Yesterday, we started to look at game families (collections of games which all originate from the same source, like Elfenroads and Elfenland), with some intrepid Opinionated Gamers giving their reasons for which game in the family they prefer. We’ve already looked at families from the pre-Settlers era (before 1995) and today we’ll focus on families where the originating game was released during the later part of the 1990’s. There’s lots of really cool and well known games here, so let’s get to it.
For Sale [Ravensburger version] (1997)
For Sale [Uberplay/Gryphon version] (2005)
For Sale is a classic ultra-fast filler designed by Stefan Dorra. The original game is for 3-5 players and uses a poker-like bidding mechanic (in which players can match the current highest bid in order to stay in the auction). The later designs have more cards, can handle up to 6 players, and use more conventional bidding.
Old For Sale preference: (8) Mark, Ted Cheatham, Joe Huber, Larry, Patrick Brennan, Dale, Patrick Korner, Greg Schloesser
New For Sale preference: (0)
No preference: (0)
Mark: While the larger decks enable play with 6 players, the odd composition of the money deck (original: 2 zeros & 3-20 vs. reprint: 2 zeros & 2-15 twice) means that the scoring & bidding incentives are “squashed” – with less variance comes less tension. And, just for the record, the original bidding rules are better, too.
Ted C: Ditto Mark and the old bidding rules.
Joe: The problem with the new bidding rules is that there isn’t enough room. At _most_, there are 15 bids to be made in a particular auction; the need to increase the bid avoids both the tension and strategic choices of the original rules. The smaller range of the money deck also makes for less interesting decisions in that part of the game.
Larry: I think the Poker-style bidding from the original is fairer. With standard bidding, the bids get so high so fast that players later in the turn order are often forced to drop out before they even get one bid in. I also agree with the others that the wider range of values in the original design makes for a more interesting game.
Dale: I don’t have an opinion over the bidding rules – IIRC, we tried both versions with the original set (using a variant proposed on the Gaming Dumpster, etc). The altered composition of the money deck though does make things a bit less interesting.
Patrick K: Mark said everything I would have.
Going against type, Klaus Teuber’s Lowenherz is an exceptionally nasty game that nevertheless impressed folks enough to win the DSP award. Domaine is an attempt by the same designer to tone things down a bit, but is still pretty contentious.
Lowenherz preference: (4) Ted Cheatham, Joe Huber, Larry, Greg Schloesser
Domaine preference: (3) Patrick Brennan, Brian Leet, Jeff Allers
No preference: (1) Dale
Ted C: I really love the tension and pressure of Lowenherz. It is one of those few games that really spools me up with tension. Domaine does not even come close to that feeling.
Joe: I dislike most negotiation games – but I really enjoy Löwenherz. The game really provides the feel of conflicting neighbors; it’s not just whether or not you win a particular action, but who you’re fighting with. Domaine falls completely flat for me in comparison. It strikes me as a fine example of what those who prefer an American style of game design see as the issue with the German style – there’s too much of a multiplayer solitaire feel to the proceedings, and no strong connection to the theme.
Larry: Domaine is a nice little game that I’d be happy to play were it not for its older brother, but Lowenherz is an all-time great one. With 4 players (the only way to play Lowenherz, IMO), Teuber sets it up so that the players have to butt heads and the constant in-fighting really makes the game. I just played this recently and it continues to be as fantastic as ever.
Dale: I’ve never liked either of these.
Brian Leet: For me this isn’t even close. Lowenherz is a good game that didn’t see much play because of the nastiness. Domaine on the other hand is dynamic in ways that really interest me and is one I wish I had the chance to play more often. I haven’t missed Lowenherz since leaving it behind.
Jeff: I’m with Brian on this one. The negotiation aspect of Löwenherz really bogged down the game for me, and the dominant personalities dominated the game. In contrast, Domaine (Löwenherz: der König kehrt zurück in Germany) was a smooth affair that focused on the more interesting part of the game: the highly interactive Go-like battle for territory on the board. It’s still plenty nasty, with opportunities to steal other people’s land–and even their knights! The mechanic to play a card or place it on the market for money is beautiful in its Ticket-to-Ride-like tension and simplicity. “I want to keep this card for later, but I really need the money, but I also don’t want to make it available for my opponent who can use it against me…” Euros these days need more of this type of refinement and interactivity!
