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Each player controls a tribe of primeval Amoebas, at a time in the earth's history when there are no higher forms of life. At the start of the game, the Amoebas can feed, multiply and move in an uncoordinated fashion. By buying Gene cards, players can extend the capabilities of their amoebas, changing the way the game's rules operate on them, and so influencing the development of their tribe. Obviously though, it isn't always so easy, but the more living amoeba you have, and the greater their capabilities, the greater the advance of evolution, which is the way to victory in this game.
Doris and Frank
Players: 3 - 4
Ages: 12 and up
Weight: 1,210 grams
Language Requirements: Game components are printed in multiple languages, including English. An English translation of the rules is provided.
- 1 Game Board
- 28 Amoebas in 4 different colors and 4 different types
- 37 Biological Points (BP), 30 small and 7 large
- 25 Damage Point (DP) beads
- 220 Foodstuff cubes, 55 in each of 4 different colors
- 4 Score markers
- 33 Gene cards, with capabilities for the amoebas (3 Blank cards)
- 11 Environment cards
- 2 Dice
- 4 Reference cards
Average Rating: 3.3 in 6 reviews
This is one of my favorites of the 1998 game crop.
The premise is simple. You represent a tribe of amoeba in the primordial soup. Your objectives: Eat. Divide. Evolve.
You must cope with currents, changes in the ozone layer, food shortages and predator/prey relationships. In general, the way to do this is to develop mutations, of which there are many. The mutations include such things as Speed (allowing you to move twice in a turn), Struggle For Survival (allows you to eat other amoeba if food is insufficient), and Armor (an advanced mutation that protects you against being eaten).
Be careful, though, because every mutation you develop makes you that much more susceptible to changes in the ozone... which could cost you, either in terms of your mutations or in terms of BPs (Biological Points, or Beeps for short), the currency you use to evolve, move and divide.
This is a great game. Gameplay is straightforward enough that a young person can understand it, and yet there are sufficient choices and the game is complex enough that it will appeal to many hardcore gamers. Highly recommended.
The great thing (or bad thing depending on which side of the fence you stand) about German games are their many various themes (some abstract) wrapped around a game. In the game of Ursuppe, the theme is less abstract. Cultivate amoebas and win by getting to the top of the soup. OK, so that's my interpretation. Really you score points by two mechanisms. The first is based on the number of amoebas you have on the board. The second is based on the number of Gene cards you have which alter the charactoristics of your ameobas and help them survive.
The game is a blast to play. Each turn is divided into six phases in which everyone performs actions in turn. This helps minimize the downtime between players. These turns are basically as follows:
- Move your ameobas, feed and poop. If you can't feed, you starve and take a damage point.
- Change the ozone layer. This is a mechanism that serves two purposes. It determines the movement direction of the 'soup' for the next turn, and shows the ozone thickness. The second item will affect the number of gene cards a person may hold at any one time.
- Buy new gene cards.
- Collect BP's from the bank (the game's money) to buy new amoebas.
- Remove dead amoebas (those with two damage points or more).
- Scoring round.
First player to reach the dark area of the scoring track wins.
OK. So some of this is a rehash of the big review provided below. What makes it fun is trying to figure out what combination of genes will help your amoebas to survive. In our last game, the person who was last ended up winning by getting a good combination of genes at the right time. This makes for a game where you're not out of it just because you're in last place. The luck factor in the game is minimal for the theme (after all, how advanced are amoebas). The first game we played with four players clocked in at 2 and 1/2 hours, with about 1/2 hour of that going to covering the rules and playing a sample round. This leaves about two hours for the game which is about right. It may be a little long for some folks, but there is an optional mechanism that allows the game to end after playing through the ozone layer cards once and the person furthest ahead is winner. When played this way with four experienced players, you can get done in about 1 and 1/2 hours. All the usual raves about the bits apply. Good board, good pieces (I pushed the dowels in by hand Urrrahh!), rules in English and German on both the cards and rules sheet, etc. There's a great web site at Doris and Frank that has a FAQ, strategies and variations.
Overall, this game gets and 85db on the Mulder Meter. It's got plenty of shelf life before adding the expansion which makes the game more interesting.
I suppose you could compare Ursuppe to Avalon Hill's classic Civilization in a lot of ways. You start out with a bare-bones population and you gradually add all sorts of bells and whistles to your population until it is undeniably the best in the land. Or in the case of Ursuppe, the best in the primordial soup.
This game is extremely fun, although it's hard to say exactly why. You get such a feeling of pleasure watching your amoebas evolve from simple eat-and-poop machines to something fancy that can move where it wants or defend itself against attacks or proliferate at great rates.
The playing board is monochromatic and could be construed as rather dull, but once all the pieces are on it everything looks fine (indeed I am glad that the board is not garish as it would make the playing pieces hard to see). The cards and wooden amoeba playing pieces are of fine quality. As an added touch, the gene cards have English written on the back so that the linguistically challenged of us can play with little more knowledge of German than the fact that the word for 'East' starts with an O.
The game can have a tendency to drag if players concentrate too much on every little thing, especially in the buying of the gene cards, of which there is quite a variety. The game picks up quickly, though, and is usually over too soon.
