range. On the other hand the limitation of reshuffling to the end of round phase is fitting and atmospheric at the same time, because it actually puts a higher emphasis on the limited resources available to each expedition. The whole decision making is much tougher if there is no endless reshuffling.

[SPIEL]

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Before embarking on an expedition, let me quickly add how the players get new cards for their decks. Here the coins and Exploration tokens are used, because the players can used them to acquire Equipment (with coins) and Artifact cards (with Exploration tokens) which are available in a card row on the gameboard. At the beginning there will be more Equipment cards because the players have not started their expeditions, but during the course of the game the proportion of Artifact cards will increase, because the expeditions are assumed to get farther and farther away from their basecamp. Just like the standard starting cards, these new cards have a function and a travel value, but the functions of the Equipment and Artifact cards are of a much wider range than the standard cards. The cards may provide resources like Jewels, Arrowheads or Tablets, or they may offer special card options like additional card draws, purchase rebates or the possibility to exile a card from a player's deck. Usually these functions are listed in a combination, so that the cards are much more powerful than the standard cards if they are played for their function. In addition, the Artifact cards are even stronger than the Equipment cards, but they have the precondition that the player needs to discard a Tablet token in order to use their function. After all these Artifacts are truly mysterious and so the players need to understand how to use them!

[SPIEL]

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This introduction to the deckbuilding mechanism actually brings us the players' expeditions. In essence, Lost Ruins of Arnak is a resource management game in which the players have to gather and use resources for the ultimate goal of finding the Temple of Arnak. As a first step, the players have to send their Explorer pawns to locations on the island, using the travel values of cards in their decks to pay for the movement costs. On these locations the players can gather resources, but at the beginning of the game the more powerful locations still will be hidden. To discover these, the players can pay an additional cost of Exploration tokens, and these will allow them to place their Explorers at the more remote locations and gain more valuable resources.

However, exploration is a dangerous business, and so each newly discovered location will be protected by a Guardian who is unveiled at the time of discovery. These Guardians can be defeated once again by using resources in order to gain valuable one-time benefits and victory points, but players who have an Explorer pawn at a location with an undefeated Guardian will have to add a Fear card to their decks at the end of the round. So, exploration indeed is a dangerous business, because you never know which Guardian is waiting for you. For this reason it's tricky to send an explorer to discover a new location in the end phase of a round, because don't know whether you can still react to defeat the Guardian!

[SPIEL]

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But how to find the Temple of Arnak? Whacking your way through the jungle is only part of what's needed to become a successful explorer. Indeed, part of the work is done in your basecamp, researching clues and puzzling together a theory about the whereabouts of the famous Temple of Arnak. In gaming terms, this is represented by a Research track where the players can spend resources to move their two research tokens ever closer towards discovering the Temple or Arnak. With each step taken by either of these tokens on the Research track, the players will receive some resources, plus possibly a bonus if they are the first to get to a new part of the Research track.

But why two research tokens? Well, each player has a Magnifying Glass token (to discover something) and a Notebook token (to write discoveries down). In a way, the Magnifying Glass represents the first research efforts, whereas the notebook means thorough research. In gaming terms, the boni triggered by moving each token on the Research track are different, and only by moving the Notebook the players get to hire very useful assistants which give nice extra effects. However, the Notebook token of a player may never overtake his Magnifying Glass token on the Research track, following the precept that something needs to be discovered before it can be written down. And on the other hand, quickly moving the Magnifying Glass up on the Research track gives a player a possibility to discover the Temple or Arnak, and here valuable scoring tiles can be acquired. So, movement of each players' tokens on the Research track is really a tough choice and depends strongly on a player's strategy. After all, it's the player with most Victory points who wins the game after 5 rounds!

[SPIEL.digital]

I have to confess that the combination of deckbuilding and resource management which can be found in Lost Ruins of Arnak is really thrilling. First off, playtesting quickly showed that these two game mechanisms have been combined here with a very high degree of care for detail and coherence, making them work together in a way that these two mechanisms really supplement each other. You all know games which seem to be an almost random compilation of rules and mechanisms, but Lost Ruins of Arnak is a perfect example how such a combination of playing mechanisms can be done in an almost perfect manner. The dual function of the cards in the player decks really supports both the exploration and research activities of the players, and furthermore it's especially the Equipment and Artifact cards with their range of card abilities which are the most important drive mechanism for the whole game. As can be expected for a good deckbuilding game, a player's success in Lost Ruins of Arnak highly depends on choosing and acquiring the most useful cards for his deck, and due to the special way in which the decks are handled and shuffled, this requirement is even more pronounced.

What is more, Lost Ruins of Arnak also stands out with its multi-layered approach regarding the possible use of resources. Of course in the end much depends on a player's ability to move his tokens on the Research track, but the possibilities to gather the necessary resources for research are quite various, giving the players really a choice of different approaches to tackle this problem. Deckbuilding, exploration, the defeat of Guardians and the hiring of assistants all need to be taken into consideration, and due to this deep strategic approach Lost Ruins of Arnak really challenges the players to explore the game itself!

For me, this is a very strong contender for next year's game awards, and I can certainly understand why the game is receiving so much publicity at SPIEL.digital. If I would have been free tonight, we would have gone for an instant replay, but this would have meant that I couldn't have told you about this great game. So, if you are thinking about playing a round of Lost Ruins of Arnak, go ahead and find a free gaming table tomorrow!

This brings me to the end of today's report, but Nicole and me will meet you here again tomorrow for our grand final! See you!!!

[SPIEL.digital]

Friday - 23rd of October 2020

[SPIEL]

Hello everybody, Ralf Togler here speaking again. And a healthy welcome back from the second convention day. My desk looks terrible. In normal times, there is my computer and a lot of notes, rules and boardgame boxes. This year, it's the same, but additionally there is my mobile phone, my iPad and a second computer. OK, I was not really prepared. But who could guess that you would need several platforms and communication tools to fully participate in SPIEL.digital. The website SPIEL.digital, Discord, Zoom, Tabletopia and a lot of other programs and apps are running. You have to log in here and there and at the same time I write, shoot photos, drive around for the video podcasts and try to put all together to this coverage. And still I feel I am missing the whole fair. But I hope that you are happy with our output, that really helps us going on (your guestbook comments are quite helpful).

So, let's see what I have experienced today! And let's begin with RAVENSBURGER. First novelty was a good old acquaintance: Puerto Rico. The new version (the gold version) comes in an elegant design and contains four expansions. I still remember the first release of the game and our first review (perhaps you want to read it again). In the year 2002 this game was really far ahead of time, but the game can still easily keep up with many new releases. So the gold edition should be worth a closer look.

[Puerto Rico]

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Another game by RAVENSBURGER that was highly expected by me was Dinner for One. I was really curious about how this party game would be transposed to a digital version. Nearly impossible was my thought. And perhaps that was exactly what RAVENSBURGER thought too. So there was no digital version. Instead, I found a very entertaining video with Katrin Seeman, PR manager at RAVENSBURGER, interviewing the two authors Inka and Markus Brand. And fortunately I also have a hardcopy of the game at home and I already played it. So let's see how the game works:

Review: Dinner for One (RAVENSBURGER)


Dinner for One, that's cult, an institution on New Year's Eve, in fact the most repeated television programme ever. Well, at least here in Germany, as well as in many other European countries. It was already recorded in 1963 and although all dialogues are completely spoken in English (as it takes place in an old noble house somewhere in England, it is nearly unknown in Great Britain and the USA.

The understand the conforming boardgame from RAVENSBURGER, you must know the story and I strongly recommend to watch the comedy sketch first. So, here's a short summary of what's happening in the sketch: The quirky Miss Sophie celebrates her 90th birthday, but unfortunately all of her four good all friends are dead already. As a result her old butler James must not only serve the courses for her birthday dinner, he also has to impersonate the four dead friends. Four courses are served, all of them with the matching alcoholic drinks. And so the pour butler hurries around the table, stops at each seat of an imaginary guest and slips into the guest's role to drink a toast to Miss Sophie. As a result he gets drunken and has more and more problems to play the roles of the guests dignified and appropriate. The tip of the iceberg is a skin of a tiger that must be crossed by James every time he fetches the next course, a trip hazard for the intoxicated butler...

[Dinner for One]

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Now that you know the plat, you nearly know how to play the boardgame. In Dinner for One we play the role of the butler James, reenacting the scenes of the famous sketch. But we follow our own plot. Every round a new scene (not necessarily in the order of the original sketch) is added to our timeline. Then, beginning with the starting player, each player physically plays one of the scenes of our timeline. That means fetching and serving new courses to Miss Sophie (beware of the skin of the tiger, you must stumble over the skin), walking to the place of guest, taking the matching drink and speaking a toast (the correct one, each guest has her or his own toast) to Miss Sophie. And all the time you must hold the different drinks of the movie at certain positions of your body.

[Dinner for One]

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This seems to be easy, but you must know that all cards of the timeline are placed face-down on the table. As a result you must memorise the script of this new plot. And if a player doubts that what he sees is the correct scene at some moment, the game is stopped and the script is checked. The player who is wrong gets a buzz chip and the wrong scenes are removed from the game, changing the script again. In the end the player with the fewest buzz chips wins the game.

[Dinner for One]

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Dinner for One is definitely a party game, the bigger the round the better. Of course it is a big, big advantage if you are familiar with the television programme. I personally do know nobody, who cannot cite some of the original sayings like "White Wine with the fish" or the exclamation "Skalâ" by the saluting Admiral von Schneider. And it is also a big advantage if your group is sociable (the one or other beer or wine is not the worst). But the game is also fun for the children. Like in pairs you will see that they can memorise the scenes from the timeline much better than the grown-ups.

So, if your next gaming night ends with the question "Same procedure as last year", you will be prepared!

Quite interesting by the way: in the video I learned that Dinner for One was a commissioned work for Inka and Markus Brand. RAVENSBURGER asked the two authors, if they could design a game with the movie as theme. I think that's no easy task. I mean, normally you have the mechanics working and then you decide about the theme of the game. But I really must say, that the author couple really has made a great job. The game really evokes an atmosphere that you might think you are taking part in the movie.

[SPIEL.digital]

I have only one wish: please, RAVENSBURGER, provide me with more buzz chips. In all games I played so long, we were so bad that we soon ran out of buzz chips. And I swear: we had much less alcohol than the butler James had!

That was already a great start into the day. So why not stay here at RAVENSBURGER to see what has become of Minecraft. I mean, a digital boardgame, what game would fit more to this event than last year's Minecraft? And indeed there is an expansion to the game, so let's see how that improves the core game:

Review: Minecraft - Builder & Biomes - Farmer Market Expansion (RAVENSBURGER)


[SPIEL.digital]

Last year the booth of RAVENSBURGER was full of minecraft, builders, biomes, creepers and endermen. Minecraft - Builders & Biomes was the crowd-favourite and it was much more than just a merchandise boardgame. I personally played the game quite often with my sons and I especially liked the great haptic of the game. If you haven't played the game with your own children, you should make good for it soon. Meanwhile you might wanna read my review about the core game.

This year the first expansion, Minecraft: Builders & Biomes - Framer's Market Expansion expands our possibilities to farm the land. The expansion adds 16 new building tiles to the game, all about the topic vegetables. Minecraft goes veggie. Those vegetable patches can grow vegetables that come in form of small wooden cubes to the player's reserve whenever they come into play or each time a scoring takes place.

