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The Games of Tom Lehmann
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
Texas
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I've known designer Thomas Lehmann for a while now ... we only see each other at a convention or two, but I've enjoyed his games. Now he's suddenly publishing a whirlwind, with several games coming out last year and two scheduled to hit by the end of the summer. Like many overnight successes, he's put in decades of work.

In making up this list, I borrowed some notes from Joe Huber's review of Tom's ludography (published years ago). http://www.gis.net/~pldr/Huber13Lehmann.html
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1. Board Game Publisher: TimJim Games
Brian Bankler
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I'm using this entry to stand in for TimJim Games and Prism Games. These two companies jointly published games by Tom Lehmann and James Hlavaty.

TimJim/Prism were a small publisher in the early 90s (if they did anything before 91, neither I nor the Geek know about it). The graphic design was ... sparse. Mainly black and white boards (and cards), with colored cardboard.

Like any company, there were some games I liked and those I didn't. But the games were innovative. You can still find many of these on eBay (or here on the Geek).
 
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2. Board Game: Suzerain [Average Rating:5.98 Overall Rank:8086]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
Texas
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TimJim/Prism games (which was a joint venture between Tom and James Hlavaty) opened in 1991 with one game from each. Tom's game was Suzerain, which has players building up a fiefdom via card play. You start with serfs, then move your way up to knights, nobility and royalty. There's a several new ideas here, but I was confused by the royal marriage rules and never really got the hang of it.

James' game was "Outpost." In fact, when first meeting Tom I think I told him how much I loved that one.
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3. Board Game: Time Agent [Average Rating:6.66 Overall Rank:3509]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
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Like Suzerain, many people undoubtedly throw their hands up in dismay with Time Agent. Our group persevered; the rules aren't difficult but this is an intimidating game. It's long (about 3-4 hours), but your first game will probably take an extra two hours. And there's math.

This game features six alien races (well, five aliens and humanity) vying to alter history to their advantage and then go back and kill (or otherwise disrupt) the invention of time travel itself ... locking history in place. Time travel (and other inventions of note) is represented by colored lines that flow from the invention (in the distant past) to one (or more) locations in the present. When no path can be traced, an invention is disconnected.

Time Agent is also 'visually daunting,' as you trace multiple paths (one for each invention) across the board, and determine how to best rotate tiles to change some paths but keep others. Diplomatically, your allies in one area of the board may be your enemies elsewhere, since for each "on/off" (or "connected/disconnected" decision, the races will usually split 3/3 or 4/2. Overall this combines to make Time Agent a good game ... once you've invested a play (or two).
 
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4. Board Game: Fast Food Franchise [Average Rating:6.35 Overall Rank:3564]
Brian Bankler
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Monopoly done right.

Roll and move, but several spaces are triggered by just passing. Additionally, when you buy a space you choose which company to start. Ice Cream, that's cheap but pays great franchise dividends (if you can arrange it), or the expensive burger stand? Chocolates or Pizza? Unlike Monopoly, sometimes you want to hold off on a purchase (even when you have good cash flow). Finally, you can win by bankrupting everyone or by cashing out a millionaire.

Of all the TimJim games, I've played this most (over 25 times). A classic.
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5. Board Game: Age of Exploration [Average Rating:6.03 Overall Rank:6237]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
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I can't really talk about this, as I've never played it. [I don't think I would enjoy it, though].
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6. Board Game: 2038: Tycoons of the Asteroid Belt [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:2376]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
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(Co-designed with James Hlavaty).

I went through a large 18xx phase (I've played 9 titles), so I was happy to get this and try it. 2038 introduces some luck into the series, which I didn't care for. More importantly (from my perspective), 2038 used minor companies (which I didn't like in 1835).

I think 2038 is similar to Time Agent in that it rewards repeated plays, but I personally haven't been drawn to play it again.
 
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7. Board Game: Throneworld [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:4375]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
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The last of the TimJim/Prism games, and set in the same universe as Time Agent. Throneworld came out at the same time as Twilight Imperium; apart from theme the games have little in common.

Throneworld feels like a race game with a conquest theme. Unlike many games, the neutral worlds aren't empty ... you have to conquer most of them. And at the center of the galaxy stands the Throneworld, worth six planets but with massive defenses.

A typical problem of free-form attack games is that players can gang up on the leader. Throneworld deals with that by forcing players to 'explore' systems before they can invade. Another novel mechanism is the economy, which tends to be "every other turn" but can skip sometimes, gives bonuses for agression and forces a 'sudden death' endgame (without production) when a player is poised for the win.

Good ideas, but these again lead to a jarring experience for new players as one player can grab the Throneworld to start the endgame ... and the other players may not be able to attack anywhere but a heavily defended Throneworld (if they haven't spent the resources to explore his system). This led to my first game being the first hour of exploration (with each player attacking neutral systems and building up) followed by one or two players repulsed by the Throneworld defenses, then the next player conquering it with no player in a position to attack him.

Not that this is bad, but it was unexpected. Again, a game that often leaves players scratching their heads. With six races, each with slightly differing capabilities, there is replayability for those who play often.
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8. Board Game Publisher: Prism Games
Brian Bankler
United States
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Around '97, TimJim and Prism closed up shop. They were working on a CCG (and a game about the French Revolution that had some buzz among those of us who knew the companies). I also discovered (later) that several of the above games had unpublished expansions.

There were a few (handmade) prototypes of the expansion for 2038 abd Fast Food Franchise. (That I've seen). I post on rec.games.board at the time indicated a Throneworld expansion. I'm not sure about others.
 
