The Games of Steffen Benndorf
Reviews by Lucas Hedgren
I really enjoy dice games, especially those that aren’t the standard “roll 3 times”. Even two times is enough of a difference to pique my interest. Leading up to the 2013 SdJ announcement, I had heard some rumblings of a little dice game to come out at the Nurnberg Fair, called Qwixx. I then read the rules, and thought not much about it. Seemed, I don’t know…..fine. Then, SdJ nominations get announced and Qwixx was on the shortlist. Intrigued enough to track down a copy, I order one from amazon.de, and I end up pleasantly surprised.
“Who designed this?” I say to myself. “Steffen Benndorf? Never heard of him. What else has he made?”
It turns out, Mr. Benndorf has a particular set of skills, and his medium of choice is the light, dice game. He has had 5 of them published, in fact. Not one to turn down an opportunity to collect a self-perceived “set” of games, I tracked them all down, and now present them for review:
The Game: Qwixx by Nurnberger Spielkarten
How I Acquired It: Ordered from amazon.de
Game You Know That It Most Resembles: Choice (Sackson)
The Rundown: Roll 6 dice, 2 white and one each of 4 colors. Check off boxes on your personal sheet, matching the total of the white dice and/or one white die and one colored die. The boxes come in the 4 matching colors, 2 colors are ascending, 2 are descending. You can only check off boxes going left to right. If you can’t/won’t check off a box on your turn, take a penalty. Other players are allowed to check off boxes based only on your white dice total. Game ends when too many penalties are taken, or when 2 rows are locked out by a player checking off the rightmost box in that row. Score your rows based on the number of checkboxes in each row.
What I Liked: One roll; no rerolls! Rolling several dice and choosing among them is something I now look for in dice games. Luck is mitigated by the choice, and the tedium of watching other players reroll dice is removed. I also appreciate the method by which all the players are interested in every player’s roll. It feels a little more organic to me than Bohnanza: das Wurfelspiel, another light dice game that has you playing off of other’s rolls. Here, everyone gets a number to use or not, so there is a decision on top of just hoping something you want gets rolled.
What I Didn’t: Sometimes the decisions are a little too obvious. The scoring rewards multiple checks in the same row, but that is not immediately obvious to new players, and I am loathe to give out strategy advice on the first game. I’m not going to be happy when I run out of scoring sheets. When a row gets closed out by someone, it is easy to accidentally add a check to that row with the white dice. I haven’t rounded up enough golf pencils to go in the box, yet. These are all pretty minor.
Impressions: It’s a keeper. Qwixx has gone over very well with non-gamers and after about 5 turns, some light bulbs go on, which is fun to watch. It isn’t groundbreaking, but very well put together, and I can see why it was on the SdJ shortlist.
The Game: Fiese 15 by Schmidt Spiele
How I Acquired It: BGG Marketplace
Game You Know That It Most Resembles: Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck (Knizia)
The Rundown: Reveal a tile that shows 6 differently colored dice with values that all add up to 15. Roll those 6 differently colored dice (into the sweet box that doubles as a dice tower!) and set aside at least one that is equal to or less than the like-colored value on the tile. Repeat or stop. If you stop, score the value of all dice set aside, plus 5 if you froze 5 dice, or double your score if you manage to freeze all 6. If you happen to bust, you don’t go away empty handed; you score the value of the colors on the tile that you did not freeze. You can score up to 15 this way, if you manage to bust on your first roll. All other players then do the same. Play 10 rounds and tally up the scores. A variant is included that uses the backside of the tiles plus some chips, where the value of the white die is determined based on your current relative score among your opponents. A catch-up mechanism for those that want to keep everyone involved. A second variant simply removes the bust scoring.
What I Liked: It comes in a box, that is a dice tower! For serious. Also, it was much bigger than I was expecting. What to freeze initially seems like a no-brainer, but halfway into my first game, I was pleasantly surprised that this was maybe not so much the case.
What I Didn’t: You guessed it, the rerolling. Also, virtually no interaction to speak of, except the push-your-luck aspect when behind on scores. I have to admit, this did shape my decisions when playing. Also, variant 1 seeks to increase the interaction, at the expense of adding in a catch-up mechanism, whatever your opinion on that is.
Impressions: This feels like more of a standard push-your-luck kind of game. The points for failing typically end up being consolation points, except everyone once in awhile, they inform your actions. About halfway through my first game, though, I realized something. If I don’t freeze a color that the tile shows as a 6, then no matter what else I roll, I can’t bust. This gives me more rolls per turn, to try to get to the elusive 5 or 6 frozen dice. After this minor realization, the game got better, as I was picking between going for the riskier lots of frozen dice strategy, or whether to just take high numbers as I could. So, it was better than my initial impression. A keeper, but barely.
The Game: Wurfel Express by Ravensburger
How I Acquired It: Prodded a BGGer who had it for trade. We didn’t match up on a trade, but cash was able to smooth over the impasse.
Game You Know That It Most Resembles: Doesn’t look like it, but sort of feels like Exxtra!.
The Rundown: Each player is trying to claim long colored tiles to make a path to move their playing piece 30 spaces. The tiles come in 6 colors, and in lengths ranging from 2 to 7. Each turn, roll 7 dice showing the 6 colors, rerolling and freezing along the way, for a total of 3 rolls. Then claim tiles that match what you rolled. So if you rolled 5 yellows, you can take the 5 length yellow tile, as well as any other due to you. Place those tiles next to your piece. Simple so far. Here are the twists: 1. You can steal the hindmost tile from any other player, if you roll the appropriate colors. 2. You may not have more than one tile of each color. To that end, you may remove the hindmost tiles from your row at the beginning of your turn, moving your marker up in the process, but then you roll fewer dice on your turn. 3. If you cannot claim anything on your turn, you lose a piece from your row. First one to reach space #30, wins.