[Minecraft - Farmer Market expansion]

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Of course the vegetable cubes are no end in itself, but they can be used to buy useful items from the villagers at a new marketplace board. 18 different items are available, not all of the same at the same time and not all of them in every game. So there is a lot of variety in the game. The effects of the items are manifold and range from new experience points for all blocks in our personal supply to improvements for our movement.

[Minecraft - Farmer Market expansion]

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In my opinion the expansion slightly changes the way you play the game. You can ignore all new elements but the one or other item is really nice to have. And of course fans of the computer game will also find their favourites like a fletching table or a smoker. For our family the expansion has brought back the core game, as a lot of new things have to be discovered. Finally the vegetable patches are also good for a new scoring possibility, so forget all the pigs and cattle and let's go for a veggie Minecraft experience.

I said farewell to RAVENSBURGER for this year and moved over to the much smaller publisher Dragon Dawn Productions. I have got to know this publisher from Finland some years ago, when they have published the great dungeon crawler Perdition's Mouth. Here at SPIEL.digital they are presenting two totally different games. Dwarf that I have already reviewed some weeks ago (my review of Dwarf) and Gray Eminence:

Review: Gray Eminence (Dragon Dawn Productions)


A Grey Eminence is a powerful person behind the people in the front. Often these people have more power to influence the world decisions than the persons who you see in the newspaper and the television. And of course these persons will also influence national reactions to various events and the elections too. Often they fight together for common goals, but of course every grey eminence has their own personal goals too.

In history, the intriguers often had a lot of time to negotiate and find a good balance between the common and the personal goals. But in our fast times, with presidents spreading their decisions in social media, the life for all the grey eminences is getting much more difficult.

[Gray Eminence]

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We can learn how hard this is by playing Gray Eminence from DRAGON DAWN PRODUCTIONS. It's clearly a negotiating game as all players play one Gray Eminence (you will know the one or other character) with her or his own personal goals. Every round these eminences are confronted by a new event and have to resolve the event for the common goals by spending resources from a general bidding pool. All events have various resolutions with different effects that influence relationships between the participating countries of the scenario.

Let's have a closer look at how this works in detail: At setup players chooses one character each as their Gray Eminence. The Green Greta or the Queenie are only two of the famous persons with similar names in the game. Every character has its own personal goals that must be fulfilled for getting victory points. While these personal goals are visible public objectives, all players additionally draw secret objectives that remain hidden until resolved or otherwise demanded.

A scenario, for example the EU scenario, tells you how to set up relationships of the participating countries (ranging from conflict to allied) on the main board with the relationship chart. Additionally the scenario determines which cards are taking part in the game. Gray Eminences uses secret objective cards, tweet cards, faction cards, action cards and event cards, all of them with a lot of information (interesting flavour text and important game information). There are really a lot of different cards, all of them unique, so there is a lot to discover.

[Gray Eminence]

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Every round a new event card is drawn and explained to the players. Those events are really bang up to date. I am sure that Ren Multamaki, author of the game, put a lot of effort to these cards with quite a bit of research. I know that not everybody likes reading out the flavour takes, but in Gray Eminence this is definitely half of the fun of the game. So you should do exactly that. And of course the players must also learn more about how to resolute this event. As said resources are need for that on the bidding pool.

The first possibility to add resources to this bidding pool is the bidding phase. In this phase players take resources from their personal supply and bid for the new turn order. All of these resources are then added to the bidding pool.

What follows is the programming phase in which the players choose action cards from their hand and place them in three different slots of their player board: personal gain, common good and a discard slot. All cards are placed hidden from the other players in this phase. Now, these action cards have various effects, depending on where they have been played. Personal gain is understandable to improve the own capacities and so for example the result would be to take new resources to the personal supply. Common goals on the other hand can add resources to the bidding pool, or change the relationship of a specific country.

The aim of these programming phase is to improve the bidding pools as well as the relationships of the countries to have a chance to resolve the event (as a common goal) and the personal public and secret objectives.

[Gray Eminence]

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But don't count your chicken before they are hatched! You not only don't know which cards your opponents have programmed, there is also a president's response. So, after the programming phase, the president responses with #hashtags in form of tweet cards. Again these cards will change the bidding pool and relationships, but also factions from the players can be influenced.

Then the programmed action cards are carried out and the event resolved. If the event was resolved it is placed to the right of the main board, if not it either moves to an additional event slot or they are placed to the left of the board as unresolved events. The round ends in a trading phase among the players and a final scoring phase in which public and secret objectives can be completed.

As you can see, Gray Eminence is not a difficult game. But there is huge information on every card that definitely contributes much to the game and the game atmosphere, but takes a lot of time reading und understanding it. Players must let theirselves in for the story of the scenario, the events and all the hashtags. If the story is not of interest for you, you will only get half of the game. Maybe then it's even better to go for a more abstract negotiating game. But if you take the time, you can dig deep with Gray Eminence into current news with even the COVID-19 pandemic as an event to be resolved.

Be sure to download the newest rules, the current hard copy has still some minor mistakes that have been identified and set right in the current rule book. A very interesting approach to experience current events in a boardgame.

Phew! After this massive news and information I needed something lighter. Since HEIDELBÄR GAMES is back again, this is always a first choice to go for excellent illustrated and entertaining game. So let's enter the world of HEIDELBÄR for a first time and its partnership publishers to play a family game. There was no digital version of the game, only an introduction video. So again, I was lucky to have the hardcopy at home already, so I can present you some details of the game (even if my wife and I still couldn`t enter the halls of Messe Essen / where are you all?):

Review: Coatl (Heidelbär Games / Synapses Games)


First thing you have to learn to play the game is the pronunciation of the name. Coatl is pronounced CO-AT-ULL. OK, you are right, that is not really necessary to play the game. But it's interesting and a lot of people want a background story and so it is good that you learn the one or other detail about the games you play. My neighbour for example plays no game, if she does not know the background story.

But what is a Coatl? A coatl is something like a feathered snake, a mythical creature that has its origin in the Aztec empire. And that's where the story of the game takes place: as contenders for the position of the new Aztec High Priest, we are asked to impress the gods. And what would be better than carving elegant Coatl sculptures in the marble?

[Coatl]

Click on image to enlarge!

But whose Coatl sculptures are the most impressive? The gods give signs for that. In the game we use prophecy and temple cards for this purpose, but who knows, maybe the one or other player has also a good rapport with the one or other old god?

All jokes aside! Three prophecy cards and one temple card for each player at the setup tell us what the gods want from us. And over the game new cards (up to the hand limit) can be acquired from a supply deck of 6 face up cards or randomly from the supply deck. All of these cards tell us what combination and which colours of coatl pieces are required to impress the gods. There are 120 body segments in five different colours as well as 15 tails and 15 heads. And every turn the players take coatl pieces from a supply board to their own player board with a storage capacity of eight pieces.

[Coatl]

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But of course it's not the aim to store this pieces, that wouldn't satisfy the gods. Instead all players have use these pieces to carve three individual coatl, just by taking pieces from their player boards and attaching then to one end of an incomplete Coatl. Of course players shouldn't do this without considering their prophecy and temple cards. Four prophecy cards and one temple card can be assigned to one single Coatl, but of course only if requirements are met. So for example a prophecy could tell you that you will get five victory points, if there is a sequence of a red-green-red-green coatl pieces. Temple cards work nearly the same, only that there are two conditions to be met, if you want to earn all victory cards of this card.

So, taking Coatl pieces from the supply board, taking new cards and assembling your Coatl by adding new Coatl pieces and fulfilling prophecies. This works pretty fast at the beginning, but can be a hard choice in the end game, when you try to maximise your victory points.

[Coatl]

Click on image to enlarge!

Coatl is an easy game to learn. A family game. And an abstract game. But it doesn't feel to be abstract. The remarkable illustrations of Silly Jellie and the great haptic of the Coatl pieces make the game special. In the end the three Coatl in front of each player always look great. However you should always have an open eye on what your opponents are doing, because players only score prestige points for their completed Coatl (a head, a body and a tail). And only if you completed all three Coatl, you will have a chance to win the game. That sometimes feels a little bit unbalanced, when a player has only two completed Coatl. But there is definitely enough time for all players to finish all Coatl, the only essential condition is that you look what your opponents are doing. To sum up: Coatl is an interesting family accessible game that looks good on the table.

There are many other interesting games here at HEIDELBÄR GAMES, but a day has only 24 hours, and today I wasted a lot of time to get into tabletopia. So let's end my daily report for today, but be sure: I will carry on next day. Sleep well and see you tomorrow again!

[SPIEL]

Review: Santa Monica (AEG)


White sand, breaking waves, a few palm trees in the background and the seagulls are circling in the sky. The sun is shining and it is pleasantly warm. On the beach promenade the tourists stroll around, look at the stores or enjoy the beach and the ocean. This is how I know the beach of Santa Monica from pictures and from movies. Unfortunately I have never been there. In my last vacation I was at the Baltic Sea after all. Seagulls and sun were also to be seen, but you had to dress warmly, because the temperatures were not enough for sunbathing. Nevertheless it was nice.

Fortunately, I can experience the feeling of being at the Californian beach with the game Santa Monica by AEG. Josh Wood packed the ingredients for the famous beach promenade into a game box. The beach, promenade and ocean can be found on 78 feature cards. Tourists, locals and VIPs wait as wooden tokens to visit the bars, leisure facilities and the beach. Even a food truck with its owner is ready and waiting. What is missing are only 2-4 players, who cleverly combine the ingredients to create a very attractive and appealing promenade. They all start with a single double-high Starting Feature Tile as their starting point.

[Santa Monica]

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In Santa Monica, players pick a Feature Card from the display and build it into their ever-growing promenade. The cards of the Front Row can be chosen for free, while the cards of the Back Row can be bought with the currency of the game, the Sand Dollars. The Feature Cards are either beach or street cards, which must be placed in the promenade to match. A new card must be placed with at least one side to the Starting Feature Tile or other cards already placed. Step by step a continuous promenade with beach and street side is created. Of course, it is not enough to just lay out the card. Each Feature Card contains several elements. In the Placement Action, the player receives, for example, Sand Dollars, people tokens or movement possibilities for previously placed people when placing the card. In addition, a card indicates the conditions where points can be awarded for the card at the end of the game. These refer, among other things, to the location tags on the cards (there are points for chains of adjacent locations) or the activity rings to be visited there (here you can get points for people tokens placed there). In addition, the VIPs already mentioned play an important role, as they leave their footprints on their walk through the promenade and can also generate victory points at the end of the game by visiting the right locations.

[Santa Monica]

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So, when choosing a card from the display, the players have to think carefully about the goals they want to achieve and the resources they need to achieve them. If you're lucky, a matching card is in the Front Row and is available for free. However, it can sometimes be advisable to invest a few sand dollars to purchase a card from the Back Row. This purchase also gives the player an additional advantage, which is indicated on the Sand Dollar Tiles displayed. This includes, for example, moving the people tokens already placed or swapping cards already played, which is normally not possible. By replenishing the card display after each turn, players always have new options or the need to rethink their plans. However, the players cannot afford to take too much time. After the first player has placed the 14th Feature Tile, the game is finished and all players are allowed to move their people again before the final score is made. Now it becomes apparent which player has put together the Santa Monica beach promenade most skilfully and can therefore collect the most points.

