Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Wolfgang Kramer (heavier games)

The best "heavier" games of designer Wolfgang Kramer...
Also nominated:
For comparison, the top five games from 2002:

While the games of Wolfgang Kramer didn't cause nearly the hassles Dr. K did last time around, it still was a pain in the rear end to divvy up the games. This time around, the Apple Pickers chose to assign their nominations to either "lite" or "heavy." (They had 7 slots to use in each category.) This explains how Expedition/Wildlife Adventure & Pueblo were nominated in both the "lite" and "heavy" categories.



Blogger mark aka pastor guy said...

Voting notes:

1. Neither Expedition or Pueblo did as well in the "heavy" category as they did in the "lite" category.

2. Pueblo missed making the "best of" list by 2 votes... sad little Hopi-copter.

3. Expedition, Mexica & Tycoon were all close together on the heels of the "best of" crew at 4-5 votes out.

1:51 PM  
Anonymous David Brain said...

Well, speaking as a non-voter, I will simply observe that whereas El Grande, Tikal and Torres are probably my three most-hated "great" games in the universe, Princes of Florence is in my top three best games ever. Make of that what you will.
(I've got nothing against them from a technical perspective, indeed they are clearly fine games. I just really don't enjoy playing them. Totally irrational, I know, but there you go.)

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Tom Vasel said...

I think that in this instance, Pueblo just got shafted, in regards as I consider it a "medium" game, rather than heavy or light.

Too bad, really - it's one of Kramer's finest, and an excellent game.

2:35 PM  
Anonymous Jonathan Degann said...

I cheated in the voting on this one. With only 5 votes, I needed to support El Grande and Tikal, also supported Princes, but couldn't bear to cut any of: El Caballero, Maharaja or Tycoon. So I just skipped voting for Princes, knowing it was a shoo-in.

Well none of those made the final cut! Injustice! Horror!

Now I'm happy to see Hacienda make it, if only to bring some fresh blood in. But Torres is just okay - it can end up being more of a puzzle than a game.

I remember when... (sticks corn cob pipe in mouth, rocks back and forth on the front porch) when they called Carcassonne "El Caballero Lite". Now, alas, El Cab is nearly forgotten and Carcassonne is burdened with so many expansions that it can end up with greater complexity than El Cab - but still half of the intrigue.

And don't get me started on the fact that Die Haendler didn't even make the nomination list. That is such an original negotiation game.

Hmmm. As I think about it, I realize that the two underappreciated Kramer games are both partnerships with Ulrich. Does this mean anything? Probably not.

PS - I have a new post on the Journal of Boardgame Design which includes an appreciation of "El Grande" as a Well Contructed Game.

2:41 PM  
Blogger huzonfirst said...

It's a good list. It could have been so much better, but El Grande and Torres are so popular that this is probably as close a correlation as I could hope to expect.

Kramer's heavy games are probably the strongest group at the top for me of any category. Tikal and Princes are two of my three favorite games of all time--they're both just brilliant. Maharaja, Tycoon, and Wildlife are all excellent and Hacienda and El Cab are both very good as well. This made for an exceptionally strong nominations vote. Sadly, Wildlife didn't make the first cut (no love for the crocs!), but I was still very happy with the top five games I was able to put together (the only bummer was having to leave El Cab out).

Given how many great games did get nominated, I have to be satisfied with the way this played out. I'm quite pleased that Princes got the top spot, and not El Grande. I've yet to play a game of EG that I enjoyed and while the quality may be there waiting for me to find it, it may have just run out of chances. Princes, OTOH, is an amazingly multifaceted design where everything just fits together wonderfully. Tikal gets a bad rep for AP, IMO, so it's good to see that didn't keep it from making the list. I also think that Hacienda is a considerable improvement over Wildlife Adventure from the last vote. Torres seems like a very solid and clever design, but it's also an extremely abstract game. If it had a champion in our group, I'm sure I would have played it quite a bit and probably grown to like it, but it doesn't, so I haven't had to worry about it. I'd play it if someone wanted to and probably enjoy it, but it ranks pretty far down in my list of Kramer favorites.

