Designer: Marcel-André Casasola Merkle
Artist: Philipp von Keisenberg, Justin von Keisenberg
Publisher: Süddeutsche Zeitung
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Times Played: 4 with purchased copy.
It might not be apparent at first, but this game is based upon an IP. Ein Mann. Ein Buch. was released in Germany in 2007 from the same publisher as the later game. A German newspaper article from the time of its release describes it as a 400 page book of “what men know and should know”: mowing the lawn, drilling a hole, shaving, defusing a bomb, landing a 747. You know, “manly” things. (I’m not going to get into the gender-role assumptions the book makes.) There were several book spin-offs, and more than one game based upon the series was released. It was a best-seller at the time.
The book, not the game.
How well the game did in Germany I don’t know, but in the U.S., it didn’t make a ripple.
My BGG stats show that I currently have subscriptions for 450 games dating back to June 9, 2009. In general, none of them trigger my subscriptions, and I’m only still listening in hopes that there is a marketplace listing. Many I don’t recognize when they do pop-up, and when I investigate further, I likely don’t remember why I was looking. Ein Mann. Ein Spiel. is one that I do remember wanting to play when it was announced, but had never been able to; my subscription on it dates to September 2011.
At the time, I was playing Taluva, Fluch der Mumie, and keeping an eye on what else Marcel-André would release. (Eyes, not lungs: don’t hold your breath at this point. I asked a few years ago and he’s largely moved into app game design, such as Rules! and One Button Travel.)
Late last year, the graph charting my desire to play this over time and my waning faith that he’d return to board game design intersected at the notification bell of a subscription hit for a $5 copy on ebay.de. So I bought it.
I, uh, guess this is a roll and move game? But that’s a stretch. If Verflixxt was a genre and not a game, it’s in that genre. A sorta area majority thing where the players are moving multiple ownership pieces along a one-way path that is being consumed. (Add that to the list of game sub-genres I enjoy.)
The goal is to earn the most points, and I think that is through learning or demonstrating the various skills from the book, as represented on tiles in the game –though it’s one of the lightest theme integrations I’ve played. Verflixxt may have more theme.
If we’re going with “roll and move”, the “how far” is determined by color rather than pips. A player will choose a color (we’ll come back to that…) and move some of their pieces to the next location of that color.
There are five colors of locations in the game, and to start, two random discs are placed at the start of the track. The track is a large spiral and there are a few “runway” spaces before the tiles start. Each player adds 5 of their discs to the 4 starting spaces. (Here’s a thing: in this game each player is a symbol rather than a color.)
On their turn, a player can choose either of the two colored discs. They then choose any number of their tokens from a location and move them to the next location matching the disc they chose. The player then puts the colored disc….ok. It’s time. We have to talk about the Time Machine.
Here’s what it looks like disassembled.
The thing is, similar to the Japanese games I buy, I had no idea on the rules to this game prior to ordering it. The rules weren’t available online, and didn’t exist in English. As best I’ve translated this component, it’s called the Time Machine. It’s a sort of 2D cube tower. A disc tower. This is where you get the discs that will progress along the board. After a player has moved, they put that disc in the top of the Time Machine, and spin the wheel. The Machine has a preview window where you can see the next disc that will emerge, and a player rotates the wheel such that the visible disc pops out the side, and a new disc appears in the window.
The new disc is placed in front of the disc remaining on the board, and in this manner, the game progresses forward. Well, maybe. If the player chose the disc in front, the game has not progressed. You have some agency here to control the tempo of the game, as once the two colored discs marking the passage of time reach the first tile, it is resolved. The player with the most discs on this tile takes it, and afterwards all player tokens on the tile are removed from the game.
In general, players can only score one tile per color. There is a bonus area at the end of the path, and the player with the most tokens on a color is eligible to score a bonus for having multiple tiles of the same color.
Play progresses around the table with each player in turn selecting one of the colored discs on the board, moving any amount of their tokens forward, and replacing a colored disc, until either all tiles have been resolved, or all players have “exited”.
Uh,…. Again, not dipping my toe too far into the theme, players have the ability to just be done. If you like where your pieces are, and at the start of your turn don’t want to move any further, you can declare that you’re finished and the other players pass over your turn for the remainder of the game.
In addition to acquisition and rule translation hurdles, having your interests be this far past the bus routes comes with other caveats. Like, there’s no guidance on optimal player counts. I can now tell you that it is 3.
With 4, I think it’s OK. Your choice in movement is constrained, and normally that angst is good, but with 4, there’s enough out of your control already that the game sort of gets away from you.
With 2, it’s also fine. There’s more control there, but it’s missing something too.
With 3, I think it shines. Your color choice is about both the offensive move for you and the defensive move: can you constrain your opponents’ movement choices? This is where the angst can be bad. Maybe you continuously deny your next opponent a certain color in order to protect your position. Maybe you deny your next opponent a choice at all and leave them 2 of the same color.
The component limitation is interesting. Each player only has 20 tokens to earn majorities, and once those tokens have earned you a tile, they are removed from the game. But. If you came in 2nd or 3rd or 4th, you’ve lost them also. So you want to win, but hopefully not by too much, as you’ll be able to use those tokens elsewhere. If you don’t win, you don’t want any pieces there, and you can try to move them, but can you move them in time? If you wait, will your opponent move instead? Will you or your opponents alter your choice of discs to control the pace of the game and force tiles to resolve sooner or later than folks wanted? Will you be able to stretch those tokens far enough to allow the triggering of any of the bonus fields? An odd race-to-the-bottom area majority type situation.
