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From the team that brought us El Grande and El Caballero, this beautifully-made game is a pleasure to behold. In Die Hndler, players buy goods as cheaply as possible, negotiate to transport the goods to market, and try influence prices and sell when the price fluctuates upward. Make the most of the business opportunities you are dealt, making profitable deals (at your opponents' expense) and rise in status and wealth.
This one is so good I am back for an encore. My group dusted off my copy and went at it with a vengeance. Since we have all played Traders of Genoa and Puerto Rico several times, we had 2 like games to compare DH with. Hands down, this is a winner. It has some of the elements of PR (role selection, though only one but with a farther reaching impact) and the intense negotiations of T of G. What we really enjoyed was the deal making (and back-stabbing). Of course, bidding 'fer the wagons' produces significan angst. But afterwards, bartering for the right (privilege?) of shipping goods, well, here is where the amusement begins. Not only can one make monetary offerings, but one could also agree to ship in consideration for a vote on a price increase for a commodity - or to toss a '3' chip for wagon number X or agree to move wagon Y briskly towards Paris...there are no limits, really (just time to avoid AP)
The fine balancing act between profits, guild dues and social ladder-climbing also keeps everyone's attention. And DH is a game where it is easily possible to overtake an early leader (of course, with the money tokens in the bag, sight unseen, who knows who is really leading and who may be saving up for a rainy day) - yes, the status board is fully visible, but it costs to hobnob with the upper crust.
In short, Die Handler is an absolute winner and in my opinion, should occupy proudly a space on any gamer's shelf next to PR and T of G.
Pity the English-speaking nations that couldnt grasp this intelligent game. Either they have something against wood or they have something against sophisticated games. Or maybe they couldnt foot the price tag. But this one is well worth the price of import.
My favourite aspect of Die Handler (and underemphasized among reviews) is the power struggle for wagon control. There is a constant power struggle over everything in the game, but it plays itself out most prominently in the fight to be wagon master. If you bid high enough, youll take control of a wagon. And then its a matter of symbiosis: you need other people to jump on your bandwagon to get them to cover your cost of winning the bid plus the more people you have on board, the more support youll have in getting your wagon across town. And they need YOU to accept their goods so they can get them transported. But at the same time, having lost the bid to you, they would like to see your wagon run into the ground. And the thought of not shipping their own goods to make you suffer more than they is a frequent consideration in this game. If all this isnt taxing enough (and this is only one of six basic mechanics of the game!), Kramer peppered this element of the game by allowing the wagon master to load three goods onto the wagon but they must be all of one type. The other riders are limited to just two goods and they cant be of the same type as the wagon master (but the two goods dont have to be the same).
One of the smartest things Kramer did for the game is mandate each step of the social ladder to be paid twice. In other words, you have to pay to move up the ladder a step, but once there, on the next turn, you have to pay that cost again just to maintain your position AND THEN if you have money left over you can advance farther up the ladder. The set costs of moving up in ranking accelerate and this slows down leaders somewhat.
Because there is so much interaction involved in each phase of the game, you cant outsmart your opponents all the time before they catch wind of your strategy. Ultimate victory will depend on your ability to help and receive help from others, while maintaining your distance as aggressive competitors. This, in itself, is a rare achievement in board games. Kramer, youve raised yourself up the ladder again.
I want my own copy of this game, but it is from an elusive breed. I dont need another twelve playings to know Die Handler is a winner. I got my hands on the correct rules translation unlike the many vocal detractors who reviewed this game negatively, and Ive seen the beauty of this game. Much of it lies in the theme: as merchants, you must be figuring out which goods to buy, getting them loaded onto wagons (for a good price), transporting them to neighbouring towns and then selling them for a profit. Add to that the escalating cost of maintaining your social status and youll feel the pressure mounting as every decision becomes more consequential.
The bits are so good Queen could rival Rio Grande in terms of production values. The map, the goods, the wagons, the money theres a lot to be said about how great pieces can bolster the fun of a game.
There are tweaks we utilize to suit our taste. In addition to removing all the influence cards (theyre in German anyway) and creating a whole new card system (I had fun with that), I suggest:
1) The Shrewd Purchaser may buy 1 good at the current price and receive two more goods of the same type for free. Therefore, each different good bought in one turn will be bought at the regular price (i.e. to buy 2 wine and 1 salt: buy 1 wine, receive 1 wine free, then buy the 1 salt a regular price).
