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There’s A Ghost In My House – Schnappt Hubi! review

HubiCOVER

Sometimes I wish I’d paid more attention in school during that single year I studied German. If I’d had a crystal ball and knew in advance just how much I’d enjoy playing games I would definitely have sacked off the three years of French (which ended up in a not so great grade, if I’m honest) and gone for The Official Language Of Gaming (TM) instead. Thankfully, I’m still always up for learning and am trying – slowly but surely – to pick up as much of the language as possible. Playing games helps a lot, of course, and it’s even better when the game actually talks back.

Now, I admit that I’m starting at a low(ish) level – Schnappt Hubi! from Ravensburger is a kids game, after all – but you still need to pay plenty of attention. It helps that it’s actually a very fun little blast that happened to pick up the 2012 Kinderspiel des Jahres; a worthy winner, in my opinion. Like a lot of games that seem to come out only in Germany that are aimed at the children’s market, it’s highly unlikely that this will ever see a release overseas but if you can find a copy I’d recommend you at least investigate it.

Between two and four can play this co-op where you have a two-fold objective, both of which involve hunting down a ghost called Hubi. First of all, players must explore the board using the included Magic Compass. This is a nice little device that talks to you during the game, letting you know whether or not your path is blocked and telling you what kind of walls are in your way. As you’re either moving mice or rabbits around Hubi’s house, different walls will affect you in different ways; rabbits can’t go through mouseholes, mice can’t hop over the much higher rabbit holes, for example. What you’re really looking for is to get two characters on either side of the magic doors that are hidden in the house – discover the right one and you’ll find the ghost.

How could you not want to play this? I mean, look at it! It's brilliant!

How could you not want to play this? I mean, look at it! It’s brilliant!

Now comes the second part of the game. On finding Hubi he’ll ask what you’re doing in his house medium of the Compass) then quickly run away, meaning that you need to find him all over again. This is a slightly different challenge though, as animals who are dotted around the floor of the house will give you hints on where he is. Get two of your pieces to the correct location before time runs out and you win the game. Simple!

It’s a very lovely thing indeed, and surprisingly challenging considering it’s a children’s game. Being a Ravensburger product you would expect incredibly high quality and Schnappt Hubi! really doesn’t disappoint. Little details like the mice being able to fit through the mouseholes are a mark of a great product. The art is charming, the various pieces are incredibly well made (the walls that make up the rooms are nice and chunky in particular) and the rules – from what I can make out at least – are nice and clear. Hell, if I can make them out with my limited grasp of the language, you can.

I’m delighted to have this as part of my collection. Sure, it’s far from the most complex game in the world but it’s an ideal way to cleanse the palate after a day of more hardcore stuff. Play this with a couple of kids and it comes into it’s own, promoting the idea of working together in order to achieve a common goal while simultaneously being a pile of fun to get into. I know that very few of you readers will actually get a chance to try this one out but should the opportunity ever arise, take it. I’ll definitely be bringing it along to some events to show it off and who knows? Maybe it’ll one day replace Loopin’ Louie as the Odd Convention Game of Choice! And hey, it’s helping me improve myself too – what more could you want?

Schnappt Hubi! was designed by Steffen Bogen and originally released by Ravensburger in Germany back in 2011. Between two and four can play and games will generally take you about 20-30 minutes. If you want to grab a copy, head on over to amazon.de where it’ll set you back around 30 Euros – well worth it, I reckon!

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Spiel des Jahres 2012 – The Nominations!

It’s that time of the year again where a panel of judges huddle around their big table at a secret location somewhere in Germanyand fight it out to decide the shortlist for the Spiel des Jahres. As always, despite it only having been announced a couple of hours ago, the usual bickering has sprung up in various corners of the internet where The Hardcore Gamers declare that everything isn’t as good as it used to be and why was this game nominated and the SdJ don’t know what a good game would be if it bit them on the ass.

