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The Speicherstadt

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Eggertspiele, 2-5 players, ages 8 and up, about 45 minutes; about $30)

 

speicherstadtIn the early 20th Century, Germany’s harbor of Hamburg was a cornerstone of world trade. In the center of that thriving harbor was a district of warehouses known as the Speicherstadt. Against this backdrop, players will be competing to load warehouses, fulfill contracts and avoid damage by fire in the new game The Speicherstadt.

The Speicherstadt is a Stefan Feld design. The game comes with a game board indicating the harbor and a line of warehouses, 5 market hall cards, 54 trade cards, 45 goods cubes (9 each to represent coffee [brown], tea [green], saffron [yellow], rubber [white] and carpet [red]) and a bag to hold them, 25 coins (plus a metal “start player” coin) and 20 “workers” (four meeples each in 5 different colors).

All of the goods cubes are placed in the bag and each player is given five coins and a market hall card. In addition, everyone takes workers in their chosen color, placing one of them on the board’s perimeter scoring track (at 0) and the remainder close at hand. The game consists of several rounds with five phases for each round: Supply, Demand, Purchase, Loading and Income.

Trade cards are sorted into A, B, C and D decks (shuffled individually and stacked in alphabetical order) to simulate the Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall seasons of activity and, in the Supply phase, trade cards (one more than the number of players) are drawn and placed along the harbor row.

There are several different types of cards including:

Contracts – These cards depict two, three or four goods. Fulfilling these contracts will earn a player 5, 8 or 11 Victory Points.

Ships – When these cards appear, three cubes are randomly drawn from the bag and placed on the ships. The ship and these goods will belong to the player who has the successful bid for them.

Bank – Increases a player’s income by 1 coin each turn.

Counting Offices – There are four of these in the deck. One of them is worth 2 VPs at game’s end; have all four and you’ll earn 14 VPs!

speich2Other cards enable players to do more things such as converting a specific good into a coin (with the card worth 1 VP at game’s end), giving VPs for ships or money amassed by game’s end and recruiting firemen to protect you from the inevitable fires in the warehouse district!

Once cards are revealed, demand is determined. In turn, players place one of their workers on the first unoccupied building space next to the desired card. This continues in clockwise order until ALL workers are placed. Now, these cards, in left to right order, are purchased.

The cost of each card is determined by the amount of workers there. So, for example, if there are four workers competing for the card, the first worker in line may purchase the card for 4 gold. If he declines, the next worker may purchase the card for 3 gold and so on until, with only one worker left, that player may buy that card for only 1 gold. If no one decides to buy (or if no workers have been placed on a card’s building space), that card is discarded. This continues until all cards have either been bought or discarded. Now, any goods bought must be loaded.

Goods cubes may be immediately placed on a player’s contract if the contract calls for cubes of those colors. The market hall card that each player has serves a dual purpose: as a play aid (reminding you what you may do with goods cubes) and as a warehouse which can hold one cube. (There is one Warehouse card in the game that allows you to store an additional four cubes. At game end, that card rewards its owner with 1 VP – up to a maximum of 4 – for each cube still in storage there.) If a player has too many cubes left over, he may exchange 2 cubes for 1 coin (those cubes go into a general pool and NOT back into the bag) OR convert any 3 cubes for 1 cube of a desired color (but only if available in the general pool).

Finally, players receive income for the turn: 1 coin or, if they have not received any cards that turn, 2 coins. Then the metal start player coin is passed to the next player and the next round begins.

As the game continues, fires break out. Four fires appear throughout the game: during the Spring, Summer and Fall phases and as the final card. As fires occur, their values (in VPs) increase, going from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4. When a fire card appears, it must be resolved immediately. The player with the highest value in firemen receives the value of that fire card in VPs; the player with the least Firemen loses that amount. This can create a shift of 20 points should one player maintain the superior number of fireman (1+ 2 + 3 + 4 Victory Points for the four fires) throughout the game while another continually has the least (-1, -2, -3, -4). But in our play experiences, we’ve seen players who have suffered penalties for fewest firemen storm back and actually win due to adept handling of accumulated cards and resources.

With the final fire extinguished (and VPs awarded or taken away), players add any VPs awarded to them for completing contracts (incomplete contracts are worth nothing) and various cards bought along the way. The player with the highest final score wins. (If a tie, the player with the most money claims victory.)

In The Speicherstadt, Feld has managed to capture the “threshold of pain” auction dynamic quite well. Players must carefully evaluate both their own positions and those of their opponents so as to make educated guesses as to how much a player will be willing to spend before he cries “uncle” and passes on a desirable card or the point where a player feels compelled to spend more on one card only to be forced to withdraw from buying another. The nature of the game gives an advantage to the player going last. The last player in a round is able to place the final worker allowing him to raise the price of a desirable card while putting himself in the position of being able to claim that card for only 1 coin should other players find the added cost prohibitive. Fortunately, turn order shifts every turn so this advantage is shared.

There are 10 contracts (which offer the bulk of Victory Points) in the game and they only appear in the first three seasons. The 15 ships in the game, the source of the goods needed to fulfill these contracts, only appear in the last three seasons. This adds an edge to the competition as players committed to specific contracts will NEED goods on certain ships. The result is that bidding for specific ships carrying particular goods will become more intense – and expensive – for players needing them as the game nears its conclusion. Money is in short supply so an extra coin or two that a player is forced to spend can be critical in preventing that player from getting needed goods to complete a contract or buying a card that will earn more VPs down the line. Because money is so tight, it can sometimes be a worthwhile strategy to pass on cards you can buy in order to increase income (from 1 to 2) to prepare for potentially more valuable cards coming in the next round.

Not since Avalon Hill released Adel Verpflichtet in 1992 has a game been saddled with such a discordant title for the English speaking market. But don’t let the title deter you. In this game of bidding and resource management, there is lots of decision-making to do as players find themselves wanting to do lots of things but faced with a sharply restricted ability to do them all. Adding to the appeal is that the game is easy to teach, easy to play and easy to play to completion in less than an hour, making The Speicherstadt a pleasure to play for gamers and families alike.

 


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