2) To suppress the price fluctuations a little, only players who have delivered a good may influence the price changes. If someone only has 1 good on the wagon, he can only move one arm of his price wheel. 2 goods allow you to move both arms.
Die Handler has a very imaginative design, but the mechanics of the game whether youre negotiating with a wagonmaster or carefully selling goods amidst a turbulent market all make sense. If youre looking for a game with attractive pieces, attractive theme and one that will get repeated playings, Die Handler makes the most sense.
Buy cheap. Bid highest for a departing wagon, load your goods, and negotiate fees to carry others. Set out for profitable cities, while trying to earn privileges en route. Everyone secretly increases the price of two items each round. Merchandise pushed beyond maximum value reverts to lowest. "Everyone's into cloth, but not all should vote for it. Should I leave it alone? Will they? Hmm!" Sell when your wagon reaches another town. Rounds end with each player paying to maintain his current Status, and optionally buying more. Highest Status wins after all wagons arrive. Another Kramer masterpiece has arrived.
When a game comes from the double act of Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich, the pair behind El Grande, you expect a good game with interactive clever systems. Couple this with an excellent presentation (wonderful board, well-designed components, good player aids) and your pulse, like mine, will be running fast with expectation. The delay in getting a rule set was satisfied by A.S. Fischer set from the rules translation set from Frank Branham's site neonate.org and away you go!
The game is played in rounds, with each player representing traders, who are trying to improve their prestige. The substantial board consists of 6 cities connected by trade routes. Each city has four warehouses, one per player, where goods are stored after being purchased and also has a marketplace where three of the six types of goods are produced.
There are three wagons used to transport the goods. In keeping with the high quality of the products, the wagons are substantial blocks of wood with spaces for three goods from each player.
Game play is over six phases, starting with purchasing goods. Each player can buy goods from a city. The limitations are that you can only buy up to 3 goods and you have to store them in the warehouse in the cities where the goods were bought. In the next phase players bid to own the right to put goods on a wagon. Since the wagon owner will control the wagon, he can allow other players to load their goods, but they cannot be the same type as he has loaded. Other players can only do so having negotiated a fee with the wagon owner and only two goods can be loaded. So there is an advantage in being the wagon owner. The price paid for this is determined by a secret ``in the fist'' bid and in practice we found that this price was recovered from the fee charged to other players loading their goods.
Players use one of four movement chits (numbered 1 to 4) to determine movement. A wagon loaded with three players goods could move 12 movement points, which is more than enough to move a wagon from one city to another.
Prices are determined by using a grid on the board, with players ``voting'' using wheels with two hands. This moves the price of goods indicated up by one. However, if you go too far, instead of getting the top price, you may end up with the lowest price. Goods that have just reached a city can now be sold at the prices realized in the last phase.
The final chart on the board shows the Status Table. In order to rise up this table, you need to pay a fee that increases each round a wagon reaches a city. There is also a maintenance cost that rises as the players climb the social ladder.
So the summary of the game is: buy goods and get them transported to cities where you can sell them for profit. This allows you to climb the social status amongst the traders and win the game.
There are additional game systems added which add some chrome and also introduce some chance cards. We found one extraordinary: in the later stages of the game the cost of rising up the status ladder is high and this card gives you a substantial discount. This seemed out of keeping with the planned progress of the rest of the game and is a piece of chaos gaming that I would exclude from future games.
The game works, as you would expect from this design team and there is a sense of an improving situation, with games being determined by the rate of improvement. Cash flow is difficult to monitor. If wagons with your goods do not arrive at the right time, you can be short of cash. Grabbing a loan with tide you over, but you can't move up the social ladder. This is a sensible rule and a good game balance.
My overall disappointment was hard to swallow. There is a sense of expectation built up by seeing quality components and well-respected designers. I desperately wanted to enjoy the game and without some of the unbalancing cards would have enjoyed the play better. Nonetheless there is a sense of disillusionment that the design does not generate sufficient enjoyment. Trading games are amongst the games I enjoy most. The tone of the comments from other game players was consistent. Pedestrian was one comment. I hope someone can point out what I am missing and rejuvenate the game. I will play this again, in the hope that I have missed some subtle nuance, but it is not as clever as El Grande and follows a more processional form than their other excellent games.