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A Year of German Games

Bruno Faidutti

September, 2000

Some Paradoxical Evolutions

The games published by several German publishers at the start of 2000 show a surprising evolution along a curious and paradoxical path. While the simplicity and clarity evident in German games is probably the main reason for their growing success in France and the US, some publishers are drifting toward more complex games. Some of these even resemble the complex simulation game from the English world from the 1980s. Games like Die Fuersten von Florenz, and especially La Città, would not have looked out of place in the Avalon Hill catalog.

On the other hand, publishers in English finally stopped producing complex games (like the new Avalon Hill entries), and games in bad taste (Games Workshop) and began to produce relatively simple games. While these were often not as nicely produced as their Germanic counterparts, the new breed did have a stronger sense of humor, stronger themes, and a tendency to be less politically correct. The games range all the way from very inexpensive productions (Cheapass Games' Brawl or The Big Idea) to some very professional-looking titles (Avalon Hill's Battle Cry or Stratego Legends). Rio Grande, Fantasy Flight Games and others are flocking to produce "German" games for the American market! The reverse of the German view.

The smaller French market is also affected by these tides. Descartes and Asmodèe and even Tilsit are creating small runs of French translations of German games. Some of these are well chosen, and with solid translations, but I believe have met a limited success. VinciAfter having published lots of games for the past two years, Tilsit is holding its breath. In spite of the success of my game Citadelles (aka Ohne Furcht und Adel), Multisim seems determined to remain a role-playing game publisher. The largest change involves Jeux Descartes / Eurogames which awoke after a long sleep , stopped producing role-playing games, and launched a new and original range of board games with a "French touch". The "Blue Games" line so far consists of three of my games, but this will not always be the case. Vinci and Dragon Delta are the first examples of this new wave. All we are missing is a gamer-specific magazine, but judging from the letters I received last time, the magazine would not last.

A noteworthy half-year

King card from Castle

This start of 2000 is the mark of a white pawn in my "career" (which is already rather long), as an author of games. Democrazy (with Karl-Heinz Schmiel), Citadels (of which I am the only author, but which would not have existed without Cyrille Daujean), Castle (with Serge Laget), the French and German versions of Corruption: remind me of the glory days of Ludodélire-In such a short period of time, I have never had so many games published. For some time, I have wanted to do a series of small card games like those Asmodée and Halloween Concepts have made a specialty of in France.

(Note from Frank: The only one of these games most of our readers will have seen is the Mayfair translation of Elixir. Although Asmodée also published a French version of Guillotine under license from Wizards of the Coast.)

Henri Balczesak of Jeux Descartes remembered me—we had worked together before—and asked me if I had some card games for kids in my portfolio. I pounced on the opportunity, and sold him Corruption, Democrazy, and Castle as a group. Citadels went through development in parallel at Multisim and Hans im Glück. Not only did I provide him with a lot of games, but he seems to be pleased that they sell well. I don't have precise numbers; but should know shortly along with the first checks. According to what I have found out, Citadels is selling the best-especially in Germany-and Corruption is selling the fewest copies. That Citadels was nominated for the Spiel des Jahres, the most prestigious award in the world of games, is a good marker of the success of this game. Judging by the numerous emails I receive, these games are received better by the public than the critics-although this last bit is somewhat surprising. A French magazine, Backstab, has claimed that Citadels is missing interaction between the players. These four games, also, illustrate my current preferences in games. They are all short card games, which play in a half-hour to an hour. Citadels and Corruption are games of bluffing, which seem to please the more vicious players, while Castle and Democrazy are lighter and more chaotic games which appeal to the more casual player.

Four games in six months, but I have no intention of keeping up this pace. This mass of releases would not have been possible if some of the 2000 games (Democrazy and Corruption) had not been in my boxes for several years, there is no way I can create five games every year worth publishing. Currently, the sudden rush of games, and the huge success of the German edition of Citadels, has renewed interest in my game designs among German publishers. By email first, then by short calls around the time of my escapade in Berlin for the Spiel des Jahres, many have asked me what I had for them. But designing games is like writing books, not only do you have to sit down to work on them, but the ideas have to flow, and the success of the previous ones does not help. During these months, I have resting on my shelves two or three prototypes that are disappointing, and two good small card games. Macao is in playtest with some German companies, and Dragons Gold will come from Descartes. Thank you again to all of my courageous testers.

And the rest...

Fortunately, I am not the only one to create and publish games. Here, therefore, ranked by "weight" and decreasing complexity, are my six favorite games from the beginning of this year. Notice that the German monopoly on good "German games" is starting to break since only three of the games come from the land of Reiner Knizia, and only Silberzwerg has German authors. It is not necessarily a sign of weakness in the German games, but a sign of the growing interest in these games in the rest of Europe and the United States.

Silberzweg (the Silver Dwarves), by G. Deininger & A. Michaelis from Queen Games, is a surprising synthesis of Bazaar and Adel Verpflichtet. The players play dwarves who are acquiring precious stones, either carving them from the mines, or buying on the local stock market, in order to make jewelry to sell to the elven tourists. It is a game where one must calculate, predict trends, and annoy his adversaries at the right moment.

Morgenland (Aladdin's Dragons), by Richard Breese from Hans im Glück and Rio Grande Games, of which a first draft appeared under the name of Keydom, is a tricky game of bluff and programming. The players are brigands, seeking to steal the treasure of dragons and various magic objects-flying carpets and genie lamps-from the palace of the caliph. It is a superb family game with the right amount of interaction and chaos between players, which should please all.

Carolus Magnus, by Leo Colovini from Venice Connection, is a rather abstract game, with novel systems are similar to nothing we've seen before. A complex mixture of strategy, tactics, and luck with the only problem being that it is best with 3 players. Dragon Delta

The Dragons of Mekong (aka Dragon Delta) by Roberto Fraga, from Jeux Descartes, is a Chinese ladies' version of RoboRally. This tactical game is brimming with interaction, and unexpected turns in one of the better family games that has surfaced in a long time.

In the same vein, except for a new twist, it is great to proclaim the reissue of one of the great gems of David Parlett, the first truly good modern family game, Hare and Tortoise. The new version is published by Abacus with a more humorous and adult theming than the old Ravensburger edition.

The Big Idea, by James Ernest, from Cheapass Games is a tiny game of cards, with a completely negligible price. Each player associates a noun and an adjective in order to create a concept product (mint trousers, a surprise cat, or a portable car) and then has 5 minutes to extol the virtues of his product to the other players. It is the best moment of the game. Players then bet on the success of the product, with the chances being increased by the more investors who like the product. It is a very short and silly game, but has created lots of laughter.

More detailed reviews of these games are located on my website in my ideal game collection. (http://faidutti.free.fr/jeux/articles/critic.html)

Between my prototypes, and those brought in by friends (who have been given ideas by my success of the moment), and the ritual 2:00 AM poker sessions, I am not getting to play many new games. I have yet to really play Wongar, Battle Cry, Hera & Zeus, Taj Mahal-games which have my taste in luck balance.

All in all, is has been one noteworthy half year. Some interesting directions, some French publishers who have awakened, and some new roles for me—I really don't dislike playing the little celebrity. Now I need to get some rest.

- Bruno Faidutti

(Translated from the French by Frank Branham.)

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