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German predecessor to Alhambra
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This is the second of the two db Spiele games that Queen has republished this year. The other one, Carat, kept its original name; this one hasn't. It used to be called Al Capone; now it has the subtitle "Aunt Emma goes to the Stock Exchange" and is about buying shares. The new title means "That's correct" and hence, by extension, "Keep the change". The reason for this is that the settling up procedure for share purchase is somewhat non-standard and one wonders if the London Exchange was aware of it when they recently agreed to link up with Frankfurt.
The game revolves round two decks of cards: one has shares in six companies and the other money in four currencies -- dollars, marks, rubles and yen. At the start of each player's turn, the board has four shares for sale -- one in each of New York, Frankfurt, Moscow and Tokyo -- and four face-up currency cards.
Each player begins with five money cards. Thereafter, when your turn comes round, you have a choice: you either take one of the face-up money cards or you buy a share. If you buy a share, you must pay for it in the correct currency: so, if you want the share on display in Tokyo, you must pay for it in yen. No change is given if your available currency cards oblige you to pay over the odds -- hence the game's title -- but, and this is the cunning bit which helps make the game special, if you can and do pay the exact amount, you get to go again immediately. The share you have just bought is not replaced until the end of your turn, but it still means that if things really fall well for you, you can buy all four shares on display, then take a currency card and then smirk all in the one go.
The reason why this is cunning is that it means that you don't fall behind if a few turns go by without you buying a share. Building up a big hand of currency and then coming in with the sort of spending rush that the flexibility conferred by a large hand tends to make possible is a good way of building up a portfolio. Good, but also risky because (a) there is no guarantee of the shares you want being on offer when you have your big hand and (b) tucked into the currency deck are a couple of Wertung [German for "scoring"] cards. These are very roughly at the one third and two third points of the deck and so you know approximately when they are due, but only very approximately. When they appear, you need to have shares in front of you, not a big hand of currency. With the first Wertung card, the biggest shareholder in each company scores points; with the second it is the first two; and at the end, which is when the share deck runs out, it is the first three.
With games of this type, the way the scoring is handled matters a lot and here it has been skilfully done. They have got the balance between knowing and not knowing the position of the Wertung cards exactly right and the scoring builds in a way that means that it ain't over until it's over.The final scoring round is much more significant to the outcome than the second and the second much more significant than the first. So everyone's interest in the proceedings is maintained until the end.
I like this one a lot and if you enjoyed Show Manager, I think you will too. There is no overlap between the mechanics of the two games -- other than the fact that in both you are collecting cards -- but the feel and the luck/skill balance are similar. The two games also share the excellent graphics of Hartwig & Horst and that adds to the pleasure of both.