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Don Q. und der Dreh mit den Windmuehlen

Reviewed by Joe Huber

(Edition Perlhuhn, 2 players, ages 8 and up, 15-20 minutes; about 40 Euros)

 

Are games art?

This subject sparks occasional debate, and unusually very little in the way of common ground. Many, but by no means all, designers view their work as an artistic expression. But few designers have taken the concept as far as Reinhold Wittig.

In 1976, Wittig founded Edition Perlhuhn with a mission and motto of “Spiel und Kunst” or “Games and Art”. His work was son recognized by the Spiel des Jahres jury; many games designed by Wittig, published by Edition Perlhuhn – often both – were recommended by the jury. But, even more telling, between 1979 and 1997, the jury regularly awarded a “Sonderpreis Schönes Spiel” or special award for the most beautiful game, each year. And Wittig was recognized with this award five times, in 1980, 1983, 1986, 1993 and 1994. When the jury moved towards recognizing games from larger publishers (Edition Perlhuhn games have always been produced in limited numbers), the awards moved from the original Edition Perlhuhn editions to re-publications by companies such as frankch-Kosmos and Blatz. But these companies kept Wittig’s presentation, typically simply moving the game into a box rather the ubiquitous Perlhuhn tubes.

For some time, Wittig planned to release a series of games based upon Don Quixote; not games of his own design but efforts from other designers based upon that theme. The first game, Don Q., was released in 2008 and focused on Quixote’s confusion between flocks of sheep and armies. Don Q. und der Dreh mit den Windmühlen is the second game in the series, and is based upon Quixote’s encounter with windmills/giants.

At its heart, Don Q. und der Dreh mit den Windmühlen, designed by Matthias Schmitt, is an abstract game, albeit one where the actions available follow logically from the theme. There are only seven pieces in the game – one board, four windmills/giants (the nature of the pieces determined by which side is up), Don Quixote, and Sancho Pansa.

One player takes on the roles of Don Quixote and Sancho Pansa. This player can either move Sancho Pansa, move Sancho Pansa onto a space with a giant, or move Don Quixote. If Sancho Pansa is moved, Don Quixote automatically moves in the same direction. The giant/windmill player starts with four giants, and may move one space. Should Sancho move onto the space with a giant, he exchanges places with it and converts it into a North-facing windmill. (Grain is found on one side of the windmill. That’s its direction.)
Once turned into windmills, another option becomes available – turning a windmill 90 degrees clockwise. When this is done, Don Quixote is moved once space in the direction the windmill now faces. A windmill which makes a full turn is returned into a giant.

The Don Quixote/Sancho Pansa player wins the game in two ways: by turning three of the four giant/windmill pieces to the windmill state or if Don Quixote reaches the goal space opposite where he starts. The giant/windmill player wins if Don Quixote moves into a giant or windmill.

Don Q. und der Dreh mit den Windmühlen is one of the many games I decided to take a chance on based upon little more than curiosity. My initial reaction, when it arrived, was to be thrilled that I had chosen to pick it up. While the number of components is modest, the quality is typical for Edition Perlhuhn productions which is to say, excellent. I was particularly taken by the Don Quixote figure. Like many Perlhuhn components, the metal knight doesn’t appear to have been created for the game but also is very well suited to the task. Don Quixote’s lance fits into a small drilled hole perfectly, completing the picture. The giants/windmills are functional and still evocative. And the metal pawn representing Sancho Pansa simply seems right. The wooden board makes setup and play easy. So it’s an artistic success – but what about the game?

In play, it’s a classic abstract. There are no random elements, and a limited number of options available. It therefore seems likely that the game can be solved, though I doubt it will ever catch the attention of the folks likely to attempt such an exercise. Absent that, the gameplay is rather enjoyable; the game plays to conclusion in 15-20 minutes, though enough “lookahead” is possible that strong players might extend that time. The theme is wonderfully carried off by the mechanisms; it’s easy to see Don Quixote being confused by the windmills, and Sancho Pansa trying to demonstrate that the apparent giants actually aren’t. There is one problem, though, with the presentation of games as works of art: availability.

As many copies are produced as the components warrant. In the case of Don Q. und der Dreh mit den Windmühlen, that would be thirty-one. And while Edition Perlhuhn used to frequently receive larger printings from larger publishers, that rarely occurs of late.

2009 was not a particularly strong year for game releases of significant personal interest. Power Grid: Factory Manager grew to become a favorite and Macao is moving in that direction. But aside from those games, Don Q. und der Dreh mit den Windmühlen might well be my favorite release. And no small part of this is the presentation; the game would be entirely playable with pawns and blocks but would not have had near the impact. Were the game boring, the artwork wouldn’t save the package for me but the game isn’t boring. So, while I’m not sold on the concept of all games being works of art, Don Q. und der Dreh mit den Windmühlen clearly does quality for me.

 


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