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Reiner Knizia Makes Games for Merchants at Sea, for At the Office, and For One

by W. Eric Martin

With SPIEL ’23 not too many weeks off, it’s time to check in on upcoming game releases from one Dr. Reiner Knizia — well, upcoming games that I haven’t already covered, such as Sunrise Lane, which Horrible Guild debuted at Gen Con 2023 ahead of its official release, and Edition Spielwiese‘s Havalandi, which I previewed after a peek at Gen Con 2023, and My Island, which Thames & Kosmos teased at Gen Con 2023 with a couple of hundred copies for sale, and the Amun-Re: 20th Anniversary Edition, which was also sold at Gen Con 2023, and MLEM: Space Agency, which I saw at the 2023 GAMA Expo.

What else is koming from Knizia? Well, German publisher Schmidt Spiele is launching a new series called “For One”, which consists of (as you might guess) solitaire designs, and four “For One” titles will debut at SPIEL ’23, starting with For One: Kniffel, a solitaire version of the decades-old and continually best-selling dice game Kniffel, a.k.a. Yahtzee.

Here’s an overview of this 20-minute game:

As in the classic dice game, For One: Kniffel involves a bit of luck with the dice and a lot of strategy when deciding how to use the dice results.

Five dice are available each round from the supply, which contains a total of 17 dice. These dice should be placed on the scoring card to earn as many points as possible, but also strategically since you get back only the dice you have already placed in categories that have been scored thanks to you meeting certain conditions — and you’re trying to play as many rounds as possible to keep scoring.

For One: Kniffel includes multiple levels of gameplay.

That last line applies to all of the “For One” titles. You can think of them as being akin to a campaign game, with you increasing the difficulty as you get better with the challenge of the current level.

The other titles in the line are For You: Schwarze Rosen, in which you place domino-style flower tiles in a garden bed; For One: Number Up, in which you draw and place cards in a 5×5 grid; and For One: Galaktix, which works as follows:

In For One: Galaktix, you want to use your rockets to move down five star paths as far as possible.

Each round, you roll five space dice, then use valuable rocket components and a star color to hurdle hazards such as black holes and forbidden zones, while collecting bonuses such as target flags and additional rockets. The latter are especially important because without enough rockets, your game will quickly come to an end.

• Dice are also at the heart of At the Office, a roll-and-write game for 2-4 players from Polish publisher Trefl that will be available at SPIEL ’23:

In At the Office, you roll five dice, choose a result, and assign it to a member of your team on the score sheet. When the active player chooses one result of the roll, it becomes unavailable to others.

A player’s score sheet

You need to consider the big picture and manage your team to score as many points as possible and win the title of Boss of the Year. Grab some pencils and dice, and get to work!

• At SPIEL ’23, Trefl will also have The Sea Merchants, the latest edition of a Knizia design that debuted in 2007 as Handelsfürsten: Herren der Meere before being released in English in 2010 under the less grandiose title Merchants.

Here’s how to play this 2-4 player game:

Your goal in Merchants is to make as much money as possible, ideally by having the right goods at the right time to earn more at the peak of sales.

To start, lay out six goods cards face up in a demand row. Goods cards come in six colors, and the more cards of a color on display, the more in demand that good is. Each player gets a hand of three goods cards and (on the table) two ship cards; in turn, each player places a goods cube of their choice on a ship, then they place a goods cube on their other ship.

On a turn, you take two actions. The first action is one of these choices:

— Exchange a goods cube on one of your ships with a cube of a different color, if available. (Each good has only five cubes.)

— Buy a special card, which are explained below.

— Pass.

The second action is one of these choices:

— Play goods cards of one color onto cards in the demand row, placing each card played onto a different spot in the demand row, covering the card already present; after you do this, each player with cubes of the color played receives 1 coin for each visible card of this color per cube on their ships. (For example, if red was played and you have two red cubes and three red cards show in the demand row, you gain 6 coins.)

— Draw two goods cards from the deck.

The three oldest editions…

The special cards you can buy aren’t worth money on their own, but they can help you earn more coins:

— Ship (costs 10 coins): After buying the ship, place a goods cube from the reserve on it.

— Office (8 coins): After your second action, draw a goods card from the deck; if you have three offices, draw three cards.

— Docker (12 coins): If you exchange goods for your first action, you can exchange one extra goods cube per docker you have.

— Trade agreement (11 coins): If you earn coins in any player’s second action, gain 2 extra coins per trade agreement you have.

When the goods deck runs out, the game ends immediately. Whoever has the most coins wins.

When I was at Tokyo Game Market in May 2018, my friend and fellow Knizia maniac Ken Shoda chastised me for never having played Merchants, which he’s played more than one hundred times.

We played twice, then twice again later that month, and I can see why he loves it so much. As with many Knizia designs, Merchants challenges you to read what other players are doing so that you can profit from their actions. If someone seems to be setting up for a big red score, maybe you can swap one or two cubes to red to get in on the payout, while drawing cards to prepare for future scorings. Maybe you’ll draw a red card so that you can score red again next time, profiting off of past work, while others have moved on to another color.

…and the three newest editions

With only five cubes of a color, you can sometimes lock others out of scoring or at least guarantee you get the most money when a color scores. This is especially true once extra ships come into play and remove more cubes from the reserve pool.

Having trade agreements encourages you to diversify because each score becomes a minimum of three coins. You realize that instead of dropping all the cards of a color at one time, maybe it makes more sense to play one, score, play one next turn, score again, etc. to keep triggering that trade bonus.

The choices are minimal, but the gameplay is highly interactive, with players trying to tank the market for another player’s color, with card counting giving you an edge since you’ll know when a color is running out or still waiting in the deck.

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