[Santa Monica]

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Santa Monica is a fast game. Every single move is easy to do. Select a card, integrate it into the promenade and perform the corresponding actions. However, as the promenade grows, selecting a card becomes increasingly difficult. Especially when the space in the promenade is nearing its end and the appropriate card for the necessary upgrade of a chain is still not available. The players have to consider which cards bring them victory points and which enhancements are still necessary. The great graphics and beautifully designed game components make you feel like you're on a Californian beach and you can put the autumnal weather in rainy October out of your mind. Oh no, it's raining again... I quickly put on my swimming trunks, pick out my sunglasses and set up a new game of Santa Monica. Don't forget the sun cream!

[SPIEL]

SPIEL.digital - Day 2 - It's Expansion time!

Welcome back everyone to another day in the virtual convention halls of SPIEL! Even though the show had a grand start yesterday, it still feels a bit unreal to turn on the computer and go to the SPIEL in an electronic way. Normally I am spending most of the days in the halls of MESSE ESSEN attending the fair, with an occasional walk home either to transport some games or to take a quick lunch. However, this year it's all here without even leaving my home, and this is something I still need to get used to.

[SPIEL]

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One of the nicest things you can do at SPIEL is to take a walk in the halls. Despite press meetings I usually leave enough time in my convention schedule in order to stroll through the halls, stopping wherever I see an interesting looking game. This way I have discovered many games which I have missing during my preparations for the show, and many of these finds have turned out to be true gems. Taking this virtual walk is different at SPIEL.digital, even though you have the Theme Worlds where you can start your exploration tour.

[SPIEL.digital]

Instead of games, the Theme Worlds only display the names of publishers, and so you either need a clear idea which publishers and which games you are looking for, or you are left to your luck, randomly picking a publisher's booth and checking what you can find there. This is the point where I miss the real SPIEL convention, because walking the halls is just not the same as opening a webpage in random fashion to see what is available there. Indeed some things aren't like you would suspect them to be. For example, at the booth of COOL MINI OR NOT, you can only find information on all their games, but there isn't a single table for online gaming during the SPIEL.digital. For me this was unexpected because CMON is a major producer of miniature games, and in the Theme Worlds their world was presented burning with fire, representing quite a bit of public attendance.

[SPIEL.digital]

[SPIEL.digital]

Information on the other hand is available in any possible way. Looking at the media hub there is a plethora of Live Stream, podcasts and articles you can choose from. I think it's a good idea that the website of SPIEL.digital will be available at least until the end of the year, because you simply cannot digest even a small part of this information within just four days. So, I guess SPIEL.digital will remain useful as a long-term point of reference, because it seems a rather useful source of information for this year's games releases.

[SPIEL.digital]

However, one of the booths which I visited on purpose today was REPOS PRODUCTION from Belgium. Interestingly it looked less "hot" in the Theme Worlds, because they usually get a lot of attendance at the SPIEL. They are one of my favourite publishers ever since their first appearance here at SPIEL many years ago, and especially their blockbuster games 7 Wonders has brought them a lot of fans. And indeed, their webpresence here at SPIEL.digital is as you would have expected it, with gaming tables and lots of other information.

[SPIEL]

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Over the previous months REPOS had actually released a second edition of 7 Wonders, including the Leaders, Cities and Armada expansion. I watched a rather cool video at the booth which explained that the changes had mostly been graphics and card symbols, and indeed the symbolism now matches the symbols used in 7 Wonders Duel, making the game even better accessible.

[SPIEL.digital]

After the video I chatted a bit with Nicolas from REPOS in one of the chat rooms, and he told me that there have also been some really minor tweaks in functions of single cards for a better balancing. I asked especially for the green science cards because I have seen some games where players made rather strong victories following a science strategy, but here Nicolas confirmed back with me that no changes were made. Another question in the chat was asked regarding a reprint of the Babel expansion, and here it was answered that no second edition was planned yet. However, many of the smaller extras like the anniversary card packs now are included in Leaders and Cities, thus bringing together all things belonging into each specific expansion.

[SPIEL.digital]

However, there is also a really new release coming from REPOS PRODUCTION. It's the Agora expansion for 7 Wonders Duel, and this is certainly something which needs a closer examination!

[SPIEL.digital]

Review: 7 Wonders Duel - Agora (Repos Production)


Even more then 10 years after the initial release of 7 Wonders its still astonishing to see that the crew of Belgian publisher REPOS PRODUCTIONS remains true to their slow approach of stepwise enlarging the scope and width of the 7 Wonders line of games. As could be experienced in the past, many other publishers try to produce expansions in a high frequency in order to create a high cashflow over a very short time span, but here the philosophy behind the approach chosen by REPOS PRODUCTION is much more sustainable. Seeing that 7 Wonders has become a smash-hit and milestone in terms of gaming, they want to keep the game itself and its fan community alive, and so their strategy is focused on a much longer time span. On the short term this does not generate a temporary high cashflow, but on the long term the game keeps being a good source of income, and furthermore the long-term approach also ensures that any new expansion will be finetuned to the highest degree in order not to have a detrimental effect on the overall 7 Wonders game experience.

[SPIEL]

Click on image to enlarge!

This year the time has come for a new expansion for the 2-player 7 Wonders Duel game. Whereas the first expansion had focused on the lofty ambitions of the mystic gods of the Pantheon, the elements introduced in the new 7 Wonders Duel - Agora expansion are much more down to earth, dealing with politics and conspiracies in the Senate, the legislative body of the whole empire. In gaming terms, the Senate now is represented by a small Senate gameboard featuring the six legislative divisions of the Senate. The senators on the other hand are represented by playing cards, and these cards are added to the layout of Civilization cards during each age.

When a player acquires a Senator card during his turn, he may use it in the normal fashion to build a wonder with it or discard it for money, but he may also trigger a political action phase. Depending on the number of blue buildings in the player's city, that player now may perform a number of Senate actions to add Senator cubes of his color to senate divisions or to move some of his Senator cubes from one division to a neighboring division. This adding and moving of Senator cubes is performed by the players in order to win the majority in one or more division, because each division of the Senate provides a special power to the player with the majority of Senator cubes in that division. These powers range from purchase rebates to additional income or military power, and they have been randomly assigned to each senate division by the beginning of the game.

[SPIEL.digital]

Quite important is the fact that the political maneuvering in the Senate does not only provide in-game benefits, but in addition a clever use of the Senate may even trigger victory for a player. Apart from military or scientific victory, the players now also may end the game by a political victory, and this will happen if a player has the majority of Senator cubes in all 6 Senate divisions at the same time. This new victory condition underlines the complete new playing level which is added by the Agora expansion, because the players now cannot only focus on their military and construction ambitions, but they have to keep an additional eye on the Senate in order not be overcome by a surprise maneuver of their opponent.

Talking about surprises, some of the new Civilization cards feature conspirators instead of senators. On the one hand a Conspirator card can be used to add a Senator cube to a Senate division, but on the other hand it can also be used to draw two Conspiracy cards from a special deck. The player then may keep one of these cards, and during a future turn he may take a Civilization card and put it under the face-down Conspiracy card, thus setting the plot in motion.

This Conspiracy card now is ready for use, and at the beginning of a future turn its owner may opt to reveal this card in order to trigger its effect. Once again there is a wide range of possible results, but due to the harmful nature of conspiracies there will often be a detrimental outcome for the opposing player. So, the opponent now may actually lose a building, money or even a wonder, and this level of direct player interaction definitely is new to 7 Wonders Duel. Other conspiracies are less harmful but not less powerful, because the owning player may get nice benefits like access to a Civilization card at the bottom of the age layout, or he may receive one of the unused Progress tokens which had been removed at the beginning of the game.

[SPIEL]

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Finally, two new Progress tokens - Corruption and Organised Crime - give the players special powers in direct regard of the new elements which can be found in this expansion, allowing the players either the free taking of senators or the keeping of two instead of one Conspiracy card. With all these elements falling into place, the new expansion indeed is very nicely interwoven with the mechanisms of the basic game of 7 Wonders Duel, and at the same time it's also compatible with the simultaneous use of the Pantheon expansion. Taken together, this combination of both expansions offers the deepest and most challenging 7 Wonders playing experience which is available, because gameplay now is really challenging with many options and strategies available to the players. Looking at the small and inconspicuous box of the Agora expansion, this actually may come as a surprise for hardcore 7 Wonders fans, but don't let yourselves be deceived by the size of the box. There is a whole new game to be explored!

Another place which I had planned to visit today was the booth of a long-time friend of mine, Ignacy Trzewiczek from Poland. Just like REPOS PRODUCTION, Ignacy's company PORTAL GAMES has never stopped growing, and today they are one of the biggest publisher booths at the SPIEL. I was rather curious to see how his virtual booth would look like, because Ignacy always had a strong liking for social media and other digital activities.

[SPIEL]

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I knew that I could trust Ignacy on this matter, and so the PORTAL booth is packed to the brink with everything a gamer likes: New game releases from PORTAL, virtual playing tables and some cool videos from Ignacy and his crew.

[SPIEL.digital]

One of the most interesting things which you can find here is a stream where Ignacy explains the story about his first visit to the SPIEL and how he began with his company. Obstacles, despair and funny moments is all in there - it's really worthwhile to watch because it tells a publisher's tory from the very beginning.

[SPIEL.digital]

However, what would SPIEL.digital be without presenting one of the new games released by PORTAL? Remember, today it's Expansion Day, and so I would like to present you the newest expansion for Ignacy's cute civilization-builder Imperial Settlers.

Review: Imperial Settlers - Rise of the Empire
(Portal Games)


It's already 10 years back that my friend Ignacy Trzewiczek from Poland released his post-apocalyptic cardgame 51st State at the SPIEL convention. The game was a bit of a civilization-builder-type where you had worker placement mechanisms included, but most innovative was the threefold possibility to use the building cards which the players could acquire. They could build these cards to use their functions, but they could also use them to make contracts providing lasting benefits, or they could even plunder them in order to receive one-time spoils.

This mechanism has been received quite well by the gaming community due to the increase of strategic options, and so it's no wonder that some years later it had been re-used by Ignacy in his smash-hit game Imperial Settlers. Talking the core mechanism from 51st State, Ignacy revised and streamlined the rules, and as a finishing touch a whole new graphic design was added. Changing from the post-apocalypse to ancient empires like Romans, Egyptians and Barbarians, Imperial Settlers was not only the more mature game, but it also was accepted by a much wider audience due to its new stunningly cute graphics and the more historic background.

While the wish to play yet another game of Imperial Settlers is still unbroken in many gaming groups, there has always been a longing of many players to see their empires grow for more than just 5 turns. Well, isn't this the same with many civilization-builder games? During a game's duration, you build your small empire and care for it, but you never have a chance to see what happens to it in the ages that will follow... But now history will change forever!

The new expansion Rise of the Empire for Imperial Settlers focuses on exactly this point, the building of long-lasting civilizations. The expansion has been designed by Joanna Kijanka, a hardcore fan of Imperial Settlers with whom Ignacy also had created the successful spin-off game Empires of the North. Taking all her experience with the game line, Joanna approached the problem how to change a well-working 5-round-building-game into a much longer lasting real civilization-builder, and the result is as ingenious as it is charming.

