138 Games: From Timbuktu to Manhattan

We’re on to part 10 of our 138 Games series now, which mean Andreas Seyfarth’s Manhattan is game #50.  The game that won the Spiel des Jahres in the year before Settlers of Catan is often overlooked, but not by the Opinionated Gamers, who celebrate Manhattan along with four other must-play games in today’s list.

– Timbuktu –

Joe Huber:  One of the things I’m always looking for are _new_ games.  Not new, as in just-published, but new as in fresh ideas, unique mechanisms or a noteworthy and unusual experience.  I’m always happy to play such a game, even if I don’t think much of the game, as I really relish seeing something for the first time.

But every now and again, a unique game is also an excellent game – and Timbuktu is a great example of this.  Not only that, but in 20 years, I’ve yet to see another game like it.  The primary mechanism of the game is moving your caravan to Timbuktu over the course of five days.  Each camel carries four goods to start; over the course of the game, you can lose goods to thieves, or need to spend goods in order to get to a better position.  At the end of the game, the player still holding the most valuable goods – which is nearly always the person with the most goods remaining – wins.  But what really makes the game – and makes some folks run screaming – is the deduction element.  You know where two of the ten thieves are at the start of each day, and learn about four others before the day is through.  But to be successful, you want to watch closely what other players are doing, as it will often give you a clue to where the other thieves (or even the ones you just haven’t found out about yet) are located.

It’s worth noting that while the game officially handles three to five players, it’s really only a five player game.  Since being introduced to the game, I’ve played it 23 times – but not once with other than five players, as the game is really ideally suited to that number.

Jonathan Franklin:  Timbuktu is definitely worth trying at least once with 5 players.  It defines brain-melting for me, as it is an extended thematic deduction game without note-taking.

– Tutankhamen –

Jeff Allers:  It’s the quintessential Reiner Knizia filler, a game made up of two mechanisms.  And while set collection is nothing new (and wasn’t in 1993, either), the time track was.  Yep—this game was the forerunner of the incredibly cool “time track“ mechanism, which has since been employed by 2004’s Neuland and Jenseits von Theben, in 2010 by Glen More, and last year by Tokaido and Olympos.  As with all of those games, players in Tutankhamun may move ahead as far as they like each turn, but may end up waiting awhile for their next turn, as turn order is determined by the player who is farthest behind. This simple decision, coupled with the competition for the most collected artifacts of each type, provides a good amount of both tension and player interaction.

It could have easily been produced as a card game by Amigo (and I would imagine the temptation was there, as the company is known for them), but the path of tiles and 3-dimensional pyramid provide a wonderful visual compliment to the elegant mechanisms. Knowing Knizia’s fondness for reworking his own designs, it is a wonder that he has not yet expanded on this concept himself.

Larry:  Tutankhamen is one of those games where it almost takes more time to set it up than it does to play it!  But this very early Knizia is very clever, as well as very quick and very good.  And Jeff is right; I’d never thought about it before, but this is indeed the first usage of the time track mechanism, appearing a full decade before the games that are usually credited with it.  That Knizia fellow is a pretty smart guy!

– 6 Nimmt! –

Rick Thornquist:  Shortly after the formation of my first game group, a guy joined us who brought a game that he wanted to try.  That game was 6 Nimmt!  We played it and we loved it.  Actually, we loved it so much that we played it as a closer at our weekly game session for YEARS.  Yes, I really want to emphasize that word – YEARS.  I’m sure that in all my time in gaming, it’s the game I’ve played the most, by far.

Why did we play it so much?  Well, it’s simple, quick, somewhat strategic (yes, there’s lots of luck, but there is strategy as well) and no game evokes more moaning and groaning at twists of fate.  Kudos to Wolfgang Kramer for bringing us a brilliantly simple and tremendously fun game.

Greg Schloesser:  Fun game that somehow makes getting “hosed” an enjoyable experience!  You think you have a safe play, only to be foiled by the sometimes strange results for the cards played.  One of the few fillers that plays extremely well with 8 or more players.

– I’m the Boss! –

Matt Carlson:  If I have to think of a pure negotiation game, I’m the Boss! is the first game that comes to mind.  Sure, Pit would also fit the bill, but while that game is blind shouting, I’m the Boss! presents players with ways to actually make a deal.  This is what drives the game and makes it so great.  Far too many games with negotiation are set up so that the optimal strategy is to either stalemate so that nearly no trades are made, or lets players blackmail each other into lopsided trades (not that that is wholly a bad thing…).  I’m the Boss! manages to get things just right – players have a fairly good motivation to cooperate to earn rewards, and most of the time a player wants to gain the cooperation of a specific player.  However, if that player is being a stickler and demanding too much for their participation, there are several alternate methods available for closing the deal (such as even taking over the management of the deal itself!).  Bottom line:  This is a great negotiation game that results in a fast-playing game of negotiation that rarely (if ever) bogs down due to one or two players trying to stonewall a deal to get more out of it.

Larry:  The fact that this is Sid Sackson’s last great game creation should be enough to put this on your bucket list, but there’s much more.  Simply put, if you have a bunch of friends who want to wheedle, connive, and scream at each other, scheme out master plans, indulge in cutthroat negotiations, and fling around cards in madcap cardplay, all constrained within (barely) controlled chaos, then this is the title for you.  It is simultaneously a strategy and an experience game and pretty much guaranteed to inspire more gloats, moans, threats, and sheer belly laughs than any game I know.  It’s a terrific choice for gamers and non-gamers alike and one of the best six-player games ever created.  Screw world domination–it’s the battles in the boardroom that count and I’m the Boss lets you indulge in all the back-stabbing maneuvers you could ever want, with no fear of being fired.

– Manhattan –

Greg Schloesser:  The game is deserving of the ‘German Game of the Year’ award it won several years back.  In spite of its short and simple rules, it forces many interesting and agonizing decisions upon the players.  These decisions start at the very beginning of the game and continue throughout:

  • What six pieces to select at the beginning of each round?
  • Weighing which strategy to approach concerning victory points:  quantity of buildings, control of neighborhoods, and/or tallest building.
  • Weighing which card to use in executing the above strategy, while keeping in mind the resulting movement of the monster
  • Deciding to forgo an advantageous build in order to slow down or hurt an opponent – either by taking control of one of his buildings or moving the monster into his neighborhood.

I find the game, and the agonizing decisions it imposes, intriguing and loads of fun.  As a side note, I always enjoy playing using the “Baby Monster” variant, wherein Godzilla (we use a plastic “Barney” figure) moves around the board and knocks off the top piece of the building when he enters a sector.  This give the game more fluidity and allows players to catch the leader.

To be continued…

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1 Response to 138 Games: From Timbuktu to Manhattan

  1. Huge fan of 6 Nimmt (closer of choice at London on Board for many years) and enjoy I’m the Boss and Manhattan a lot too. I guess I’ll have to check out the other two.

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