Die Weinhandler: If you remember, the first time I played this I had reasonably good things to say about it. I’ve played a couple times since, and it’s been taking a few body blows. This is, admittedly, not a huge shock – these small-box games rarely have that much staying power. I think the frustration with Die Weinhandler centers on the initial deal. Your initial purchasing power is random, and the difference between a rich hand and a poor hand is huge. Getting a strong deal, then being able to acquire the first lot of wine if it’s rich, can allow you to coast the rest of the way out, while a poor initial deal can put you in a hole it’s hard to get out of. This wouldn’t necessarily be too bad in a shorter game, but this is a 45 minute game or so, and I think ultimately the length sinks it. Anyway, not bad, a good try, clever to play a couple times, but a far cry from Money!, to which it is quite similar in feel.
Fairy Tale: This is another game getting some repeat play. Despite enjoying my first play, the second play (this time with 4 players) fell surprisingly flat. Part of this was certainly that we didn’t use any of the “advanced” cards, which do add to the game significantly in my opinion. But part of it too was that this time I just wondered where the game was. After the first round or two, you just pick the card that scores you points, or pick a card that you must deny to your neighbor. This time it just felt like all the choices were obvious. Now, this sort of game can be fun or not based on how the cards come out, so given I enjoyed it the first time I won’t judge it too harshly, and would like to play again. But it’s gone off my “buy” list.
Einfach Genial: This has been getting a ton of play since I first brought it to my game groups a few months back. It’s got that combination of elegance and subtlety – just the right touch of randomness so it can be played as a fun game, yet with enough depth to challenge you – that Knizia is the master of. I haven’t yet played the 4-player partnership version, which I will do next time we have 4 because I have become a little unsatisfied with the straight 4-player version. It seems a bit chaotic, a bit more prone to the luck of the draw as regions of colors will close off more rapidly, and with occasional problematic kingmaking. But Einfach is a brilliant 3-player game, and I hope the solution to the 4-player dilemma is the partnership version. I see this has just been released “in English” as Ingenious, and it remains a top pick from 2004.
Colossal Arena: Speaking of my top picks from 2004, it is inevitable when making these things that something will slip through the cracks. In my case, there were three games worthy of mention that were inexplicably omitted: this, Tongiaki, and Wings of War. Anyway. This time I wanted to check out the new creatures, so we used the Daimon (gotta get that funky spelling) and Seraphim. I had heard some complaints that the new creatures were unbalanced, but they didn’t seem too bad on inspection. In our game, the Seraphim (whose power is the coolest of the new ones) was whacked right off, and the backer of the Daimon was never able to use his power because there were never any open bet slots, which does of course seem the usual course of events. Interesting that all the other creatures’ powers will always give you something, at least after the first round, but the Daimon frequently won’t. It may be a while before he comes out again. On balance, the special powers largely give the game flavor and interest, along with a little bit more depth and a little more chaos at the same time, so since none of the new ones seem too bad, more is better as far as I’m concerned.
Mall World: I’ve written about Mall World a couple times, and played a few more beyond this. It’s been holding its own well over repeated play. It has that elusive property of revealing interesting little tidbits with each new play. The bit with the most subtlety is the auction process, in choosing which cards to sell – you can play cards you want played and try to get other people to do your work for you, you can play cards you think other people will bid for to make money, or you can play conservatively, trying to make money offering cards that can’t hurt you. The effort to score your special orders is a game-long process of taking small opportunities one at a time as they are offered, and managing the risks of potentially dangerous auctions. And of course there is the Union Pacific-esque tension between developing areas and actually scoring. All good stuff. I think the key thing to bear in mind when playing this game, though, is that while there are lots of little things you can do to improve your chances, Mall World has a hefty chunk of just trying to manage risk and opportunity – so you can do all the right things and still do poorly because someone developed the mall in an unexpected way, or the last card you needed to cap your multiple-special-order scoring simply never became available. It’s a clever and challenging game, but it can also be a chaotic one. I like games like this (as evidenced by my tremendous fondness for Republic of Rome), but some may find it frustrating.