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Wizard's Brew is a reimplementation of the Spiel des Jahres-nominated Das Amulett. Players are wizards who use their energy to power spells and collect ingredients from the game board. Collect the right combination of ingredients – which varies depending on the number of players – and you win!
Spell cards are the heart and soul of the game. You get two random spells at the start of each game, then can acquire more via short, "once around" auctions at the start of each round. You bid energy cubes in these auctions, and you have only ten, so bid wisely. When you win an auction, you place energy cubes equal to your bid on the spell card. A certain number of these cubes are removed from the card at the end of each round; once the final cube is removed, the spell leaves the game and you lose that power.
Spell cards generate the Element cards depicted on them for their owners. You then use these Element cards to bid on and collect Ingredients. You can bid for Ingredients only with the Elements shown on the landmark tokens on areas of the game board; these tokens are placed randomly each game. To increase the strategy and player interactivity, some Spell cards let you bid extra cards or different cards, while others allow you to change the rules for bidding. After visiting 3-6 areas, with the number being determined by a die roll at the start of the round, the round ends and players remove Energy cubes from their spells.
The game ends as soon as a player collects the required number of ingredients, e.g., in a six-player game, five differently colored ingredients or six ingredients in any combination of colors.
I played Das Amulett 3 times (with 3 or 4 other friends), and every time it ended up being a very close match among at least 3 or 4 of us. The game is well balanced, and all players have their own highs and lows throughout the game. A good combination of spell cards for a few rounds can really turn the game over!
A correction to my earlier review, Das Amulett did make it to finalist status for the 2001 Spiel des Jahres. This definitely makes it a contender, so the title of my former review should rightfully have been 'Shoulda been a winnah!'
Also, I would like to note that the spell cards have a lot of German text on them, but not to worry. There are icons at the bottom of each card that give an indication of its use. After a single game, these icons will become second nature and the game will flow very smoothly. My wife and I, after only two playings, never had to refer to the supplied reference translation sheet at all.
Carcassonne good. Das Amulett great. 'Nuff said.
Das Amulett was one of three Moon/Weissblum designs that were nominated for the 2001 Spiel des Jahres award, one of the most prestigious awards given in the game field. While Carcassonne went on to sweep up the award, Das Amulett did not even make it to being a finalist, despite being the better game.
Das Amulett is an unusual game built around a couple different auction mechanisms. The idea of the game is that the players are sorcerors trying to complete magical amulets by owning either seven different gems, or eight of any combination of colors. Getting the stones is the trick!
Each round of the game is played in a set of four phases, which gives a slightly processional feel to the game, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The classic El Grande is built around the same system of phases, and it is one of the great games of our time. Here, there are only four phases per turn, which keeps the game moving along at a good pace.
The first phase of each turn has a number of spell cards auctioned off. The cards provide either income (in the form of metal cards), some special ability, or both. There is quite a variety to the spells available, and there is a subtlety to seeing which cards work well together. As an example, one card might provide a set of Iron cards, while another allows Iron cards to be considered 'Wild,' and therefore useful in any auction. This can be VERY handy.
The auction is unique in that each player has extremely limited supplies with which to bid. Players have ten energy stones, which are used only for bidding on spells. The winner of each once-around-the-table auction gets the spell, and places their bid on the card. At the end of each turn, one or two stones are retrieved from each spell, available for further bidding. This also gives a lifespan to each card, since cards without energy stones are discarded.
The effect of this is that powerful spells will often be in the game for several turns, but the player will have fewer resources with which to bid on other spells, which evens out the game nicely.
The next phase allows the players to take their income in metal cards, based on the spells they have. This phase is very short, with very little decision-making necessary.
The third phase is the turf portion of the meal, so to speak, with the spell auction being the surf. A marker is moved from region to region on the board, each of which starts with two or three randomly chosen gems. The winner of each auction decides which region will be moved to next. There are between three and six auctions each phase and the metal cards are used to bid for the jewels. The terrain of each region determines which metal can be used for bidding, but spell cards can change this considerably. The winner takes a jewel of her choice and moves the marker to the next area for the next jewel auction until all for the round have found new homes.
The final phase merely sees each player taking energy stones back from their spell cards and discarding spent spells. Wash, rinse, repeat until there is a winner.
The game is perhaps a bit gaudy, with its brightly colored gems and the stark contrast of the terrain on the board, but it seems to work for this title. Goldsieber seems to like using interesting stylistic choices for their games, such as the aboriginal art of Wongar as compared to the subtle water colors of [page scan/se=0023/sf=category/fi=stockin.asc/ml=20]Mississippi Queen. It's an artistic choice, and therefore not to everyone's taste.
The gameplay, on the other hand, is exemplary. While not a brainburner of a game, there is definitely a lot of room here for strategy. Deciding which spells to bid on and how much to spend can be exceedingly tricky.
I highly recommend this game. While not of classic stature, it is a game that should make it to the gaming table frequently.
You have only 10 coins. The Spell cards auctioned each round offer enormous economic advantages, but how much is each really worth and for how long? Highest bidder rents a Spell by placing his bid on it. Coins are freed for other purchases over several rounds. Discard depleted Spells. Metals, used to bid for jewels, accompany Spells. Regions show which metals are acceptable. How many jewel auctions are held each round is randomly determined. Highest bidder takes any jewel in a region, and selects the next region. Win with seven different jewels, or any eight. A gem of a magic game!
