English language edition of Civitas Hamburgum
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Hamburg in the 17th century! Mighty walls protect the city against the devastations of the Thirty Years War. Thanks to Protestant religious refugees, Hamburg has become the biggest and most prosperous city of Germany. From far away the skyline shows the steeples of huge churches and the masts of mighty trade ships displaying the citizens' pride and prosperity.
The players guide families of Hamburg in the pursuit of wealth and prestige. They produce beer, sugar and cloth and sell these goods with their ships overseas. They compete over the best sites for their buildings and the best berths for their ships in the harbor. But ultimately they vie for the most prestigious church donations, because neither gold nor goods, but only prestige decides the game.
Hamburgum is a strategy game for 2 – 5 players without any luck of cards or dice. The actions are selected according to simple rules on a rondel. The reverse of the big double-sided game board offers another city, Londinium, a different strategic challenge.
For this review I would definitely give a high number of stars. The one-liner brief description was borrowed from a friend of mine. However, based on our four-player game (2-5 players possible), the ones who bought the buildings did not fare the best in the scoring. They scored well, but the consistent donations to numbers of cathedrals made the difference.
Now, let's talk about the elements of the game. When you look at the beautifully designed board, you are immediately struck with the six cathedral districts. The back of the board is the equally attractive Londinium with St. Paul's quite prominent. Most districts that the individual cathedral controls have about four buildings. However, the St. Nicolai district has eight buildings. I am indebted to the designer, Mac Gerdts, who explained how the colors of the cathedral districts intersect. You cannot, as far as we gamers could tell, go over and bother another district. That is, until you have completed a cathedral. You can, then, place your color in others' districts. It takes five rounded tiles to build a cathedral. Anyone can build the cathedral in your district where you have started. Of course, you incur considerable costs as you build or others build.
You are given at the beginning one timber, one brick, and one of each product: beer (yellow cube), cloth (green cube), and sugar (white cube). A price table is given on the board for these goods starting at 100 per and dropping eventually to 60 per cube. You own five ships, but you are permitted to only place one ship in the "3" slot to start the game. That means you can carry three of only one product. The price drops every time you build a brewery, cloth maker, or refinery.
Movement is governed by the Rondel. I remember the Rondel a little from Ystari games. At the beginning you start anywhere on the circular Rondel and move clockwise. For example, you could start on Trade. That means you can either purchase building materials (brick, timber, or bell) or sell goods. You could, for instance, sell two sugar and receive $200 if the price were on the $100 level. Another player might start on "Cloth." That means you receive one cloth cube for your efforts, Later, when you own a cloth maker tile as part of the building purchases, you could receive two "cloth."
One of the favorite places on the Rondel is the "Church." There, you can make a donation of first time, one timber. Second, you contribute a brick and timber. Third, you contribute a brick, timber, and 20 dollars. The contributions keep going up until you secure the fifth tile from the cathedral of you choice. There, you pay the 10 dollars times the number of buildings owned plus one timber, one brick, and one bell. You may, however, in the game only purchase one bell at a time. A special price track is provided on the board for how many items you want to purchase on the "Trade" part of the Rondel. Let's say you want to buy five items; that would cost you $100.
As with many games, your object is to achieve victory (prestige) points. For instance, you land on the "Church" and secure the first tile from one of the six cathedral districts. You automatically move forward five victory points on the board track. However, on the second donation you may want to hold back your victory points until near the end of the game. You usually have tiles, such as x4 Buildings, x4 People, x2 Ships, and x1 (the most powerful). Each cathedral district possesses five tiles, and you may draw one at a time with each new donation. The x1 means, if you choose that tile (during the donation)you are entitled to count up all cathedral tiles and multiply that number times the total church tiles acquired. For example, I was fortunate enough to secure 3 x1 tiles during the game plus the use of nine cathedral tiles. Therefore, 3 was multiplied by 9 for a total of 27 victory points. Message: pay particular attention to how many contributions you make to each of the six cathedrals.
After your first move on the board, you are reminded that, on future moves on the Rondel, you may move up to three squares. Let's say you are on one of the "Trade" designations. You can move three ahead and land on the "Church" for your turn. If you moved four or more, you would have to lose one victory point for each additional square.
You play against yourself and keep an eye on all other players. They may be building beer breweries or sugar refineries. They may be connecting buildings within districts. Once you connect a building to a cathedral square, you are allowed to place a townsperson (a tile looking like a Puritan, man or woman) on that cloth maker, brewery, refinery, merchant, or official square. Your goal is to connect as many buildings as you can within your cathedral district. Official means someone like a Vicar, Lord Mayor, or other official, such as Civil Servant. Only three merchants exist in the game, and, therefore, you want to acquire such a building that is worth $100 immediately after it is bought with one timber and one brick. All buildings cost one timber and one brick.
You also have to keep an eye on your ships during the game. The board is marked with "3," "2," and "1" berths for the ships. Each number means the number of products (beer, sugar, cloth)that you can carry on one ship. Unfortunately, one of your competitors may build a "Flying Dutchman" ship (orange) by landing on the Guildhall Rondel square (for purchasing all building materials) and purchasing a Captain with one brick and timber. You notice five ships (cost one one ship: one timber) berthed in No. 3. Those ships have to be moved to Berth No. 2, because the "Flying Dutchman" has replaced them. The dockyard (Berths 1, 2, or 3) if you have four ships in each berth for a four-player game, for example. You can lose ships as they are moved down to No. 1 berth by other players and displaced off the board (eventually) with someone else's ships. You need as many ships to carry three different products. Ships help you make money to pay for donations and buildings.
The four-player game was extremely intense, and no one knew who was going to win until the last plays. You want to keep putting some prestige points on the board track throughout the game. Then, you can try to keep pace with other players. I enjoyed the two-player game as well, but the four-player brought a sharper focus to the game. In the end, the scores evolved as 84 (Green player), 74 (Blue), 66 (Red), and 63 (Yellow).
The game provides a fascinating two- or three-hour play, depending on the quickness of the moves. You are constantly thinking ahead and planning the best moves. You may be thwarted by your opponent; that is part of the learning process. The game is not only worth the investment, but also, as one of my friends stated, the designer is quite innovative.
Two years ago, Max Gerdts introduced a clever and original mechanism in his game Antike. This mechanism became known as the “rondel”, and was a method whereby players chose the action they desired by moving around a “wheel”. There are constraints based on distance, which prevents players from repeatedly taking the same action in quick succession without paying a cost. The mechanism was unique, and has since become the staple in his game designs.
His latest design to utilize the rondel mechanism is Hamburgum, a game which challenges players to build the great cathedrals and churches in 17th Century Hamburg. Players produce and ship goods, purchase materials, buildings and ships, and help construct the churches. Victory comes to the player who garners the greatest prestige in the city.
The large board is dual-sided, depicting the cities of Hamburg and London on opposite sides. Each city is divided into six districts, each with a central church. Five of the districts have space for numerous buildings to be constructed. A network of roads, which largely regulates which buildings a player can construct and how players may expand on the board, connects each of these buildings. An abundance of other information and charts is also depicted on the board, including the rondel, goods market, depot, ship docks, church donation, buildings and the victory point track. In spite of all of these charts and holding areas, the board remains relatively uncluttered.
Players take turns performing actions, which are determined by their movement on the rondel. Actions include:
Sugar, Cloth, Beer. These three distinct actions allow the player to produce the corresponding commodity. Players have a base production of one commodity each time they perform this action, but can increase the quantity produced by constructing the appropriate building. For example, if a player constructs two breweries, each time he selects the “Beer” action, he will produce three beer crates. However, each time a factory is constructed, the corresponding commodity value decreases by one step on the price chart. It is a matter of simple economics: with a greater supply, the price drops.
Dockyard. A player may construct new ships, which cost one timber apiece. Each player begins with one ship on the first of the three dockyards. Each dockyard has a capacity of five ships, and when filled, these ships will move down to the next dockyard as new ships are constructed. Ships in the top dockyard each have a shipping capacity of three goods, but this capacity decreases as they are moved further down the dockyard track. Having more ships in the dockyards will allow a player to ship more goods and, thus, generate more income.
Trade. Players may ship goods and/or purchase materials. The materials purchased include brick, timber and church bells, and the total cost increases with the greater quantity purchased. Generally, a player will ship goods and purchase materials with the same action.
Guildhall. Players may construct buildings, each of which costs a timber and brick. Three types of buildings increase a player’s productions capacity of goods, while the others convey benefits such as income and new ships. Initially, players can only build next to a cathedral where they have previously made a donation, and expand from there along the road network. When a player completes a church, he is no longer constrained by the road network and may construct buildings anywhere on the board.
Each space on the board depicts the specific building that may be constructed at that location, and church donations will bring bonuses for various items, including various buildings a player possesses. Thus, players must weigh carefully their building and expansion plans, coordinating them with their church donations.
Church. Six churches will ultimately be constructed, each in five steps. There is an increasing cost for each step, ranging from a solitary brick for the first step to a brick, timber, church bell and funds for the final step. With each step constructed, the player takes one of the five church donation token, each of which gives a bonus to the player. These bonuses translate into prestige points, the amount being dependent upon certain assets a player possesses, including the number of ships, citizens in the church’s district, specific types of buildings, and total church donations. The more a player possesses of the specified asset, the more victory points he will earn.
A player does not have to immediately score the church donation token, but may choose to save it until the optimal time. Since all un-scored tokens will score at game’s end, there is generally no need to score these tokens during the course of the game. The only exception is the token that grants prestige points for the number of ships a player possesses, as that may increase or decrease during the course of the game.
Players may donate to any church, but the players who constructs the final piece places the church marker onto the board and receives prestige points as specified. These points begin at eight points, but decrease down to three points as each church is completed. As mentioned, the player who completed a church no longer has to obey the road expansion rules, and may erect buildings anywhere in the city.
The game ends once the sixth church has been completed. This generally takes about 1 ½ hours, and the game does tend to speed to a conclusion once the first church is completed as there is a rush to make the donations. At game’s end, players earn victory points for all church donation tokens that have not been previously scored. Further, they sell all of their goods and materials at 50 talents each, and earn one prestige point for every 100 talents they possess. The player with the greatest prestige emerges victorious.
There are certainly a variety of options to explore, and numerous ways in which to earn prestige points. Coupling the right buildings and church donation tokens is certainly a wise path that can yield an impressive amount of prestige. In one game, a player concentrated on the Officer’s Buildings, and managed to score an impressive sixteen points when they scored the corresponding church donation token. However, I’ve also seen one player concentrate on shipping, consistently earning lots of money, then using the funds to undertake a massive church building project. Both strategies proved successful. The game can be kept fresh by substituting the “blue official” buildings, which provide different goals and prestige point options.
Max Gerdts has once again put his clever rondel system to good use, designing a game that is both challenging and interesting. The game is certainly lighter than both Antike and Imperial – much lighter. Hamburgum won’t provoke the intense competition or sweeping strategies offered in his previous efforts. While that may be disappointing to some gamers, it actually makes the game far more accessible to a wider audience. My wife, who won’t come near the war-themed Antike and Imperial, enjoys Hamburgum, as do most folks to whom I’ve introduced it. To me, that speaks volumes to the game’s appeal.