Penguin Party

box front 25th Century Games edition

5 or more Plays (3 & 5 Players)

I’ve been playing Penguin Party on occasion for several months now with my family. It’s simple enough that my young daughters (3 and 5) can play just fine, and they absolutely enjoy it. All you do is play a card to the bottom of a pyramid or on top of two cards in the pyramid. Each card is nothing more than a single color — one of five possible options. The base of the pyramid can only contain 8 cards total, and you may only stack a card on top of two other cards if at least one of those supporting cards matches in color. The goal is to get rid of your hand — take penalty points for each card you can’t get rid of, discard two penalty points if you empty your hand. That’s the entirety of Penguin Party.

Playing with my girls, I had a hunch that this was quite a good little filler game. But I decided to reserve my judgment until I could put this tiny box in front of some grown-up gamers. I finally had that chance recently at Dice Tower West with a whopping group of five players. The result was interesting to observe…

In round one, the brash simplicity of the game made several of us question whether the game could hold our attention for five whole rounds (one round for each player). You really expect me to sit here for five cycles just building a pyramid of card colors? But we pressed forward into round two and the Knizia magic began to settle in. Players began to peel back and discover the implications of their decisions… positioning purple next to green in the base means that they’ll be competing with each other. Stacking a blue on top of a pink and a blue means that pink has been cut off from the party entirely… but other players have more pinks still in their hand than I do, maybe this isn’t so bad.

By round three, the hooks of the game had set in and the mental shift of the group was palpable. We were playing the same game, yet card positioning was more deliberate, more cutthroat, more desperate, more dramatic. What once felt like a mindless children’s game became a vicious bloodbath of penguins and colors. We were bonded together across a five-round journey of shared incentives and shared suffering.

Penguin Party is certainly not the most deep or dynamic card game from Reiner Knizia. Yet it impressively boils down the essence of card play to something transcendently simple and satisfying. It doesn’t possess any traits that compel me to love it, but I enjoy and appreciate its bold elegance.

Prognosis: Good

box back 25th Century Games edition

Genial Spezial


1 Play (3 Players)

2009’s Genial Spezial by Reiner Knizia is indeed a special design — not just because it is an interesting spinoff of the Ingenious series, but also because it is the precursor to Cascadero.

The object of the game is to connect to special spaces by placing groups of your own tiles onto a hexagonal grid. The first player to connect to a special space scores some amount of points, but then that space will score even more points for anyone who later connects to it with a separate group. You can also earn bonuses for linking matching spaces to each other with a group of tiles.

This description above could be used to describe both Genial Spezial and Cascadero. And although the former never really quite took off in the market, one must credit the Good Doctor for not abandoning the core compelling concept… instead reviving it for a more ambitious design.

While the core idea of these tile placement games is surprisingly similar, they end up providing very different experiences. Cascadero is all about timing your placements well to trigger cascading combos across multiple tracks. Genial Spezial is much more simple by merely have the Ingenious-style score board and objective of scoring your lowest color at the end of the game. There is plenty of blocking to be had here as players work to cut each other off from making tower connections while maximizing their own scores across the four colors. There are also some nice wild point bonuses from either covering the dark spaces between towers or by linking two or more tall towers.

Genial Spezial is yet another entry from Dr. Knizia that joins the bittersweet collection of wonderfully solid yet tragically overlooked abstract strategy games. That’s the tough thing about abstract games, I suppose. There are so many in existence… so many that present nothing more than a generic mix of shapes and colors and tiles and tokens. They all kinda blur together, and only a lucky few burst out of that ocean of noise. Yet it is still a pleasant surprise to come across a design such as this.

I may not need Genial Spezial in my collection (I already have Ingenious, Axio, Tigris & Euphrates, and Cascadero which expand upon its core ideas), but I’ll happily revisit it if given the chance.

Prognosis: Fair

A tight end to a brutal bout of blocking.


Box cover

5 Plays (3 & 4 Players)

When I first saw Tatari, I figured it was simply a reskin of Zombie Mania — a Knizia dice chucker that I covered over a year ago. It made sense that Zombie Mania is the English version and Tatari is the Japanese version. Tatari is even linked to the former as a “reimplementation” on Board Game Geek.