Maharaja is wonderfully designed and is one of those games where you need to be at your best to play well. I really need to play it more to have a chance of examining all of its nuances. Tycoon is one of the best economic games to ever come out of Germany, but has always been underrated for some reason. At least they both got nominated.

Of the other games, I've already talked about Pueblo and WA and I've never played Big Boss. That leaves Mexica, which is a fine game and a worthy member of the Mask Trilogy (I like it MUCH more than Java). It's also the lightest of the group, and not up to the quality of some of the other games here, but iy certainly deserves its nomination.

4:15 PM  
Blogger Shannon Appelcline said...

Those were exactly the 5 games that I voted for, so I can't offer any complaints on this one.

But I will.

I think that, much as with Knizia, Kramer's medium-weight games got the short end of the stick. In particular I think Pueblo would have placed on one of the two lists if it weren't on both of them.

I think a better method would have been to place a game only on one listing after the nominees came it. If it qualified for both, it would be placed on the listing where it had the most nominations.

And I'll smirk at Jonathan talking about gaming the votes ... and losing;).

And as for the little love for El Caballero & Die Handler, I'm again going to say that it's the result of the games not being widely available in the US. They're both games I'd love to play but have never been able to.

5:00 PM  
Blogger huzonfirst said...

Shannon, Die Handler may have had some availability problems (quite possibly everywhere, not just in the US), but El Caballero certainly didn't. Not only was it viewed as the successor to the wildly popular El Grande, but it was a very inexpensive game for its time. Very few games of that weight were boardless when it was published, so I recall it being a big seller on Funagain. I think most people who tried it either thought it was too hard or had problems with the spatial relationships. Availability was not a problem.

It may be hard to find now, but so are many other OOP games.

7:01 PM  
Blogger Kevin_Whitmore said...

Some mighty fine gaming here! I like 4 of the 5 winners quite a lot.

Hacienda is the new kid on the block; and it is wearing quite well with all who have played it with me. Well, there is one exception. I have a used copy of the game, one of our apple pickers traded me his copy earlier this year...

Larry has never found the love for El Grande, but did for El Caballero? Huh. I think El Grande is the pinacle of game goodness. In fact, even though I've bought the expansions for El Grande, I've never played them. Each time we sit down to play, I am never eager to vary from the brilliant core game.

Count me as a fan of Princes. Tikal appeals, but oddly Torres doesn't. Some may roll their eyes, but the theme for Tikal works for me, while the theme for Torres does not.

I'm in the minority, but I am a fan of Auf Achse. It largely replaced Merchants of Venus as my pick up and deliver game of choice. It is tweakable too. Reducing the number of contracts by about 1/3 is a good way to shorten the game; and removal of the Inspection card may be a good idea also.

10:54 PM  
Anonymous josh miller said...

Yeah, I'm the apple picker who traded Kevin my copy of Hacienda this past spring. It's okay and I played it several times, but it never excited me and wasn't liked in our Grand Rapids group. It struck me as a game that was a few years behind the curve, and unusually for Hans im Glueck, underdeveloped.

My top five Kramer "heavier games" would have been El Grande, Tikal, El Caballero, Goldland, and Java. The last two didn't even make it past the nominations! Torres and Princes of Florence are okay, but I'd put them behind the five I listed and also behind Big Boss and Australia, depending on whether these two were considered "heavier games" or "lighter games." Expedition is one of my favorite two or three Kramer games, but I put it in the "lighter games" category.

Most of all, though, I'm glad that my fears that the dreadful Maharaja would make the list have been allayed. *ducks*

12:24 PM  
Blogger Ryan Walberg said...

The absence of Java in the company of Mexica and Tikal pretty much invalidates this entire exercise for me.

12:35 PM  
Blogger huzonfirst said...