[SPIEL]

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The approach chosen is other than you could expect. Instead of trying to go for a much longer individual game, Rise of the Empire actually requires the players to stop their current game of Imperial Settlers after just 4 rounds. However, instead of having a winner after each game and starting anew, the players now will play many more games which will take them through different eras in a campaign-like manner. Thus, the results of each game will be transferred by the players onto their very own Empire sheets on which they will record the progress of their empires, and depending on their results of each campaign game they will gain access to benefits from which they will profit in future games.

Core element for the development of the players empires are the new Quest cards. Featuring a historic personality as a paragon, these cards challenge the players to fulfil certain goals during the course of their current game. The challenges vary from Quest card to Quest card, for example listing certain colours of buildings or types of resources which the players are required to possess in order to fulfil the quest. The first player fulfilling a quest will gain a small extra for the current game (e.g. drawing additional cards), but all players fulfilling a quest also will gain Progression points which they will record on the Diplomacy, Economy and Science tracks on their Empire sheets, with the type of points depending on the type of the quest.

[SPIEL]

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By these Progression points the long-term development of the players' empires is represented, and over the course of time progression on the tracks will unlock new benefits for the players which they can use during the following games. These benefits may be granted at the start of a game or in form of end game bonuses, and many of them will give access to additional resources, points or cards. Some others provide the players with bonus tokens like a city wall, and these tokens can be placed onto existing buildings in order to give them an additional function (e.g. a building with a City Wall token cannot be razed by another player).

However, the progress on the three tracks also determines whether a player's empire can level up to the next era. Once a player reaches the end of one Progression track, the empire will level up to the next age, requiring the player to take a new Empire sheet for the new age. Rise of the Empire lasts for three eras in total - Ancient times, Middle Ages and the Industrial age - and the player who first advances from Industrial age to the Modern Era will have won the whole campaign.

But talking about development, the expansion also features a set of Invention cards which the players can purchase in order to gain access to new benefits. The possibility to purchase these cards is directly connected to the outcome of each game, because the players receive Knowledge points equal to their final scores at the end of each game, and these Knowledge points then can be cashed in for new Invention cards. Due to these cards the outcome of each campaign game really matters, because the price of each Invention card varies according to its power, and furthermore the winner of a game always is first to chose from the currently available Invention cards.

[SPIEL]

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Finally, the players also will gain a new Province card for their empires with each new game in the campaign. Once again these cards will give the players some in-game benefits, but on the other hand they have a maintenance cost which the players must be able to pay at game's end in order to participate in the final scoring. The bigger the empire gets, the bigger the challenge to rule it!

Due to the multi-game approach chosen in Rise of the Empire, Joanna Kijanka had been faced with the task how to keep the whole campaign balanced while at the same time implementing game-to-game progression. Here the simultaneous introduction of quests, inventions and provinces ensures that all players keep the chance to win a game even if they have fallen behind, and the balancing is also augmented by the fact that each campaign game only lasts for 4 rounds. This usually results in a closer finish, but strong victories nonetheless remain possible.

[SPIEL]

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A very important feat in order to ensure the long-time balancing of the whole campaign also is the fact that an empire changing to the next era loses all Provinces and starts anew on the Progression track. This gives empires from a previous era a higher chance to win in order to catch up, but once these empires have levelled up the race is once again at full speed!

In the end, the most important fact about Rise of the Empire is that the whole campaign is really fun to play through. The expansion allows the players to enjoy multiple rounds of one of their favourite games to be played in connection, and many established gaming groups will cherish this opportunity! With campaign games becoming more popular these days, Imperial Settlers now has levelled up to give the players a great campaign experience!

This brings me to the end of my report of today's visit to SPIEL.digital. I hope you could find some useful information and nice stories here, and I will gladly meet you back here tomorrow for another tour! See you!

Thursday - 22nd of October 2020

[SPIEL]

And here we go!

The SPIEL.digital has finally started, and you can join in wherever you are around the world. I must confess that I was rather curious how this even would turn out to be, and so I turned on my PC with a lot of anticipation for my first virtual convention visit.

Before embarking onto a journey into the virtual SPIEL halls, or the "Theme Worlds" as they are called here at SPIEL.digital, I took the time to watch the begin on the official SPIEL livestream coverage on Youtube. The conventionists from MERZ VERLAG will have a live broadcasting channel for the whole convention, and furthermore there are channels from other countries like the US or even Brazil. This way you will have access to broadcasting from wherever you are, regardless of you language, making SPIEL.digital truly a global event.

[SPIEL.digital]

The stream was opened once again with statements from Ms. Metzler and her son Max, telling a bit more of the story behind this digital adventure. Max Metzler had actually booked the web-address of SPIEL.digital only last year, never knowing what exactly would become of it. There were some rough concepts in the making for a web presence, but when MERZ VERLAG decided in May that there would be no normal SPIEL this year, it took them less then 24 hours to reactivate these plans and start working on the digital event. It has been quite a challenge for them to find a partner who could provide feasible internet solutions for a fully digital convention, and so they had to spend a lot of time looking at concepts and discarding them, until they finally found what they have been looking for: an online fairground which would allow all essential functions of SPIEL, but which at the same time wouldn't collapse if many visitors were attending.

[SPIEL.digital]

[SPIEL.digital]

Quite surprising was the fact that all of a sudden a video of German Chancellor Angela Merkel was broadcasted. In this video she gave a special awards to "SPIELECAFE DER GENERATIONEN - JUNG UND ALT SPIEL E.V.", a volunteer inititative located in Bavaria. They are part of the STARTSOCIAL INITIATIVE promioting honorary social commitment, and are focusing on bringing young and old people together for gaming. Chancellor Merkel wholeheartedly promoted the hobby of playing boardgames, and she recognized boardgames as a high-valued cultural asset, something which is even more true in these days of COVID 19.

[SPIEL.digital]

After this quite touching moment finally the team of podcasters from MERZ VERLAG took over. They are actually a bunch of boardgame podcasters from different media, and they are all sitting together for the next 4 days in a studio in Krefeld. All of them had to go through a Corona test before entering the studio, and they won't leave the studio until the SPIEL.digital is over. That's the spirit! Go go Team SPIEL!!!

[SPIEL.digital]

For me the time had come to finally take my first stroll through the virtual halls, entering the Theme Worlds and looking at the virtual publisher booths. In the chats of the livestream I had noticed that some people located outside Germany were facing bandwidth problems, but indeed I was not experiencing this and so my movement through the virtual fairground went rather smoothly on the computer side.

[SPIEL]

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In the different Theme World you can find the planetary clusters of publishers, and by clicking of their world you will be taken to the virtual publisher booths At these booths you get everything you need, ranging from infos on games to virtual playing tables, reviews and videos and even shopping possibilities. Especially the booths of the bigger publishers like KOSMOS are a virtual treasure trove, because there is really a lot of possibilities and information which can be found there.

[SPIEL]

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To be honest, if felt somewhat familiar and rather strange at the same time to visit the SPIEL in this fashion. Having all this information available on a mouseclick is very convenient, but it still is different from standing at a booth, chatting to people and watching them play. However, after all this is a digital fair, and so I guess this first slight irritation is a bit due to my age. Indeed, it's not really possible to compare SPIEL.digital with normal SPIEL, and so you have to get along with this new fashion of our favourite fair.

[SPIEL.digital]

However, one thing is for certain. You will have no problems whatsoever to find your way around if you know what you are looking for. For example, it's rather easy to locate a game like Paleo from HANS IM GLÜCK either by looking for the publisher in the Theme World of Family Games, or by using the navigation bar on the left and searching for the publisher of the game name. In this fashion you can quickly locate the booths, and there everything else can be found, including the aforementioned gaming tables or shops.

[SPIEL.digital]

I have never used online boardgame sites like TABLETOPIA before, and so I wanted to get started slowly on this topic. I had prepared an account and everything I needed before the show, but I still wanted to start with a game which wasn't too complicated, thus giving me time to adjust to the controls in TABLETOPIA. So, I headed over to the booth of KOSMOS to have a look at this year's multiple awards winner The Crew - The Quest for Planet 9.

[SPIEL.digital]

Review: The Crew - The Quest for Planet 9 (Kosmos)


It's a phenomenom of German society that one of the most poular game categories in German game history is trick-taking card games. Games like Skat date back for more than 200 years, and it seems that even these traditional games have lost none of their attractivity nowadays. Even more, the fondness for trick-taking games is still shared by a very high percentage of German gamers, and this does not only result in the recurring use of traditional Skat, Doppelkopf or Schafskopf, but also in the creation of new, modern-style trick-taking games.

Looking at these facts, it becomes understandable why even a small and seemingly unspectacular cardgame like Die Crew - Reist gemeinsam zum 9. Planeten did not only receive nominations for Germany's most prestigious game awards, but was actually able to win both Deutscher Spielepreis and Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2020. However, just falling into the category of trick-taking games does not make a game an automatic awards winner, and so let's shed some light on the specifics of Die Crew in order to understand why especially this game has become so popular in many a gaming round.

[SPIEL.digital]

As a matter of fact, I honestly cannot remember that there has ever been a trick-taking game which was based on the players cooperating to solve missions, let alone embedding all this into a small background story which takes the participants through a story arc of 50 missions. This background story actually is quickly explained if you look at the English title of the game The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine, because already the title reveals that the players board a spaceship on order to reach out for a new planet which has been discovered on the edge of our solar system. To get to this planet and win the campaign, the players will have to play through the aforementioned series of 50 missions, and these can best be described as tasks or quests which get more difficult with each step the story takes. To record this process and to advance the story, the second half of the rulebook contains a mission log, telling the players the story for each new mission and outlining the applicable rules. Furthermore, the players have to record the number of rounds which they needed to pass the mission, thus contributing to an overall campaign score.

[SPIEL]

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At this point you might ask yourself how something like missions or quests actually can be implemented in a trick-taking game. Like other games of this category, Die Crew features four colour suits of 9 cards each, with the cards of each suit having values from 1 to 9. In addition, there are 4 Rocket cards with values from 1 to 4, and these cards are trumps without a specific colour. In general, Die Crew follows traditional trick-taking rules, with the players usually serving cards of the same colour as the card which has been used to open a trick. The trick then is won by the player who played the card with the highest value, unless a player was not able to serve the same colour and used a trump instead. In this case the highest trump wins the trick, regardless of the other card values.

Changing from mission to mission, this standard meachanism is enriched by a number of variant rules and game elements which give the players a unqiue challenge to solve with each new mission they play. Most important here are the 36 Task cards, being identical to the 36 playing cards which form the main deck. These task cards may be distributed in different fashion among the players, always requiring their owners to win the trick(s) containing their Task card(s). As can be guessed, the game gets more difficult the higher the number of used Task cards is, and further difficulty will be added for example by using one or more Priority markers, thus requiring the players to play their tricks in an order corresponding to the Priority markers as to win the Task cards in the required order.

This may sound highly technical and perhaps chaotical at the same time, but in truth the result of each round in Die Crew will be the result of focused and controlled cardplay by all crew members. Since the game is fully cooperative, you can best imagine the cardplay happening in Die Crew as an experience which would be similar to playing a fully cooperative variant of Doppelkopf. The players have to speculate which cards may be held by each of their fellow crew members, thus trying to arrange the tricks to be taken in a way matching the Task cards and Priority markers of each player. In the beginning this may be easy due to the limited amount of Task cards used, but this will get more difficult with each new mission undertaken by the players.

