German Game Authors Revisited - #5 - Karl-Heinz Schmiel

German Game Authors Revisited - #5 - Karl-Heinz Schmiel

Editor's Note: Academic Gaming Review is reprinting Joe Huber's German Game Authors series in its entirety. This is being reproduced from the Google Groups's version of his posts on See AGR's Links section for ways to access Usenet, the Internet's most underused resource.

From: Joe Huber
Date: Fri, 4 Jun 2004 10:57:48 -0400
Subject: German Game Authors Revisited #5 - Karl-Heinz Schmiel

This is the latest version of the fifth in a series of twelve articles I have written about "German Game" authors. I wrote them for the fun of it; I claim no particular expertise on board games, nor am I a collector of board games. I just happen to play them and occasionally write about the experience. I would welcome any constructive feedback.

This article represents my own opinions only. Some opinions are based on only a single play; some of the information presented is based on nothing more than hearsay. I will always try to note such instances, but I would always recommend playing a game before buying it (or deciding not to buy it, for that matter).

Copyright 2004, Joseph M. Huber
Updated May 20th, 2004.

Karl-Heinz Schmiel

Games Covered:
a la Carte (Moskito)
Attila (Hans im Glück / Rio Grande)
Extrablatt (Moskito)
Kunststücke (Moskito)
Lieber Bairisch Sterben (Moskito)
Die Macher (Moskito / Hans im Glück)
Das regeln wir schon! (Moskito)
Suppenkasper (Mattel)
Tyranno Ex (Moskito / Avalon Hill)
Was Sticht? (Moskito)

Karl-Heinz Schmiel remains the author I have the least experience in this series. Not only have I played even my favorite of his games only a limited number of time, but I also have played fewer of his games than anyone else covered. In spite of this limitation in my background, I feel the series would be incomplete without some mention of Karl-Heinz Schmiel. After all, he is one of the most critically acclaimed authors of all time, with multiple Spiel des Jahres nominations to his credit.

Karl-Heinz Schmiel has created some extremely complex games. Not in terms of the rules - which can be long for a German game, but which still would be brief for an Avalon Hill game - but in terms of the depth and number of options. Die Macher, Lieber Bairisch Sterben, and Extrablatt are not games to be trifled with. In stark contrast, a la Carte, Packen Wirs, and Sing Sing are such light, family-oriented games that you wouldn't think came from the same author. I've found, however, that' it's the games in the middle that have most captured me.

Extrablatt is the exception for me; while the nearly unbounded array of options make for a very complex game (and, unfortunately, an off-putting one for some players), the game length isn't reflective of the complexity (finishing in under two hours). The game is about laying out a newspaper; the primary objective is to optimize your own layout, but there's also a fair amount of sabotaging your opponents to the game. The game struck an immediate chord with me, and has slowly won over my primary game group.

Die Macher is even more complex. The game is about German elections, and moreso than most German games Die Macher is a simulation, with many elements of German politics represented. After failing for a year to get in more than a single-round, learn the ropes game, I gave up and moved Die Macher to my trade pile. I've heard from everyone who does manage to play the game that it's great, and based on my very limited experience with the game I have no reason to doubt them. However, I do doubt that I'll ever have more than the occasional opportunity to play - and I don't expect to need to provide a copy of the game on those occasions. My gaming group did manage to start a game of Lieber Bairisch Sterben, but by the middle of the third turn we'd spent two and a half hours having no better understanding of the game than we started with, and so it, too hit my trade pile. I've heard less about the game, but still mostly good comments; the systems were certainly interesting enough, but the complexity and length of the game overwhelmed us - not for being long so much so as for having accomplished so little in so much time.

Was Sticht? is Schmiel's entry in the trick taking card game competition, and is marked by the objectives players attempt to complete and by the choice of hands - rather than being dealt hands of cards, players choose their cards (with first choice rotating from one pick to the next). It's a clever game, but it doesn't get played often due in no small part to the fact that it's best with precisely 4 players. Among the Moskito games (and not counting the re-release of Die Macher, which was a joint Hans im Glück / Moskito production), Was Sticht? stands out as having the most professional production. Most of the Moskito games have production values closer to those of db Spiele rather than those of Doris & Frank.

Tyranno Ex is another middle-weight game from Schmiel, and is one that has gone over very well with my game group - but it too has not been played very often. The game features a typically clever Schmiel mechanism, in this case applied to changing the environment with which the dinosaurs must contend. Combat between species is accomplished by a simple dice-rolling mechanism which is well integrated with the environmental condition. The only drawback to the game is that it's a bit lengthy for the subject at just over two hours. Suppenkasper has a different problem; it's often over altogether too soon. The game is essentially a card game about eating disorders, which doesn't sound particularly appealing but which works well enough. Players try to maintain their ideal weight; the game ends when one or more players either waste away to nothing or explode from overindulgence.

In Das regeln wir schon!, players constantly work to change the rules in their favor. The game is abstract, but rather enjoyable; the only drawback is that it's a game where English components aren't just helpful, but necessary. Finally in the middle-weight category, Kunst Stückeis another interesting, very abstract game, where players manipulate the game board to match the scoring conditions they've chosen. I've only played once, and enjoyed it, but found it a bit too abstract for my tastes. Attila is similar in weight; as with many players I've found that the abstract nature of the game - the mechanics feel every bit like those for a stock market game - push an otherwise acceptable but unexceptional game on to the large list of games I wouldn't object to, but don't play.

A la Carte is the only one of Schmiel's really light games I've played; I picked up a copy based upon Steffan O'Sullivan's review, and have not been disappointed. It is a light game, with some strategy, some luck, and some manual dexterity required, with an appealing and underutilized theme (cooking). I would recommend the game, but only for those who enjoy lighter fare.

Among Schmiel's games, I can personally recommend Extrablatt and Was Sticht?. Tyranno Ex is certainly worthwhile with the right group as well, and if you don't mind the theme I'd suggest giving Suppenkasper a try. A la Carte is also worthwhile when you're in the mood for something fluffy. Based on my limited experience with the game and the wide praise it has received, I'd also recommend checking out Die Macher - preferably with an experienced player to lead the game.

Schmiel games I own, and always expect to: Extrablatt, Tyranno Ex, Was Sticht?

Other Schmiel games I own: a la Carte, Das regeln wir schon!

Other Schmiel games I might play: Attila, Die Macher, Kunst Stücke, Suppenkasper

This article may be reproduced in whole either mechanically or electronically provided the copyright notice is included and I am notified of the use before publication.

For additional information, I would recommend the following WWW sites:
Luding. The best place to go for links to reviews of board games.
BoardgameGeek The best place to find English rules translations, and much more.
The Game Cabinet. The key site for older English rules translations.
Brett & Board. The best place to go for the latest news on German board games.