Designer: Klaus Zoch
Publisher: Capstone Games/Simply Complex (Chili Spiele)
Time: 40-60 minutes
Times Played: 3 times with purchased Capstone Games edition, 2 times with a friend’s Chili Spiele edition
I carry dental floss in my front left pocket. It’s a good one. Short of giving a full review of the floss, I “Love” Oral-B’s Glide Pro-Health Comfort Plus floss. I carry it around for two reasons. Firstly, my teeth genes aren’t the strongest, and I try to floss an above-average number of times. Secondly, there are some spots here and there between teeth near the back that some bok choy from breakfast or some baby kale from lunch or some broccoli from dinner likes to curl up to hide in. And my tongue finds it and jabs at it. Pokes at it. Tries to pry it loose. You already know that’s in vain.
But when I find it’s there, I can’t focus on anything else. I try to focus at work. I try to concentrate at the gym. I try to pay attention to the road. But I have to floss.
Which is all to say I first played Neue Heimat in September 2011 and it was stuck in a crack in my sulci ever since.
Klaus Zoch’s bygone Chili Spiele was a publisher that for a few Icarusian years had my attention for what they would release next. I looked through various archived posts from boardgamenews.com and couldn’t find any mention of Neue Heimat in the convention reports for Spiel 2007. In a complete table of the FAIRPLAY votes, it received, well, 4 votes – compared 51 for Tribun, that year’s top of the list, and 103 for Cuba, which had the most votes. (Aufsteiger, which Capstone/Simply Complex has also reprinted, also received 4 votes. If you really want to follow me down this trail, a Chili Spiele game “Aufwärts” also received a vote. I asked Klaus and he isn’t sure what this refers to. My theory is that it’s a vote for Aufsteiger where the name was recorded incorrectly.)
Clay and Capstone Games have now published a second of those Chili Spiele games, “The Estates”, a reprint of 2007’s Neue Heimat, allowing me to finally reach where those Neue Heimat reminisces resided and exorcise them.
Your goal in The Estates is to earn the most points, but we’ll need to cover a few things before we get to how those points are earned.
The game is a series of once-around auctions, and on a player’s turn (after one item we’ll come back to) they will pick a piece of wood to auction. Starting with the player to their left and proceeding back to the auctioneer, each player may either make a bid or pass. The auctioneer may accept the high bid, taking the money from the buyer into their coffers and giving them the auction item, or the auctioneer may match the bid and give that amount of money to the high bidder, with the auctioneer then handling the item that was auctioned. In this way, money doesn’t leave the game (other than the one item we’ll come back to). Money also never enters the game (that one doesn’t need a parenthetical, but, well).
The items on auction are cubes, roofs, building permits, a “cancel” cube, and the mayor’s hat.
The cubes are a subset of 24 from the 36 contained in the game. The cubes are in six colors, and each have six cubes, numbered 1-6. The twenty-four are selected at random and organized into three rows of eight. What you may auction from these cubes is any of the six cubes on the outside: either end of any of the rows. When the first cube of a color is auctioned, the winner becomes the “owner” of that color –meaning they’ll earn the points, positive or negative, for that color.
Cubes are either placed directly on the board, in one of the three rows and starting closest to the street, or on top of another already placed cube. The locations with white borders cannot have any cubes placed on top of the first, but at the other locations, cubes won in an auction may be placed on top of other cubes, provided the number shown on the newly auctioned cube is less than the number showing on the board cube, and it hasn’t been topped with a roof.
The second auction item are the roofs. These cap a stack of cubes and add a value of 1-6 to the column. The absolute value of points for a column is determined by adding the value of all of the cubes and roofs in a stack. Those points are destined for the player that owns the cube color on top of the stack. However, we have not yet determined if those points will be positive or negative.
To start, the board is 3×4 and stops at the river. A “complete” row of buildings –where each of the available building locations has at least 1 cube and each building has a roof– will score positive points. An “incomplete” row will score negative points. The building permits can be auctioned to extend or shorten these rows by 1, 2, or 3 spaces. The cancel cube can be used to remove these barriers. The mayor’s hat is assigned to a row and doubles the points –positive or negative– to be awarded.
The game ends when either two rows are completed or there are no remaining cubes or roofs. Players then score, positive or negative, doubled or not, for stacks with their colored cubes on the top. Money in hand is worth nothing, but embezzled money is worth 1 point each.
That’s the part I was coming back to. At the beginning of your turn, you may tuck exactly one ducat under the board.
That’s the game.
It turns out the word I’m going to use is “uncertainty” rather than “volatile”. I went back to Cameron’s PhD thesis to review his vocabulary for game measurements. Here are the ones that I find present here abundance:
Uncertainty – “the tendency for the outcome of the game to remain uncertain for as long as possible”.
Drama – “the tendency for players to recover from seemingly bad positions”.
Killer Moves – “provides an estimate of the tendency of killer moves to occur…one that significantly improves the player’s position and typically swings the outcome of the game”.
My thoughts on games drift toward the thoughts I have while playing. The questions I ask myself. When you’re short on money for the turn, what will you choose to auction? What represents a piece that another player will pay mightily for, but also put where you want? Based on the distribution of colors and numbers in the three rows, which colors do I think it will be strategically plausible to win with? (You can win with no colors). If I place a large bid, who am I potentially giving that money too, and am I ok with where they are likely to spend it? If I pass on this auction, am I ok with where that person is going to place that piece?
The game is uncertain. A single dollar. A single roof. A row of 80 points has turned into a loss of 80 points.
I’m not thrilled with the square rulebook, as I find them impractical. I’m also not fond of how the locations are marked that restrict locations to a single-cube height. Once that cube is placed on these locations, it is not sufficiently obvious that you will not be able to place another cube atop it.
But the thoughts! How much will I need to spend between this auction and my turn? What can I bid that the auctioneer will pay me? How high of a bid can I get away with? How much money does that player have left? How low of a bid can I get away with?
All wrapped up in 40-60 minutes.
Maybe the floss analogy wasn’t the best. I don’t like when I can’t get food detritus off my mind. But the reminisces of those games of Neue Heimat were something I was eager to return to. “Let’s try that again. Soon.”
The focus is uncertain. A single floret. A single game. An aggravation has turned into pleasure.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Patrick Brennan: Hmm, I’m not so much a fan. Early auctions are mostly meaningless because the early purchases get covered up. Mid-game auctions are mostly meaningless because it’s unknown what rows will score double, normal, and negative. With the closed economy, the end-game auctions are mostly meaningless because no one can afford enough wins to drive a result home, meaning you’re relying on situations emerging which force players to collude with your plans. The game is nothing but auctions, and when most of these are meaningless, it’s not much of a game. I won my first and only game after literally not winning one auction in the first 30 minutes of the game. Riiiiight.
Simon Neale: The Estates is a game that I should like a lot, as the auction mechanic works well and the runtime is ideal for a fast playing, fun game. The issue I have with the game is that a row which is “complete” can be made “incomplete” by the addition of a barrier. Even in a game where fortunes can be made or lost on the placement of a single piece, the ability to change a completed row to an incomplete one is a step way too far down Random Road for my taste.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it! James Nathan
I like it.
Not for me… Patrick Brennan, Simon Neale
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I love this game! This edition polishes the original German shoebox version to give the game a really nice shine. It’s still the same playful block building game full of blocking build plays gaming. It’s awful fun!
True! It was a great year for reprints (and I’m also thinking about Suki Games out of Japan who has started reprinting long out-of-print German trick-takers like Mit List und Tucke and Auf der Pirsch.)