I don’t know how long I’ll keep this game, but I don’t think it’s permanent. I wish the box was smaller, and, while whimsical, the Time Machine is gratuitous. (Not just the box – all the components could be shrunk considerably.) But I’m wholly glad to have tried it and explored it; there are some worthwhile mechanisms and decisions…and that’s what I’m here for.
[That’s the end of the review.]
But if you’re still here, let’s explore this mystery further: how did it end up on my subscription list? See, by this point in 2011 (the release date listed on BGG for the game), boardgamenews.com was no longer and Eric had been part of BGG for seven months, so we can mostly rule out needing to check the Wayback Machine for information. The BGG entry does not list any BGG News links featuring the game.
It is on W. Eric’s Spiel Preview, added August 22. It has 2 thumbs. Two. One, Two. But neither of them is mine. (The publisher, Süddeutsche Zeitung, is listed as having three releases in total.)
With Dale’s assistance we obtained a copy of the full spreadsheet of the Fairplay rankings from 2011. There were no votes cast for Ein Mann. Ein Spiel. There were no votes cast for any of the SZ releases. Hm. (A German industry source I reached out to reported being a reader of SZ for 20 years, and that they did experiment with game publishing for a bit, but that the games were mostly sold in bookstores.)
Returning to BGG, it is listed on a few users’ Spiel lists, but with notes that say it didn’t make it to the show. I also found a list from Marcel-André regarding “The origins of my games”. The entry for Ein Mann. Ein Spiel. only reads:
Game is based on a concept from 2008.
(I reached out to Marcel-André for some information, and he told me that Ein Mann. Ein Spiel. is a retheme of an abstract game he designed in 2008 but never got published.)
But there was another list. This time a list of games featured on The Spiel podcast, which I might’ve been listening to around that time. The list said it was featured in episode 140, but the link for the episode went to episode 153. A little poking around later, I may have found it.
Stephen and David were discussing a trip to the Ludofact factory that they had made during their trip to Essen that year. They touch on the book, mention that the game is unlikely to ever make it abroad, and confirm that the Time Machine should be called the Time Machine!
Interestingly they note that the Time Machine they saw at the factory, is not the one in pictures on BGG. You can add that to the list of odd things about the BGG images for the game, as you’ll note my board is spiral and not angular as the pictures there show, and my box is square (that one you may not note as I recently submitted a correction for the representative image, but for years there was a rectangular image that I believe is the rulebook being shown as the box cover.) I reached out to Stephen and am grateful that he was kind enough to look through his footage from the time, but he wasn’t able to find any pictures of the factory’s Time Machine.
As I lay in bed one night in the midst of this mystery, unable to sleep because the temperature was warming and I’d decided to try to sleep without my weighted blanket for the first time in several months. (Without it, I wake up easier in the morning, as the weight isn’t on me, but I’m entirely restless during the night. What to do.) Anyway, I lost where I was in that sentence, but as I lay there, pondering other paths of looking for information on the game’s release, Essen status, and how it came across my radar, I thought: “Wasn’t there a The Spiel documentary on Ludofact?” Maybe there is footage of it there.
We’ve found it! Right there over her shoulder (27:48). (Well, a pallet of it, if not the Time Machine.)
There was a time when there was at least a pallet of Ein Mann. Ein Spiel., and I believe I watched at least portions of the documentary at the time. Maybe The Spiel is where I heard about the game.
Then I checked the timestamp. This is where this review used to say “So thanks to Stephen and David for putting this one on my radar many years ago.” Unfortunately, the dates don’t work out. I subscribed to the game on September 13, the podcast episode was released November 14, and the video later.
The mystery of where I heard of it continues unabated.
What about the Spiel absence? Well, Marcel-André told me that as far as he remembers the game was released at the Buchmesse Frankfurt (Frankfurt Book Fair) in 2011. (Spiel 2011 was October 20-23; Buchmesse was October 12-16.) Contemporaneous information from the Buchmesse’s website is sparse, as it is a large convention and the information isn’t maintained in a format that is well archived by our friends at the Wayback Machine.
In a June 2011 interview with buchreport, Till Brömer, a sales and marketing person at SDV, says that board games make for an interesting sales challenge and makes some preverbs about a good offensive and possession of the ball.
He also says the game makes an ideal gift for the man that owns the book and a toolbox.
Anyway, here’s a photo from the interview. That’s not Marcel-André. That’s Till Brömer with what will turn out to be not the final board and perhaps the elusive prototype of the Time Machine.
The whole thing was a little smarmy and I had to close it.
Anyway, that’s enough for now.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Dale – I liked this one the first time I played it. And then we had that night where we played Ghosts of the Moor (which I didn’t care for) and Verflixxt! (which I adore). And then I realized that if I want to play a game where I move bits and the board shinks as we go along, I’d play Verflixxt instead of this about 103 out of every 100 times. Not that there’s anything wrong with Ein Mann, Ein Spiel. But, it’s not captivating. The Time Machine makes a great Instagram video due to the curiosity factor. But, man, it would have been super easy to have 20 chits and a cloth bag. You could have a space on the board dedicated for the next disc to come out (rather than watching it on the wheel on the Time Machine). I have never had a need to track down all of Marcel FourNames’ games – though I do still love Attika – and I think there is clearly a reason why I had never heard of this 2011 release until 2019. I found that reading the above story about JaNate’s discovery of the game to be far more entertaining than the game itself.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it. James Nathan
Not for me…