[SPIEL.digital]

Just like their traditional forefathers, Die Crew also requires the players to keep silent about their hand of cards and their approach to solve the current mission, and so the players have to use their cardplay in order to give hints about their hand of cards to the other players. There also are some subtle communication possibilities because each player normally may reveal a card during each round of play, but this does not undermine the generally highly deductive trick-taking mechanism.

Until now this review may sound like the main part of Die Crew is about challenging the players to solve a series of ever-more complex gaming riddles, but this observation alone does not give justice to the full scope of this gaming gem. In fact, the title Die Crew could not have been choosen better, because the approach taken in this game actually will form an ever closer bond and understanding between the players, just like the team spirit which develops in ship crews or sports teams. During the first missions, the players will feel encouraged due to the good progress they make, but they will discover all too quickly that the game requires more than focusing on their own hands of cards. Instead, they will have to learn to understand the way in which the other players use the game elements to communicate, and only by successfully establishing this kind of in-game communication the more complex missions can be solved. Of course there will be misunderstandings, and likewise the players will have different skill levels to give and read signals through cardplay, and all this requires the players to bond together and learn from each other in order to reduce uncertainty.

Strangely enough, it is exactly this bonding process which gives the game a very unique feeling and a high degree of attractivity. In contrast to traditional trick-taking games, Die Crew is a game about learning together and not about winning, and this certainly is an approach which has not been implemented in such a game before. Keeping the strategy and high pace of trick-taking and combining this with a very unusual cooperative approach has been a spectacular trick indeed, and so the players will feel the challenge, tension and delight for each new mission they try and solve.

Beware: Once your first mission has started, there is no turning back. This game is highly addictive!

G@mebox Special: SPIEL.Local at ALLGAMES4YOU

[SPIEL.digital]

After all digital experiences today, let's not forget that the SPIEL.digital is accompanied by a rather unique experience on its own, the SPIEL Local. Dozens of boardgame hobbystores in all Germany and some other nations have joined the caravan in order to host small local SPIEL events, and so Ralf and I went to check out one of these stores which is located here in our hometown Essen. So, this morning we went to ALLGAMES4YOU at Essen-Überruhr, and there we found Heinz Thiemann and his crew busy setting up their shop for the grand opening at 11 AM.

[SPIEL.digital]

[SPIEL]

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As you can see in our podcast, the SPIEL Local is a truly unqiue supplement to the digital convention. In small shops like ALLGAMES4YOU you have the possibility to really check out some of the hottest new releases, and while stocks last you can already buy them. It was quite astonishing to see that a lot of people was queuing in front of the store when opening time arrived, it was a bit like the waiting crowd in front of the halls of SPIEL. This turn of events made me really happy for the participating gamestores, because the SPIEL Local is a splendid opportunity for them to present themselves to a broader audience. Hopefully a lot of games enthusiasts will find their way into these shops to support their local gamestores! So, you can check the SPIEL LOCAL list from MERZ Verlag whether there is a participating store in your vicinity!

[SPIEL]

Click on image to enlarge!

[SPIEL]

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On a sidenote, Ralf and I were really lucky because we had arranged this visit to take some pictures for you at the store already two weeks ago. Today not one but actually three (!!!) television teams from WDR, RTL and SAT 1 were lining up outside the store to take pictures, and so Ralf and I couldn't help but smile to see that we were in the store together with teams from these big television channels. Tonight I will definitely watch the TAGESTHEMEN, one of the biggest news reports in German television, because they will actually broadcast a feature on the rising popularity of boardgames!

[SPIEL.digital]

What a day!!!

[SPIEL]

To complete the usual suspects, I'm finally getting in touch with SPIEL.digital today. Unlike the two veterans of digital game reporting, Frank and Ralf, I don't live in Essen, but a little further away, near the Dutch border, and therefore I unfortunately cannot take part in real game sessions near the exhibition halls. And yet my curiosity and anticipation of the upcoming SPIEL.digital has grown from day to day. When I tried to log in to the trade fair's website today, I was almost as nervous as I was in the large lobby of the exhibition halls just before the doors open for entry. A bit like every year and yet completely different.

After all, I was sitting alone in front of my computer and was not in the midst of a crowd of like-minded people. Nevertheless, my relief was great when I was finally able to access the overview page and move through the theme worlds and virtual trade fair booths. I like the approach of SPIEL.digital very much, although I still hope that the 2021 trade fair will again be held in analog form. I even have to admit that just like every first time I entered the real trade fair, I was a little lost in front of the huge range of exhibitors and offers. To shed some light on the large amount of new releases, I'm going to introduce you to two new games from AEG right now, which seem to be quite high in the favour of the visitors, because they were already marked with a large amount of likes.

Review: Mariposas (AEG)


After Elizabeth Hargrave had successfully integrated her ornithological experience into her game Wingspan, she has been awarded the title Kennerspiel des Jahres 2019 for her debut work. The official title is not the only proof of the quality of the game, but the reviews and feedback from a lot of players have been consistently positive. The expectations for her new game are therefore quite high, of course. Once again, she has chosen flying creatures as theme for the game, but this time, the creatures are much more fragile and sensitive than the comparatively robust birds in Wingspan. Mariposas, which was released in 2020 from AEG and has now been presented in a German version at SPIEL.digital, is all about the flight of the American monarch butterflies.

As you can learn in the game introduction, these majestic butterflies travel more than 3000 miles on their journey from Mexico to America and back as a whole population, but no single butterfly completes the entire round trip. The monarch butterflies reproduces over several generations on their journey. Only a much later generation than the one that started in Michoac�¡n ends the daring adventure after the enormous effort back in Mexico and hibernates there until the next departure in spring.

[Mariposas]

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In the game, the players have three seasons to guide their butterflies. In spring, they try to head them to the north, where they spread and reproduce in summer, and then players have to guide them to the south in autumn to generate victory points at the end of the game. Each player has a total of 10 Wooden Butterfly Markers, divided into four generations. The game starts with a single generation 1 butterfly that begins its journey from Michoac�¡n. On the large game board, the possible path of the butterflies is symbolised by hexagonal spaces in different colours. Each of these spaces show one of 5 flowers or a large American city. The players have 2 Action Cards per turn as hand cards at their disposal, each showing different possible moves of the butterflies.

Each turn, a player plays one card and can move a certain number of steps on the game board with one or more butterflies. If a Monarch butterfly's movement ends on a flower space, the player is allowed to take a corresponding Flower Token. If it ends on a city, players usually receive cards from the Monarch butterfly's life cycle, which as a Set Collection Element improve the course of the game or provide rewards for the final score. The Flower Tokens are more important for the direct progress of the game. Although they do not bring victory points, they are an important part of the expansion of the butterfly population and the reproduction of the individual butterflies. If you take a close look at the very clearly illustrated game board and the spaces decorated with detailed flowers on it, you can discover small round milkweed spaces between some of them. These spaces do not show flowers but caterpillars on leaves. As soon as a turn ends on an adjacent flower field, the player may reproduce the corresponding butterfly by placing a new butterfly of the next generation on the game board. He must pay for this with Flower Tokens.

In spring hatching costs either 2 identical tokens or any 3 Flower Tokens. As the seasons pass, the cost of reproduction increases in the same way as the number of moves per player by one. To prevent the butterflies from simply spreading over the whole country without a goal, there is one Season Goal Card per season, which shows under which conditions the players receive victory points at the end of the season. Points are awarded for the position of the butterflies on the board. For example, you get one victory point per butterfly north of Atlanta or per butterfly on a red square. This means that you have to plan the movements of your butterflies very carefully. After all, besides the absolutely necessary expansion of the population, the players also want to receive possible victory points in the intermediate scoring. After the scoring of a season, the butterflies of the oldest generation are removed from the board and the journey continues in the next season. After spring, summer and autumn have been completed and scored, there is a final scoring. The players receive victory points for all 4th generation butterflies that have arrived in Michoac�¡n. The more butterflies winter there, the more victory points the players receive. The player with the most points wins the game.

[Mariposas]

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Fortunately, I already had the opportunity to test Mariposas during a short holiday of mine last week. In my opinion, Elizabeth Hargrave has once again managed to embed a theme from nature in an entertaining board game and to draw attention to how the elements in nature interact and how fragile these interrelationships can be. Since the game elements are rather complex in Wingspan, the game flow and the scoring possibilities in Mariposas are kept simple. The player has to consider exactly where he wants to move his butterflies to achieve as many goals as possible, such as reproduction and positioning of the butterflies for both short-term and long-term goals at the same time.

However, the fact that the players are only allowed to play one card per turn means that there are no such complex chains that make the game confusing. I am sure that Mariposas will become a real family game for us. The rules are easy to learn, the gameplay is very exciting and it is beautifully designed. It won't be long before we will re-enact the migration of the monarch butterflies again.

Now, after a demanding journey, it is most important to get enough rest. What could be better than to take an example from cozy house cats who are relaxing on a nice blanket.

Review: Calico (AEG)


Cats have a very strong attraction to internet users of all ages. The click rates of YouTube videos and the amount of memes shared on social media clearly illustrate this. Cats that do funny things or look especially cute attract attention that some influencers can only dream of. A few cats even became stars themselves. The question arises how cat owners manage to put their house cats in such funny situations or make them so comfortable that they can film or photograph them in those moments. At least for the latter question you will get an answer from AEG. Kevin Russ shows how to create an environment where cats feel so comfortable that they can sit down and chill out for a while in an appealing pose.

In Calico, players try to sew a quilt that attracts cats as much as possible. Each player receives a Quilt Board where they can let their creativity run wild by placing Patch Tiles on their board. Only the edge of the quilt is already finished. The individual Patch Tiles that can be sewn into the quilt are available to the players as hexagonal puzzle pieces. These are available in six different colors and six different patterns, but not every colour is assigned to a pattern.

[Calico]

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Three different cats are available on the table as Cat Scoring Tiles and can be lured in a game round by fulfilling the combination of pattern and number of connected Patch Tiles indicated on the Cat Scoring Tile and the player receives a Cat Token for this. Here it is important to know that cats are colour blind, so they are only interested in the patterns of the patches. They are not interested in the colour. To make the quilt attractive to human eyes, the arrangement of colours and patterns of the Patch Tiles plays an important role in the final score of the quilt. This works via two additional categories. First, a player may sew a Button Token on his quilt if he puts three Patch Tiles of the same colour on his quilt. In addition, at the beginning of the game, three Design Goal Tiles are laid out on designated places on the respective player board, which makes demands on the Patch Tiles surrounding the tile in terms of colours, patterns and their number. These will be evaluated as long-term goals at the end of the game.

[Calico]

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Fortunately, needle, thread, and sewing skills are not critical to success in the game. Calico is played in rounds where a player may simply place a hexagonal Patch Tile on his Player Board (two tiles are drawn by each player as a starting hand from the Cloth Tile Bag at the beginning). After the tile is placed, the player checks if he has sewn it in so that he can receive a Cat Token or a Button Token. If this is the case, he may immediately place a Cat or Button Token on the appropriate spot on the quilt. Then the player may in any case take a new Patch Tile from the three-tile market and refill the market by drawing a tile from the Cloth Tile Bag before the next player's turn.

