Knizia. Spiel des Jahres. Some other thoughts, but only rarely. I'm not that much of a big thinker, you know - but I love games.
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Reiner Knizia's 2018

Laszlo Molnar
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I've done this quite a few times in the past, so I'll do it again now that I have played most of the big-box games listed below. Let's see how Knizia's 2018 was!

As usual there were quite a few games released that might not be that interesting for the BGG crowd (well, I'm lying, I'm sure many of you are parents like me or like party games; what's sure is I haven't played these yet and these don't have that many ratings either). So I will only list these here, including very simple kids' and mass-market family games like Cool Catch, Crobéte, Go Go Eskimo, Lovely Home, Photo Safari, Thomas & Friends - Full Steam Ahead!, Uncle Beary's Bedtime; light card games like the Pit/Wheedle rework Manga Kai; party games like Brainwaves: The Astute Goose or Clickbait.

Of course there were quite a few rereleases as well, of which a few might be worth a mention: Dragon Master got its European Pegasus release 14 years after its Korean version was released while a German, admittedly not very thematic and largely forgotten Lord of the Rings game, Der Herr der Ringe - Die Zwei Türme got a rethemed edition in Japan (Seimi in the Super Crazy World).

Also some of his very popular older games got new special editions with their expansions or spin-offs included. This is how Lost Cities, now renamed Lost Cities - Duel, includes the 6th expedition. His Kinderspiel des Jahres winner electronics+board game Whoowasit? got an anniversary edition that includes the card game (a simplified rework of King Arthur: The Card Game which was released just about the same time as his first electronics+board game, King Arthur, can you follow? ). And the new Pickomino edition Heckmeck Deluxe is a bit annoying new release as it doesn't only include all the figures and tiles of the Heckmeck Extrawurm edition but also a wooden apple with its own rules (can we get it at least from the BGG store, please?).

We're not in the territory of new games yet, but new material: some expansions spiced up popular games. The Quest for El Dorado got its promised (first) edition in Heroes & Hexes (suspiciously similar title to Friends & Foes which it takes many design clues from) which adds further variety and further considerations and variants to the game, creating a richer and more strategic experience. And Stephenson's Rocket did not only get a beautiful new edition from Grail Games but also two long-in-development expansion maps for variety (no new rules).

From gallery of lacxox

Grail Games also published the most exciting new game for long-time Knizia fans - also his highest rated game in quite a time: Yellow and Yangtze. The 'sister game' of his (right now, sadly) only BGG top 100 game is an intriguing update. Whether it's better/worse or just different is something time might tell but since Tigris & Euphrates got a huge part of its ratings from users who have played it several times (probably not currently, more like in the beginning of the 2000s or even pre-BGG time) it does not make sense to compare those results with first impressions ratings right now. What's sure it's a unique game that, while keeps many basic ideas of Tigris (2 actions, tile laying, leaders, inner and external conflicts, scoring), is a different and strong game on its own. Most obvious differences are the change from a square to a hex grid, an additional color and special powers to each color (instead of the not completely, but false 'you need reds to win' claim you may say 'you need reds and blacks to win... but greens and blues help too... and you need to get that yellow pagoda!') and the whole external conflict resolution (neutral players contributing, only red soldiers fighting, losing soldiers even on the winning side...). Some might prefer this, some might prefer that, but it's definitely different, cleverly responding to some known criticisms of the original, and different is something very good.

From gallery of lacxox

Meanwhile, Lost Cities did not only get a new edition (just like the board game) but also not one but two new variants in new boxes (so the official number of games in the Lost Cities/Keltis family has grown to 10 or 12 even). Lost Cities: To Go is the adaptation of Keltis: Der Weg der Steine Mitbringspiel to the scoring and the 'only ascending' rule of LC. Even though the game works fine, I find it somewhat inferior to both - it loses the elegance of both, also it gets stuck a bit somewhere in the middle ("No hand management... Okay, maybe a hand of two cards..."), not as light as Keltis MBS but also not as couple-friendly as Lost Cities. If anything, it might feel slightly more agressive than any of the other Keltis/Lost Cities titles. On the other hand Lost Cities: Rivals successfully integrates a closed economy Ra-style auction element to the game system. It's surprisingly good fun (the second new Knizia game with a higher than 7 rating here) even if I do miss the (understandably missing) 'minus points' risk factor of starting expeditions.

