Editor's Note: Academic Gaming Review is reprinting Joe Huber's
German Game Authors series in its entirety. This is being reproduced from the Google Groups's version of his posts on rec.games.board. See AGR's Links section for ways to access Usenet, the Internet's most underused resource.
From: Joe Huber
Date: Fri, 2 Jul 2004 11:16:23 -0400
Subject: German Game Authors Revisited #14 - Friedemann Friese
This is the latest version of the fourteenth in a series of twelve articles I have written about "German Game" authors. I wrote them for the fun of it; I claim no particular expertise on board games, nor am I a collector of board games. I just happen to play them and occasionally write about the experience. I would welcome any constructive feedback.
This article represents my own opinions only. Some opinions are based on only a single play; some of the information presented is based on nothing more than hearsay. I will always try to note such instances, but I would always recommend playing a game before buying it (or deciding not to buy it, for that matter).
Copyright 2004, Joseph M. Huber
Updated June 26th, 2004.
Falsche Fuffziger(2F Spiele)
Finstere Flure (2F Spiele)
Fische Fluppen Frikadellen (2F Spiele)
Flickwerk (2F Spiele)
Foppen (2F Spiele)
Friesematenten (2F Spiele)
Frisch Fisch (2F Spiele) (a.k.a. Fresh Fish - Plenary Games)
Frisch Fleisch (2F Spiele) Fundstücke (2F Spiele)
Fundstücke (2F Spiele)
Funkenschlag (2F Spiele)
Funkenschlag (2F Spiele) (a.k.a. Power Grid - Rio Grande)
Ludoviel (with Hartmut Kommerell, Thorsten Gimmler, Andrea Meyer, & Martina Hellmich) (Tagungshaus Drübberholz)
Paparazzo (with Wolfgang Panning) (Abacus)
Schwarzarbeit (with Andrea Meyer) (Bewitched)
Wucherer (2F Spiele) (a.k.a. LandLord - Abacus / Rio Grande)
I recently had the chance to meet Friedemann Friese; I must admit it was reassuring to see that his hair was every bit as green in real life as it is in pictures (such as this.) I'm even more pleased that the odd set of games Friedemann has designed fit his image; they have obscure themes, inventive mechanisms, and game play that is decidedly out of the ordinary. And I've played nearly all of them - the only Friedemann Friese game listed at Luding which I haven't played is Flagge zeigen, which I know nothing about.
Foppen easily stands out as the most "normal" of Friese's games; it's a traditional card game, albeit with some very untraditional twists. The game combines a traditional great-rid-of-your-cards goal with a traditional trick-taking element. There are two twists that make the game; first, the deck is lopsided. There are 9 blue cards, 13 yellow cards, 15 red cards, 19 green cards, and 4 ones - which can be any color. The first trick is played normally; the player to the left of dealer leads, players must follow suit if possible (but it's not required to play a one), highest card in the suit lead wins the trick and leads to the next. At this point, however, the player who played the lowest card (lowest card of the suit lead if everyone followed; otherwise the lowest card not of the suit lead) is the "fool", and must sit out the next trick. Tricks count for nothing, other than the privilege of leading to the next trick. All in all, it's a very enjoyable twist on common card game mechanics, and it has gone over well with my usual gaming groups.
Frisch Fleisch might qualify as the least normal of Friese's games, although it's readily debatable. Frisch Fleisch is a game about cannibalism, and is one of only two German games I've seen recommended for ages 18 and up (the other is Willy Wacker, a card game based upon the comic strip Andy Capp). Each player controls a gang, and must work to keep as much of their gangs alive as possible during the course of the game. The food distribution (cannibalism is not the primary recourse to dealing with hunger) and board play aspects of the game are actually quite interesting; where the game lost me was on the fighting, done with chips-in-hand, with the chips being swapped. It's out of character with the rest of the game, and was enough to make the overall game no more than decent. It's a game that does have real opportunities for those who like to fiddle, though.
Falsche Fuffziger is a business game about counterfeiting, and received a number of high marks when it was released. I can understand why, but for me the game fails on two counts - first, it's a business game, which generally doesn't inspire me, and second, the game felt very dry and mechanical. There are "processional" games that do appeal to me, but usually they are ones where the game space changes significantly from one turn to the next. Wucherer/LandLord also hit upon a game element I'm not fond of - it's a game wherein as much time is spent knocking down other players as building one's own position. Occasionally I enjoy games of this nature, but LandLord just isn't one of those games.