This is done until all players have completely covered their Quilt Board with Patch Tiles (22 rounds in total). If everything went well, there will be some cats and buttons on the quilt at the end of the game, otherwise collecting the required patterns did not work out so smoothly and the cats did not feel like lolling on this quilt. Last but not least, the points are added up on a score pad based on the collected cats, buttons and the specifications of the Design Goal Tiles. The player with the most points is the winner and can call himself Master Quilter.

[Calico]

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Calico is a wonderful game, quickly explained and easy to understand with simple rules and a quick turn order with little down time. The very good quality of the game material and the very detailed graphics by Beth Sobel (who also worked on Wingspan and Lord of the Rings: The Card Game) make playing the game even more fun. In addition to the normal game mode, there are also other game variants that are a good addition for single players and multiplayers and increase replayability. I could already try the game in the family version which is also possible (without using the Design Goal Tiles) and I can say that contrary to the age indication on the package, already experienced children from about 8 years could play the game well. As a family game Calico is very well suited. But also experienced adult players will enjoy this game, because the tactical possibilities should not be underestimated. Anyway, I'm looking forward to further sewing sessions and sharpening my sewing needle.

[SPIEL]

Welcome back to the first official day of SPIEL from me again. As every year, Frank and I got up very early in the morning to get into the halls of Messe Essen. Quite unusual, I arrived at Messe Essen very early, without the accustomed traffic jam. Why this? Is this the wrong day? Did I start too early? In front of the Messe Essen halls the same spectacle: nobody there. And nobody inside the ticket offices? What the hell is wrong this year? OK, it's called SPIEL.digital, but not a soul about?

Happily enough, as it happens, I had a camping table in my car and so we sat down to play the one or other of the novelties from the SPIEL.digital:

Review: King of 12 (Corax Games)


King of 12 is kind of trick-taking game. But there is neither a trump nor have the cards suits. Instead we get a D12 die each, next to our hand that consists of 7 cards. Every player gets the same set of cards with 7 different characters. At the beginning of each round, all dice are rolled and placed in front of the players. In the game this die is called the magical orb, and the number of the die is principally the value that is compared to the other players. But this value can be altered with help of the cards.

Each turn all players choose one of their hand cards and play it hidden to the table. Then all cards are revealed, and the various card effects are revolved. Well, almost: if two players have chosen the same card, both card effects are negated, and only the die value counts for the comparison.

[King of 12]

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As you can imagine, there are seven totally different card effects. Simple ones, as the doubling of your die number and more complex ones, like the Golem that changes your die value to a 12, unless it is already a 12 (due to another effect from a card of one of your opponents), then it is reduced to 1. Normally the highest value wins the turn (trick), but there are also card effects to change the order. Once all cards except of one are played, the round ends, and the player with the most victory points wins the round. Two wins are necessary to be the winner of the game.

King of 12 is a fast, interactive game. Very interesting in my opinion is the use of the die for the trick taking mechanism. You will see that you will permanently think about which cards your opponents might play. And of course this again is dependent on what your opponents think that you will play. A messy task, but completely without down-time. Even if your playing with many players, the game won't take you more than about 30 minutes.

[King of 12]

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So, there is only one question we have to answer before we can begin the game: why is it called King of 12. There are two explanations for that: the magical orb is a d12, and there are 12 different characters in the game. With these characters you can build the hand up to your wishes, simply choosing 7 out of these 12 characters. You only have to remember that every player gets the same set of cards.

By the way: it is said that this game can be played with up to 16 players. That's right, although the box says it's just for 2-4 players. But you must ensure that you have also four copies of the King of 12 for that, because each copy comes with four identical sets of cards.

That was already a very good start in the day. I mean: to be the King of 12 sounds cool, doesn't it? So, I was now prepared for something more dangerous. Why not going for a monster hunt?

Review: Monster Expedition (AMIGO)


Last year AMIGO surprised us with Richard Garfield's Carnival of Monsters. The game looked gorgeous and was a pleasure to play. However, although it was not very complex, it clearly was different from most other games from AMIGO. It was neither a party nor a children game. Instead it addressed the experienced gamers.

Monster Expedition plays in the same world as Carnival of Monsters. And again the Royal Monstrological Society sends us - as new members - to the cloud lands, the deep sea and the haunted forest to hunt for legendary monsters. Of course, each of us wants to impress the society most, and so our hunt begins.

[Monster Expedition]

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Equipped with three base camps in the three regions every player begins the game. Every turn you choose one of these camps for your hunting, determining the region where the hunt takes place. The aim of the hunt are 9 available monsters that are drawn randomly from the monster card pile. Each of these monsters has its own strength that must be reached to catch the monster. And that brings the dice into play. The current status of the camp you choose not only determines the terrain for the monster hunt, it also indicates how many dice you may take for your hunt. Monster Expedition comes with three different type of dice, and the more the camp is developed the more and better dice you will get.

So, you first choose a camp, then you take the dice and roll them. Each roll you must pick one of the numbers rolled. All dice with this number are banked on the game board. You may re-roll all other dice, but every time you do that you have to bank another, different number. If that's not possible, because all rolled dice show the same numbers as dice on the bank, you have a missthrow with the result that the die with the highest number in the bank is lost.

[Monster Expedition]

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If you are content with the result or if all dice are on the bank, you sum all dice on the bank up for your strength in the monster hunt. You then can take as many monsters from the display as your strength allows you. Caged monsters can be taken too for a smaller amount, but they are also less valuable in the final scoring.

At the end of your turn, you can improve your camp, if the dice you have camped match the camp value printed in the middle of the camp. Basically that are the small numbers that can be used for the improvements, so you can use the high values for the monster hunt and the small ones for improving your camps. Finally, all captured monsters have also special abilities you can use like another die for your hunt or an immediate improvement of one of your camps.

[Monster Expedition]

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As you can see, Monster Expedition is a light game, easier than Carnival of Monsters. I would say it's kind of the card game variant of the older game, but Carnival of Monsters has a lot of cards too. Anyway, the game plays fast and makes a lot of fun. Alexander Pfister, Dennis Lohausen, Michael Menzel and Oliver Schlemmer, some of the best German designers and illustrators, have created a wonderful light adventure for the whole family and for your next monster hunt.

Some hours later, but still nobody there. I never played in such silence during SPIEL in the last years.... Let's carry on:

Review: The Castles of Tuscany (ALEA)


ALEA and Stefan Feld, that means a sophisticated, strategy game. It also means long turns and at least a medium game duration. Does it? I normally would totally agree to these statements, but the newest title, The Castles of Tuscany proves, well not quite the opposite, but the game plays much faster than all other Stefan Feld games I have played so far.

How this? The game material is rich and excellent as always from ALEA. And after going through the setup you can assume that the game is complex too. But it's not as you will see! In the time of the Italian Renaissance the players - as influential princes - build up their regions - in form of hexagonal player boards in front of every player - into a flourish domain. This is done by taking from a general supply of eight available landscape hex tiles, and adding these new landscapes to the player region boards at matching positions.

[The Castles of Tuscany]

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To do so you have to discard two cards of the same colour as the hex tile. That is nearly everything you must know to start the game. Ok, you should be familiar with the available bonuses and the scoring mechanism, of course. But playing the game is really such simple.

So, one more time: when it's your turn, you either draw new hand cards (called region cards), take a landscape tile from the eight general face up tiles on the table and place it on your personal storage space of your player board. Or you place a tile from exactly this storage space on your region board by playing the matching region cards and finding a proper space on your region board.

[The Castles of Tuscany]

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It wouldn't be a Stefan Feld game, if there weren't a lot of effects when placing the landscape tiles on your region board. Each type of landscape has its own effect - brilliantly illustrated on our playing boards. For example, after you place a new city on your region board, you take a marble that allows you to carry out another action at some time. A monastery on the other hand allows you to immediately draw three new region cards, and placing a wagon allows you to draw a yield card with even more bonuses.

Three scorings take place before the game ends and in each of this scorings you transfer victory points from the green scoring track to the red scoring track. However, the green scoring track is not reset (I played that wrong in my first game). As a result it's not easy to catch up early mistakes.

[The Castles of Tuscany]

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Some say that The Castles of Tuscany is a lighter version of The Castles of Burgundary. I personally do not know if that's right, because I have never played the older title. But I can assure you that The Castles of Tuscany plays great and does not feel like being a lighter version of something else. It's fast, but it's strategic too, so good work again, Stefan Feld!

And, at the end of the day, I finally learned how to play this year at SPIEL.digital. Here's the proof:

[The Castles of Tuscany]

[SPIEL]

Wednesday - 21st of October 2020

Welcome back for another day of warmup for the SPIEL.digital! It's only one more night to go, but today I would like to sweeting the waiting time for you with a review of one of the most anticipated games of the show.

However, before we take a look at this mysterious new game, I can't help but comment on all these encouraging comments which you have left in our guestbook. I am always more than happy to read your comments, because often you have pointed me to games which I might need to check out, and sometimes you have given me valuable hints how to improve my convention reporting. Looking at the names of the people who have left entries, I know many of you for really a long time, and some of you seem to have followed my reports for nearly all those 24 years.

However, this year I am more than delighted for each person who makes an entry, because in these strange times it's just good to know that all of you are still out there. Hopefully you and your families are safe and sound, and I guess we all long for a bit of normality. Indeed, "normality" is a word which quite a few of you have used in your guestbook entries, and so I wanted to show you a few photos from my highlight of this crazy year.

By the end of the summer my wife Nicole and I took our car to go for hiking holidays in Bavaria in the city of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I think it was my first holiday in Germany in the last 20 years, because usually we take the plane going either to Greece or to Corse. However, due to the COVID 19 restrictions travelling by plane was not really an option for us, and so we stayed in Germany for our holidays.

To tell the truth, our holidays were far from normal. The city restaurants and even the alpine mountain lodges required us to wear face masks, and in addition even the smallest alpine hut required us to fill out guest registration forms in order to allow tracing of contacts. Even more, on some of our hikes we went through quite spectacular ravines which have been secured with iron walkways, and in these areas we had to wear face masks as well. In addition, some of these ravines were opened only one way, and so we had to go back over the mountain in order to return to our starting point.

[GaPa]

[GaPa]

[GaPa]

However, and here the new "normality" was kicking in, in some instances we had quite unexpected highlights, despite - or better because of - the COVID restrictions. The best example here is Castle Neuschwanstein where we went for a daytrip. It's the castle of the former Bavarian King Ludwig II, the "Fairy Tale King" because he was more interested in mythology and building enchanted castle than in his own people. Usually the castle is overrun with tourists because it's one of the most spectacular sights in Germany, but now everything was different because only very few tourists were allowed into the castle. We have been lucky because we had been able to get tickets for a tour some months before, and so we went through a virtually empty castle with a group of just 8 other visitors. Normally the tour group has a size of 56 (!!!) people and the whole place is packed to the brink, but now it was quiet and almost empty. This was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

[GaPa]

[GaPa]

In addition, Nicole and I spent our holidays avoiding bigger groups of people whenever we could. Our hotel served dinner in our apartment, and on the days we were out in the mountains. Okay, we didn't visit Zugspitze - Germany's highest mountain - because the funicular was still quite crowded - but on the other hand we mostly walked on our own, enjoying the nature and the mountainview.