From gallery of lacxox

The third really well-received Knizia published last year is Blue Lagoon which shows he's really tinkering with his classic tile-laying game ideas now (look out for his possibly biggest game in 2019). This is a strong game and even though actions couldn't be simpler (place one of your markers) it belongs to his more complex ones as players have to juggle 6-7 different - mainly scoring - aims at the same time (somewhat resembling the Ra family this way). As players try to connect areas and collect stuff from certain spots while racing and blocking each other, comparisons to Through the Desert are inevitable. His 2009/2010 game Zombiegeddon/Jäger und Sammler (published in two slightly different (but completely differently themed and looking) versions) is not that well-known in the US (probably because of the ugly look and niche theme) so comparisons are rarely made but as my review said back in the time, it was already strongly based on Through the Desert ideas - while it also added some new ideas that are present in Blue Lagoon as well. Namely, the two-phase game where in the first phase you try to reach and prepare some starting spaces for the second phase is present just like the different kinds of set collection. But Blue Lagoon does not stop here, it also adds some very old Knizia ideas, ones that are all present in his recent rework/release King's Road - majority scoring in 8 different areas combined with scoring for linked areas. The game works fine and is quite a great brain-burner, though the lack of a single new idea does bother me somewhat and I do prefer the more focused design of Through the Desert.

From gallery of lacxox

Kartel (from the same publisher and in the same series as a new re-release of Kariba) is a fun little game based on the old idea of Bunte Runde. The mechanism idea was already reused in Uwe Rosenberg's Patchwork but as Kartel is a somewhat push your luckish game where you shouldn't be sure what you take is good for you, the tile selection is randomised somewhat by a 2, 2, 3, 3, 4, 4 die that tells you the number of max. moves you can take (instead of a fixed 3 like in Bunte Runde and Patchwork). Now you collect bandits and bribes in different colors, but bribes score only if the boss of the given color is not captured by the end of the game; bandits score if the boss is captured but they score negative if he is not. The game ends after 5 of the 7 bosses are captured so you try to organise things in a way that the (only) bosses that are best for you are captured. And I think it provides an interesting group dynamic - it's good to collect bandits of a color that others would also like to put in jail... This is a nice filler with a functional theme.

From gallery of lacxox

Forbidden City is a (somewhat, but not really) Carcassonne-like tile laying game (which gets better once you find out you should not play it with Carcassonne logic) that also seems more novel in the US than it actually is. It is a fine-tuned update of Mise: Kolonizace published in Central Europe a bit earlier, with all the small changes improving the game, not only the starting tile size or the possibility to score for 2nd place in an area but also the look, which might be less than perfect but is still way better than the ugly colors and small tiles of the original. I doubt it would ever become a BGG gamer favorite but it's a fine game with an interesting twist.

From gallery of lacxox

Sakura might be the only non-kids' board game I have not tried - even though it looks tempting it seems to belong to his family I did not enjoy that much as the rest (like Dragon Parade), also even when I did enjoy games with some of these basic ideas (like RevoltAaa) it was hard to find enthusiastic players for a game that looks too luck-dependent unless you give them enough thought and can (and are willing to) count on others' decisions. Oh, and I almost forgot there's another game I haven't tried: thematic (yes) push your luck hand management game Miskatonic University: The Restricted Collection that, as far as I know, was only released as a KS project; hopefully I can acquire a copy somewhere later.