Atlantic Star (2001)
I violated one of my guidelines here, since Showmanager and Atlantic Star are very close to being the same mechanically. I included this as a family because of the long-standing dispute over which game makes more sense thematically. Let’s get this resolved once and for all!
Showmanager preference: (9) Mark, Larry, Joe Huber, Patrick Brennan, Dale, Patrick Korner, Erik Arneson, Greg Schloesser, Brian Leet
Atlantic Star preference: (0)
No preference: (2) Tom R., Ted Cheatham
Mark: While the gameplay is almost identical, there are a few issues which make Atlantic Star inferior. First, the graphic design of the drafting board forces you to move cards in a circle. Second, the deck has been “sweetened” with some extra middle-value cards that make the game slightly less tense. Third, the end game rules are also more friendly – though you can easily house rule this back to the original “only one extra card” rule.
It’s worth noting that the newest reprint of Showmanager has a couple of variants in the box that haven’t been in any previous edition of the game.
Ted C: The only reason that Showmanager would move up is to hear Greg S. singing show tunes as he produces his musicals. Or, maybe that is a detractor……8)
Larry: Themes really aren’t that important to me, but when you have an appealing theme like Showmanager’s that fits the mechanics well and you replace it with a nonsensical theme like Atlantic Star’s that doesn’t (Ship X is more valuable in the Atlantic than the Mediterranean? Really?), then I have to draw the line. The rules for AS are slightly less challenging and that’s another reason to prefer the original. Now that Showmanager has been reprinted, there’s no reason to ever play Atlantic Star again.
Dale: 2 reasons here. First, the theme just works with Showmanager. The whole route-building theme of Atlantic Star just doesn’t make any sense. “I can’t work with these ports…” just doesn’t flow off the tongue! Second, the card distribution of Showmanager makes for a much more interesting game.
Patrick K.: Showmanager is thematically awesome. Atlantic star is the polar opposite. ‘nuff said.
Erik: What Patrick said. In this case, the theme makes a huge difference.
Brian Leet: Umm, what they said.
Edel, Stein & Reich (2003)
In the late nineties, Reinhard Staupe was one of the leading creators of innovative card games. Basari represents his successful attempt to expand into boardgames. ES&R, the penultimate game in the Alea small box format, converts the design back into a card game, while changing the gameplay a bit.
Basari preference: (3) Patrick Brennan, Greg Schloesser, Jeff Allers
Edel, Stein & Reich preference: (2) Ted Cheatham, Patick Korner
No preference: (1) Dale
Dale: I can’t even remember the last time I played either of these.
Patrick K.: I much prefer Edel. It’s a little more tactical, but the increased variety in options makes up for it. It also allows for comebacks, while the original had a tension arc that tended to die off once a clear leader emerged.
Jeff: This is a tough one, as I originally liked the reduced luck of Edel, which removed the roll-and-move aspect. But then, as I played the original more, I found the luck element of the original Basari to be more exciting, especially when teaching the game to casual gamers. I have both games in my collection and have no intention of getting rid of either.
Lost Cities (1999)
Lost Cities: The Boardgame (2008)
Lost Cities is one of Knizia’s most successful two-player games. He added a board and turned it into a multiplayer game and the result, Keltis, finally gave him his first SdJ award. Lost Cities: The Boardgame has slightly different rules and scoring and different art than Keltis.
Lost Cities preference: (6) Fraser, Nathan, Patrick Brennan, Patrick Korner, Erik Arneson, Greg Schloesser
Keltis preference: (4) Mark, Larry, Mary Prasad, Jeff Allers
LC:tBG preference: (1) Ted Cheatham
No preference: (2) Dale, Brian Leet
Mark: I give Keltis the nod (although all three are delightful) due to the ability to expand the game with new boards, clean art design, and a variable number of players.