[GaPa]

All in all, it was a wonderful holiday, and I returned to office quite refreshed. I really needed this break after all these months of restrictions and challenges, and in a way our holidays showed that some "normality" can be found even in these times. For me this was a quite positive experience, giving energy and hope for the upcoming COVID winter!

[GaPa]

However, upon our return from Bavaria I discovered that new challenges were waiting for us. Our home city Essen was attacked by Aliens! Welcome to Under Falling Skies!

Review: Under Falling Skies (CGE)


A science fiction coming straight from the past! That's what I thought when I saw first pictures of the new CGE solo-game Under Falling Skies, because the setup of the gameboard and the thematic background of this game strongly remind of the old Arcade classic Space Invaders. A giant alien mothership is hovering over the player's city, and from there waves of Starfighters are descending, trying to destroy the player's home! The valiant defenders have to try to make a stand, destroying startfighters to buy enough time for Earth's most brillianst scientists to research a way in which the aliens can be ultimately defeated. And now YOU are in command!

[Under Falling Skies]

Under Falling Skies is a dice placement game, and the players use their dice to active rooms in their subterran base to activate different kinds of rooms which can be used to fight the aliens. The sky above the base is dominated by the alien mothership, and below the mothership you find five columns of tracks on which the alien ships will move towards the player's base. These columns are continued underground, so that each room in the player's base is located in one of the five columns. This is associated with the first tactical challenge for the player, because he has a hand of five dice which he can use to activate five different rooms, but each of these dice must be placed in a different column.

The three basic types of rooms which the player can activate by placing a dice are Energy rooms, Research Labs and Jet Fighter Hangars, and of course the efficiency of a room's activation strongly depends on the value of the dice which is placed there. A high dice value means that an Energy room produces more energy (which is needed to activate the other room types), a Research lab will unlock higher research levels, and a Jet Fighter can possibly destroy more alien Starfighters.

[SPIEL]

Click on image to enlarge!

However, there is a nasty side effect, because each time the player places a dice all alien Starfighters in the column above the activated room now will be moved downwards towards the player's base. And to make things worse, the amount of steps the Starfighters move is equal to the value of the dice which has been placed, so that the use of a high dice also speeds up the alien invaders!

For this reason the player needs to look carefully which Starfighter movements he will trigger by placing a dice, because the spaces where the Starfighers stop movement actually may trigger some effects. On the one hand some of these spaces will cause the Starfighter to change the column one step to the left or right, and on the other hand even the whole mothership may be moved, going one step downwards and this shortening the invasion columns. This is dangerous because each Starfighter which succeeds in reaching ground level deal one damage the player's base, and when the damage indicator reaches zero the game will be over!

However, a clever dice placement may result in moving one or more Starfighters to Explosion spaces. On these spaces the Starfighters can be destroyed, provided the player can activate a Jet Fighter with a dice value which is equal or higher to the value of the Explosion space. Here the player can try to send a real Top Gun pilot, because one Jet Fighter actually shoots down all Starfighters located on Explosion spaces with a value equal or lower to the Jet Fighter's activation dice. Take this, you alien ***!!!

[SPIEL]

Click on image to enlarge!

As you can see, the players need to balance carefully where to place their dice. They do not only have to balance between producing energy, shooting down aliens and making progress in the Research labs, but at the same time they will have to keep a close eye on the alien invasion columns. Under Falling Skies offers are really unique challenge due to the connection between the dice placements and the movement of the alien ships, because each dice placement always triggers a benefit and a disadvantage at the same time. This mechanism is quite clever and really supplements the general balancing of the game.

However, there is much more to Under Falling Skies than the basic playing mechanism which I tried to outline above. Already the basic rules provide for dice-rerolls and an option to use an excarvator to ad d more rooms to their subterranean facilities. However, the player also can can opt to exchange his standard base at Roswell against the Cities of Washington D.C. or New York, thus changing the whole layout of their bases and adding a forth room type, a robot factory. Activation of a Robot factory gives the player an additional dice which can be installed in a fixed room which it will activate in each following round, but its value will decrease from round to round so that the use of a robot is limited. A neat extra option which offers some additional potential for strategies. Finally, the players also can increase the difficulty of the game by using one or more backsides of the gameboard tiles. Here a tougher research track is displayed, requiring the player to use higher dice results (or combinations) in his labs to make progress in research. This results in even stronger alien attack waves.

You think that's all? Well, the thematic background of Under Falling Skies is quite cinematic, so why not increase the (cinema)scope of the game to become a real blockbuster? Looking in the box below all parts of the basic game, you will find several bundles of punchboards, comic strips and rule sheets, and with these components you will be able to play Under Falling Skies in a 4-chapter campaign which will run for approximately 10 games! Each campaign scenario comes with an illustrated background story, unique rules and extras like player characters with special abilities, new cities and other elements. It's truly a wagonload of additional playing materials, and all these novelties really provide for many additional hours of quite atmospheric playing fun. And what is more, this campaign is fully replayable, because the campaign missions vary so that each chapter will offer new, yet unknown challenges when the campaign is started anew!

[SPIEL]

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Wow, I really wish that Under Falling Skies was a multiplayer game. Designer Tomas Uhlir has put up a lot of effort to create a game which does not only offer a tough strategic challenge, but which also scores with long-term replayability and atmospheric density. Designers of strategic dice-placement games always are faced with the problem how to deal with the initial factor of luck when rolling dice, and in Under Falling Skies Tomas has successfully tackled this problem by the aforementioned connection between dice placement (and usage) and alien movement. This ensures that all dice results - low or high - retain a meaning, and so it's up to the player and his strategy to make the best of his hand of dice. The rules actually counsel all new players to play a few games to fully learn the game before starting the campaign, and this counsel is useful because the players can use their first games in order to find out an individual difficulty level. The difficulty can be scaled through all the campaign, and with some pre-campaign experience the player can make sure that the campaign is not too easy for his individual skill level.

And now, take a seat and start rolling. The Earth's fate is in your hands!!!

[Under Falling Skies]

And if you looked at the sky over Essen today, you have seen that those aliens look like giant mice!!!

[SPIEL]

Hello everybody, Ralf Togler here speaking. A healthy welcome from me on my first reporting day from SPIEL.digital. You probably have seen our introduction video, but for the typing begins only right now. Frank has lead you through the warm-up with the press conference and the first reviews, but now I am entering our coverage with daily reports too. Due to Corona there is not much normality this year.

Frank was lucky that he was able to go for holiday with his wife, but for me it was much more difficult to find a place to relax this summer with my wife and my two sons. We had planned three weeks during the summer holidays of my children, but most of the time we just stayed at home. So no nice pictures from me as Frank just presented, only my own home. At least I call a garden my own, and the sun was shining warm and long this summer. Fortunately, at the end of our holidays, we finally found a place in the Netherlands for us to go for three nights. That was not really long, but it felt brilliant.

But now it's SPIEL time and although this is something different this year, it feels a little bit like normal. I mean I am sitting here in the evenings after my main job, and I am preparing reviews and insights of new game for you. We have prepared fewer games than in former years, but I think it will be interesting still. One of the things we learned in this Corona year is that all publishers have problems too. Like in many other branches the boardgame industry is dependent from China. And the lockdown in China at the beginning of this year is still delaying many of the announced games. I spoke with many publishers that really wanted to send us review copies, but I often heard that the games would be delayed. But in the end, we have chosen some very interesting titles that are also available immediately after SPIEL.digital, so I think that this will get a very exciting coverage for you again.

So let's begin with this review:

Review: The Court of Miracles (Lucky Duck Games / Blackrock Games (Lumberjack Studios))


In most games that play in medieval times, we take the roles of kings or noble men who are fighting for fame and glory. Beggars are not the most popular theme for boardgames, are they? But The Court of Miracles that was first published by LUMBERJACK STUDIO / BLACKROCK GAMES in France, and is released again at this SPIEL.digital by LUCKY DUCK GAMES let us enter a world of beggars and rogues in the old 16th century who try to expand their influence in the city. Each player represents the leader of one rogue guild and tries to take over the control in five different areas of Paris.

The reward of the effort are renown tokens that are placed on the game board, and once you have placed your sixth renown token on the board, you win the game. Let's see how that works: The Court of Miracles comes with a quite unusual board, as it is neither square nor circular. However, it is drop-shaped with an irregular edge. It shows the map of old Paris with the Seine and the Ile de la Cit�© at the edge and the five districts we are fighting for. Additionally there is room for a pile of plot cards, a renown square to place renown tokens for various bonuses and a track for the penniless king that divides the different districts of Paris.

[The Court of Miracles]

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Every turn a player has to place one of his rogue tokens on an available spot in one of the districts (called neighbourhoods). Each neighbourhood has three spots and once they are all occupied, a standoff takes place. The same is true when the penniless king pawn reaches a wrath space on its track. To understand what is happening in these standoffs, you must know that there are nine different rogues with their own strength and their own special effects. All players begin the game with the same four rogue tokens (a beggar, a right-hand and two henchmen) that have a symbol of the rogue type on the one side and a notch on the other side in which the players place their player tokens. Normally the tokens are played face-down, so that the rogue symbol is hidden, but everybody sees whom the token belongs to. As a result their real power is hidden from the other players.

Hidden, as long as there is no standoff. To resolute the standoff, all players involved reveal their rogue tokens in the neighbourhood, totals up the values of these tokens and performs possible special effects. The winner of the standoff places one of his renown tokens in this neighbourhood and gets closer to victory. But three spots in a neighbourhood and strengths of the the rogues varying from 0 to 3 are not much for different totals. As a result there is often a tie, and then the player whose rogue token is closest to the cross symbol in that neighbourhood wins the standoff. Why am I telling you this detail? Well, there are benefits on each spots when you place your token. And you always have to weight if it is better to get a great bonus or if you have the chance to win the standoff. In the latter case you might wish to place your tokens next to the cross, but with perhaps a smaller or worse benefit for you (in the closest space the result is only a movement of the penniless king along his path).

[The Court of Miracles]

Click on image to enlarge!

All five neighbourhoods have also their own special effects that can be used after you place a rogue token. To get an idea about that, let's look at the Rue de l'Egyptienne that enables a player to move one other rogue token to any free spot on the board (of course without revealing it). Or the Tavern that let's you recruit a new rogue token (taken randomly from a bag). This rogue token is immediately exchanged with one of your other rogue tokens in play (remember to exchange the player token too).

You see The Court of Miracles is a much about bluffing, trickery and area control, and the plot cards that can be played at any time during a player's turn further reinforce this impression. Plot cards by the way are another way to get new rogue tokens.

[The Court of Miracles]

Click on image to enlarge!

Five neighbourhoods, but six renown tokens that must be placed to win the game. That leaves us with one last detail, the renown square. Players can place their renown tokens here too by paying a specific amount of money (that can be earned from the various benefits).

The Court of Miracles is a simple, but interesting area control game, still relatively unknown at the moment. So, it is good and definitely worth that it is now republished by other publishers. Only be sure that you are playing this game with at least three people. Two players might be enough to play and learn the game, but the area control mechanism works much better, if the free spaces are getting more and more limited. A last word has to be said about the great artwork of the game. It may not be to everyone's taste, but I think that the illustrations on the board and the cards contribute a lot to the game's atmosphere. As said, beggars might not be the most popular boardgame theme, but they are getting more and more sympathetic to me every time I play the game.