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9. Board Game: Pizarro & Co. [Average Rating:6.56 Overall Rank:1629]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
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In 2002 Hans im Gluck and Rio Grande published this auction game. Pizarro quickly made my dime list; a mid-length auction game. However, after a dozen-ish games I found myself looking for something new.

The new mechanism here is that you auction off rights to sponsor an explorer ... each explorer sells three 'ships' in the first round, two in the second round, and one in the third. But in the second (and third) round, only those who won a ship earlier can bid. Each explorer provides a sponsor with income, VPs and a special power. These vary. In fact, each explorer has two possible powers (the auction board is double sided, allowing for four combinations in total).

The only flaw with Pizarro is that it's just 36 auctions. Still, a good game.
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10. Board Game: 55 [Average Rating:6.20 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.20 Unranked]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
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(Co-designed with Rheinhold Wittig).

I know nothing about this.
 
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11. Board Game: 1846: The Race for the Midwest [Average Rating:8.09 Overall Rank:718]
Brian Bankler
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San Antonio
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I've never gotten a chance to play this kit game (although I'd like to try).

I know (based on some conversations) that the design was trying to pare the game down ... shorter, with a setup that varied based on the number of players.

Update -- Finally got a chance to play this. It is indeed pared down (albeit still brutal) game. Hopefully I'll get my copy this year.
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12. Board Game: Jericho [Average Rating:6.09 Overall Rank:3572]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
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Completing my triumverate of ignorance....

Update March '09 -- Having finally played a few games, I think that this is a reasonable filler (with a learning curve, as Larry states).
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13. Board Game: To Court the King [Average Rating:6.47 Overall Rank:1269]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
Texas
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"Cosmic Yahtzee" (as some call it) arrived last year. It quickly became one of the 'fillers of choice' for our group (and other groups), and is Tom's highest ranked game. There's a lot of luck, but some skill involved.
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14. Board Game: Phoenicia [Average Rating:6.58 Overall Rank:1405]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
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Phoenicia has just been spotted in Europe, and should arrive in the US shortly. You can also play online (see the BGG page for details).

Phoenicia, like Scepter of Zavandor, updates Outpost. Phoenicia strips things down to the core ... there's only one currency (apart change) and the most expensive item has an opening bid of $30 (instead of $120 or so), which speeds things along.

I like this quite a bit, and I've been fortunate enough to get to play a prototype once or twice a year for the last few years.
 
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15. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:45]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
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Now that Race for the Galaxy has been out for a few months and has broken the BGG Top 10, it's probably the game that Tom is most well-known for.

I rate this game a '10,' and recommend this to everyone who likes San Juan or Glory to Rome (both of which I rate highly). I've played all three of these games extensively, but this is my favorite. Some of the playtesters have played this thousands of times. It's addictive.

[Tom contributed to the design of San Juan, and is thanked in the credits].
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16. Board Game: Saint Petersburg: New Society & Banquet Expansion [Average Rating:7.45 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.45 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.45 Unranked]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
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I believe this is coming out around Essen '07. I liked St. Pete, but eventually sold my copy because the play felt scripted. I'm interested in seeing what this does for the game.
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17. Board Game Designer: Thomas Lehmann
Brian Bankler
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So, why do I always look forward to Tom's games (even though I don't play many of them)? There are a few reasons ...

* There's usually a new idea or two in the game. Even those games that feel like a simple modernization (Monopoly to Fast Food Franchise, the 18xx titles, To Court the King, etc) often have a nice innovation.

* If you find a game that suits your taste, it won't turn out to be shallow. Once the basic idea (inspiration) works, there is a lot of craft in balancing the game to ensure that decisions are meaningful. (Which isn't to say that all decisions are equally meaningful, but there are few 'false' choices where one decision is clearly correct).
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18. Board Game: 1834 [Average Rating:7.59 Unranked]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
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Another new 18xx game from Tom, which I have not played.
 
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19. Board Game: Middle Kingdom [Average Rating:6.01 Overall Rank:4749]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
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A new card game. I'll fill out more information as it arrives.

Oct '08 -- Game is available at stores. Tom's description on BGN. I'm not a huge fan of blind bidding games, but I've picked this up based on the preview.
 
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20. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm [Average Rating:8.08 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.08 Unranked]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
Texas
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The first of two (or more?) expansions for the hugely successful Race for the Galaxy.
 
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21. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy: Rebel vs Imperium [Average Rating:7.95 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.95 Unranked]
Brendon Russell
New Zealand
Auckland
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The second expansion for Race for the Galaxy.
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22. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War [Average Rating:7.78 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.78 Unranked]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
Texas
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Completing the Race "1st Arc"...
 
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23. Board Game: Pandemic: On the Brink [Average Rating:8.11 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.11 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.11 Unranked]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
Texas
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Tom co-designed the Pandemic sequel with original designer Matt Leacock. Still waiting to be released.
 
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24. Board Game: Pandemie: Uitbreiding "De Generalist" [Average Rating:6.56 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.56 Unranked]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
Texas
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A mini-expansion for Pandemic ... it's actually incorporated in the "On the Brink" expansion (so they say), but included here for completeness.
 
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25. Board Game: The City [Average Rating:6.56 Overall Rank:1545]
Brian Bankler
United States
San Antonio
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Now that I've finally gotten a copy of this, I can say that it is a simplified tableau builder, taking 7-9 rounds. Most rounds are build a card (paying 0-11 other cards from hand), then calculating income (in cards) and VPs. Game ends when someone gets 50+ VPs. A game plays in about 10 minutes. This would be a home run in English ... it isn't bad in German (my 10 year old can get by, mostly) but it hinders acceptance of the game.
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