Larry: I’m not a huge fan of Lost Cities, having never found the “hidden” depth so many attribute to the design. As a result, LC and Keltis is pretty much a wash with me–both are nice games that I can play quickly without having to think too hard. The real preference is for Keltis over the Lost Cities Boardgame. The latter adds a significant luck factor and restricts choice by forcing the players to build from low to high cards, rather than allow building in either order as Keltis does. Keltis is also much nicer looking. So I have a strong preference for Keltis over LC:tBG.
Dale: OK, I’ll admit it. I really dislike this whole family of games. Yes, even Lost Cities. Like Larry, I’ve never found the “depth” in LC that others claim to see. I don’t deny that the depth might be there, but I know for sure that at this point, I’m not going to play the game any more to try to find it. They’ve just never grabbed my attention. No preference at all between them.
Mary: Keltis has a slight lead over the others, mainly because I like the Celtic theme and look. I don’t mind playing any of them – all are fairly light.
Patrick K.: I like the original. Because I’m old-school, I guess. Or because I feel like it’s a simple concept that didn’t need dressing up with extra bits and bobs.
Brian Leet: No preference, only because I don’t know the new versions well enough to compare. With that said, I do enjoy Lost Cities and don’t see the need to change it.
Jeff: My favorite of the series is the Keltis Card Game [ed: one of the many Keltis expansions]. This makes the game into what it was always meant to be: a quick, simple, and portable multi-player game.
Priests of Ra (2009)
Ra, the first Alea design, got the brand off to a great start. Razzia is the card game version of the title, which removes the disasters to make it more family-friendly. Priests of Ra has similar mechanics, but two-sided tiles and different scoring rules.
Ra preference: (7) Fraser, Ted Cheatham, Patrick Brennan, Dale, Patrick Korner, Erik Arneson, Greg Schloesser
Razzia preference: (3) Joe Huber, Mary Prasad, Jeff Allers
Priests of Ra preference: (0)
No preference: (1) Brian Leet*
Fraser: The removal of the disasters in Razzia is to me unthematic – they could have been police raids, other mobs etc. – and takes away one of the key components of the game. Never to darken my doorstep. Ra Ra Ra!
Joe: The removal of the disasters isn’t unthematic; the police raids are what starts the auctions, as folks try to grab what they can while they can. The mobster theme works far better for me than the Egyptian theme ever did, and the removal of the disasters makes the game a much more enjoyable experience for me.
Dale: I just like saying “Ra!”
Mary: It has been a long time since I’ve played Razzia but I remember liking it better. Disasters don’t thrill me.
Patrick K.: Ra! No disasters makes the bidding far more boring, so that nerfs Razzia. Priests of Ra appears to add extra chrome for no real benefit, so I’ll stick to the original.
Erik: I believe Ra and Traumfabrik are the two greatest auction games ever designed. For me, nothing could possibly improve either one. Having said that, I will play any of these games and be very happy doing so.
Brian Leet: I prefer Ra and Priests of Ra to Razzia. Priests of Ra does have an advantage to me in that the scoring is more straightforward and easily understood. This is relevant when teaching to non-gamers who have trouble valuing things that they will collect over time for end game scoring. I don’t see any reason to own both, but would recommend one or the other depending on situation and will gladly play either.
Jeff: I’m with Joe: the gangster theme works, the Egyptian theme makes no sense (did the ancients ever use “Sun” as their currency?). “Razzia!” is even more fun to shout (just make sure you pronounce the “zz” like those in “pizza”).
Schotten Totten (1999)
Battle Line (2000)
Schotten Totten is another elegant Knizia two-player card game. Battle Line changed the theme from the always popular feuding Scotsmen to generic ancient armies. It also added Tactics cards that let the players perform some special actions.
Schotten Totten preference: (6) Larry, Mark, Ted Cheatham, Patrick Brennan, Greg Schloesser, Brian Leet
Battle Line preference: (2) Patrick Korner, Erik Arneson
No preference: (3) Fraser, Dale, Mary Prasad
Fraser: Our copy of Schotten Totten has the tactics cards as an option, so to me they are fundamentally the same game. Schotten Totten doesn’t bother with the pawns and the large box though!
Larry: Battle Line’s tactics cards seem to take away from the purity of the original design. In addition, I like the fact that in Schotten Totten, you’re forced to commit to an area, with no chance of going back; the tactics cards remove much of that tension. Schotten Totten is a truly elegant design and one of my favorite two-player games, while the additions in Battle Line just serve to muddy things up.
