- Designer: Thomas Spitzer
- Publisher: Capstone Games
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 12+
- Time: 60-90 minutes
- Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Capstone Games
Haspelknecht is the third game in Herr Spitzer’s Coal Trilogy (the other games being the unspellable Ruhrschifffahrt as well as Kohle & Kolonie). I have had the chance to each of the other two Coal Series games once, and I liked my initial foray into each. When I was approached by Capstone Games to try out Haspelknecht, I was most definitely interested. Even more so when I read that the game length was 60-90 minutes. Part of the reason that I had not gotten the first two games to the table more often is that it’s often hard for us to get a 2-3 hour game scheduled on our weekly game nights.
In this game, players have a personal board which shows their farm and the coal deposits hidden beneath. The upper area is the “Pinge” – this is the low hanging fruit of coal mining – it’s lumps of coal on the ground that you can just dig up with your shovel. You place coal cubes everywhere on your board where you see the black cube icon.
The term Haspelknecht refers to an actual laborer, the guy who reels up the buckets of coal from the mine… You’ll be using your Haspelknecht later in the game. However, at the start, you just have a farmer and his shovel, and you’ll use this guy first to get all the easy coal on the surface.
In the center of the table, you’ll place a wheel board which tracks the rounds/phases of the game. It also has the scoreboard and a track for player order. You’ll also construct a development area – there are four different types (colors) of developments, and you’ll make a nested set of hexes. This is essentially a modular tech tree that changes with each play depending on which hexes are chosen to be included. Finally, you will place some resource boards on the table. A supply of wooden discs is placed in the bag and then these discs are drawn out and placed on the resource boards. There is both an active and reserve area on each resource board.
The game itself is played over three years – with actions being taken in Spring, Summer and Autumn and then a scoring phase each Winter. In each of the action seasons, the following things happen:
1) Resource boards are refilled – the 3 discs in the reserve area are moved into the active area of each board, and 3 new discs are drawn into the reserve area. Next, all the active areas are examined; if any has fewer than 6 discs, new discs are drawn from the bag to bring the total up to 6.
2) Collect Action discs – in player order, each player chooses any resource board and then takes ALL of the discs of one color from the active area of that board. If you choose from a board that has a water symbol on it, you also take a pit water. Then using the chart in the center of the turn board, calculate the points of the discs taken in this first round. Once all players have chosen, any player who has less than 5 discs may take a second choice – again taking discs of only one color for a single active area. He may take as many discs as will bring his total to 5. You do not get a third draw if your second keeps you under 5 discs.
3) Determine turn order – the player order is reset going from lowest point value from the first round of disc grabbing to highest. Move the discs on the track in the center of the board.
4) Action planning – this can happen simultaneously unless someone asks for it to be done in order – each player takes the discs that they have collected and allocates them (along with food and Thaler) onto the their different workers. In general, each worker gets one color of discs except for your Farmer if he is getting a Development. Each worker has its own set of possible actions, printed under their picture. Once everything is planned, actions are taken in order based on the turn order track.
Make Resources – place 1 or more discs of a color to make the matching good; yellow discs become yellow food, brown discs become brown wood. Black discs are used for coal mining (the black cubes). If both your farmer and farmhand produce the same resource (i.e. use the same colored disc), they combine to get an extra action between them in production. As a special note, the Farmer makes an extra food in the Summer season.
Development – the Development area is a special thing that needs a bit more explanation. At the start of the game, you are limited to only taking developments from the top row. All players can have each development, and you mark “ownership” with one of your player discs. Each hex has a resource cost in the upper left. If your farmer chooses to buy a development, you place all the needed discs on the Farmer, and then you discard them to place a player disc on that hex. If you look at the assist tile to the right of this particular row, you will see whether or not you score VPs for claiming that development – the earlier you claim a hex, the more VPs that you get. Developments provide many special actions, end game bonus scores or one-time bonuses. Once you have started collecting developments, you generally can then take any development which is adjacent to a previously claimed hex though there is a rule that you can also take any non-adjacent development as long as another player has claimed it first. However, if you do this, you must pay an extra fee to whichever player is on the top of the player stack on that non-adjacent tile.
Excavating coal – at the start of the game, you first take the coal from the Pinge – you will need to play some wood here in order to get to all the coal. Once this is complete, then you must go into the Tunnel to get more coal. You cover the Pinge (and its Coal-Digger) and replace it with a tile containing a Coal-Miner and Haspelknecht. Like the Pinge, this tunnel is also separated by wood icons which need to be opened up by playing wood to those spaces. Unlike the Pinge, all coal dug up in the tunnel is put is a special holding area – it is up to the Haspelknecht to reel these up to the surface. The entire time that you’re excavating, you must be watchful of the pit water. Water in your pinge or tunnel prevents you from getting at the coal – you must first remove some/all of the water in order to get to the coal!
After three rounds of actions, then you move into the Winter Scoring phase. First, you score points for the amount of coal collected this year. Then, you must pay for your land lease based on the chart on the board. If you cannot pay the full amount, you take a debt chit for each thing you can’t pay – and this will cause you to lose VP at the end of the game. Next, you can store a single resource in your farm area for the next turn. All other resources are placed back in the supply. Note that if you choose to keep wood, you score 1 VP for this (but no VP for saving food or coal). You may have extra storage or additional bonuses based on development tiles.