Fantasy sells, but then so do the novels of Jeffrey Archer. Neither appeals to me and when I hear that someone has designed a game with a fantasy theme, the reaction is one of "Not another!". When I was a postgraduate student I went to a lecture by the theatre director Peter Hall. At that time he was in charge of the Royal Shakespeare Company and was talking about their then current production of Hamlet. One of the problems they have when presenting the play for a modern audience is how to stage the ghost scene and, in answer to a question, he admitted that you know when the dry ice comes swirling on to the stage (as it did in his production) that the director has run out of real inspiration. I feel much the same is true when game designers wheel on the spell cards. Far too often they are a desperate attempt to tart up some very tired mechanics. Fortunately, this one is different: the fantasy touches, though well integrated, are lightly applied, and at the heart of the game, where it matters, is a very clever game system.
The board shows a city and its surrounding territory, not that that matters very much; all it does is provide a nice excuse for splitting the space up into 24 areas, four inside the city and the rest outside. In the top half of the board, and running along its length, is a Chinese-style Great Wall. There are also pyramids in eight of the areas in the bottom half. Both of these have relevance for some of the spell cards. At the start of the game, "gemstones" are distributed round the board -- three in each city area, two in each of the rest. They come in 10 different colours and the object is to collect either 7 of different colours or 8 in total. The second of these is usually the easier target to attain, but, in a game that produces close finishes more often than not, the alternative is a viable option that helps concentrate people's minds.
Gemstones are bought using metal cards, of which there are four types -- gold, silver, copper and iron. Each countryside area carries the symbol of one of them and this metal is the currency in that area. In the city all metals are acceptable (and of equal value). The spell cards have two functions: they provide income, in the form of metal cards, and they give players special powers which they can often use to their advantage. The other important bit of game equipment is a collection of small, black, plastic pieces -- 'energy stones'. Each player has 10 of these and they are used to buy the spell cards.
At the start of the game, each player is dealt two spell cards. If you don't like what you have been given, you have a limited opportunity to change them, but the cards are fairly well balanced and so you are only likely to take replacements if you have received one of those that are more useful later in the game than at the start. Your next job is to assign some of your energy stones to each of your spell cards. Spell cards require maintenance, which, depending on their other properties, will be 1 or 2 energy stones per turn. The card is yours until it runs out of energy. Then you lose it. Recharging the batteries later is not an option and so you have to decide at this point how many of your resources you are prepared to commit. It is not an easy decision, because the set-up is now complete and the first thing that happens in each round of the game is that further spell cards (equal in number to the number of players) will be auctioned off. You need to be in a position to compete for these, because the more cards you have, the more special powers you will possess and the greater will be your income. Good games force players to take hard choices and it is this management of energy stones that provides a significant part of the game's class. Ten just isn't enough to get lots of cards, hold them for as long as you'd like and be in a position to contest the auctions. These new cards are sold one at a time and the price, in energy stones, that the successful bidder pays for them is put on the card to provide its energy source.
Some examples of cards to give you a feel for what is available:
Silberne Metamorphose. Income: 1 iron; Maintenance: 1 energy stone per turn; Special Power: all your silver cards can be used as any metal of your choice.
Einfluss der Pharaonen. Income: 1 metal card of your choice; Maintenance: 1 energy stone per turn; Special Power: if you buy a gemstone in an area containing a pyramid you pay two fewer cards than you bid.
Magie des Bernstein. Income: 1 metal card of your choice; Maintenance: 1 energy stone per turn; Special Power: for each yellow gemstone you possess you receive an extra income of 2 gold cards. ('Bernstein' is German for 'amber' and not a reference to the couple in the Woody Allen sketch who went to the fancy dress party dressed as a moose -- though "Magic of the Bernsteins" is what the card gets called here in Aberdeen.)
Eiserner berflu. Income: 3 iron; Maintenance: 2 energy stones per turn; Special Power: none.
As you will gather from these descriptions, the cards have text and it is in German. However, this shouldn't prove a problem, as you are unlikely to have more than 4 cards at a time and working from the crib sheets that the designers have provided is not difficult. It is also only the description of the powers that you need to worry about; the income and maintenance information is conveyed using symbols.
The next phase has you collecting your income (metal cards) and then it is on to the jewel phase. A marker on the board indicates the 'current area', the one where the next jewel auction will take place. This will be conducted using metal cards which match the symbol in the area, though, as you saw in the examples of spell cards, some players may well have greater flexibility in the form of wild cards. The winner of the auction takes a jewel from the area and then moves the marker to an adjacent area, ready for the next auction. There will be between 3 and 6 auctions in the round, with the number being determined by the drawing of a token at the start of the phase. Once all the auctions have been completed, everyone pays maintenance on their spells and surrenders any that have run out of energy stones. A new round then begins with another auction of spell cards.
There have already been many games with a fantasy theme and many games built round auctions. A new one in either field has to have some specific things going for it in order to make it stand out. The first is some new and interesting mechanics and Das Amulett has these. The energy stones are a clever idea and the use of what is effectively four different types of currency is another, providing, as it does, a whole extra layer of tactical considerations in the jewel phase. The second is fine balance. If you are going to have special powers, you have got to get them right. Far too often there will be some that are much more powerful than others and when that happens the game becomes unfair and irritating. With the spell cards here, the special powers are not in themselves balanced, but because the cards also yield different incomes and have differing maintenance costs, the designers have had extra factors to play with in order to even up the cards as a whole, and I think they have done an excellent job with them. All three of the games that Aaron and Alan published this Spring were included among the choices of the SdJ jury, which was a remarkable achievement. Das Amulett went one better than the other two and made it on to the final short list of three. It deserved it. This is a thoroughly enjoyable game.
Official English translations for both the rules and cards can be found at the following web addresses: