Nürnburg Games, part 2

Heckmeck: This is a Reiner Knizia dice game from Zoch. This is a game that is interesting in theory, because it is basically a highly compressed “category” dice game, a la Yahtzee, something I haven’t really seen in a German-style game. You roll dice repeatedly, and for each roll you must keep one “category” of dice: all the 1s, all the 2s, etc. You can only keep each category once, so once you’ve got 4s you can’t score them again. You keep rolling until either you choose to score, or you roll and there is nothing you can save (in which case you pass the dice). Add up your dice, take a scoring chit which does not exceed that total. There is some more stuff in there – you need to roll worms (a special die face) to score at all, and you can steal other people’s scoring chits – but that’s about it. I think this is more interesting in theory than in practice; I’m not sure it’s actually a better game than Yahtzee! (which may be underrated, albeit that isn’t saying a lot). This is the weakest Knizia game I’ve played in some time, and I can’t recommend it at all, especially at the length, 30 minutes or so. If you want a Knizia dice game, pick up Exxtra or Clash of the Gladiators, or better yet, just go for Can’t Stop.

Diamant: Another new game from Alan R Moon and Bruno Faidutti, this is unfortunately not available in an English edition. For those of you who have played Cloud 9, I’m told this is somewhat similar; I haven’t played the original. Everyone is a diamond miner. The game is played in 5 rounds, each of which will involve exploring one shaft. Turn over a card, which will have either diamonds or a disaster. If it is diamonds, split them up evenly amongst the players, with the remainder being left behind in the shaft. If it’s a disaster, nothing happens … unless it is a second, matching disaster for one previously drawn, in which case everyone still in the shaft loses all their collected diamonds. After each card draw, everyone simultaneously decides whether to press on or bail out. If you bail, you keep your diamonds accumulated to this point, and all the bailing players split up any diamonds that got left behind (with any odd ones being again left behind).

This is a clever game of chicken, and it seems that it would scale well to larger numbers of players (6+), which is a big plus. It’s simple, without any spurious elements, and I found the tension of deciding when to leave and when to press on engaging. A recommendation, at least if it can be found at a reasonable price, which I’d suggest should be about $20-$25. Unfortunately, it currently goes for about $40 in the US as a big-box game. I’d be a lot happier if it were a small-box card game, but what can you do; it’s a good game, regardless.

Tower of Babel: Now we’re getting to the really good stuff. This is a new big-box game from Hans im Glück and Reiner Knizia. Well, this needs further clarification: Hans im Glück now has two varieties of big-box games, the “heavy” games like Goa and Amun-Re, and the “4-pagers” like Attika, Clash of the Gladiators, and Saint Petersburg. Tower of Babel is in the latter category. The players are trying to build a number the ancient Wonders of the Ancient World (Tower of Babel, Colossus of Rhodes, Lighthouse at Alexandria, and so on). Each wonder has three chunks that need to be built, each of which requires one specific resource (marble, for example). The active player decides which chunk to build on which wonder. Each player than can make an offer of resources to help build it. If enough resources can be found, the active player can decide which offers to accept, filling out any remainder from his own hand. If the chunk is successfully built, the active player gets a chit in recognition, and each player who contributed resources gets one “brick” in the monument per resource contributed. The wild card is a “trader” card which can be added to any resource card offered; this turns the tables, with the player of the trader card getting the building chit while the active player gets all the bricks (if you accept an offer with a trader in it, it can’t be combined with any other offers). As each monument is scored, points are scored for first, second, and “also contributed”, and these points escalate. There are also a goodly number of points associated with having 3 or 4 same-colored chits at the end.

As is usual for a Knizia, this is quite subtle and clever, and gets a lot of mileage out of a few simple ideas. The game of getting bricks into the monuments is basically an area-influence game, but the point skew is interesting – while coming in first is obviously best, the “also contributed” points are significant and can often represent the best bang for your buck. There is a lot of subtle tension in the offering phase – you want to offer enough materials to have your offer chosen, but you don’t want to make it too easy on the active player. The trader card is generally reserved for the power-plays, because you’re going to have to make a fairly rich offer to have it accepted, but they are critical to scoring the building chits since they are only really worth significant points if you can get 3 or 4 of the 6 available in each color.

I liked Tower of Babel. In the category of serious but lighter 4-pager Knizia games, I doubt it will unseat Samurai or Through the Desert, but there are interesting things going on, nice tensions, and it plays quickly and exceptionally cleanly. I played it with 3, and it worked very well at that number; it’ll be a rather different game for 5, and given all the balances it’s hard to speculate how more will work. Regardless, for me, this will be a definite buy when it comes out in English in May (hopefully).

Louis XIV: This is from alea and Rudiger Dorn. After Traders of Genoa, which is a personal favorite, Herr Dorn hit a slightly rough patch with the very different Gargon (which was OK, sort of) and Emerald (which was OK). Then we got Goa and Jambo, both of which are more stylistically derivative from Traders of Genoa, and both of which I liked a lot. Now we get Louis XIV, which is both from alea and also has recognizable Traders of Genoa elements … so we’re feeling good about this one.

Players represent nobles trying to get stuff done in the court of Louis XIV. Each of the various courtiers has favors he or she can do for you, if you influence them or bribe them. Each turn you will have goals available to you, which if you can accumulate the right favors for, you can gain a lasting advantage (more income, more influence, special powers, etc.). The courtiers also have more material favors available, such as cash, influence manipulation, victory points, etc. Each player allocates their influence every turn with card play.

This is an alea “hobbyists” game, so there are significant details to these processes, but that’s the high-level view. Complexity-wise, Louis XIV’s rules match its box size, being somewhat more complex than any of the small-box games (like San Juan), but less complex than any of the big-box games (perhaps with the exception of the ever-anomalous Adel Verpflichtet). Despite just a touch of complexity, I found Louis XIV to play cleanly and quickly, with a modest playing time and short turns and enough options to be interesting, but not so many so as to make it susceptible to analysis paralysis.

I’ve played this a couple times now, and my impression is that Louis XIV will fit in quite nicely with the alea line, giving you a slightly meatier option than the small-box stuff, but not going so far as the generally higher complexity and longer play-times of the big-box games. I think it gives you significantly more to engage on than San Juan, although I doubt it will provide as much replay value because Louis XIV just isn’t as variable. But all in all, I was quite pleased with it, and would certaianly recommend it to fans of alea’s games. So far, the pick of the Nürnburg crop.

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