from the how-big-is-the-biggest-board-game,-anyway? dept.
Every October, the German city of Essen becomes the epicenter of tabletop gaming geekdom. Tens of thousands of visitors descend on the International Spieltage fair, where publishers from around the world debut their up-and-coming releases over four frantic days of dice chucking, card shuffling, and cube pushing.
For gamers, it’s an enthralling, bewildering, almost intimidating spectacle. Where gaming events in other countries, like Gen Con in the US or the UK Games Expo, incorporate celebrity guests, panel discussions, and side attractions, Essen is focused squarely on the games—everything from light and fluffy family favourites to impenetrable brain-melters.
Given that it’s the highlight of the global gaming calendar, I headed along for a barrage of board games and bratwurst. Here are the best new games I saw.
A Pandemic sequel is among the reviewer's favorites.
The simple codebreaking game Mastermind turns 50 this year. Vice goes into some background regarding the now classical game and its heyday.
If you only know Mastermind as a well-worn and underplayed fixture of living room closets and nursing home common areas, you may have no idea just how big this thing was in its early years. Invented in 1970, Mastermind would sell 30 million copies before that decade was up, and boast a national championship at the Playboy Club, a fan in Muhammed Ali, official use by the Australian military for training, and 80% ownership amongst the population of Denmark. "I never thought a game would be invented again," marvelled the manager of a Missouri toy store in 1977. "A real classic like Monopoly."
[...] If you don't know Mastermind at all, i.e. you never lived in Denmark, it's played over a board with a codemaker who creates a sequence of four different colored pegs, and a codebreaker who must replicate that exact pattern within a certain number of tries. With each guess, the codemaker can only advise whether the codebreaker has placed a peg in its correct position, or a peg that is in the sequence but incorrectly placed. According to the game's creators, an answer in five tries is "better than average"; two or fewer is pure luck. In 1978, a British teenager, John Searjeant, dominated the Mastermind World Championship by solving a code with just three guesses in 19 seconds. (In second place was Cindy Forth, 18, of Canada; she remembers being awarded a trophy and copies of Mastermind.)
Mordechai Meirowitz, an Israeli telephone technician, developed Mastermind in 1970 from an existing game of apocryphal origin, Bulls and Cows, which used numbers instead of colored pegs. Nobody, by the way, knows where Bulls and Cows came from. Computer scientists who adapted the first known versions in the 1960s variously remembered the game to me as one hundred and one thousand years old. Whatever its age, it's clear nobody ever did as well out of Bulls and Cows as Meirowitz, who retired from game development and lived comfortably off royalties not long after selling the Mastermind prototype to Invicta, a British plastics firm expanding from industrial parts and window shutters into games and toys.
The story relates a couple of tales of intrigue related to the game.