Posts Tagged ‘Reiner Knizia’

Cards & Chess

September 10, 2007

If you enjoy Chess, but want to spice it up a bit, you’ll probably enjoy some of the games in this post, which introduce the random element of cards into the royal game.

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The first game(s) you might consider are Knightmare Chess and Knightmare Chess 2 (there is also a slightly different French language version called “TempĂȘte sur L’echiquier”) designed by Bruno Faidutti. This game is a kind of mix between Chess and a trading card game like Magic the Gathering. You’ll hold a hand of cards which will let you do some special event each turn (e.g. “For this turn, any one of your pieces may move as if it were a Knight. You cannot capture a piece with this move.”)

Faidutti, a French historian and sociologist, is one of the best-known and respected game designers. His games tend to have a strongly chaotic element. His most popular game, which I highly recommend, is Citadels (“Citadelles” in French), which is best played with large numbers of players (up to seven, and the closer to that number, the better).

Faidutti has an exceptional web-site, particularly notable for his Ideal Game Library, reviewing hundreds of games.


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Returning to the subject of cards and Chess, the other set of games I want to recommend is Karten Schach, designed by Reiner Knizia, the prolific German mathematician and game designer whom I already discussed in this post. Karten Schach was a labor of love by Knizia (I can’t imagine he thought it would sell very well, and the rulebook is over 100 pages, mostly taken up by discussions of the game mechanics, with plentiful strategy tips).

It is actually collection of 16 games (plus variants) highlighting all sorts of different possibilities in game design; a kind of game design version of Bach’s variations. The names of the games give you a flavor of the possibilities: “Purist Chess,” “Liar’s Chess,” “Ducat Chess,” “Daredevil Chess,” “Gambler’s Chess,” “Psycho Chess,” “Cornucopian Chess,” “Feudal Chess,” “Generational Chess,” “Oracle Chess,” “Prophet’s Chess,” “Eunuch’s Chess,” “Doppelganger Chess,” “Wicked Witch Chess,” “Mysterious Stranger’s Chess,” and “Capitalist Chess.”

Without explaining the rules in detail, I’ll just briefly describe how a couple are played. In Oracle Chess, you must, at the end of each move, put a card face down which commits you to the piece you will move next turn. In Capitalist Chess, on each turn a card is chosen, and you bid chips to have the right to move the piece displayed on the card. Each game is defined by less than a page of brilliant rules, by the master of boardgame design.

I would recommend that you buy Karten Schach, but it has been out of print since 2001, and the publisher has gone out of business. So instead I will point you to the English translation of the rules by Christine Biancheria and a pdf file for the Cards necessary to play the game. (Thanks to Matthew Gray, for pointing me to the English rules translations when they came out.)

And just as I did for Faidutti, I’d also like to recommend one much more mainstream multi-player Knizia game (in case Chess variants are not your cup of tea). The Knizia game I’ll recommend is “Modern Art,”, one of the most highly rated of the German games; a classic in the auction game genre.

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“German” Games

August 19, 2007


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I’m a big fan of “German” board and card games. These are strategy games, that play very differently from games such as Monopoly, in that the players will have lots of interesting decisions to make and skill will usually determine the winner. Some German games are no-luck 2-player complete information games like Chess or Go, but most have some luck elements, and they often are designed for more than two players. Some games are big “heavy” games that last two hours (or more), others are small “light” games that finish in 15 minutes.

They’re called “German” games because many of them appear first or only in Germany, where they are particularly popular. They’re also sometimes called “Designer” games, because the designer of the game is always prominently noted.

My favorite designer is Reiner Knizia, who has by now published more than two hundred games. Knizia has a Ph.D. in mathematics, and his games tend to have simple rules and an abstract mathematical element. The picture above shows one of his finest games: “Through the Desert” (also known by its German name “Durch die Wuste.”)

“Boardgame Geek” is a great site for finding out information about games. Aaron Fuegi’s Game Room web-site is another place to find links to lots of useful German game sites, including his ranking list of the top 100 games, based on gamers’ reviews.

The “Amazon.com” for such games is www.funagain.com, where you can buy them or read many reader reviews.

To find people to play with, your best bet is probably to do some research on the internet for game clubs in your area, or to ask at a local game store. People who play German games tend to be very welcoming of newcomers. In the Boston area, there are many gaming groups, which you can find out more about at the “Unity Games” web-site.