Stefan Feld has become a staple of solid Euro game design in recent years. Games like Bruges, Castles of Burgundy and Bora Bora have put him on the mind of most hardcore gamers as a designer of real vision.
I got a chance to play one of his older games recently and was really charmed by it’s simplicity. Published in 2010, you can tell that The Speicherstadt is one of his earlier designs. It lacks a lot of the complexity that some of his later games have, but it’s still a fun, distinctly Feldian game.
In The Speicherstadt you play the head of a trading house in Hamburg, Germany. It will be up to you to pick up contracts, acquire goods as they arrive in port, hire merchants and oh yeah, did I mention that the Speicherstadt is unusually flammable building? Over the course of one year you’ll need to deal with four fires that will threaten your livelihood…and your score.
Speicherstadt is an auction game. You play through four seasons and in each round cards come up for players to bid on. The auction mechanic is very interesting. The board is made up of places for cards and bidding spaces above. If you want a card you place one of your three pawns in the lowest available bidding space above that card. Each player in turn plays out their pawns in this manner. This is known as the Demand Phase. Here’s where it gets interesting. The more popular cards will draw more attention. multiple people will inevitably bid on the same card. Once all the bids are in we enter the Purchase Phase. From left to right the cards available are resolved. The first person to have put a pawn down will get the first chance to bid on the card. The price is dictated by the demand. If there are four people vying for the card then the first person to have bid will have to pay four coins to gain the card. If they decide to pass they remove their pawn and the next person will have the option of buying it for three and so on. The later you bid on a card the cheaper you might win that particular auction, but the more likely it is that someone will scoop it up before you get the chance. By paying attention to how many coins your opponents have you can even price them out of the market for cards. If you’re unable to win an auction for that round you will get a one coin compensation from the bank for your bad luck.
So what are you going to bid on? The game is divided into four seasons and each season has its own set of cards. Contracts are worth valuable points if you can fill their orders with the goods they demand. Ships will start arriving in Spring and they carry goods that can be used to complete contracts or sold to merchants. The merchants are all looking for specific goods and you can sell them for a coin each. There are various other cards that will come up over the course of the game that will reward you with points, earn you money or store your goods.
Then there’s the fires. Fires will show up every season and stop play immediately. Throughout the course of the game you’ll have a chance to bid on firemen each with their own numeric value. This can be a very wise investment. When a fire shows up players sum up the total of their firemen. The person with the highest total gains points and the person with the lowest (you guessed it!) loses points. The fires can play a pretty big role in the scoring and the final fire of the game also triggers the end.
After all the auctions have been resolved there is a Loading Phase. Any goods earned can be put towards contracts, sold to merchants or traded at the market hall. Left over goods can be stored in a warehouse if you’ve won one. Otherwise they spoil and are removed from the game.
To look at, The Speicherstadt isn’t that impressive. The long narrow board represents the famous trading house and has spaces for incoming cards and bidding positions above each card. The art is pretty standard trading in the Medditeranean fare. Goods to fulfill your contracts are multi-coloured cubes you draw from a bag every time a ship is drawn. The only really neat component element are the coins. They’re big and chunky cardboard pieces that have a shiny, glossy finish. That fits too, because money can be hard to come by in this game. Spending big bucks to get a card you really need might be the best move, but parting with those coins is painful.
It’s a bit weird to be looking at a game published only four years ago and consider it an old game. Feld has just been so prolific over the last few years that recent games tend to overshadow this one. The Speicherstadt isn’t Feld’s most complex or accomplished game, but you can see elements of the designer he has developed into from this earlier offering. It’s very simple to learn, plays in under an hour and it’s a heck of a lot of fun. If you haven’t already tried it, The Speicherstadt is well worth a shot!
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