And if you only glance quickly at the photos and description, they do look awfully similar. But even one play proved to me that Tatari was far more than a reskin. Yes you are still trying to purge yourself of figures (in this case, creepy dolls) by pushing your luck and chucking dice, and it’s possible to stick other players with your own figures, and the winner will be the player who starts their turn with zero figures. But while Zombie Mania was a nightmarish game that overstayed its welcome, Tatari was a delightful experience with nightmarish dolls that had our group playing it three times in one night. That’s a huge difference for two games that sound awfully alike.

For my money, everything that Tatari changes from its older sibling is an improvement on the formula. And I mean everything. Rather than having player turns often fizzle out into a zombie bust where nothing happens, a doll bust sees the offending player collect all of the dolls off of one board (whichever board has the most) which opens the door wide for their opponents to make an easy doll drop off. Rather than having the zombies get passed around between opponents in an endless take-that bash-a-thon, the dolls dwindle much faster as they enter the box shrine either through good rolls or by bouncing off a player who is at the maximum 10 doll limit. Rather than having one central pit stop where the group simply dumps their zombies, players must aim for an exact board by rolling a 7, 8, 9, 10, or 11+ and then roll more dolls than what that board contains — this is perhaps the most interesting part of the game.

Essentially, you need to roll a 7 or higher in order to not bust. This is done by rolling 1s, 2s, 3s, or 4s with the 6 available dice. Each time you roll, you must select a new value to lock in (setting aside all of the dice of that value). You can also bust by rolling only values that you have already set aside. Rolling an 11+ is always a good (and safe) thing. This is where you have reached the box shrine, and dolls never come back out of there, so any doll amount you roll simply gets permanently removed from your supply. But most often, you’ll be rolling a 7-10, and this is where things get… dicey.

Whatever exact number you land on in the 7-10 range, you better have brought some doll rolls with you. The 5th and 6th faces of the dice are replaced by single and double doll symbols. Whatever doll total you have rolled will become the new equilibrium of that board — where you will dispose of your own dolls with a good roll or reclaim some (or all) of the dolls there with a bad roll. Sometimes these boards will get 4 or 5 dolls placed onto them, which means that you want to avoid these boards at all costs. But if you get too greedy, you might simply bust and take all of those dolls anyway.

Brilliantly, the only way you can give other players your dolls is by rolling 1s and actually dropping off one or more dolls on a central board. So 1s are great for sticking it to the doll-purging leader, but they are awful at getting you to the threshold board of 7 or higher.

From our first few plays, Tatari showed a delightful arc of starting simple and low-risk. Players start with the maximum 10 dolls, so any more that you earn in a bust simply get dumped into the box and you’re left with merely a wasted turn. With a few good turns, tension starts to ramp up as players avoid crowded boards and whittle away at their doll supplies. Do you stop rolling and accept a couple dolls back into your supply simply because you couldn’t avoid the most crowded board, or do you toss the remaining dice one more time and risk taking all of the dolls on a bust? Maybe it’s not as big of a deal to risk it on your turn if you’ve slid back to 10 dolls in your supply, but a bust still means that you clear off a board entirely and make it that much easier for an opponent to add yet more dolls there.

The ebb and flow of Tatari is what makes it so much more addicting for me. Well that, and the fact that it doesn’t overstay its welcome (probably because it is much harder to pawn dolls onto your opponents). And it helps that these dolls are genuinely creepy, adding to the aura of the game as players try to purge them from their supply. Most importantly, the push-your-luck moments are much spicier here. Where many aging humans prefer to turn down the spice, it seems that Dr. Knizia still loves to turn it up.

Prognosis: Excellent

Tatari components, setup for 3 players

City of the Living

City of the Living, Trick or Treat Studios, 2024 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

2 Plays (2 & 4 Players)

Review copy provided by the publisher

I’m beginning to see a pattern with these Knizia co-designs — Witchstone (co-designed by Martino Chiachierra) and now City of the Living (co-designed by Sebastian Bleasdale). It turns out that they feel less… Knizian. Shocking, I know.

For some folks, that may very well be a good thing. But for somebody who prefers Knizia’s style of game above all others, that is very likely a bad thing. How far does it stray from the way of the good doctor? Let us explore…

City of the Living is a game of managing your income tracks while improving your tableau of tiles. Players are managing their post-apocalyptic towns, scavenging for resources and supplies, fortifying their defenses, and trying to keep the zombies out. This dramatic retheme from Prosperity (the international balancing of pollution and advancement) at least maintains a base level of coherency, despite the pivot to an overused setting. Just don’t look too closely at or think too hard about the various tiles.