Ursuppe is a very fun game, and definitely gives you a new appreciation for how tough life must be for microorganisms. Although it is often temporarily out of print (Doris and Frank is a small company and must do short print runs), Ursuppe is definitely worth the trouble it can take to get a copy.
For those who enjoy Ursuppe there is an expansion, Frisch Abgeschmeckt ('freshly spiced') which allows more players and more genetic variety.
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Some years ago, I "stepped out" with a young lady whose career path led ultimately to glamour modelling and "Page 3" fame. Naturally enough, I deserve kudos for this if only for the torment it put me through. Yes, she looked fantastic, and also knew both her names (professional and birth). But could she spell them? I don't think so, and I didn't bother asking. It would have been too complicated. Sexist? Absolutely, but only in her case. Why do I raise this now? Well, if nothing else, it was a case of style over substance, and it was a lesson I digested even if I did not strictly adhere to.
And why would I be dragging poor Doris Matthäus (and Frank Nestel) into this narrative?. Well, I am more than ever convinced that to succeed commercially as a purveyor of boardgames, the look must match the content. Poor visuals can kill an excellent design, or at least restrict it to the "specialist" section (basement). Of course, the opposite is also true. The giant box with oodles of bits more often disappoints than not. And just remember why you were attracted in the first place.
But back to Doris and Frank. Doris's artistic endeavours for a host of companies have provided the pre-eminent work in the games industry. I need only offer Elfenroads and Euphrat & Tigris for confirmation. So, we've got the artist, but is the game up to scratch? The school of thought that has consigned Doris and Frank to the "card game specialists" dump bin are palpably wrong. 1994's Fugger, Welser, Medici presented a brilliant trading mechanism, the view of which was clouded by cries of "takes too long". Well, how long do you want it to take? Would you walk out in the middle of the movie 'The Ten Commandments', once Moses had proclaimed "Thou shall not steal (unless it's to your advantage)"? Of course not. Furthermore, F,W,M offered three distinct scenarios. If you wanted to play for a couple of hours, you could, and to a satisfactory conclusion. The same applies to Ursuppe. Yes, it can take upwards of three hours (and almost certainly will first time out), but it can be curtailed at ANY point on the leader board, thanks to the clever scoring mechanism. Once the rule book has been fully digested, Ursuppe can be completed in between one and two hours. So there.
Ursuppe (Primeval Soup) falls firmly in the regimented German design school, with a rigid turn mechanism in which you need to "adapt or die". The theory? Maintaining the survival and subsequent development of your Amoeba. How? Read on.
Each round comprises six phases. Firstly the Amoeba move and feed. They may drift (at no cost) or you roll a die (cost -- one Biological Point (BP)) and trust the compass (1=west, 2=north, etc, with a 6 providing a free choice, and a 5 meaning that the Amoeba remains where it is). To feed, the Amoeba must digest three cubes (one of each colour other than your own). If any fail to achieve this, then they are marked with a damage point. Two of these and you're "dead". They then excrete, leaving behind two cubes of your own colour.
The second phase prompts an adjustment on the compass (Environment Card) and a survival check, whereby points on the Gene Cards are totalled and matched with the number on the new Environment Card. If you exceed this number, you must either dispose of Gene Cards or lose BPs.
The crucial third stanza allows for the "purchase" (by BPs) of Gene Cards. These ultimately dictate the course of play, offering almost limitless possibilities from extra moves through to protection in combat. For me, balancing action cards has always seemed the most difficult objective to attain in game development. Ursuppe offers perfect symmetry and that tantalising "to buy or not" option prevalent in great designs.
Next comes "divvy up" time. Each player receives 10 BPs, which can be used to "divide" Amoeba (place additional markers on the board at six BPs a pop). This is Ursuppe's ultimate quandary, to "divide" or save for the invaluable cards.
Shed not a tear in the penultimate stage, when those Amoeba with two damage points are removed. Personal attachment to these useless blobs is psychologically dangerous. You will quickly find that they are expendable as the fight against extinction gets decidedly competitive. Their death, however, is not in vain, as they are replaced by the very same foodstuff (coloured cubes) that was initially placed on every square on the board.
Scoring completes the round. The number of spaces to be moved is determined by the number of surviving Amoeba and the number of Gene Cards each player has. And then, in a nifty tweak, markers are moved counting only the VACANT spaces on the scoring ladder. Playing catch up is far from futile and you may be surprised at the ever-changing position. The winner will be the player furthest into the dark zone at the end of the track once someone has got this far. Alternatively, the game also ends when the last of the 11 Environmemt Cards is revealed. You might also agree to conclude a particularly aggressive game at any point on the track, or if someone has forged too far ahead.
Ursuppe allows the passive, assertive or downright belligerent to plot their own course or downfall and the variety of Gene Cards permits a pre-determined tactical plan. If you fight, be prepared to take losses. Acting the dunce will attract predators, whilst the truculent will attract the wrath of their fellow participants (all of them).
And it almost goes without saying that for looks and content Ursuppe is almost unparalled -- only the best of Avalon Hill and Hans im Glück stand comparison.