Karate Tomate looks like a game for general toystores (I have actually found my copy in a Müller retail store) but is way trickier than that. You'll find a detailed presentation of the game in the comments, but indeed the ridiculous theme is misleading - it has a kind of mixed Taj Mahal/Beowulf-style dollar auction for points and/or extra cards and, uhm, knifes - as thanks to a High Societyish endgame condition the player with the fewest knifes is out of the game in the end. Card drawing is reminiscent of Blue Moon City to lower luck factor. Add that a player can decide to announce the end of the game when a certain condition (at least 12 points) is met (like in, say, Circus Flohcati), also that auctions don't always last as long as you want them to and what you get a simple but exciting little card game full of interesting decisions but with a race feel... It needs further exploration but right now it seems it's really underrated on the 'geek.

From gallery of lacxox

And as an extra, there was Brains Family: Burgen & Drachen which is a special game that will probably never be rated high on BGG while it is really good in the special category it creates for itself. Reiner Knizia has already published more than a dozen solitaire puzzle games (with 50+ puzzles included in the game boxes) of which many of the most recent ones belong to the Brains family published by Pegasus. Each of them are practically tile-laying games (especially three of them; the exception is tile-laying more like in a Through the Desert sense) on 50 different puzzle boards. And two of them are mainly connection games done with a few Carcassonne-like tiles and roads. In Burgen & Drachen the puzzle-solving is made multiplayer in an interesting, 3-level way: your aim is connecting your hero with all the castles placed on the board, but as soon as you won a level (having solved the puzzle faster than others) you get an extra task: unlike others, you have to defeat one of the two dragons (connecting to them) as well next time, and if you manage to do that you still have to really solve a puzzle by defeating both dragons (which, I believe, has only one solution with the tiles given, unlike previous levels) to win. It makes a nice simultaneous puzzle-solving experience with time pressure but often different aims. Unless you master the set it will probably also mean that everyone gets their first point before a player would get their second point and only when everyone has defeated one dragon do players turn to the real puzzle-solving, trying to defeat both dragons and find the one perfect solution but never mind, the game is still fun for those who like puzzle-solving (like, fans of the series) and still has a feel of shared experience.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
From gallery of lacxox

image in a spoiler box as it shows one of the solutions

Overall I think it was a great year for Knizia fans with many good and great new titles published. But does the 'Reinerssance' continue in 2019? We'll see but I am waiting for this year's crop. Working on the ideas of his most popular tile-laying games continues, not only with the special geometry of Axio Rota (a new member of the Ingenious/Axio family) but also with Babylonia which, based on the cover image (taken right from the screens of the same publisher's edition of Tigris & Euphrates) and the very little information we have, seems to be a mix of his once so-called 'tile-laying trilogy' which consists of Tigris & Euphrates, Samurai and Through the Desert. zombie Also just like in case of most successful Ravensburger-Knizia cooperations (see e.g. FITS/BITS or Whoowasit?), a spin-off to Quest for El Dorado arrives (after the expansion), titled The Quest for El Dorado: The Golden Temples, in which, as it was expected ever since the development of a spin-off was announced, your characters explore the City of Gold. What makes it even more exciting is the possibility to mix the two games. There will be another puzzle-like tile laying game (Chartae), an interesting-looking jump back on the roll and write genre (Space Worm, based on the old Snake videogame), also some titles for the general toystores like mau mau!! Das Brettspiel (can you imagine a board game version of UNO?) and LAMA which is said to be rather fun even if it's really light. Also a game called Stations (one has to wonder if it has anything to do with the 2016 Polish Knizia game Kolej na Kolej). And, of course, we can expect further games from one of the most prolific game designers out there (maybe a second expansion to Quest for El Dorado? An actual released version of Invasion of the Garden Gnomes? Maybe a new linear adventure? Or maybe something new from Grail Games if they succeed overcoming the problems they faced in the end of last year?). Time will tell, but I sure want to be there.
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