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"It will be nice when it is finished". A positive, optimistic view of work in progress, but one that loses its gloss when you realise that the person doing the work thinks that it already is. That, I am afraid, is the situation with Die Flerei by Peter Eggert.I spotted the game in the exhibition that follows the press conference at Essen and was drawn to it by the fact that it was a business game with an age rating of 14+ and what looked to be a firm grounding in history. There have been a number of German games - many of them thoroughly enjoyable - that have drawn inspiration from a historical setting but few where the mechanics the designer has then constructed couldn't have been picked up and set down somewhere else. Karl-Heinz Schmiel's Attila is a prime example. Its basis is the migrations of the barbarian tribes into the collapsing Roman Empire and that setting adds to the pleasure of the game, but what actually happens on the board has no real connection with the historical events. Die Flerei seemed to be different. It didn't claim to be a historical simulation, but it did look to be a game which could only be about what it said it was about. The setting is Germany in the early 17th century. The cities are growing and their demand for building materials has created a market in wood. Lumberjacks are felling trees in the forests and then rafting the trunks down the rivers to be sold to merchants, who may then sell them on at a profit. "Die Flerei" means "The Rafting". The board shows the river systems of the Weser and the Ems from the mountains of Hesse and Thuringia down to the North Sea ports of Emden and Bremerhaven. Dotted along the banks are forests and the basic mechanic is that you move a man to a forest, buy it and then spend a bit of time felling the trees, before lashing the trunks together and setting off down river. A raft can consist of up to 5 trunks and its speed of travel depends on the current, which, as you'd expect, tends to be faster in the mountains and more sluggish as you get closer to the sea. This is all handled logically and it works well. New forests become available as the game proceeds and you never seem to have quite enough men, both of which force you to plan ahead and to think about how best to use the labour resources you do have. So far so good, but from here the game starts to hit problems as the result of inadequately explained rules. You get your first inkling of this when you are setting up the game and are told to set certain components to one side. No problem there, you think, and in other games there wouldn't be. They aren't needed at the start but will be later. However, in these rules they are never mentioned again and so at the end of the game you are still wondering what they were for! Possibly superfluous components can always be ignored, but the next problem you encounter can't be, because it concerns the rules for buying and selling timber in the towns and cities. Adjacent to each is a collection of hexes each showing a possible price and the idea is that when you sell or buy a log, you place a marker on or take a marker from the hex that is most favourable to you. The snag comes when, as is usually the case, you want to buy or sell more than one log. Now you need to know whether the system works like the one in [page scan/se=1422/sf=category/fi=stockin.asc/ml=10]Crude/McMulti or whether it is like selling shares in [page scan/se=0428/sf=category/fi=stockin.asc/ml=10]18xx. Does the price change after the replacement or removal of each marker (which would be the case in Crude) or is it a case of "the current price is p, the number I am selling is n and so the amount I receive is np"? The rules can be read either way and the examples don't help, because they point in different directions. There are two and they can't both be correct. At least one of them contains a mistake and the accompanying explanations leave you on a guess as to which it is. We went with the Crude/McMulti rule; Kendall Johns's group opted for the other one. On reflection I think that their guess at the designer's intention was the correct one, because it leaves you looking at one typo in the examples rather than two. However, I also think (and Kendall agrees with me) that this version leads to a situation that is economically ludicrous. What happens with it is that a man arrives at a city and sells his timber. This causes a price fall and on the next turn he buys the timber back again at the new price and sails off down the river to repeat the trick at the next city. In play terms this is repetitious and uninteresting and in terms of the local economy it's damn silly. Is there no one in the cities to point out that they are impoverishing themselves by buying dear and selling cheap? The other rule makes better sense but still isn't perfect and what you will need to do if you buy this game is to do the game development and logical thinking that the designer clearly skimped on. This mixture of the clever and the not so clever continues into the subsystems, where the strengths and weaknesses remain much the same. Mr. Eggert is clearly interested in the subject matter and has done his homework. This produces ideas that are strong on flavour and which remain true to the story line. Everything that is there is so because it reflects what happened at the time. So, there is a profitable export trade from Emden and Bremerhaven, which the players can cut in on by getting agents into those cities; there are tolls on the rafters levied by farmers, millers and customs posts and these can be used to extract money from your rivals; and part way through the game a canal is built to link the two main rivers and with it you get the appearance of a superior form of transport in the form of barges. This is all good stuff that has one rubbing one's hands in anticipation. However, you find once you start playing that there are important questions that the rules don't answer. For example, you are told how a player can occupy a customs post and what passing traffic then has to pay him, but you are not told what effect, if any, the post has before anyone moves in. Does it not exist or is it run by the bank? (If the latter, it would provide a reason for those extra components that you were told to set aside at the start). Leaving holes this size in a set of rules is incompetent and you will need to plug the gaps yourself before you sit down to play. And your job doesn't end with hole filling, since there are also problems that arise from rules which are clearly stated but whose effects haven't been fully thought through. One of these concerns the start player for each round. In most games this either stays with the same player throughout, on the grounds that it doesn't matter who goes first, or it rotates every round so as to even out the advantage. Here the player arriving first at a city gets the best prices and ownership of forests, mills etc goes to whoever gets to them first. So being the start player gives you a definite edge and yet the privilege only moves every 3 or 4 rounds. Why? Didn't the developers notice the effect? Then there is the rule that ends the game, where you either complete all the rounds or stop early should one of two conditions be met. Alternative stopping conditions are often a good thing, because they broaden the strategic options, but here the premature endings lead to a situation where there is no point in buying one of the forests in the last batch to become available, because there isn't enough time to fell the trees and get them to market. My group noticed this, Kendall's group noticed this and so why didn't the designer? The impression is again given that this is a game on which not enough time was spent in development. Under normal circumstances flaws of the magnitude I have indicated would lead to one chucking the game in the bin and telling others to avoid it, but that is not the verdict here. The people I played it with and the people Kendall played it with quite enjoyed it despite the problems we encountered. This is one of those "There is a good game in there, if you are prepared to take the time to dig it out" situations and because the game is so unusual the effort might well be worth it. The recommendation is therefore a conditional one. If you are the sort of player who believes that games should play well in the state they come out of the box, this is not one for you. However, if you are the sort who quite enjoys fiddling with games, this is promising material and so worth considering. The company's website is www.eggertspiele.de and the game can be ordered through that. The site also says that the designer will answer questions about the rules, but that statement shouldn't be taken too seriously. I tried it and, despite the fact that I tried to make the job of answering easier for him by writing in German, I got no reply. PS: If you are intrigued enough to buy the game, Kendall and I would love to hear from you. That way we can pool ideas on how to fix the problems.