Greg: Amen, Larry. Why complicate a wonderful little game?
Dale: I must have the same version as Fraser. I didn’t realize there was a difference between these two other than the titles.
Mary: I like both games, although I like the artwork and smaller box size better in Schotten Totten (hmm, maybe this is my preference?).
Patrick K.: Larry has purity on the brain. Variety is the spice of life and Battle Line has far more of it. I really like the way the extended version gives you more decision points. It also gives you just enough randomness to make the design more interesting. The pure game is good, but I have found the tension level in Battle Line to be higher.
Brian Leet: Sorry Patrick, but Larry’s right on this one. Battle Line is okay, but Schotten Totten is where it is at. Fun play, perfect theme, simple to teach and learn, enough to think about. Why mess with it?
Small World (2009)
Vinci introduced the idea of a conquest game where the players draft civilizations with different, randomly determined abilities that conquer territories using a simple, no-luck combat system. Vinci has a generic historical setting, while Small World has a fantasy setting, along with more elaborate components and a shortened duration.
Vinci preference: (4) Ted Cheatham, Joe Huber, Larry, Jeff Allers
Small World preference: (8) Mark, Nathan, Patrick Brennan, Dale, Mary Prasad, Erik Arneson, Greg Schloesser, Brian Leet
No preference: (0)
Mark: Days of Wonder not only made a lovely production of this game system, they streamlined it and gave it a proper “weight” (the length & theme of the game match the key mechanic better). As well, they fixed the endgame problem – thanks, DoW!
Ted C: I felt I should comment because I agree with Mark 100%. I think DOW did a fantastic job with Small World. They cleaned the game up, shortened and defined it. The theme really works well. Maybe this is just like a song. You get hooked on the first version and no remake will ever be better. This may not make sense, and I cannot tell you why I still like Vinci better.
Joe: To be fair, I’ve never played Small World, and I’ve never really been tempted to do so. I find the theme of Vinci a much better fit; Europe is something worth fighting over, unlike the abstract, fantasy land of Small World. And I have, in many plays of Vinci, all with open scoring (because anything that easily trackable should be open), never seen an endgame problem.
Larry: I prefer Vinci’s theme, extra length, and pacing. I also find the powers in Vinci much easier to remember than those in Small World, which often feature Small differences. I just find when I’m playing SW that I wish I was playing Vinci instead. Small World does scale better, so it would be my preferred choice with 5 players. But with 4, and probably with 3 as well, my vote goes to Vinci. And like Joe, we’ve never had a problem with the endgame. There’s only a limited amount of leader-bashing and what’s there is a feature, not a bug.
Nathan: For a long time I was convinced that I liked both equally well, and to some degree that’s not far off still. While Vinci was more complex and fiddly, I felt like it also had a bit more depth that was right for certain moods. But with the onslaught of expansion races for Small World, I now fully give the nod to the simpler game with more variability.
Dale: The endgame issue in Vinci made it unplayable for me after three or four games. I have only played Small World once, mostly because I’ve never owned a copy of Small World and no one in my local group has it.
Mary: I like the Small World production much better, as well as the theme and shorter length. I also like that there are so many possibilities for the armies – it really keeps the game fresh.
Brian Leet: I agree with all the comments that Vinci is the better theme, and I wish it worked as well as Small World. It doesn’t. We could call that unfortunate, but instead I feel lucky that Keyaerts and DOW find a way to fix the scaling issues and improve the interaction of powers. The fact that they gave us simpler to follow rules and a far better presentation at the same time make this an easy choice from my perspective.
Jeff: I’m torn on this one, as I like quite a bit of the changes in the new game (both game boards are awful, though!). When I play Small World, however, I, too, often wish I was playing Vinci. I think I’d really rather have something in between the two, with an old-world feel but simpler placement rules. My biggest criticism, however, is that Small World ends too quickly. The real fun of the game is changing civilizations, and Small World only allows players to do that a couple of times each game–with 5 players, possibly only once!
So those are our preferences for the game families from the late nineties. Once again, I will ask, what’s your favorite version?