What I Liked: Creating the path of tiles to reach the end is pretty unusual. I like the visual reminder of how far ahead or behind you are. The tension of pushing it, by rolling all your dice and going for a certain color, or advancing and rolling less dice to play it safe, is a nice one.
What I Didn’t: There is certainly some pouncing on the leader involved, and with some rolls, the choice of what tiles to take is almost non-existent.
Impressions: Unique is the word that comes to mind here. The production and mechanisms (outside of the rerolling) are unlike any others in my collection. While the game can run a bit long, the racing aspect and ability to steal keep everyone involved and interested all the while. This was the only game I had played before Qwixx, and I had a nice memory of my first play. My replays since have given me about the same impression: Nice, interesting, but not wonderful .
The Game: Pescado by Steffen-Spiele
How I Acquired It: So, I search around, and find the site of the company that makes the game. Email sent. None received. Hmm. So, I track down Mr. Benndorf himself on BGG, and ask him where to buy Pescado in the US. Can’t be had, replies the author. Wha? But, I am totally your biggest fan, and I need to complete my collection! Ok, fine, he says, send me some money via Paypal. Sweet!
Game You Know That It Most Resembles: Yahtzee Free for All (Borg)
The Rundown: Lay out 6 fish tiles, that have 3 fish each on them, the fish coming in 6 different colors. Roll 5 dice, which show the 6 fish colors on their sides, and claim any tiles where you rolled the 3 colors showing. Then roll again,but on the 2nd throw the player may gain up to 2 more dice to roll. Each die gained is offset by turning over 2 fish tiles to be collected, temporarily taking them out of play. Collect tiles based on your 2nd roll, too. Refill the supply, and then it’s the next player’s turn. You can also steal tiles from your immediate predecessor in turn order, and only those just claimed by him/her. Game ends when all the tiles are gone, and scoring is 1,2 or 3 points for each tile, based whether the tile had 3, 2, or 1 different color fish, respectively. There is an additional rule where a “lightning round” of sorts occurs when any player rolls 3 of a kind on their first roll. Tiles are claimed in real time by putting your finger on them.
What I Liked: The reroll choice here is the most interesting of the lot. Deciding which fish tiles to shoot for, and then which dice give you the best shot at those, is an non-trivial decision. The game is somewhat self-balancing, in that if I have a great turn, and capture a bunch of tiles from the pool, I am opening myself up to having many of them stolen. The balance in values of the tiles and their respective difficulty seems about just right.
What I Didn’t: I had a hard time with the orange and red fish, though no one else mentioned any difficulty. It “feels bad” to have your tiles taken. (But then it feels so great to take them!) Certainly a lot of luck.
Impressions: This game is weird. Reading the rules, it seemed take-that-y, but you can only steal from your previous neighbor. But in practice it worked very well, based on the fact that stealing is always the best choice. The tiles you steal cannot be stolen from you, and it takes points away from someone. So, there is no real hard feelings, as stealing is the best choice. Thus, it provides balance to the lucky guy who got a ton of tils from the middle, either from rolling well, or getting lucky in having a pool of fish tiles with a lot of overlapping colors. The initial roll and tile claiming has zero decisions involved, so eventually we were helping each other take the tiles we were due. The “speed round” seems like a way to keep everyone interested in everyone’s turn, and it accomplished that goal. It felt like a fine addition to a game of this weight. In the end, goofy, different (again!) and fun.
The Game: Mensch argere Dich nicht mal anders by Schmidt Spiele
How I Acquired It: A friend was visiting Germany, and asked if I had any requests. I did. (Thanks, Karen!)
Game You Know That It Most Resembles: Just like the name says, Parcheesi or Ludo, but, you know, different.
The Rundown: It’s Parcheesi, but you roll 4 dice, and then make 2 sets of dice. Use at least one of the sets to move pawns. Also, the tracks are much shorter. And it comes in a dice tower box!
What I Liked: Short, sweet, decisions. How do you combine your dice, then how do you move 1 or 2 pawns by one or two of the set totals. Plenty of interaction, of course. Cheers and jeers as pawns get bumped. Easy to explain, for sure.
What I Didn’t: The depth goes only so far. Lots of starting over, because of your pawns getting jumped on. This isn’t horrible, as the board is only 24 spaces long, plus goal spaces.Trying for a 6 to get your pawn started isn’t very fun, but this is at least mitigated by the rule that allows for 3 rolls if all you are looking for is a 6.
Impressions: If you need a Parcheesi-ish game in your life, play Dog. If you need a short, travel version, that improves on the original Parcheesi in pretty much every meaningful way, and retains the dice, play Mensch argere Dich nicht mal anders.
Final thoughts: Mr. Benndorf certainly has his niche, and I think he does very well there. Light, dice games, often with colors involved (everything except the seemingly commissioned Mensch argere Dich nicht mal anders) are what he does best, and I think he has some unique takes on the genre. In fact, that would be my assessment of the lot: good, different dice games. But, alas, just before this article was to go out, I became aware of this! What!? A card game!? At least it has colors and numbers, so maybe Mr. Benndorf isn’t straying too far away from his sweet spot. Regardless, Mr. Benndorf is an author I intend to keep an eye on, even if he expands his gaming horizons. (Unless he designs a climbing game. Or anything with stock holdings. Nope, not going there.)