A discovered water purifier decreases the cooperation of your townsfolk… because they fight over it, perhaps? It also makes your town more secure from zombies, presumably because you don’t have to go out and search for clean water. Fair enough. Wooden walls strengthen your security, but brick walls weaken it? Zombies don’t function like the Big Bad Wolf, obviously. A few gas-powered lamps can wipe out three whole zombies… because zombies don’t like portable light? Let’s just say that it’s better to stick to the overhead concept of balancing zombie defenses against human cooperation against coolness factor (like building and using ballistas, just for style points).

This theme of balance and trade-offs is woven throughout the gameplay. How long do you build up your engine before pivoting to points? Do you prioritize fuel income or zombie containment? Are you ok with taking a hit on this track so you can leap up this other track? Do you take the time to improve your scavenging infrastructure or blow all your fuel to snatch up a prized item before an opponent? 

Players are limited to two actions per turn, and like any Knizia worth its salt, you always wish you had more actions on your turn. A tile is revealed from the pile and added to the market as it triggers a type of income event for everyone. Each “year” or round sees all the events triggered once, so it helps to time your income boosts before the next event of that type rather than after. Gradually, your tracks will get healthier and healthier. But one particular track must never be too neglected — the zombie track — otherwise you’ll be blocked from scoring points until you clear out enough zombies. What’s the point of living if you are overwhelmed by the undead?

The thing that feels odd about this semi-Knizia design is that all of the action happens on your personal boards. Aside from a minor end-game track competition, and the drafting of tiles from the central market, there isn’t a wink of interaction to be found in City of the Living. It’s an engine builder more akin to modern Eurogames where action efficiency and track management hog all the attention. At least there are some tough decisions to be had in the tile purchasing.

The game offers two possible player board options to build your town of tiles, with the back side being slightly less flexible and more punishing. If I can’t have my opponents beating up on me, then I suppose I’ll settle for this back side. It is unfortunate, though, that this side of the player board has the wrong setup iconography for the tracks. We encountered a few other annoyances in the production — bumps in the user-friendly features — but I suppose one can’t complain too much in such post-apocalyptic settings.

The other odd thing about this design is that there is no scaling according player count. At two players you have an over-abundance of tiles at your disposal — arguably too many options that fit your needs. At four players you have the exact same number of tiles where certain types quickly vanish from the market and leave players starving for just a morsel of fuel or security or cooperation.

For me, the real hangup with City of the Living is that I still feel like the city bookkeeper rather than literally any other more thrilling zombie-era occupation. Tractor driver? Sign me up. Daylight scavenger? Heck yes. Border security? My pleasure. Rival town infiltration? I’m in. Please, just anything but a spreadsheet of symbols and tracks.

In terms of Knizia designs, this one doesn’t hit the spot like I was hoping it would. I respect the game for trying something different, even if it’s not quite what I was looking for. And I respect co-designer Sebastian Bleasdale who has made significant contributions to many a favorite Knizia game (as a primary playtester), including some of our own publications. 

It’s neat to see Trick or Treat Studios bring this design back to life 10 years after its original publication. The new theme will likely have a broader general appeal, and the engine-building, income-balancing gameplay will undoubtedly find some new fans. As for me, I simply prefer it when the humans at my table are the biggest threat rather than the oscillating tracks on my personal player board.

Prognosis: Fair

City of the Living, Trick or Treat Studios, 2024 — box and components

Keltis + Neue Wege, Neue Ziele (New Ways, New Goals)

Keltis, Kosmos, 2012 (image provided by the publisher)

1 Play (4 Players)

After playing and sharing my thoughts on Lost Cities: The Board Game, I culled the game from my collection and thought that would be the end of it. It was an amusing family-weight board game that ultimately didn’t call to me like other Lost Cities titles or family-weight games in my collection. Little did I know that I would get reeled back into trying this design due to a foreign expansion.

Reiner Knizia has had several board games nominated for the prestigious Spiel des Jahres (game of the year in Germany) but the title that actually won it was Keltis — a more abstract and loose version of Lost Cities: The Board Game. So naturally, Dr. Knizia followed that success up with an expansion called Neue Wege, Neue Ziele (New Ways, New Goals) which utilizes a new board with intertwined multicolored tracks.

The big draw of this expansion is that long-term planning is rewarded as players can move any of their pawns up any tracks and in any directions as they pivot from one color to the next. Your card play restrictions are fundamentally the same, although notably Keltis is looser because you can play each color in ascending OR descending order.

