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Powerful merchants competing for control of a new harbor in 17th century Amsterdam. Building warehouses and cranes according to their own plans, the merchants develop the harbor to their own benefit, and try to gain control of the tea, spice, and wine trade in each harbor area which develops. When the harbor is completely built, the game ends and the winner is the player who controls the greatest number of harbor areas.
Kontor is a Gamer's Game. Play the basic game once to learn the concepts of scoring. But as quickly as you're able move on to the advanced game.
The addition of the larger play area, the Harbor Patrol, and only the five largest areas getting scored make a giant difference in the game play. The advanced game transforms the pedestrian basic game into brain-burning analysis.
If you like games that present lots of options, tactical tile-placement, and limited combat--Kontor is for you!
Outmaneuver your opponent and monopolize each district in the growing port of Amsterdam. Kontor is a unique game of strategic placement of port tiles/cards containing various commodities, and sea tiles/cards used to connect and expand the canal network.
I almost gave up on this one, but once you give it a chance, it grows on you. The reason is that the basic game is a bit of a bore. But, when expanded into the 'advanced scenarios', the game evolves into an excellent thought provoking endeavor that provides great fun. The most bang for the buck comes from the Tic Tac Toe set-up, and using the rule that you buy the special cards. And of course there is the pirate ship. Highly recommended for two players.
Kontor is a relatively benign tile/card-laying game with the theme of building the port of Amsterdam. While it is not an outstanding game, it is one of the better games of its genre.
The port is set up with a number of water cards, and from then on both players (it is basically a two-player game) each play a card secretly and flip them face-up simultaneously. A number on each card determines who goes first. In turn, each player then plays their card somewhere onto the grid made by the cards already on the table.
Cards are either water cards or dock cards. The dock cards feature one, two or three warehouses - for tea, wine and spices. In a connected region of cards, the winning player is the one with the most warehouses (the rules are really a little more complicated than that, and there's a rock-paper-scissors tie-breaking mechanism in there too). This region earns a victory point for the winning player. The game continues until the grid is full and the ultimate winner is the player with the most victory points.
A few other touches make the game a little more interesting: money is earned by playing a water card (income from the City of Amsterdam for extending their canal system), and paid as taxation when your opponent's played card features a picture of a coin. If you run out of money you miss a turn, so you need to watch this carefully. The other big thing is the ship. This is only played in the game proper, not the introductory version presented first in the rulebook. By playing a card with a ship symbol on it, you can move the wooden model ship to any water square and remove a dock card that also features a ship symbol. This makes the game a great deal more strategic and it should be how Kontor is played.
The game can theoretically be played with nothing more than the cards; the little warehouse pieces and victory point markers are only there to make the counting easier.
Kontor has a little of the feel of El Caballero, but without most of the complexity. It is a thought-provoking but simple filler game that is guaranteed to never end in a draw.
The board starts as a cross-shaped array of nine Water cards. Merchants competing for control of the Tea, Wine, and Spice trades will develop it into a final harbor, a 6 x 6 card layout, with further Water cards and their personal Dock cards. Players in turn add one of their cards to the array, plus tokens for commodities shown if it is a Dock Card. A victory point for a completed region of contiguous Docks is awarded to whoever has greater superiority in any one commodity there. If there's a tie, the player with more commodities gains it. If each is ahead in one, then Wine beats Spices beats Tea beats Wine. (Yes, it's loopy!) Playing a Water card earns income, while some Dock cards impose taxes before building. Watch your money, or you'll have to pass. The player who controls most regions wins. An advanced version adds floods, bridges, customs houses, and an Orwellian government ship to monitor your developments.
According to the blurb, this game is about 17th century merchants contending for supremacy as a new harbour area is developed in Amsterdam. It sounds promising and one's hopes are raised even further when you learn that the game won the prestigious game design competition organized by Germany's Hippodice Club and judged by a panel drawn from the ``name'' companies and that it followed this up by getting a place on the SdJ nominations list in a year when the competition was such that many highly regarded games missed out. With a pedigree like that, it ought to be a winner. However, as you are all old enough to know, life can sometimes be a little disappointing.
The game is for either two players or two teams of two and features a set of square tiles, half of which represent water and half of which represent land. At the start, nine water tiles are laid out to form a cross with arms of equal length. As the game progresses, the players will add tiles so as to fill out a square, which will be either 6 x 6, 7 x 7, or 8 x 8 depending on which version you are playing. The game ends when the square is complete. At this point the tableau will consist of a collection of `islands', most if not all of which will be `controlled' by one side or the other. The side controlling the greater number wins.
The land tiles all belong to one side or the other, with a symbol in the corner to indicate which. The water tiles are shared and all the tiles are numbered. Each player has a hand consisting of three land and two water tiles. At the start of a round you select a tile from your hand; these tiles are revealed simultaneously; they are then placed in the tableau, with the highest numbered tile being placed first and finally you draw a replacement of the same land/water type as the tile you played.
The land tiles carry either one, two or three symbols which represent commodities -- wine, tea and spices -- and once an island area is complete, it is the holdings in these that will determine which side has control. Control goes to the side which has the greatest single lead in one of the commodities. For example, if I have 3 wine, 1 tea and 1 spice and you have 1 wine and 2 of each of the others, I win because my `+2' in wine beats your `+1's in the other two. In the event of this criterion failing to pick a winner, the one who has the lead in the most commodities takes it. So, if you take away one of my wine in the example, all the leads are now `+1' and you win by having two such leads to my one. If that also fails, recourse is made to a stone/scissors/paper mechanism with wine beating spices, spices beating tea and tea beating wine. (Quite how this sort of circularity is supposed to relate to the guilder in your pocket is not clear to me, but never mind.)
And that is almost it apart from a little subsystem to do with taxes. Some of the tiles have a coin in the corner and when you play one of these, your opponent must either pay a coin to the treasury or forego his right to lay a tile this turn. Coins are gained whenever you play a water tile, the idea here being that this is a reward from the city for your contribution to the canal building project. This introduces some tactics into the proceedings and forces you to balance the numbers of water and land tiles that you play.
That is the basic game, but there is also an `advanced' one involving a ship and the ship symbols that appear on some of the tiles. This gives players limited demolition rights on uncompleted areas and is just one of a sizable collection of variants given in the rule book. These mean that if you like the game, it has a scope for variety that makes it good value for money and the awards that it has won make it clear that quite a few people do like it. Unfortunately, neither I nor the rest of my group are among them. The game undoubtedly works, but we found it dull.
Kontor was described in the SdJ nominations list as being ``an historical tile laying game about the port of Amsterdam''. Would that it were. Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe with a history every bit as fascinating as its architecture. It deserves to have a game which has a feeling for that history and with graphics on a par with its buildings, but this isn't it. What we have instead is a rather ordinary abstract game with a lot of blue tiles.
One of the games that Reiner Knizia has in development and which he was testing at BayCon also takes Amsterdam and its traders as its theme. Let us hope that that succeeds in doing justice to its subject matter, for Kontor doesn't even come close.