German Game Authors Revisited - #7 - Uwe Rosenberg

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 rec.games.board. See AGR's Links section for ways to access Usenet, the Internet's most underused resource.
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Newsgroups: rec.games.board
From: Joe Huber
Date: Fri, 11 Jun 2004 10:43:19 -0400
Subject: German Game Authors Revisited #7 - Uwe Rosenberg

Foreword:
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This is the latest version of the seventh 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.

Disclaimer:
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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.

Author:
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Uwe Rosenberg

Games Covered:
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Al Cabohne (Amigo)
Babel (Kosmos / Rio Grande)
Bali (Kosmos)
Bohnhansa (Amigo) (a.k.a. Bean Trader - Rio Grande)
Bohnanza (Amigo / Rio Grande)
Klunker (Hans im Glück / Rio Grande)
Komme Gleich (ASS)
Limits (Amigo)
Mamma Mia! (Abacus / Rio Grande)
Schnäppchen Jagd (Queen)
Spacebeans (Amigo / Rio Grande)
Titus (Adlung)

I thought it would be interesting to cover Uwe Rosenberg immediately after Dr. Knizia in no small part for the contrast offered.  While Knizia may not be the most prolific author I cover, he's working on it - the only competition he faces is from authors who had games published twenty years before him.  Uwe Rosenberg has had just over ten games (not including expansions) published - one of the smallest numbers for any author to be covered in this series.  Knizia has designed card games, board games, turnless games, children's games, and so on; there's hardly a niche of German gaming that he hasn't touched.  Rosenberg has almost exclusively designed card games.  But they're good card games...

I've already written quite enough about Schnäppchen Jagd; my opinions (available in a review of the game I wrote for The Game Cabinet) on the game have remained steady with each additional playing.  The rate at which I get to play the game has diminished, but it still comes out often enough to be approaching one hundred plays.

I've never felt much need to write about Bohnanza, as by the time I'd had an adequate chance to enjoy the game plenty had already been written.  The game continues to be a favorite of mine, but has now fallen into the realm of classics - we've played it so much that the occasional game is now plenty to sustain us.  Of the many expansions, I would most recommend the revised edition of the first expansion (for the extra beans, primarily; the variant cards included are pleasant, but don't add a lot to the game) and the High Bohn expansion (the most interesting of the Lookout Games offerings, though having played all save DschingesBohn, they're all enjoyable diversions).

Spacebeans is a really interesting twist on the Bohnanza design, and well worthwhile.  It took a while for my game group to warm up to Spacebeans, until we discovered that it's really enjoyable when played at a breakneck pace (10-15 minutes for the entire game) with no more than four players.

Komme Gleich is an older design, reissued in light of Rosenbergmania.  Not surprisingly, it's not his best design.  However, it's not a particularly bad game, either, with a reasonably interesting central mechanism spoilt by a game that is overly long for the depth.  In the game, players are waiters, attempting to serve five tables with the proper orders.  The start player for the round gets to change the order at one table; the other players are only allowed to rearrange one card in their hands or to replace one card. Anyone who can match three or more consecutive tables with an unbroken set from their hand may serve those tables, and score the cards.  For each ten cards scored, players receive a tip.  On the rare occasion a player serves all five tables, the player doesn't score the cards but instead receives an instant tip.  Play continues until all tips are disbursed.  If the game lasted 20 minutes or so, it would be reasonably good fun, as there is a reasonable amount of planning and control going on (although I imagine with six players the very limited control over the orders could be overwhelming). But to get all the tips into play takes closer to an hour, and playing with fewer tips makes ties altogether too likely.  It's clearly the weakest of Rosenberg's early games that I've played.

Klunker is a game that took me a while to warm up to, but which is continuing to grow on me with every additional play.  The game itself is quite simple, and in many ways the rules are easier to understand than those in any of Rosenberg's other games.  First, each player must ensure that they have something for sale in their shop.  Then, each player in turn gets to add one card at a time to their safe, or pass; the first player to pass gets the number "1", the second player to pass the number "2", and so on. Finally, starting with the player who has the number "1" and going in order by these numbers, players may buy the content of any shop.  If a player's own shop is empty, then buying is not required.  Whenever a player gets a set of four goods in their safe, they are cashed out, with the take being reduced for each other kind of good in the safe at the time.

I think my greatest difficulty in warming up to the game came because it took some time before it became clear to me how the game was to be played. The buying and selling of goods is really a minor aspect of the game; the game is really one of hand management.  Because the best way to get the cards you need is to draw them, emptying your hand is a top priority, even before making perfect sets in your safe.  Sometimes, it even must come before ensuring that you get to buy the perfect goods on offer.  I'm definitely a fan of hand management games; it's part of what I love about Bohnanza, for instance.  In Klunker, it takes on an even greater role, but I'm not yet convinced that the surrounding game is as interesting as that in Bohnanza.

Bohnanza was the second biggest hit with my gaming group in 1997 (the biggest hit, for those curious, was For Sale).  Schnäppchen Jagd was the biggest hit with my gaming group in 1998.  Rosenberg has struck again in 1999 with Mamma Mia!.  Mamma Mia! is, at heart, a memory game - a phrase which usually sends adult gamers fleeing in terror.  What places Mamma Mia! heads and tails above its brethren is that it's an imperfect memory game. Players place ingredients and pizza orders in a stack on the table.  When the round is over, the ingredients and orders are placed on the table in the order they were played.  When an order comes up, if there are enough ingredients to fill the order it is filled.  If not, the player who placed the order may add ingredients from their hand to fill it.  It is this uncertainty - whether or not the player will be able to fill borderline orders - that makes the game; it prevents even the best card counters from knowing with certainty what ingredients are going to be available for them.

At one point in time Rosenberg appeared to be headed toward being my favorite game author.  But he hasn't had a big hit with me since Spacebeans. Al Cabohne is a fine little 1-2 player game, but is really just another Bohnanza variant.  Bean Trader isn't that good - it's a competent pickup and delivery game themed around beans to draw in Bohnanza fans.  There's really nothing wrong with it - but I can't imagine desiring to play it.  Limits is a reasonably clever memory game, but in a similar manner pales in its comparison to Mamma Mia!.  Titus was entirely unmemorable; Bali was a bit better but very unintuitive in a manner that distracted from the game. Babel has been popular, but I just didn't see what others did in the game - there's a bit too much freedom of choice, and the choices just don't interest enough.

Deciding which of Rosenberg's games to recommend is one sense rather easy; almost anything he published from 1997-1999 is excellent, and it's worth trying those published since that appeal.  Even Komme Gleich has been enjoyable enough that it has avoided my trade pile; it worked particularly well when played with two players, which has helped it stay around.

Rosenberg games I own, and always expect to: Bohnanza, Klunker, Mamma Mia!, Schnäppchen Jagd, Spacebeans.

Other Rosenberg games I own: Al Cabohne, Komme Gleich.

Other Rosenberg games I might play: Babel, Bean Trader, Limits.

Notes:
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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.


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