It’s hard to say whether the looser card play restrictions or the more flexible board were the main culprit (certainly both were contributors), but our play of this expansion board using the Keltis rules just felt too open and flexible to be all that interesting. Players basically never discarded a card (like you often do in Lost Cities) just to make room for another card — it was too easy to put too many cards to good use. So this experience was less about managing your hand with surgical precision and more about simply playing the best option currently available. Cards were played, pawns were advanced, and one player edged out the others by earning a few more points through collected tokens.

Between this and Lost Cities: The Board Game, I find the latter to be much more interesting. Keltis feels so stale without any theme at all, and it really loses its excitement by letting players play colors in either direction and jump across different color tracks on the expansion board. In terms of mechanisms and decisions, everything here just feels like a watered down version of better Knizia designs.

Prognosis: Poor

The expansion game board - interweaving paths

Keltis: Fun & Go (Der Weg der Steine Mitbringspiel)


1 Play (2 Players)

After Keltis and its expansion fell flat for me, I wasn’t expecting much from Keltis: Fun & Go. But one shouldn’t count out the good doctor’s ability to iterate. 

My friend introduced this title to me by pulling out a small fabric pouch and dumping a pile of tokens onto the table — this was his custom packaging, but it did a nice job setting the expectations for the compact Fun & Go. All you are doing on your turn is flipping a token and deciding whether to add it to your tableau or leave it face-up in the middle of the table.

The same Keltis gameplay is here — build runs of colors that either ascend or descend — but having it distilled down to its simplest push-your-luck form and still be compelling proved that the core concept is solid. If you start a color by keeping a 4 or 5 (something in the middle of the range of 1-9), then you are cutting yourself off from half the the values of that color (because you can only go either up or down from there). Then again, you only need three tokens of that color to enter positive scoring territory, so maybe you do it to start stealing those numbers away from your opponent. The challenge is in getting beyond the initial negative point territory of your first and second tokens.

You’ll also be tempted to take bigger leaps in your number sequencing when a particular token offers points or a gem or a bonus turn. These bonuses add a nice bit of spice and surprise to the token reveals.

At 2-players, you use the same amount of tokens as 3 or 4 player games, so there is certainly less tension to starting down a new color. I can see how it would be much more tricky to acquire at least 3 tokens of a color when the token supply is drying up faster and more than 1 opponent is competing for the same color.

With a playtime of 15 minutes and a container that fits in the palm of your hand, I can see how this one would be a worthwhile addition to the collection. But Knizia has already done so many other great games that scratch this push-your-luck itch of “reveal and decide whether to keep” (see Medici: The Card Game and Circus Flohcati). So Keltis Mitbringspiel is not one I’m dying to acquire.

Prognosis: Fair

Fast, ridiculously simple, and very portable. Though it can be more portable! A nice lil bag would be awesome for this.


The Box Front

3 Plays (4 Players)

Reiner Knizia & tile placement games are like the milk & cookies of board games — they pair together beautifully. And I’m the Cookie Monster — I can consume an alarmingly unhealthy amount and still want more.

And while Genesis isn’t my favorite cookie, not even close, it’s still a mighty respectable one.  It’s probably most comparable to a Subway cookie — its chocolate chips are satisfyingly melty, but it’s not going to win any awards. 

It does feature something I’ve never seen Reiner do elsewhere — you start your turn rolling two dice, and those dice results restrict your tile placement options. Players each have their own pile of tiles made up of four terrain types: wetlands, mountains, forest, and savannas.  

With the setting being Pangea from millions of years ago, the goal here is to establish yourself as the dominant lifeforms in each area. Areas aren’t really a thing until players start placing matching terrain tiles together and building them out across the board. You’ll be trying to build up your herds by placing your tiles (designated by your animal type) next to each other, and if a matching tile is separated by another life-form or terrain type then it is not part of the herd.

Players want to have the largest herd (or second largest) in each area in order to score points at the end of the game, and the largest area of each terrain type will score double or triple points. While it’s true that the dice dictate your options, it always feels like there is a smart play to be made. Plus, you can always just ignore the dice and place out any one tile instead, but that means you must sacrifice your second tile placement.

