German Game Authors Revisited - #13 - Tom Lehmann

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, 2 Jul 2004 11:15:18 -0400
Subject: German Game Authors Revisited #13 - Tom Lehmann

Foreword:
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This is the latest version of the thirteenth 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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Tom Lehmann

Credits:
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2038 (with Jim Hlavaty) (TimJim/Prism)
Age of Exploration (TimJim/Prism)
Fast Food Franchise (TimJim/Prism)
Magellan (Hans im Glück) (a.k.a. Pizarro & Co. - Rio Grande)
Suzerain (TimJim/Prism)
Throneworld (Prism)
Time Agent (TimJim/Prism)

Yes, I know, (1) 13 > 12 and (2) Tom Lehmann has only one "German" game published. But he is one of my favorite authors, he has been designing games primarily in a German style for the past few years, and best still this series is a handy excuse to write this article. On top of this, since initially writing this article I've had the chance to meet and game with Tom on a fairly frequent basis; while I can't say much about the prototypes of Tom's I've had the chance to play, I will say that (1) there are a number I'd buy if I could, and (2) one of them is the game I most wish to buy, but can't. Hopefully some publishers will come to similar conclusions in the near future...

2038 is, I fear, a game largely without an audience. Many 18XX players dislike it because of the inclusion of random elements, and most non-18XX players avoid the whole of the series. But, for me, it is the ultimate realization of the ideas first put forth in 1829 by Francis Tresham. I have found that for me, the most enjoyable games have some randomness. And 2038 employs the level of randomness I most often enjoy, providing different play experiences and difficulties for players to deal with without causing severe imbalances. The random tile draws in place of the track building also means that highly regimented, familiar play that is so commonplace in 1830 is not a problem. Add to this the greater opportunities for companies to act - they must trade off claims, refueling stations, bases, and ships - and it's nearly an ideal extension of the promise of 18XX, to my tastes.

Fast Food Franchise, Tom's first published game, sat on my shelf for a few years before I finally got to play it - but I'm glad I finally did. The game is a reworking of many of the more interesting parts of Monopoly with greater strategic opportunities and a faster playing time. It is clearly the most German of Tom's early games - it plays in 60-90 minutes, a fraction of the time his other games require - but it still far more an American game, strongly themed and with random chance influencing the game significantly.

Suzerain has one of the more confusing sets of rules of any non-wargame that I'm aware of. Players vie to build their nobility through a complex card game, with rules for marriages and dowry that will certainly overwhelm a non-gamer and can even overwhelm many a gamer; they aren't, in the end, so much so overly complex as very different and therefore hard to get a handle on. While this originally is certainly something of a virtue, in the end it's one of those games that must be played regularly to really enjoy, and it wasn't quite good enough for me to wish to do so.

Much the same can be said for Throneworld, though with Throneworld the difficulty lies more in the length than in the game mechanics. A multiplayer space exploration and war game, Throneworld appears to offer deep game play and sufficient variability to play well, but it arrived after my tastes had moved sufficiently to keep it from reaching the game table enough really stick around. Time Agent, having arrived earlier, managed to get its foot in the door in spite of both a long playing time and complex rules. And I'm very glad it did; the combination of the strong time travel theme, well balanced unequal starting positions, and a strong exploration theme make the game well worth the time it requires. It may never come out frequently, but it's always appreciated when it does. Somehow I've still never managed to play Tom's other exploration game, Age of Exploration.

I really wish the one German game Tom has released weren't an auction game. Nothing against auctions - I'm reasonably fond of them as a game mechanic - but I really wish there were fewer games with only auctions. Pizarro & Co. is a fine game - I'd gladly play it - but too auction-focused to be a favorite of mine.

Among Tom's games, I feel 2038 stands out, taking a good system that will never be my favorite and turning it on its end, creating a game that has been among my five all time favorites since soon after I first played it. Time Agent is nearly as good, is among my very favorite games and an easy recommendation. I'd also suggest giving Fast Food Franchise a try; the short length makes it far more accessible for the gamer used to German games while providing the flavor more commonplace in American game design. Finally, fans of auction games should give Pizarro & Co. a try.

Lehmann games I own, and always expect to: 2038, Fast Food Franchise, Time Agent.

Other Lehmann games I might play: Pizarro & Co., Suzerain.

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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