Epic Gumdrop Ep 33: The Speicherstadt

Speicherstadt

This episode of Epic Gumdrop we look back at a game that still regularly joins our game nights, Stefan Feld’s tense and fast-playing bidding game The Speicherstadt.

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(Length: approx 33min)

Here’s our notes from the show:

The Speicherstadt

While it’s always nice to bask in the glow of fluorescent lights bouncing off a newly cello-wrapped boardgame in the store, it’s also great to make time to play a game more than once. We’re going to try looking back on some games that are either classics in their genre, or that we simply don’t grow tired of.

Today we’re looking at a boardgame that’s a few years old, but we still enjoy it so much – The Speicherstadt. It’s a Stefan Feld design from 2010 that saw a second edition in 2014. It’s essentially a bidding game – but, whoa there, before you turn the oversized dial on your antique wireless (because that’s how I like to imagine you listening to us) give us a few seconds to sell you on this one.

The publisher gives a beautiful little description:

Hamburg around 1900 – the gate to the world. Within the harbour there stretches a unique complex of storehouses: Speicherstadt. The network of canals and bridges houses a terminal for spices, coffee, tea and carpets from all over the world.

As one of Hamburg’s wholesalers at the heyday of the Speicherstadt you acquire shiploads for the storehouses, not too expensive, of course, as you like to make a profit selling them. Who makes the best deals within a year and supplies his clients with the right goods will be the winner of the game. But beware! Sudden fires cause heavy losses. You might be advised to invest in fire protection early.

Let’s begin by giving an overview of gameplay, then we’ll get into our pitch for why you need to own and play and love this game. Our overview will essentially follow the outline of the rules, since they are wonderfully concise.

Speicherstadt

Gameplay

Go and look at a photo, or imagine a medium sized gameboard that shows the buildings across the board with the water along the bottom. Cards will be placed below the buildings and bidding tokens on the building itself in a row. It’s pretty basic but gives you all the visuals you need for this theme to work. The game consists of several rounds and each round has 5 phases, which are all exactly what you’d expect from this kind of game:

1) Supply

2) Demand

3) Purchase

4) Loading

5) Income

1) Supply Phase

This is where everyone sitting around the table begins to get anxious. You lay out the cards that will be bid on this round. Take the top cards from the draw pile (according to the number of players below) and place them below the buildings.

  • 2 players: 3 cards
  • 3 players: 4 cards
  • 4 players: 5 cards
  • 5 players: 6 cards

If you reveal any ships then randomly draw 3 goods cubes from the bag for each ship and place them on the card.

Will there be contracts? Will there be firemen? Will there be ships but not enough contracts or warehouse space?

2) Demand Phase

This is additionally known as the Future Screwing Over of Your Opponents Phase. It is where you must place one of your workers above a card that you are interested in (either to buy or drive the price up on). Each player will take turns doing this. While you cannot skip placing a worker, some cards will end up not having any workers on them which is fine. After everyone has placed their three workers then Purchasing begins.

3) Purchase Phase

Now the Mind Games Phase really happens. Starting on the left side of the board, and beginning with the first worker in the row, players are given the opportunity to bid on the card. The pricing and buying of cards is at the heart of this game. Let’s say there is only one worker on a card and that worker is yours – then great, you can buy the card for one coin. Now let’s say we all know you want that card so we’ve each placed a worker in row behind you, for a total of four workers. This means the cost of that card has inflated to four coins for you since you’re first in line for it. If you pass, the next player will have the option to buy it for three, and so on.

Do you have to buy cards you’ve placed workers on? No.

Can you place multiple workers on the same card in attempt to get it cheaper? Yes.

Is this mechanic what makes this game so much fun? Absolutely.

After each card on the board has been run through, left to right, and all players are feeling miserable and broke, except for the one shiphead that got three cards for one coin, then you move on to the next phase.

4) Loading

This is where you deal with goods (cubes) you bought. There are a variety of options for them. Basically take your cube and:

  • Place it on a contract
  • Sell it to a merchant
  • Keep it in your warehouse
  • Convert, sell or keep it in the market hall

If you can’t do anything with a good you bought this round you have to return it to the stockpile. There are a lot of logistical decisions you can make around where to store your goods, how to convert them, or how to cash them in for points. The rule book has some nice illustrations and does a decent job of explaining the finer points, and we don’t need to get too granular here. Because all this rule talk is making you sleepy, very sleepy, and there is still income to collect.

5) Income

Yay! Money! And who doesn’t like money. Except that you will get one or two coins, depending on whether your bought anything last round. If you passed on everything you will get two coins. Doesn’t seem like such a big deal? It might very well be. Or it might be the difference that costs you the game.

Is this the end of the game? Almost. After the fourth fire card is drawn the game is over. But we’ll talk more about that in a bit. Let’s quickly talk about some of the specific Trade Cards in the game.

