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Svarog's Den - Board Games

Dance with Ibexes, Roll Out the Barrel, and Make Money Matter More

by W. Eric Martin

Korean publisher Playte, which was previously known as OPEN’N PLAY, has an interesting approach to publishing that appeals to my game interests, namely licensing decades-old, out-of-print designs and putting them back on the market.

In a 2011 post, I wrote, “It might seem odd to bring all of these older titles back to print, but I have no idea what the Korean game market is like and which titles have been released there previously.” A local designer pointed out to me that another compelling reason for releasing such titles might be the low cost of a license for a design that is otherwise sitting on the creator’s shelf, combined with the nostalgia or hearsay factor that might bring interest from today’s game players.

Take, for example, Dance of Ibexes, a new edition of Wolfgang Kramer‘s Tanz der Hornochsen!, which AMIGO released in German in 2004 and which never saw another edition. This design is a nicely implemented board game adaptation of Kramer’s still successful 6 nimmt! card game, so why has it largely been off the market for nearly twenty years? (AMIGO did release 6 nimmt! Brettspiel in 2019, but the graphics on that design are fairly dry compared to the original game.)

Dance of Ibexes, which is co-published with Popcorn Games, re-injects the fun look of Tanz der Hornochsen!…at least on the cover. (I haven’t seen the game board yet.) Additionally, this game accommodates 3-8 players, whereas 6 nimmt! Brettspiel tops out at six players. Here’s how to play:

Players start with a random assortment of numbered tiles in hand. The game board depicts multiple rows that will hold tiles, with the rows being of varying lengths and with symbols in some spaces. Draw four tiles at random, and place one in the leftmost space of each of the first four rows.

Each round, each player selects and reveals a tile at the same time. Tiles are placed on the board in order, from lowest to highest, with tiles going into the row that creates the smallest difference between the played tile and the rightmost tile in that row. If your tile finishes the row, you score points (which is bad), then your tile slides down and becomes the starting tile for a new row.

Symbols on the board might cause you to gain or lose points when you cover them. When certain rows are active, points are doubled or points are subtracted from your score instead of added — or both! Sometimes you have to reveal two tiles at a time, upping the chaos for who will end up where in the rows, especially at higher player counts.

The Tanz der Hornochsen! game board

When a player reaches the end of the score track or no tiles remain to be purchased, finish the round, then the player with the fewest points wins.

I’ve played Tanz der Hornochsen! a half-dozen times and enjoyed it. Gameplay can be somewhat random, but watching other players get hit with points is part of the fun — and if you’re the one hit, well, try to get revenge.

• A similar story can be told about Barrel Dice, which is a new edition of the 2013 game Polterfass from Andreas Schmidt and Zoch Verlag. This game for 3-6 players and is a press-your-luck design that features unusual, yet thematic dice. An overview of gameplay:

In Barrel Dice, the dice have been replaced by small beer barrels, and the active player each round is the innkeeper who shares their brew with players who keep their requests modest.

The game includes nine barrels — two of them being special ones — that are rolled out of a dice cup. The normal barrel bases show numbers, while the special barrel bases show symbols that allow the innkeeper to double other values or cancel them. After each roll, only the values/symbols of “standing” barrels count.

A first roll in Polterfass

After the active player has rolled for the first time, the other players secretly place cards with numbers in front of them. The active player then decides whether to re-roll, change the values, or end their turn. Once their turn ends, the guests reveal their cards and sum them. If the innkeeper’s total is less than this sum, they win this round, keeping all the beer for themself while the greedy guest with the highest card actually loses points! If the innkeeper’s total is higher, each player scores the value of their played card, and the innkeeper keeps the rest.

When one player has at least 75 points, the game ends, and the player with the most points wins!

I’ve played Polterfass ten times, and a nice element of this design is how it scales naturally based on the player count. With more people at the table, you know the total number of “beers” that the non-active players will order is likely to be higher, so as the active player you can push a bit more for a higher total, yet still possibly keep it all for yourself — except that if you ever roll and no barrels are standing, you bust and your turn ends…and everyone else scores points equal to what they ordered!

Thus, both the active and non-active players have factors that pull them toward pressing their luck and toward playing it safe, so the game plays out differently depending on the player count, but more importantly depending on who those players are and what their personalities are like. That’s one element I greatly enjoy in “older” “German” designs: Player personalities having an impact on gameplay, and you needing to incorporate an understanding of those personalities to decide what to do.

• Unlike those first two games, Reiner Knizia‘s card game Money has had more than a half-dozen editions, but it will always be new for someone, so it’s nice to know the game has staying power.

In this 3-5 player game, each player starts with six random money cards in hand from a deck that contains seven types of currency of various values.

Four cards from the deck are placed on each side of the deck, then each player simultaneously reveals a bid from their hand of however many cards they like. Whoever played the largest sum (disregarding currency types) takes one of the sets of four cards or one of the bids (possibly their own!) and places it in their hand, placing their bid (unless they kept it) next to the deck or in front of a player to replace the cards they took. The player with the next highest bid (or the player who now has the cards bid by the first player) does the same, and so on. To end the round, refill the displays on both sides of the deck to four cards.

When you can’t refill the displays, the game ends, and you score your hand. If you have 200 or more in a currency, you score that amount; if you have less than 200, subtract 100 from that sum, then score that amount (but not less than 0); if you’ve collected all three 20s or 30s in a currency, you score 100 regardless of what you score for that currency.

Play three complete rounds, then tally your scores to see who wins.

Older editions

I’ve played Money twelve times and dig how each turn confronts you with a mini-challenge: Which cards do you want to give up in a bid? You have lots to consider when making that decision. Will the cards on display push you over 200 or complete a currency set? Can you prevent someone else from completing their set? Are you bidding with bills that someone else really wants, possibly allowing you to offer little, but attract attention from the high bidder and claim cards earlier than you might otherwise? Is the currency you want split across the four-card displays? Maybe you need to change plans…

Seven currencies don’t divide evenly among any player count, so you’re always fighting someone — often multiple someones! — to reach one threshold or another. Good stuff!

• You can check out the SPIEL ’23 listings for Playte to find other oldies, but goodies, including its “L.Board” version of Sid Sackson‘s Can’t Stop, in which the box unrolls to form the game board and release all of the components, with the triangular inner game board piece being held in place magnetically.

Playte has released multiple designs in its L.Board format, and company president Junghee Choi has told me that one of his manufacturing goals is to release games in as small a package as possible. This is certainly one way to do it!

For consistency, I’ll note that I’ve played Can’t Stop 21 times, although that’s certainly an undercount and doesn’t include online games.

Images: Kara Duca-Johnson

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