504 Diary: Great Expectations


504. Not just an area code in New Orleans, it is also a mammoth game idea from the phenomenal piece of German engineering known as Friedemann Friese.

This is a game I made strange semi-human verbalizations of excitement over when I learned of its existence. It’s a game I rummaged for scraps of info about like some kind of starved boardgaming raccoon on the BoardGameGeek forums. It’s a game that made me consider properly learning German so I could abandon my family and fly to Germany and pick up a copy. It’s a game I placed on pre-order because I needed it in my house as soon as possible, not so we could embrace but so that it could stare at me with its bemused expression as I attempted, arms flailing wildly, to understand its rule book(s).

And yet I didn’t want to heap all of this expectation on 504. Friedemann Friese is a wonderful designer of beautiful gears. I’ve probably spent more hours admiring the inner workings of Friese games than playing them (Total lie. I’ve played Power Grid with a seven year old which means I’ve played tens of thousands of hours of Friese games).

Friese games are not always easy to approach but they are often very funny, and whenever I watch Friese in interviews it is easy to connect that laughing green-haired man with the maniacal humour that sometimes comes out in his creations. It’s this combination of cleverness, wit and refined game mechanics that made me wonder what kind of gaming lunacy will 504 be?

Based on his previous designs, it seemed likely that 504 would be a game that forces players to make agonizing decisions. A game that doesn’t rely heavily on chance (or at least on dice). A game that would have multiple layers of gears that combined to create a memorable experience. Hopefully a memorable gaming experience and not one about my first time constructing and utilizing a medieval siege weapon to launch a boardgame across the city.

Will the rules to 504 be easy to comprehend? Likely not. Will I have to digest as much rules as possible and play the game solo before anyone else in my family will even consider sitting at the same table with it? Most certainly. This game has raised nothing but questions but I was pretty certain that even if I only got a few plays out of the game it would be worth it. I would have learned something new about game design and experienced a machine that will have made an interesting, and probably important, contribution to the world of boardgames.

Early reviews suggest that there are not really 504 games here, and with that I breathe a tiny sigh of relief. That would be madness. In reality we will have something that is shades of a few main gaming types. What is exciting about mashing these mechanics together is the joy of trying something new, experiencing something I would have probably not otherwise played or purchased. And, eventually, I may even be able to play the game as Friese intimated it should be played: when I have a group of friends over with varying game tastes I will pull it from the shelf and we will compile a game that has a little of something for everyone. There is always the fear, and risk, that it will end up having nothing for any of us, but I have too much faith in Friese’s abilities as a game designer to believe this probable (though I’m sure it will happen a few times).

In the coming months I will try to compile my thoughts on the game as a whole, as well as review specific game formulations. This is a diary, not a review, because it is difficult to properly distill one’s thoughts about a game so broad and diverse, a game whose many shades I might not see for years to come.