With the help of volcano and tar spaces (spaces where nobody can place a tile), it can be highly advantageous to surround and block opponents from growing their herds. This is especially critical for areas that look like they’ll earn double or triple points. It can also be wise to abandon a hotly contested area and start your own smaller region of the same color. If nobody else joins your smaller area, then you can score both first and second place points. It’s also common to have two regions of a matching terrain type compete for the bonus of double or triple points — this provides another incentive to keep feeding your tiles to an area even after you have a commanding majority lead there.

The dice rolling offers an element of unpredictably as well — four of the six sides have one terrain type, and the other two sides are wilds.  It’s very possible to go multiple turns without rolling a specific color.  With multiple locations demanding your attention, it’s common for one worrisome area to stay dormant and untouched while another spirals out of your control — all depending on what your opponents roll. Sneakily, the dice also keep the game running at a quick clip. This is particularly noticeable when a player rolls two wilds and proceeds to nosedive into the depths of analysis paralysis as their brain flips through all possible scenarios. They’re a gift and a curse, those double wilds.

It’s a clever little game that, despite the dice rolling, feels very abstract and strategic. Admittedly, the combination of randomized turn restrictions with abstract tile positioning is initially jarring. During my early turns of the game, I didn’t find this combination particularly thrilling either. But somewhere in Act 2 of Genesis, the brilliance of its system begins to emerge. As regions begin to crash into one another and the landscape takes shape, as competing herds struggle to be the dominant species and the empty spaces dwindle, Genesis really starts to heat up. Like a warm, gooey cookie after a freshly toasted sandwich, it really hits the spot.

As a big box Knizia tile layer, Genesis is certainly a bit of a misfit when lined up alongside its more radiant siblings. No wonder this one has quickly faded into obscurity. But as an approachable, abstract filler for 3-4 players, Genesis is shockingly good. Keep the milk coming, I’m hungry for more of this cookie!

Prognosis: Good

Unga bunga, me beat Three Stooges back to Mesozoic.

Reif für die Insel


3 Plays (5 and 6 Players)

Reif für die Insel, or in English, Welcome to the Island… the island of many bananas. But not so many bananas that the monkeys won’t fight over them and the parrots won’t swoop in and steal them. Probably because some bananas are more ripe than others, and some are straight rotten.

In his latest auction game, Reiner Knizia mixes a whole bunch of tried and true ingredients into a satisfying new stew. The bidding itself feels like a mixture of High Society (spending away your dwindling hand of card values) and Amun-Re (raising the bid at a spot to bump out another player’s bid). The randomized options of bananas each round — each player ends up with a banana, and sometimes they come with parrots or bandits — feels like Hot Lead’s randomized row of evidence and back alley cards that players fight over. The mix of two possible auction types (clockwise bidding or simultaneous reveal) feels like the nice variety you get from Modern Art and Beowulf: The Legend. Sometimes you’re all bidding high to avoid a penalty (the rotten banana or thieving parrot) before somebody bites the bullet and takes it for free like High Society’s bad cards. Some of the bananas have a bit of push-your-luck (only a complete pair of them earns you any points, but they are big points) like plenty of other Knizia set collection games.

In other words, there’s not necessarily one particular feature to make Reif für die Insel really stand out from the pack. BUT, everything here is blended together into a very satisfying concoction. I suppose the ripening bananas (how long they stay on your mat, clogging up spaces before they score out) is the main unique feature, and it really helps to make the decisions the right amount of opaque. 

You’ll play through three rounds, and only the ripest bananas (brown ones) will score out and clear your board in the first round. You’ll have to wait until rounds two and three to score and clear your yellow and green bananas. But those bananas are worth more points, so do you gun for those delayed ones instead? If your player board is already full of bananas and there are still a few auctions left in the round (because other players haven’t filled their board yet), you might find yourself discarding bananas that you won in previous auctions (unlesss they are a bad bananas which never leave you).

There’s a tight balancing act across the three rounds. When do you spend your valuable monkey cards, if at all? Any monkey cards that you don’t spend during the game will be added to your final score (equal to their value!). Players only have 9 cards in their hand to use throughout the game which usually consists of about 12 or so rounds. The only way you can stretch your hand out is by judiciously deciding when to use your zero card in an auction (which always comes back to your hand).

It’s hilarious to see some players blow their hand of cards early and be stuck bidding nothing but their zero for the final batch of auctions. And it’s impressive to see when players manage to hold back several big cards (their 6, 7, 10, etc.) to score massive bonus points on top of their respectable banana stash.