Despite the accolade being called the Game of the Year, these people forget that… well, it really isn’t for them. Since the award’s inception back in 1978, its focus has been on nominating and promoting games that are good for families and friends to play together. Sometimes the winners cross over into the kind of things that even the nerdiest of gamers will enjoy – think Ticket to Ride, Dominion and the like. Sometimes the jury picks a comparative stinker (I’ll mention no names) and the world ends YET AGAIN – for those Hardcore gamers at least.

The SdJ panel, every single year, manages to pick a selection of good games. Face it. Sometimes they may not be world beaters, but they’ll at least be fun to play and people – NOT HARDCORE GAMERS – will have a laugh with each other. I’ve seen people complaining that Dominant Species didn’t catch a nomination and I’m now wondering what on earth is wrong with them. It’s a heavy as hell game that takes three or four hours to get through. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but there’s no way on earth that little Jurgen will settle down for an evening with Papa und Muti when that hits the table…

Of course, last year saw the unveiling of the first Kennerspiel des Jahres, the award for a more advanced game which went to the mighty 7 Wonders. This year’s selection is solid (see below) but again, you’re never doing to see something with 24 page rulebook in 10 point type on the list. Many of the complainers won’t have even played the whole list – I know I certainly haven’t – but that’s not what the SdJ and the accompanying awards are for. They exist to raise awareness, to show off some games that deserve a bit of a mass market boost, and not to pander to some bloke who thinks that anything released after 1995 is crap.

Now after all that, what were the actual nominations?

Well, for the Spiel des Jahres, I reckon it’s a good selection. Donald X. Vaccarino’s Kingdom Builder (Queen) seems to be the early favourite and I’m inclined to agree with the sentiment as it hits all the marks for a good family game. A game of spreading your dominance over certain areas determined by card draw, it’s not overly complex, kids will find it easy to pick up and the random goal selection at the start of a game adds a fair bit of replayability. I’ve played it a few times and while it never shook my world, it was a pleasant way of spending time, especially as an end of the night closer.

Eselsbrucke (Schmidt Spiele) – aka: Donkey Bridge – is a story creation game with an element of memory thrown in for good measure. By using randomly generated pictures, players must make up tales then see if their opponents can recall what the objects were. I can’t recall any other games based around using mnemonics, but Stefan Dorra’s involvement could be enough to see this steal the prize.

Finally, Vegas by Rudiger Dorn (alea) is a total push your luck dicefest. Rolling different numbers allows you to place your dice on various mats, each representing a different casino that contains a certain amount of money. At least one dice must be placed after each roll, then – once everyone is done – whoever has the most dice on a mat claims the cash. It looks like one of the lightest ever nominations for an SdJ, but who’s to say that’s a bad thing? Everyone loves chucking dice about, don’t they?

The Kennerspiel is a bit trickier to call. K2 (rebel.pl) would be my call as I really enjoy Adam Kaluza’s game of conquering the mountain, dealing with the elements and – of course – trying to screw your fellow climbers over. I’m actually a bit surprised to see it put into the slightly heavier category but hope that it’ll actually give the game a well deserved boost in publicity. The combination of hand management and making the right call at the right time – plus the fact it’s playable in less than an hour even with five people – means I’d love to see this take the award.

Village (eggertspiele) has been getting some great press and actually has an English language run due out through Tasty Minstrel Games soon. I’ve had my eye on it for a while and think that it looks like a rather solid Euro, but I must admit a little surprise that it got on the shortlist ahead of Ora et Labora. Hopefully I’ll get it to a table soon and will see why the jury took that call – but the reasons can only be good, surely?

Franz Vohwinkel’s Targi (Kosmos) is a game that I actually know very little about. Again, I was a little surprised to see a strictly two player game on the list (though Friday, Friedemann Friese’s solo game about life on a desert island also made the longlist) but this one looks… I don’t know… a little dry? It seems to follow the ‘get resources, make money’ model, but I won’t venture a full opinion until I get to see it in front on me.

