Feld-ruary #5 – The Speicherstadt

13 Feb

IMG_0783Translated, the name of this game is The City of Warehouses. The Speicherstadt is an actual 1.5 km long warehouse district in Hamburg, Germany, and was built as a place to trade goods without having to pay customs.

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A panorama of The Speicherstadt, thanks Wikipedia!

In the board game, players use a unique bidding mechanic in order to get resources, marketplaces, other special buildings, and contracts in order to get as many points as possible. You also have to protect against fires that will wipe out some of your hard earned gains.

The Speicherstadt plays out over a series of rounds. Each round takes place over 5 phases: Supply, Demand, Purchase, Loading, and Income. When the only card left in the deck is the 4th fire card, players finish that round completely (except when they don’t) and then do a final fire scoring before doing the overall final scoring  .

First up is Supply which is filling up an appropriate number of warehouse spaces with the cards players are going to bid for. If a Fire card shows up, the game stops IMMEDIATELY, and Fire scoring happens. Basically, the player who has the most firemen gets points, the player (or players) that have the fewest lose points. Scoring tends to be tight in this game, so it’s important to at least pay a bit of attention to the firemen. Once there are the right number of cards out, we move to Demand phase.

IMG_0781In the Demand phase, players put their workers out in an attempt to gain these cards into their play area. These cards include contracts that players will try to fulfill, boats with resources to fill said contract, among other buildings that make life easier for them in general. Once all players have placed all 3 of their workers out in play, we move to Purchase phase.

Purchase phase works out in a rather bizarre auction mechanic. The lowest worker in the stack above each card gets the first shot at buying the card. The cost is equal to the total number of workers in the stack! If that player declines to pay that much, they remove their worker. The owner of the next lower worker gets the next shot to pay. But now, because there are fewer workers in the stack…the building is cheaper. This is a really interesting mechanic. I can’t say I know of any other games that use auctions in quite this same way.

Next up we have Loading phase. Here is where you get all the goods from the ships you purchased, and put them to use. You must use all your goods immediately, or else you have to throw them into the water. Goods can be placed on contracts, sold to merchants, traded for other goods, and one (but only one) can even go into your personal warehouse.

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Finally turns wrap up with Income phase, where players simply get 1 coin unless they didn’t buy anything, in which case they get 2 coins.

There is one truly odd rule that I referenced earlier. The game ends after the round when the final fire card becomes the only card left in the deck. This is true UNLESS the 3rd fire card directly above the 4th. In this case, the 3rd and 4th fire scorings happen back to back, and the game ends right then! This can REALLY screw up plans. Every player is pushing hard to finish as much as possible. To just randomly end the game an entire turn early is, quite frankly, brutal. Of course, in a Feld game we’ve come to expect those brutal moments from time to time.

The Speicherstadt is another Feld game that I didn’t have a very high opinion of after my first play. After my second play now, I think it is fine, but not great. I think the auction mechanic is fun, although it can be used as an extremely offensive maneuver. If you think someone is pulling away, or a specific card is what a player needs to pull away, then the other players can simply force the price out of that player’s range. It can be frustrating to be attacked just for doing well – if it repeatedly happens, it’s really easy to disconnect from this game altogether.

The Speicherstadt is actually one of the more thematically successful games in Feld’s catalog. You are basically doing the very things that people used to do in the real Speicherstadt! I do like the unique auction mechanic, but everything else about the game is standard set collection stuff. It’s fun enough, but not really memorable.

Next time, we help populate the city of Venice in the game Rialto.

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