Trade Cards

In addition to ships coming in with goods there are a number of possible other cards that might arrive at the Speicherstadt.

  • Bank – gives you additional income
  • Boatsmen Church – 3 points at endgame
  • Convert Cubes To Cash Cards:
    • Carpet Trader – sell carpets (red cubes) for money
    • Coffee Roaster – sell coffee (brown cubes) for money
    • Spice Trader – Like the Carpet or Coffee traders, except this one converts Spice (yellow cubes) for cash.
    • Tea Taster – Not done selling goods? Good. Convert Tea (green cubes) for cash with this one.
    • Vulcanizer – No, it really refers to rubber. Convert Rubber (white cubes) for cash.
  • Chamber of Commerce – converts end-game money into points
  • Contract – This is what you need to bid on in order to earn big points in the game. You will then use the goods from the ships to fulfill these contracts. But you have to fulfill them by end game to get points!
  • Counting Office – These give you end game points depending on the number of them you’ve collected.
  • Fire – There will be four fires in the game. Ouch! Players will count up their firemen and determine who has the most and least firemen to fight it, leading to earning and losing points.
  • Fireman – These come in values of 1 through 5 periodically.
  • Market Hall – Each player gets one. This is a cheat sheet to remind you how to Convert, Sell or Keep goods. You can only store on cube on it, so a Warehouse might also be good.
  • Warehouse – Stores goods until you can place them on a contract or allows you to score them at game end.
  • Port – The number of ships you successfully bid on earns you a point per ship at game end.
  • St. Michaelis – Four points for having this card at game end

Our Thoughts

Seasons

  • Because this game is driven by the four seasons, certain cards only make an appearance during certain seasons. When you start playing this it can be a little confusing or overwhelming as you don’t know when to buy what or if it will make another appearance.

Money

  • Very limited in the game. This is good.
  • Income low (1 – 2 coins)
  • Amount of money a player has is open information, though some players allow hidden money to make the decisions even harder. Doing this might actually speed up game play and remove an element of analysis paralysis.

Fire

  • Four fires take place in the game
  • Fire can be more critical than one expects, depending on scoring
  • Buy firemen now? Buy later? The varying values of the firemen from 1 – 5 make this decision all the harder. Spend your time earning multiple low value firemen for cheap or wait and hope you won’t be outbid on a high-value fireman later?

Randomness

  • The randomness makes this game tense, but doesn’t make you feel out of control. It just makes the decisions harder and less predictable, which is why this has such high replayability.
    • The timing of contracts and resources is drawn randomly
    • You don’t know when boats will come in
    • What goods the cargo ships will carry is randomly chosen from a bag
    • The availability of various firemen and the timing of the fires is random

Choices

  • When to buy contracts, when to buy cargo, when to buy fire protection, when to invest in counting houses, when to not buy anything at all!

Bidding

  • The bidding is that great combination of trying to buy what you need at a low cost, while also trying to anticipate what your neighbours really need and making it more expensive for them to get it.
  • The bidding is made all the harder by open information. You are constantly looking around the table trying to figure out

Why do you need this game?

  • It is fun. And tense. And fun. And tense.
  • It is relatively inexpensive, even as a German/English import.
  • It is a good in-between game or a nightcap, as it’s quick to set up and fast to play

Changes in new edition

  • Main change seems to be no more metal coin. Turn order is defined by a card, so I’ve read. If this really bugs you, buy the expansion to get even more metal coins!

What about the Kaispeicher expansion

People seem to like it, we haven’t played it yet. Even the base game keeps us happy. Here’s the description, which has me wanting to add it to the mix:

“Kaispeicher” gives you the opportunity to discover so much more among the warehouses and waterways of the Speicherstadt.

New ships dock in the port of Hamburg, bringing valuable goods like glass and fabrics to the city. New contracts and buildings increase your points yield, and action cards help you to extend your influence: Will you hire the Thief and the Smuggler to score off the other players or get the Insurance and the Fire Truck so that you are no longer at the mercy of a sudden fire?

New tactical possibilities arise as players may now employ more workers and take part in an additional bidding mechanism. 25 “real” metal coins top this diversified expansion that brings the bustling world of the Speicherstadt to life. So what are you waiting for? It‘s time to get down to business!

App Version

  • This is one of those games like I think I would enjoy an app version of. It’s light, I would think the AI wouldn’t be too difficult. It could be played quickly. But maybe there’s not enough there for dozens of repeat plays (each night). Maybe it’s such a wonderful game because of the group tension, and an app would make the whole process seem to mechanistic. And you can’t make a mobile device sweat very easily. Because it’s an older game (relative to the hyper-speed of the game industry now) and the name/graphics aren’t initially inviting it might be a hard sell as well. So never mind. But we’d still love to see this happen.

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