Finally, the younger gamers get a look in with the Kinderspiel des Jahres and there’s only one winner in this for me: Schnappt Hubi! from Ravensburger. This was the first game I played at Essenlast year (with the assistance of a very helpful German lady who translated everything for me and my fellow gamers) and I loved it. You’re trying to hunt down Hubi the ghost as he wanders around a haunted house that you build through the turns. The game is centred around an electronic device that lets you know if you’re bumping into a wall or passing through it safely, involves mice and rabbits, and I want an English version NOW PLEASE RAVENSBURGER PLEASE NOW.

Die kleinen Drachenritter (HUCH! and friends) translates as “The Little Dragon Knight” and looks like it’d be a hit in our house. Stacking games go down very well despite the fact nearly everyone who visits is around thirty years old… Anyway, players have had their gold taken by a dragon and must build piles of stuff to reach a certain height, but piece placement is limited by rules involving colour matching. Definitely one I want to check out.

Finally, for those who enjoy their games with a slightly more disgusting vibe, Kosmos present Klaus Teuber’s Spinnengift und Krotenschleim (“Spider Venom and Toad Slime). Another memory game, it involves recalling where certain required ingredients have been placed to help out a bunch of scatty witches. Correct selections will let players add tokens to the cauldron which will eventually trigger the appearance of monsters – and who doesn’t enjoy that? Again, I want to try it, if only because its designer is a former four times award winner, including taking the 1995 SdJ with Settlers of Catan.

Another year, another bunch of fun sounding games that I can’t wait to play. The Kinderspiel winner will be revealed on June 11, while the two grown up prizes are announced on July 9. But who will it be?

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Little Metal Dog Goes International: Essen 2011

It’s Essen Spiel week! The most wonderful time of the year! If you’ve been living under a rock and have no idea what I’m on about, Essen is the annual event that board gamers dream of. It’s our equivalent of the San Diego Comic Con, the cardboard version of E3; over 100,000 people flocking to a town in Germany to see what the games industry is going to delight us with over the next few months.

This will be my first Essen – actually, it’ll be my first visit to Germany – and I’m feeling a curious combination of excitement and nerves. I’m sure that once I arrive at the halls that’ll all bleed away as I scramble about looking at incredible games by publishers and indies from all around the world. I know that come Sunday I’ll have that feeling of it all being over too soon, that I should have grabbed more interviews… It’s going to be An Experience.

I’ve been looking through all the lists of new releases for Essen 2011 and – as is apparently customary – I’ve thrown together a few games that I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on. Whether I’ll be able to try them all out, who knows? It’s a big old place and there’s a lot of people to see. Here’s hoping though…

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Alcatraz: The Scapegoat published by Kuznia Gier

Let’s kick off with a co-op, albeit one with a difference. In Alcatraz: The Scapegoat you’re working together to spring yourself from the legendary American jail but someone’s got to be left behind. The aim seems to be to make yourself as indispensable as possible. You’re the guy who HAS to be taken along because you sure don’t want to be stuck on the rock. Part pick up and deliver, part backstabbing exercise in diplomacy, Alcatraz: The Scapegoat looks wonderfully cruel.

Bios Megafauna published by Sierra Madre Games

The mighty Dominant Species holds the crown when it comes to games involving evolution (for me, anyway) but Sierra Madre Games’ Bios Megafauna looks like it could well make a challenge for the throne. Your beasties are graded on a wide range of categories and must deal with competition from other animals as well as changes in their environment. How do you deal with such things? Why, through mutation or starting brand new species, of course. Apparently you can end up with vegetarian velociraptors and flying dolphins… who wouldn’t be intrigued?

Core Worlds published by Stronghold Games

Science fiction, barbarians, the invasion of worlds and deck-building. Wild horses couldn’t drag me away from Core Worlds, a new release from Stronghold Games. They’re a company who have developed quite a name in producing beautiful new versions of some classic titles but are now spreading out into new IPs. In around an hour players will take their fledgling civilisation, develop new technologies, build up energy resources, launch fleets and destroy their enemies before them – hopefully. Core Worlds promises an awful lot but if it pulls it off, this could be one of the games of the year for me.

