The Games Journal | A Magazine About Boardgames

Nik Sewell Games

Frank Branham

February, 2001

January's Letter Column included an interesting description of a game called Elixir (by TSR and 3 Wishes, as opposed to the recent Mayfair/Asmodee Games card game). Elixir is by far the most famous game created by a designer named Nik Sewell, whose creations are quite interesting. As I am a fan of his quirky designs I thought I'd wander into my stacks of games and drag out some other Nik Sewell games.

The only other of his games that most of you will be able to recognize is Web of Gold. This was also published in the US by TSR. It...isn't...as...good as Elixir. You move your people around on the board, turning up cards looking for treasure while a spider moves on the tops of the 3D gameboard spinning webs to block people in. The game is very random, and just too long for what is there. It is nicely themed, however.

A similar wonderful theme tied to a pretty tedious game is 3 Wishes Sufferin' Spirits. I adore the idea of playing a priest wandering through a graveyard trying to placate the roaming spirits. And the cute little gravestones marking the cemetery are great, but the game is very slow-moving, and boils down to turn after turn of turning up cards, hoping to get one which is useful.

And then of course there is S.P.I.V.S. This is a surprisingly complex game about roaming the galaxy, kidnapping aliens off their homeworlds in order to sell them into slavery. Delightful, huh? There are quite a few rules, and lots of cards and options, placing this game almost in an Avalon Hill sort of complexity. Its best feature is that it really gets across the idea that space is dangerous. Moving is dangerous, not moving is dangerous. The aliens you kidnap are rightly trying to tear holes in your hull, reminding you that sudden decompression is... dangerous. The game is so vicious, and so capricious, that it takes perhaps 3 hours to finish a game. (I actually like to drag this game out to play for a 90 minute timed session every so often, there is a sort of amusement value in shared misery. And this game has many amusing ways of messing up the task of picking up aliens.)

The above games (save for Elixir) are probably the weaker of Nik Sewell's games. And they share a common thread. All were produced by a UK company called 3 Wishes. But Nik Sewell did some very interesting games produced in Germany, and a few other places.

The Great Balloon Race (Himmelsturmer in Germany) was published by Parker Brothers (UK and Germany), and is a race game similar to Under Cover. Balloons move about, bumping each other around. Like Under Cover, players may move any Balloon-each player is given a card indicating a group of 3 balloons which must finish. This is wonderfully enjoyable family race game, and the balloons are a treat.

Die Erbraffer (Ravensburger) is a fairly cute game about inheritance. The board is a family tree, and the object is to steer family deaths and wills in such a way that the heirs you control (given out secretly at the start of the game) receive the best shares of loot. This is another very fun and amusing family game with one big caveat. All of the cards are in German, and there is quite a bit of text on many.

Kommissar X is a cute memory game. Player are trying to tail secret agents. Each round is in two phases. Phase one the players build an escape of a dozen or so cards, containing directional instructions like "Turn left". These are placed onto a stack and then replayed. The problem is, each player must remember and announce the "route" taken by the escaping car, announcing the direction before turning up the card.

Schatzaucher may be the worst of Nik Sewell's German games. The theme (delightful for me, other may object) is of divers going down into shark infested waters in order to retrieve a treasure. The game involves short dives to pick up gold and harpoons in order to survive one really deep dive to the bottom. Some interesting ideas, but this fairly fluffy game can potentially go on for 1-2 hours.

However, I think my favorite of all is Luftschloesser. The game is about building castles in the clouds, and is a delightful (if somewhat vicious) family game. Players have a small hand of cards which determines in what regions they can create, destroy, or move around the clouds. Player are also building and moving construction platforms in order to raise the castles on the clouds. There is just a touch of strategy, and a heaping amount of luck, but the theme and components are just so eccentric. (Schmidt Spiele published a lot of wonderfully themed games during this time period, most with great components.)

- Frank Branham

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