I'm with you Kevin--the theme for Tikal is FANTASTIC. One of the best linkings of theme to mechanics that I've ever seen. It also makes the game so easy to learn. To those who complain that the players get to place volcanoes where they want--hey, if you take out all these decisions, you're left with nothing but a simulation and none of us wants that. I think most gamers can draw the line for how far a theme needs to go in a game to make it connect.

10:15 PM  
Blogger Shannon Appelcline said...

It may be hard to find now, but so are many other OOP games.

Uh, that was exactly my point. OOP games will get less votes because not everyone can get or play them. Likewise some people have said that in near-ties in their mind they choose against OOP games exactly because they're not available.

11:36 AM  
Blogger huzonfirst said...

Okay, that's fine, Shannon. It's just that your original post said you thought the games were downgraded because they weren't widely available in the U.S.. It sounded more like a U.S./Europe thing than an OOP issue.

And while I'm sure OOP games have suffered some here, there are plenty that we've chosen (even in the previous category, where I'm pretty sure Viva Pamplona has been OOP for a long time). Of course, some of this is chicken and the egg, since better games tend to be more popular and therefore stay in print longer.

9:30 PM  
Anonymous estoote langobarden said...

My thoughts about Kramer's heavier games don't have a whole lot in common with this top five, which shapes up pretty much as I would have expected it to, although I do like Princes of Florence just fine. It's interesting to see that Hacienda, which I find merely interesting, has gathered such an enthusiastic following so quickly.

The one I REALLY like is Maharaja. It's a terrific and very original game that may not burn the brain but certainly makes it jump through flaming hoops... but I don't think I've gotten to play Maharaja in a year because I'm so seldom around anybody else who's as fascinated by it as I am. I consider myself lucky when I get to teach it to a few newbies at some convention.

Tycoon is another design I get a kick out of. It's so creaky, so retro, so oddly duct-taped together, so awkward... but somehow it all limps together.

El Grande has never worked for me. Obviouly it does work for people who have spent enough time with it to learn what all the cards' powers are so that they know what to expect in the course of a game and can manipulate events effectively. But I never have, and every time I've played El Grande it's turned into a marathon of reading cards, which is simply not fun.

Torres has that same problem but much, much worse if you get stuck playing the version where you're given all your special powers cards at the beginning of the game. Barring some unusually generous bribe, you'll never catch me playing that again.

Tikal is all right, and I expect there are people out there right now who know how the rules for the ending were actually intended... but I'm not one of them. At certain times in the past I have understood the rules to Mexica and Java and enjoyed them well enough, but never so much that I became a big proponent of either game.

When it first came out, I was in fact a big proponent of Goldland. I'd still be glad to see that hit the table, but I often get the feeling, as with Maharaja, that I'm the only real fan of the game in the room, and it just never gets played any more. I'd be inclined to classify Goldland a little more on the light than the heavy end of the scale, anyhow.

Daytona 500 is really my favorite of all Kramer games, and for me it really belongs in the "heavier" section, too. It's a wonderfully straightforward game to learn, but the complications you'll encounter with good opponents will make smoke come out of your ears. And fortunately Daytona 500 DOES have plenty of fans, so I'm still likely to play it three or four times a year.

Stven Carlberg

10:30 PM  
Blogger Chris Farrell said...

I really like Die Handler, and voted for it, and think it deserves a spot on the list ahead of Torres. But, it's out of print and slightly obscure, so given the large number of voters was unlikely to make it in any event.

More problmeatically, though, there is an absolutely critical piece of eratta that if you miss, will make the game torturous. Many people played incorrectly when the game was new and had a bad impression for exactly that reason. With the eratta, it's a great game; out of the box, not so much. It's tough to rate games like that.

I don't know what you guys see in Pueblo :) I'm usually a fan of spatial games - I like Blokus, Rumis, and Ricochet Robot. But Pueblo did absolutely nothing for me - it just seemed mind-numbingly hard. It might have helped if the theme hadn't been so rediculous - it might have been more appealing just as an abstract!

11:23 AM  

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