When is a party game not a party game? When it's designed by the daddy of the whole Catan family, the original Settlers game being, arguably, the title that made German games famous in the US and UK. Klaus Teuber's game of shaping clay, Barbarossa, was released in 1997 and nominated for a Spiel De Jahre award, yet seems to have made relatively little impact within the hobby. As Kosmos kindly donated a copy to my local games club (the Oxford University Diplomacy Society) and we have had much amusement from it, I decided to write this review in a bid to get some more attention for what seems to me an overlooked gem.
While Barbarossa is certainly not Age of Renaissance or Tigris und Euphrates, it's a very fun game that manages to combine the entertaining party game elements of Rapidough with some clever strategic play mechanics. Using Rapidough as an example of a party game was intentional as Barbarossa's most unusual components are the strips of clay in six colours (one for each player). Otherwise, the box includes three player markers for each colour, some plastic arrows and a circular board.
Before the game begins, each player makes two models out of their clay. Their aim is to depict, in clay, one word, which they write down and hide beneath the board. Opponents will then ask for clues or guess at the word, as allowed by the board. The twist is that you will lose points if your depiction is too easy or too difficult, and only earn maximum reward from it being just the right complexity.
Players move their "wizards" (pawns) around a small circular track, taking actions depending on the spaces they encounter. Separate scales along the board's rim track players' points and gold. Each turn your pawn will move either according to a D6 roll or your choice. But, if you choose the number of spaces, you must pay that much gold (tracked by a money marker). This is a neat little mechanic - with players constantly trying to temper their luck and engineer their pawn onto the desired space.
The spaces include the dragon and ghost, both of which give all other players one or two points respectively. As the game ends when a player reaches the end of the points track, it has an inbuilt climax. You also score points when you guess what other players models are, by tossing one of your limited "charms" in, or landing on the appropriate space which allows the relevant player to interrogate the creator of one model with Yes/No questions (although "I don't know" is a valid reply). There is also the Gnome space, which permits you to ask for a certain letter of the word represented by a model. In this last case, the creator will write down the letter and show it only to the active player. Finally, gold spaces allow you to pick up the valuable money, which is so vital in controlling your movement.
When you correctly guess a model, an arrow is placed in it and you'll get a point reward. Once two arrows are placed in a model, it is fully guessed and any further players cannot guess at it. And, at the end of the game, those models that have not been identified by at least two players will cost their misguided makers points...
While the presence of clay makes this look like a silly party game, Barbarossa deserves more attention from serious gamers. It's certainly not a heavy game, but it does have some clever little mechanics, as I've mentioned, and hilarious consequences as the Yes/No questions spin wildly away from the object in question.
"Is it bigger than a dog?"
"I don't know, depends on the size of the dog."
"Smaller than an Alsatian?"
"Smaller than a Labrador?"
"Smaller than a Chihuahua?"
The fact that the Yes/No questions are heard by all means that some players may "think" to the solution before the actual interrogator. There is a true art in making the clay model and deciding on your "word" that is not so much about modeling skill as lateral thinking. For example, I made a very obvious "snake" shape, but chose the word "serpent". If it had been snake, they'd have all guessed straight away and I'd have lost many, many points. But serpent was sufficiently subtle to use up the other players' guesses but obvious enough to be guessed by mid-game when you get lots of points for having your model correctly identified. As only two players can ever correctly guess a model and get points from doing so, a tactical use of one's "charms" to interrupt play is rather important.
The game ends when either one player reaches the end of the points track or the thirteenth arrow is stuck in a model (i.e. a thirteenth correct guess has been made). At the end of the game, though, the score is adjusted by players losing 2 points if their sculpture was only identified by one opponent and five if it baffled everyone.
The very nature of the game would make it seem happier on the shelves of "party games" in British or American shops. Yet the German game element really shines through and helps make it something other than a Rapidough clone with a board. The movement mechanism is particularly novel, allowing much control over your pawn's fate. In short, whilst the most serious of gamers might not appreciate Barbarossa, I would recommend it as an over-looked title to social gamers or those looking for something fun without being chaotic.
- Richard Huzzey