True, Reif für die Insel may not have the novel twist of recent auction hits like Nidavellir or Furnace to evoke the reverent ooos and ahhs of the industry. But what it lacks in standout novelty, it easily makes up for by being tighter, cleaner, and far more thrilling. This is one that I’ll happily bring back to the table over and over again, especially at higher counts (4-6 players).

Prognosis: Good

REIF FÜR DIE INSEL – Game Material

King’s Road

King's Road, Grail Games, 2017 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

1 Play (4 Players)

Only a couple years ago, I was under the impression that Reiner Knizia hadn’t really designed an area majority game.  Of course some of his designs like Genesis, Samurai, and Babylonia possess hints of area majority, but I was thinking more along the lines of El Grande or Inis.  I’ve since learned that my impression was wrong, as Municipium, Tower of Babel, Into the Blue, and King’s Road are very much area majority games from the good doctor.  And perhaps there are more that I have yet to discover.  The truth is simply that none of these have achieved the same level of fame as Knizia’s evergreens. 

King’s Road is definitely on the simple filler end of the spectrum.  It’s certainly more strategic than the Yahtzee style Into the Blue, yet it still manages to play out quick and breezy.

As a large king pawn travels around the board from one location to the next, players are committing influence markers to the locations of their choice.  Each player is given an identical deck of 11 cards — these cards represent the 8 locations plus 3 special cards.  Each round, players select 3 cards from their hand and simultaneously reveal them.  Essentially, you’re simultaneously committing 3 influence markers onto locations of the board with the cards you reveal.

These locations have a definite El Grande vibe in that they award varying levels of points to 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.  The scoring for a location triggers once the King has reached it, and he reliably moves ever onward in an unending clockwise march.  As the King approaches higher valued locations, players predictably commit more of their pieces there in an effort to claim the highest reward.

The nuance mainly comes from the 3 special cards as well as some subtle scoring strategies.  One special card acts like a duplicate of another card you play in a round, allowing you to commit 2 influence to a single location in a single round.  The other two special cards are one-time-use: 1) the witch lets you see what everyone else has played before deciding your three cards and 2) the dragon triggers premature scoring of the next location.  These are all mildly interesting special cards that makes one wish that Reiner had explored this concept further.  Stronger cards or more variety could have gone a long way to spice up the cyclical nature of the game.

What do I mean by cyclical? Well, the King’s movement is predetermined, the players’ hands are identical, and the special cards are mild and minimalistic.  King’s Road has opted for an extremely safe, vanilla experience within a crowded genre of wild, flavorful area majority games.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good game, especially for one so quick (30 minutes).  The clean, slim nature of the design allows for some nice mind games as you to try to eek out more points than your opponents.  Despite its bare-bones design, it feels like there is still wiggle room for multiple strategies to succeed.  

Unfortunately, the minimalistic nature of King’s Road means that it struggles to stand out in my collection, let alone its genre.  As an old-school Euro, this one certainly hasn’t aged as well as El Grande.  As an approachable gateway game, it’s not as thrilling as Ethnos.  As a filler, it’s not quite as punchy as Rumble Nation.  As a Knizia design, it doesn’t reach the satisfying dynamics of Municipium.  In a vacuum, I’d happily play this one more.  In my collection, it’s easily overshadowed by a dozen other games.

Prognosis: Fair

King's Road mid-game (final components may differ from what is shown.)


Money (머니), Playte, 2023 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)

3 Plays (4-5 Players)

Reiner Knizia has been interviewed probably more times than any tabletop game designer ever. That’s largely thanks to the fact that he’s been around longer than most working designers, and he’s the most prolific in terms of total game output. He could interviewed about a different game in his ludography every week and it would take 14 years to get through all of his games. But in reality, that’s a lie, because he would make another 350 games in those 14 years. There’s simply no keeping up with this man.

I bring up his interviews because I quite enjoy listening to them. For as successful, brilliant, and revered as he is, I’m always struck by how thoughtful and humble his answers are. One question he’s been asked before is this: “What is your favorite board game component?” Or something similar: “If you could only keep 1 game, what would it be?”

His answer? A deck of cards. Reiner loves a simple deck of cards for how versatile cards can be. And he wouldn’t use them to play established or existing games. He would use them to create new games. The practice of inventing games that bring enjoyment to people is his sole drive and focus. His hunger to innovate and iterate and entertain is insatiable.