[SPIEL]

Tuesday - 20th of October 2020

Welcome to the second day of our SPIEL.Digital warmup! Today it's time for a first game review.

Review: Empires of North (Portal Games)


Looking at the number of expansions, the line of Imperial Settlers has become one of the most successful games of Ignacy Trzewiczek and his team from PORTAL. However, there are not only expansions available, but with Empires of the North Ignacy actually created a spin-off game which is also located in the Imperial Settlers universe. So, is this really a new game which warrants its own line of expansions, or is it merely a 2.0 version of Imperial Settlers?

To answer the most urgent question right away, Empires of the North is truly much more than a simple reskinning or update of Imperial Settlers. While it's true that the Location cards look quite alike in both games due to the cute graphics, the differences already start with the fact that the locations in Empires of the North do not have the triple functionality which can be found in Imperial Settlers. Here the cards have one use only - the players can build the locations in order to be able to use their ability (with some of them producing resources and others having special functions which can be activated upon tapping the card) or they can play instant cards which are discarded for one-time benefits. This may sound more streamlined than Imperial Settlers, and indeed this matches quite well with the general mechanism of Empires of the North. In essence, it's a game of conquest in which the players have to set up an economy which will help them maintain and outfit ships which their clans can send on pillage and conquest missions, and so the resource management mechanism is handled slightly different here than in Imperial Settlers. For example, the players are allowed to stockpile resources without restrictions, a huge benefit which opens up a totally different approach.

[SPIEL]

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Quite interesting is the action phase, the central part of each round of play. A player is allowed one action before play passes on to the next player in turn order, and an action can be used for building a new location or for activating a location and using its special function. However, as a third option a player also can place one of his two Clan Tokens on one of 5 Action Tiles which have been set up as a circle in the middle of the table, and these Action Tiles give access to 5 more types of actions which are necessary for the profitable management of a player's clan. Among these actions are the gaining of additional cards and population, but even more important are harvesting and sailing. So, in Empires of the North the fact that you can stockpile an unlimited amount of resources is counterbalanced by the fact that you must actually use an action in order to trigger production by harvesting, giving the players the challenge to arrange for a well-timed production phase when resources are needed and all necessary production locations have been placed.

Sailing on the other hand takes the player ships to nearby and distant islands, and these can be either plundered or conquered. Distant islands are more valuable, but they can only be reached if the ship has been outfitted with provisions. However, an important difference lies between both types of missions, because plundering brings resources and the Island card is discarded, whereas the conquering of an island makes it necessary for the player to outfit his ship with additional weapons, because the conquered island then becomes part of the player's domain, giving him access to its ability and counting for victory points. The question what is preferable strongly depends on each player's strategy and the clan which he has chosen for the game.

[SPIEL]

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Quite interesting in the context of the use of the action tiles are the Boost cards. The possibility to play these cards is tied to specific Action Tile actions, and so a player who performs an action will also be able to play an associated boost cards, making his action even more efficient. This makes good timing for the players even more important, since players should aim to have Boost cards on their hand when an action is used.

However, as indicated much of the individual strategy of each player depends on the question which clan he has chosen for the game. The game comes with 6 different clan, two Viking clans, two Scots clans and two Inuit clans. Each of these clans comes with its own deck of Clan cards, there is no common deck for all players. Each clan has different strengths and weaknesses, and so the players will have to adapt their playing style and strategy with each different clan they play. So, for example the Vikings of Ulaf Clan are bold and like conquering, whereas the Scots from Mackinnon Clan care more about wealth and investments. So, despite the fact that the conquering of islands is a good way to gain valuable benefits, it's also possible to win if a player focuses much more on clever management of just his own Clan cards.

[SPIEL]

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Empires of the North is a fun and entertaining game which feels indeed a bit lighter than Imperial Settlers. However, the different playing styles which are induced already by the six different clans in the basic game actually offer a playing variety which does not need to fear the comparison with Imperial Settlers. It's really fun to explore the possibilities of these game by choosing a different clan from game to game, and the inherent lightfootedness and high pace of Empires of the North warrants for instant replays. Due to these qualities Empires of the North absolutely has earned its place in the Imperial Settlers universe, because its slightly reduced strategical scope is more than compensated by its entertainment value.

Well, that's all for today's SPIEL.Digital warmup! The countdown is running!!!

[SPIEL]

Monday - 19th of October 2020

3...

2...

1...

Lights on, Camera ready, Micro open...

"Full SPIEL ahead!"

Folks, here is Essen, the boardgaming capital of Germany !

And here we are, SPIEL.digital week has begun! We would like to welcome you all back here for another year of boardgames reporting, from the SPIEL, the world's biggest boardgame fair. Wherever you are around the globe, we hope you are all safe and sound in this crazy year, and perhaps playing boardgames is a good way to get through these times of COVID 19. After all we are all longing for a bit of normality!

[SPIEL]

Click on image to enlarge!

As you have seen in our first SPIEL podcast, the fair here at Essen cannot take place this year due to the COVID 19 restrictions, but that does not mean that there will be no SPIEL this year. Quite the opposite, this time you will have a chance to attend the fair from wherever you are, because the conventionists from MERZ-VERLAG have organized the SPIEL.digital, thus shifting the venue for the popular convention fully into the web. I guess we are all really curious how a fully web-based convention will feel, and I guess we are all in for some surprises when the fair starts this week Thursday.

The Press conference

Today we could already get a first taste of SPIEL.digital, because this morning the MERZ-VERLAG hosted the traditional SPIEL press conference. They did it two days earlier than usual in order to keep a time buffer for final organization issues of SPIEL.digital, but nonetheless it was the official start into the convention week!

[SPIEL.Digital]

I did have a phone chat with Dominique Metzler, head of the MERZ-VERLAG some weeks ago, and she told me about all the efforts which her team had invested in order to organize this new SPIEL.digital and make it available for boardgame enthusiasts all around the globe. Like everyone, Ms. Metzler would have preferred the SPIEL to take place as usual here at Essen, but with the fairground of MESSE ESSEN being subject to all kinds of pandemic restrictions a SPIEL as usual simply couldn't happen. Indeed, no one could imagine ten thousands of gaming enthusiasts within convention halls these days. Entry restrictions, air conditioning, disinfection of games - it all sounds horrible and simply not feasible.

However, Ms. Metzler and her team didn't give up, and so they used the last 6 months to develop and realize the concept of SPIEL.digital. They want to keep our favourite event alive, and so the MERZ-VERLAG has invested lots of work and money in order to keep the show rolling. This week we will all be able to see the results of their hard work, and I guess we all owe the MERZ-team a big "THANK YOU!" for giving us a very special SPIEL experience in these extraordinary times!

[SPIEL.Digital]

MERZ-VERLAG is a classic family business, and so the press conference was hosted by Ms. Metzler and her son Max, the third generation of the Merz family now involved with the SPIEL. Max Metzler actually started planning for a digital SPIEL platform even before the pandemic started, but when it became clear that no normal SPIEL could happen this year, they enlarged the scope for the digital project in order to create the new SPIEL.digital.

Entry to the fair will be free for all visitors, and the keyword for the whole experience will be Interactive, because it's not only virtual booths of game producers, but the websites of TABLETOPIA and BOARDGAMEARENA are part of the show. So, visitors of SPIEL.digital will get free temporary accounts for these online boardgame platforms, and they will be able to play many new games on these platforms during the show. Due to the fact that the whole fair is in the web, the usual opening times for a local fair also do not apply this year, and so the SPIEL.digital is open from Thursday 22nd of October 2020, 10 AM (UTC+2) until Sunday 25th of October, 11.59 PM (UTC+1). And this only marks the end of the "official" fair with events and hosts, because all content of the fair will be kept available at least until the end of 2020!

Visitor registration will begin tomorrow, so you can all start to prepare for the show! If you would like to get some additional information of the technical requirements, you can find all necessary info at the FAQ from MERZ VERLAG. And of course, you can already visit the SPIEL.digital fairground in order to check the list of new games!

[SPIEL]

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Ms. Metzler was very proud to announce that the SPIEL.digital has received quite a few bookings from game producers all around the globe, and even though the number of exhibitors is a bit lower than at the SPIEL fair, there is still the impressive amount of 451 exhobitors from 41 nations which will have virtual booths at the SPIEL.digital. On these booths you will have the possibility to check out the new games, participate in events, look for reviews and videos and - of course - play and buy the games!

[SPIEL.Digital]

In order to allow all visitors to navigate the fair, 17 theme world have been created, ranging for example from Expert Games to Family Games or Children Games. Within these theme worlds you can visit the booths of the exhibitors, and you can actually see which of these booths are receiving a high public attendance, so you can be on lookout for hot new games!

[SPIEL]

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[SPIEL]

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Boy, this sounds truly exciting! There will be a lot of program happening in these virtual halls of SPIEL, and I cannot wait for the fair to start. As a special addition, there will also be some real-world experience accompanying SPIEL.digital! There is actually a number of boardgame stores in Germany and other countries which will host the SPIEL Lokal, a special event which will give you a possibility to check out some of the new games in reality. So, if you would like to look for a participating local gamestore, you can check the SPIEL LOCAL list from MERZ Verlag!

However, the SPIEL press conference wouldn't be the same without the presentation of the winners of the prestigious DEUTSCHER SPIELE PREIS awards. This year KOSMOS VERLAG actually has taken a double score, because their games The Crew - The Quest for Planet 9 and Legends of Andor - Junior actually won in both categories for Best Family Game and Best Children's Game.

[SPIEL.Digital]

I was also really happy to see that the INNOSPIEL, the awards for the most original game, this year was given to Root from LEDER GAMES. The mechanism of the game is actually the based on the purely asymmetrical dungeoncrawler game Vast by Patrick Leder, a game which I have told you about during previous SPIEL reports. However, Root actually has avoided some of the pitfalls of its predecessor, making the game more accessible and even more enjoyable. A rather deserving winner of the INNOSPIEL!

[SPIEL.Digital]

For the final part of the press conference Dominique and Max Metzler were joined by Mr. Hermann Hutter, head of SPIELEVERLAGE E.V., the trade association of German game producers. Mr. Hutter confirmed that boardgames really are booming in this year of COVID 19, having seen a boost in sales numbers of more than 20 percent. On the head of the list are games for grown-ups which have increased their sales by more than 30 percent (!!!), but this is followed closely by activity games for children and 1-player games. As it seems, the popular German pastime activity of playing boardgames has become even more important this year. And almost incredible is the rise in sales number of jigsaw puzzles: they have risen by 60 percent (!!!), and over the year many jigsaw puzzle motive had been sold out several times, challenging the producers to do additional print runs!

[SPIEL.Digital]

This actually brings us to the end of today's press conference. It's quite strange because usually I attend this event within the halls of MESSE ESSEN, and today it feels all different to sit at home in front of my computer. However, it's in fact a totally new experience for all of us, and after today's good start I cannot wait for the SPIEL.digital to begin!

SPIEL.digital here we go!!!

[SPIEL.Digital]

[SPIEL.Digital]

Click here to visit SPIEL.digital!

If you want to have a look at our coverages of previous conventions, follow these links. But you should bring along some time, especially of you want to read the youngest reports...


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