Dragon Rampage published by Eagle Games

Richard Launis’ strategic dice game has been on my radar a while and after talking with him for The Little Metal Dog Show I am now fully hyped for it. Playing as adventurers trying to blag as much treasure while screwing over your opponents and making sure to react correctly to what the dragon’s doing..? It looks like while there’s plenty of opportunity to take down your opposition, you’ve got to be careful to not dig yourself into a hole and throw away a potential victory. Also, the games available at Essen will come with a “special” board. No more information on that, but I’m a sucker for limited editions.

Flash Point: Fire Rescue published by Indie Boards and Cards

Yes, yes, I missed out on the Kickstarter campaign. I am an idiot. That doesn’t mean that I can’t be excited about this one. Another one scratching that itch for co-operative play, you work together to save victims trapped inside a burning building before it’s too late. Different roles have different special abilities but the thing that really appeals is the power to smash through walls in times of desperation. After raising a ridiculous amount on money, the Essen release comes with a promo role card, a double sided game board and a scenarios book. So much potential playtime! Here’s hoping I can grab a copy.

Last Will by Czech Games Edition

I had a chance to look at Last Will at the UK Games Expo and was immediately taken with it. Think Brewster’s Millions: The Board Game or Go For Broke for grown ups; Players are given a large amount of money which must be frittered away on luxuries like theatre visits and extravagant meals or investing in property that will be left to go to rack and ruin. I love humour in games and Last Will seems to have it in spades. Designer Vladimir Suchy seems like he’s on to a winner with this one, combining a bloody funny idea with some solid gameplay.

Power Grid: The Robots published by 2-F Spiele

I love me some Power Grid and there’s nothing better than having a full requisite of players sitting around the board, filling out and fighting for every space in every town as the game goes on. So what happens if you’ve only got four players? Or even less? Friedemann Friese has thought about that and has introduced Power Grid: The Robots. Acting as AI players, each robot will be given a randomised set of rules for them to follow in the game. The rules come on tiles that will be mixed up meaning that there’s a huge range of potential robot opponents. I’m really interested in seeing how it works. Oh, and there’s the usual extra card for this year too, Der Liefervertrag (The Supply Contract) that lets you permanently move one step back in player order. Could prove very useful.

Rumble in the House by Flatlined Games

Flatlined Games present a mad looking little game where players are encouraged to (virtually) beat the crap out of their fellow housemates. Everyone controls two characters and, in a last man standing kind of affair, must force the opposition out of the house. The earlier you’re evicted, the less points that character scores and after three rounds the player with the highest total is victorious. A very quick little party game (apparently it can be done in twenty minutes, even with six players) I hope this lives up to my expectations.

Schnappt Hubi! published by Ravensburger

I honestly have no idea if I’ll even understand this one but Ravensburger stuff is generally pretty easy to get your head around. Players are either mice or rabbits who need to chase down Hubi the ghost and get him out of the house. Sounds very weird but looks amazing. Schnappt Hubi! has two stages, the first where players build the walls of the house making a maze that – thanks to the electronic gizmo that comes bundled – will be different every time the game is played. The walls come in different types including some with holes that only mice can get through or cracks that can only be reached by the rabbits that jump. Yes, it’s very much a kids game but it really looks brilliant – definitely one to pick up.

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With over seven hundred brand new games launching at Essen along with all the stuff that’s been released through the year, Aladdin’s cave has nothing on Essen 2011. I haven’t even started on the mini expansions that will be there; Small World Tunnels, Airlines Europe: Flight Ban, Carcassonne: Die Schule, Mr Jack Pocket: Goodies, Alhambra: Magical Buildings, 7 Wonders: Catan Island… How the hell am I going to get all this stuff home?!

If you’re there and you see me, do stop and say hello. Look for the bald guy with the wild look in his eyes wearing a shirt with – what else – a Little Metal Dog. This one, in fact!

See you in Germany!

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