If you remember, last time I played Mall World I was somewhat uncertain. Stuff in there intrigued me, but we had a lot of trouble with the rules, and the balance seemed slightly off with 5. Having played it a second time now with 4, I’m much happier with the game.
The rules were easier to explain now that I’d played once, and I was able to do so pretty quickly. Once we got going, the game played smoothly. This made a huge difference.
Mall World can feel a bit chaotic, mainly due to the way the contract cards come out. Sometimes you get good ones, sometimes you’re facing down lousy ones. The good thing is that you always feel like you can make progress. You can be working towards your special order (which requires a lot of work), or doing your best to develop the contracts you have. So it feels constructive, and even if you are behind, you feel like you’re doing stuff and if you can get a big late-game special-order payout, you can feel like you’re still in it. All good stuff. And like Andrea Meyer’s other games, I guarantee you that you have nothing quite like this in your collection, even though it shares some mechanics with other games like Union Pacific, Traumfabrik, and Show Manager.
The first play is the toughest. The learning curve was described by one of my fellow-players as being more like a “learning cliff”. In order to get you past that first game, I will try to offer some practical advice. First, you may just have to pull out the rules and the set and play a round solitaire to get the feel for the game (perhaps an enterprising Geek could upload a blow-by-blow session report to BGG). Because it’s not highly intuitive like a Saint Petersburg or Ticket to Ride, and is so unique, it’s a bit harder to just sit down cold and start playing. Secondly, you’re going to have to crack down on any “rules interrupters” you have in your group (you know, the guys who break into your rules explanations trying to get you to explain things in the order they want to hear them for whatever reason). This is a game that, while not difficult, can be tough to explain and these people are going to do a lot more harm than usual.
I don’t know if Mall World will gain classic status, but like the better smaller-press games, it’s clever, it works, and it gives you something rather different, something that you just aren’t likely to get from the bigger brands.
Razzia! is, of course, Ra – a game that is amongst my favorites. Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed Razzia!, except for the lack of an (easily-provided) token to indicate who is auctioning and therefore where the turn order is. Sure, you lose a little depth compared to the original due to the lack of disasters and the smaller card set, and it’s slightly less well-scaled to different numbers of players (due to the constant number of Razzia! cards required to end the round, as opposed to the variable number of Ra tiles). On the other hand, it also delivers a more straightforward game; slightly more functional graphics – the indicator that tells you which cards to discard between rounds is very helpful for new players, although neither the graphics overall nor the theme are as appealing or as effective as in Ra; and a non-trivially shorter playing time. If you’ve got the time and energy, you probably want to play Ra by preference, but when you want something a touch shorter, lighter, or more accessible, or if you want something you can easily carry around, Razzia! scores. It certainly won’t supplant or replace Ra, but I’m happy to have both.
Weinhandler is the new game from the designers who brought us Santiago, a clever game that for me anyway was fun but didn’t have staying power. It’s a bidding/set collection game, in which you are swapping bottles of wine in several suits to try to build up like-colored sets. The bidding has been compared to Money!, which I think is slightly misleading because while the view from 10,000 feet might be similar, it actually plays very differently. If you recall, in Money! the high bidder gets to choose any available set of cards (either in the pool, or in front of another player), which he swaps with. In Weinhandler, you have no choice – you must take the pool if you are the high bidder, second place gets the first player’s bids, and so on down the line. So, if you like the wine another player is offering, to get it your bid has to come in directly under it – sometimes tricky. Also, because you only have to “stay in” when bidding – you don’t have to overbid – there is a certain trickiness – you can duck, duck, duck, until everyone has passed, and then splurge to win.
I like Weinhandler. It’s clever, it’s different, it’s pretty simple yet reasonably challenging, and it plays quickly. I was nervous at first that the points for scoring bottles in the correct order would overwhelm the points on the bottles themselves, but that appears not to be the case. It’s not quite as tight as a Knizia, but at the price that’s OK. This one will come out again.