All of this is proven by his extensive ludography. Looking at his card games alone, heck even just the ones I’ve played, I can tally up 30 unique card games that are plain solid, at the very least. These 30 card games are good enough that I would happily play them at any game session. Several of them are so stinking phenomenal that they rank among the greatest card games ever made… Perhaps those precious pearls, those select masterpieces, are the only Knizia card games I truly need. But because these 30 games are so easy to teach, quick to play, and simple to store on the shelf, they all live on in my collection. 

Money is one of these unassuming titles that promises to please when on the table and placate when on the shelf. It’s a pure deck of cards tailored for 3-5 players, and it only asks for 15-20 minutes of your time. The deck consists of up to 7 different currencies, with values of 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. There are also a handful of 10-value Chinese coins that add a little bonus to your bank. After dealing out 6 cards to each player, you’ll then proceed through a series of quick rounds where players simultaneously reveal a bid of one or more cards from their hands.

In the central market there are two sets consisting of four cards each. After players reveal their bids, the highest bidder can exchange their entire bid with one of the central market sets or with another player’s bid. Then the next highest bidder does the same, and so on until everyone has made an exchange (or withheld their bid).

The goal is to assemble a hand that contains as many cards of as few currencies as possible. Having all seven currencies in you hand would be a disaster, because each currency starts out with a 100 point deficit until you manage to cross 200 points in that currency. Surprisingly (for a Knizia), you cannot score below zero in a currency. So a value of 90 USD is zero points, while a value of 160 Euros is 60 points. But if you manage to cross that golden 200 threshold, then you don’t subtract 100 points from that currency at all. Additionally, if you manage to get any trios of 20s or 30s of the same currency, then you’ll score 100 bonus points for each one. And those 10-value Chinese coins are just a plain good 10-points each.

What this all leads to is a rapid-fire chaotic currency exchange where cards leave one hand to enter the market only to be snatched up again and traded away once more until they find the right home. Your hand starts out with a small but diverse array of currencies, and then it gradually grows in size while shrinking in variety. Eventually you’ll be forced to decide which precious sets to part with so that you can use those currencies to bid on others that show more promise.

Sometimes you’ll hunger for a juicy market set on display and overbid with your hand, only to find that nobody else cared about the available options and they all decided to bid low and get a cheap/easy gain… suddenly you regret adding that extra 50 to your bid. Other times you’ll try to thread the needle with a risky, low offer only to find that an opponent bid slightly higher to get first dibs on your desired stash. But all is not lost, because odds are that they’ll eventually relinquish your favored currency back out into the market with a future bid. Like many auction games, it’s all about reading the room and bidding with surgical precision.

When played fast, loose, and from the hip, Money feels like a stone-cold classic. Perhaps it’s not the most unique or innovative or dramatic card game in Knizia’s catalogue, but it’s a mighty fine one. And I have it on good authority that it is getting a new English edition soon, so that’s a plus.

Prognosis: Good

Content of the new edition

Launching on Kickstarter on April 9

Coming soon from Bitewing Games — three games of cool jazz and cool cats. Follow the Kickstarter page here. Thanks for your support!

Prognosis: a forecast of how the game will likely fare in my collection, and perhaps yours as well.

Excellent– Among the best in its genre.  This game will never leave my collection.

Good– A very solid game and a keeper on the shelf.

Fair– It’s fine. It’s enjoyable. But I’m not likely to seek it out or keep it around.

Poor– Really doesn’t fit my tastes; not one I want to revisit… but hey, that’s just me.

Hopeless– Never again. Run & hide. Demon be gone.

Article written by Nick Murray. Outside of practicing dentistry part-time, Nick has devoted his remaining work-time to collaborating with the world’s best designers, illustrators, and creators in producing classy board games that bite, including the critically acclaimed titles Trailblazers by Ryan Courtney and Zoo Vadis by Reiner Knizia. He hopes you’ll join Bitewing Games in their quest to create and share classy board games with a bite.

Disclaimer: When Bitewing Games finds a designer or artist or publisher that we like, we sometimes try to collaborate with these creators on our own publishing projects. We work with these folks because we like their work, and it is natural and predictable that we will continue to praise and enjoy their work. Any opinions shared are subject to biases including business relationships, personal acquaintances, gaming preferences, and more. That said, our intent is to help grow the hobby, share our gaming experiences, and find folks with similar tastes. Please take any and all of our opinions with a hearty grain of salt as you partake in this tabletop hobby feast.

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