Friesematenten is a really bizarre game. It's got a similar feel to a collectable card game without being collectable (I understand that all 200 cards are equally common), and the game is played from a single deck, but setting up an appropriate deck seems to be key to having an enjoyable game - too many or too few cards of certain varieties can easily make the game drag. Mike Siggins has written a short review of the game for the Game Cabinet that does it better justice than I can hope to in a paragraph; I'll suffice it to say that I still own the game, but don't rush to play it.
Flickwerk, a quickie release in 2000, is a puzzle game, with the emphasis clearly on the puzzle aspect. But whereas Ricochet Robot managed to turn puzzle solving into an interesting and inviting game, Flickwerk is very solitary in nature, and even more subject to the abilities of the individual players. It can be a reasonably fun activity, but it's not a great game. Friese followed Flickwerk up with Funkenschlag, considered by many to be his best game. In one sense I found it a bit disappointing - one of the very best things about Friese's games is their originality, and Funkenschlag is not particularly original, the game feels very much derived from Mayfair's nRails series. That said, it's a particularly nice evolution of the concepts, with a power generation mechanism with a central auction for plants taking the place in the game of contracts for the delivery of goods. On the whole it works very well - and I've found that without rushing players it can be played in two hours, a very reasonable length for what it delivers. Friese followed up Funkenschlag with a new edition (Power Grid in English) in 2004; like many, I believe Power Grid's increased payout chart breaks some of the appealing aspects of Funkenschlag, but with nothing more than a change to the payout chart the game should be about as good in 2/3 of the time.
Essen 2002 saw the release of not one but two new games, each with something to recommend them. Fundstücke was a very limited release, selling out on pre-orders along. While I'm not overly fond of guessing games in general - particularly as in this case, where guessing correctly is critical to success - Fundstücke stands out for its brevity and the rewards offered when a bad guess is made. Fische Fluppen Frikadellen is notable for the fact that with multiple copies up to fifteen players can play at once. This is critical, as the underlying trading game is only competent rather than exceptional - but the addition of multiple tables should sustain interest.
A year later, Friese's name appeared on three games - three very, very different games, from three different companies. The 2F Spiele offering was Finstere Flure, a classic Friese design. Players work to escape a dungeon, with a monster hot on their heels. Unfortunately, the game quickly lost steam for me - my first play was very enjoyable, but each subsequent play lowered my opinion of the game, as there wasn't enough action in the game for the theme. Schwarzarbeit was designed in collaboration with Andrea Meyer, and is among the rarer of gaming beasts - an imperfect deduction game, where guessing is required early in the game. There is a memory element in the game, which will not be very satisfying for some, but I found it among the best releases of 2003. Nearly as enjoyable is Ludoviel, a party game for hardcore gamers only. Because of the very limited audience I don't feel a need to own it, but it's the rare party game I'll always be happy to play should the right crowd be available.
Paparazzo is the only game of Friese's design not to be initially released by 2F Spiele. It is essentially an auction game, where players try to guess the final value of various photographs. While that mechanism can work in a game (and does work in Paparazzo, for that matter), I tend to feel it's better in a shorter game - there isn't sufficient control in the game to be worth the length. There are variant rules which I haven't tried which may give more control, but which are likely to push the length of a full game into the two hour range.
Saving the best for last, Frisch Fisch is a wonderful game with which to burn brain cells. At its heart, it is a tile laying game wherein players try to ensure that their outlets are closest to the relevant factories. What gives the game its evil touch are the rules for placement of streets. Simply figuring out which spaces become roads with the placement of a particular business or residence is tricky at best - the game makes heavy use of "negative space" for these rules, and while they work very effectively it's a complex enough process that I'd strongly recommend playing with an experienced player for the first play or two.
Overall, I'd strongly recommend Frisch Fisch, Foppen, and Funkenschlag (or Power Grid), and would also recommend Schwarzarbeit and Fundstücke for those who fit the profiles for the games. LandLord and Falsche Fuffziger have sufficiently strong followings that they're worth trying if they sound interesting. I have the feeling that Friese's best designs are still ahead of him - his inventiveness makes each purchase something of a risk, but one with high upside potential.
Friese games I own, and always expect to: Foppen, Frisch Fisch, Funkenschlag, Schwarzarbeit.
Other Friese games I own: Fische Fluppen Frikadellen, Friesematenten, Fundstücke, Power Grid.
Other Friese games I might play: Finstere Flure, Flickwerk, Ludoviel, Paparazzo.
This article may be reproduced in whole either mechanically or electronically provided the copyright notice is included and I am notified of the use before publication.
For additional information, I would recommend the following WWW sites:
Luding. The best place to go for links to reviews of board games.
BoardgameGeek The best place to find English rules translations, and much more.
The Game Cabinet. The key site for older English rules translations.
Brett & Board. The best place to go for the latest news on German board games.
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