reviewed by Kevin Whitmore
Quined Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 60-90 minutes; $79.99
Haspelknecht is the third release from author Thomas Spitzer, and his third game in a trilogy of games about coal production in the Ruhr region of Germany. His prior two games, Ruhrschifffahrt and Kohle & Kolonie, have both received some acclaim, so I was eager to try his latest.
Haspelknecht explores the discovery of coal upon the player’s farmstead (the player board). Players must decide how to exploit this resource most effectively while still operating their farm enough to meet their rent due to the nobility who own the land.
This is a handsome game. It comes in a standard bookcase sized box. Contents include 4 player boards, one central display board, several oversized hexagonal shaped “Technology” tiles, and various counters and markers needed to play the game. Rules manuals for German, English, French and Dutch are included.
The flow of the game is patterned after a yearly cycle. Players conduct activities in the spring, summer and fall. Winter is the scoring phase. After three years the game comes to an end. As is so common in Euro games, there are many activities you may want to do within the game. But time and constraints mean you can probably only do about half of what you might like to.
A key feature of the game is the selection of action discs. At the beginning of the game a few draw-pools are established where actions discs will be recruited from. The number of pools used is dependent upon how many people are playing the game. Likewise the assortment of which action discs will be used is also based on the number of players. When drawing discs, a player will choose a pool, and take all the discs of a single color:
Yellow Discs – are the most valuable. They are used to produce food, and can be used to pay two different contract laborers.
Brown Discs – are the next most valuable. They are used to harvest wood, which is critical for extraction of coal.
Black Discs – are the least valuable. They allow most laborers to extract coal, or remove unwanted water from the mining site.
After two rounds of drawing discs, the player order is reset based on who took the lowest value of discs on their first round of recruitment. The order of play has significance. First of all, having first crack at the drawing of action discs is important. Some pools carry a penalty for being used in the initial round of draws. So, going later means accepting the scraps left, or paying the penalty to draw from some of the pools. Further, later in the turn, first access to Technology tiles is also of great importance.
Players must program what their workers will do each season. Each player has three workers at the start of the game. Two of the workers are the farmer and the farm hand. Both of them can either harvest wood, mine coal, or raise food. Each worker will only do one type of task each season. If the farmer and the farm hand do the same task, they receive a small bonus, receiving an extra resource or mining action. Both of these workers can do the same task repeatedly. So for example, the farmer might be given two yellow discs, and therefore receive two food units.
At the start of the game your farmstead has an outcropping of coal which has been discovered. This is referred to as the “Pinge”. A contract laborer is on hand, and prepared to dig out the coal so long as you pay him. He will accept only payment in the form of a yellow disc, a food, or a coin. Once paid, he will dig twice. However, if two or more water has accumulated in the Pinge, instead of removing a single coal cube he will remove two water markers. The contract worker will only do his two tasks, and then is done for the season.
Initially the coal is readily available to be mined. But soon some timber will be needed to shore up the mining site. Overall the removal of coal from the Pinge is quite doable. If players complete this task in the first year they will receive 2 victory points. Once the Pinge has been completely depleted, a tile is added on top of that corner of the player board. This is the Haspelknecht and Coal Miner tile. Haspelknecht is a German word, which roughly translates as Windlass Operator. With this additional tile the player now has access to a formal coal mine under his farmstead.
Mining in the coal mine is a bit more complicated in comparison to removal of coal from the Pinge. The coal miner will only work if paid a food or a coin. He will remove 3 coal cubes from the mine gallery. But, as you would expect, a great deal of wood is needed to frame the gallery and allow access to the coal. Further, the coal miner will not remove the coal to the surface. He simply delivers it to the bottom of the vertical shaft. Here is where the Haspelknecht steps in. The Haspelknecht will only work if paid a yellow disc, a food or a coin. He will then reel in three coal cubes. Water is an obstacle, and if 2 or more water are in the shaft, he will remove two water tokens in lieu of a single coal cube.
All this is to say that you will need to carefully evaluate which actions discs you need to guide your farmstead through the production needed to gather the coal. At the end of the year you will score victory points based on how much coal has been collected. The noble land owners also must be paid. They initially demand food – and as the game progresses, money. So splitting your attention between mining and farming activities is a nice little puzzle. In addition to this central part of the game, you must also consider the technology tiles.
I’ve previously described how you use the farmer and farm hand to collect resources or conduct mining actions. The farmer has one other possibility – he can develop a Technology tile. Technology tiles are a prominent feature and are set up in a grid in the middle of the table. The easiest technologies sit at the top of the grid, and can be accessed by any player. To access a technology tile, the player must allocate certain colors of discs to the farmer. The farmer then uses those discs to earn the technology, instead of collecting resources/mining as usual. This is the only time multiple colors of discs can be assigned to the farmer.
Initially the technology tiles are inexpensive, just costing a couple of discs to buy. But further down the grid, the tiles become more expensive. For example, a later tile may require 4 discs, one of which must be yellow and one which is brown. Further, to access a later technology tile, you must have acquired an adjacent tile, or pay a toll to the player who previously acquired the tile you wish to jump to.
The technology tiles often give immediate rewards in the form of extra resource discs, money, or a special, one-use ability. Some technology tiles also give you new outbuildings for your farmstead, giving you options to explore. Other tiles give you end-game bonus scoring opportunities. Further, each tile will award 1-4 victory points to the first player to acquire the technology. Technology tiles remain on the display, with players marking the ones they have earned. A significant amount of player interaction occurs around these tiles. Player order becomes very important, as more victory points are given to early adopters of the various technologies.
Haspelknecht fits easily into an evening of gaming. I’ve found I can teach and complete a 4-player game in around 2 hours. Players have responded well to the game. It is easy to learn the rules, but a lot of thought is given about which action discs to take. Even then, figuring out your programming can be more difficult than one might expect.
At the end of the rulebook are rules providing variant ways of building the technology tile array. I have not yet explored this, but I am excited by it. Instead of a simple array, it is possible to build the array in a number of different ways. These different arrays will have big impact on the number of adjacent technologies to acquire. This twist on the game should extend its replayability.
I’m pretty high on this game. I recommend Haspelknech as a good thoughtful game that is easy to teach and will play in 90 minutes or so. Recommended. – – – Kevin Whitmore
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