Continue this for three full years. At the end of the third year, there is a final scoring round. First, you score points for your progress in the tunnel. Next, you score the developments that relate to the tunnel and then the developments that reward set collection of development tiles. The last positive points are scored for left over action markers from development tiles and leftover Thalers. You then lose VP for any debt chits that you have collected as well as for any pit water markers left in your tunnel. The player with the most points wins. Ties go to the player who excavated the most coal.
My thoughts on the game
Haspelknecht is a very complex game as you have a lot of things that you’re trying to balance – you want to do more things each turn than you have the capability of doing. However, that being said, the game is nicely designed because your action options are actually fairly limited. You can produce wood or food, you can mine, you can remove water and you can get a development. That’s it. So, at least you don’t have an endless choice of things to do – it’s more about being efficient in doing the actions you want to do in the order you want to do them in.
Of course, your action selection is determined in large part by the discs that you draft (because certain colors are needed for particular actions), and the order of your drafting is determined by your spot in player order which in turn was decided by your first round of drafting in the previous round! This highlights, for me, the tipping point of the game – balancing the need to get exactly the discs that you want in the first round versus staying closer to the front of the order track for all the advantages you get from that. Occasionally, the two desires will mesh together perfectly, but more often than not, you will be choosing between these two goals.
I would definitely pay close attention to the development area at the start of the game. As you only have free access to the top row, and you generally have to move adjacent to previous developments, you will want to have a decent map in your head from the start of the game to get to the things you want. Of course, there’s also a bit of a race aspect here because the VP bonuses for getting to a development tile early can be significant! In fact, I have seen people win the game without excavating much (if any) coal from their tunnel because they were able to claim so many 3 and 4 VP bonuses by getting to the bottom two rows of the development chart first. In addition, there are many developments which score for the icons on the development tiles that you have collected – so you are actually quite motivated to get a lot of developments.
Thematically, I’m not sure that I like the idea that you can win a game about coal mining without actually mining coal – but I suppose that as long as everyone knows the rules and the relative importance of the developments; it’s just a game and the goal of the game isn’t to dig up black cubes but to score the most VP, in whatever way you get there. That being said, I think the designer must have realized this as there are a number of variant development tile setup formations in the end of the rulebook which definitely can change how you are able to gain VPs from developments.
Of the three games in the coal mining series, this is the one that appeals to me the most – in part due to the shorter game time and in part due to the nice tension created by the action selection/execution method. One issue that may come up with repeated plays – and I haven’t played it enough to know for sure – is whether or not there is enough variety in the 20 Development tiles (you use 16 in the basic setup) for good replay value. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I feel that I’ve solved the game with the development tiles that I’ve seen in the first 3 games – hopefully the varying arrangement of the tiles leads you to develop different strategies, even if you are using mostly the same tiles.
Thus far, the games have been challenging, and while the games have all felt similar from the Development tracks, each game presents a slightly different puzzle. As I said earlier, it feels weird sometimes to play the game and not try to mine coal, but you just have to figure out how to score the points. Interaction is mostly indirect (player order and racing for developments) so this should appeal to the sandbox loving player. I find that there is a heck of a lot of game here for the 60-90 minute timeframe, and it should likely make it back to the table a fair amount this year to be explored more.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Alan H: I have played this game about 5 times and the game is fine but ultimately not one I will seek to play anytime soon. This should have been a solid game in my interest area – medium to heavy game, plenty of variety offered by the mix and set up of tiles, and (apparently) many things to think about. But the gameplay feels the same as you build up you game plan. I also have an issue with the cube selection mechanism. There is uncertainty about what will come out each round and how you will get to choose the action discs. I have had many times when I needed a specific disc or combination of discs and not been able to get them. This is fine as you might not get what you want, but in a game in which you can plan to a significant degree it is frustrating when something out of your control happens. Very frustrating indeed. But if there was not uncertainty in the action draw would the game be less interesting?
The other area of disappointment is that the tiles which look interesting don’t provide sufficient variety in gameplay to excite. Overall I had high expectations after the first two coal games and was disappointed by the feeling of this one. Kohle & Kolonie is the best game in the trilogy, then Ruhrschifffahrt and finally this one.
Larry: I’ve played all three games of the trilogy. The first two had interesting ideas, but were also flawed, in my opinion, and were too long for what they provided. Haspelknecht seems to be best suited for my tastes. Unfortunately, the one time I played, the rules explainer only briefly went over the abilities of Development tiles and I then found myself on the opposite side of the table from them, making it very difficult for me to study them in any detail. As a result, rather than make the game drag, I just made little use of the tiles, resulting in a pretty bland experience. It seems obvious that the tiles are the heart of the game, but if I were to play again, I’d want to study them ahead of time, since their interactions can be subtle. I’m not giving the game a rating, since I don’t think I’ve given it a fair shot. I’d like to play this again under better circumstances, but it isn’t all that high on my gaming to-do list.
Dan Blum (3 plays): I like the game well enough but most of the interest does come from the development tiles, so I am not sure how much staying power it has; once you’ve seen enough different arrangements of the tiles I am not sure that repeated games will be that interesting.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, Alan H, Dan Blum
- Not for me…
Might be notable that an expansion is coming in 2017 that will provide additional variability in the development tiles, amongst other additions to gameplay. Could breathe new life into what the OG reviewers considered a short shelf life for the game….