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You are a Human Resources Manager and this game puts you in charge of filling jobs. The entry-level positions are easy to fill, but as the jobs become higher, the competition to fill jobs becomes fierce.
The Essen fair offers many special deals and the one from new company Sphinx Spieleverlag was 50 DM for their three new games. Part of the package was Integralis, a game about bookbinding. Not one of the most inspiring themes you'll come across and I doubt the marketing of the game topic added anything to sales. Oh, you collect games on bookbinding. Well here's another one! (Perhaps not.)
The game itself is packaged in the same quality sturdy boxes as its fellow new releases, which gives one some reassurance when dealing with a new company and a new designer. (Perhaps this is false assurance, but the quality of the box is the first thing you see and I have found that flimsy game packaging often means a weaker game. I'm not sure that the reverse is true, though.) Inside the box are plenty of cards, some counters and a board which when unfolded reveals four sides to a manufacturing process. The game starts to take on some recognition -- a manufacturing game, possibly resources to buy or processes to undertake in order to produce goods.
Integralis is the latter type, with the four processes representing collating, folding, gluing and sewing. The cards are of two types - orders, which tell you how many of each process are required to satisfy the order, and player cards. These cards are colour coded and each player receives an identical deck of cards, from which a starting hand of seven cards is drawn. On your turn, each player can play one card, on a player, a machine or another card. Perhaps the most important cards are the worker cards and these come in two different types - permanent salaried and temporary workers. Worker cards are assigned to one of the four processes along each edge of the game board. The key though is that only workers from one player may occupy each machine, so the game revolves around trying to get your workers at the right machine and remove other workers who are at machines you need to occupy. When a Closing Time card is played (an end of day card that concludes action for that round), all workers present at a machine will earn their owner some manufacturing points. These are placed on the relevant order cards and once these are complete they score victory points for the player. So a second key aspect of the game is when to play the closing time cards. Of course a game with cards depends on the drawing of cards, but you do not always have control on either playing the workers or closing a day.
So much for bookbinding fans across the world. This is just a game about manufacturing processes after all! Like most games that depend on the luck of card draws, Integralis has some things you need to know before playing a game, or at least need to pick up before playing subsequent games. The first is the distribution of cards. There are 25 cards in each deck and nine of these are worker cards. Each of these shows whether they are permanent or temporary, their working efficiency, and if they can be bribed, how much it will cost to do so. There are also overtime cards which increase the workers level at a machine and coffee break cards that you play on other workers to remove them.
A clever feature of the game is the use of bribery. This is necessary to remove workers from a machine by paying the amount of money on the worker card. This card returns to its owner's hand, but since the most money is the object of the game, it can be an expensive option. The other main feature of the game is to sabotage a machine. This is done by using the appropriate card and it can be repaired by the use of another card.
My main criticism of the game is that is not much fun. While all the game systems function, the availability of the cards in your hand necessarily dictates what you can do. In a business game (which this is), I feel you want more control over your destiny, so that your plans come to fruition. While you do ultimately make progress, the game is not stimulating enough to hold your attention while you reach your goals - the satisfaction of orders. It often feels that you have played a closing time to deny your opponent some points, instead of to make a good contribution towards your own goals. For me, this is the X factor that turns average games into good ones and it is missing here.
However, for the price, the components and the game do provide value for money. I am constantly amazed at the prices that these games can be produced for. Integralis comes with English rules, which is always welcome, if not a surprise for a new company. I would recommend this to people who are keen to have every type of business game.