Posted by: gschloesser | August 1, 2011

Die Neuen Entdecker

Designed by:  Klaus Teuber
Published:  Kosmos
2 – 4 Players, 1 ½ hours
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

EDITOR’S NOTE:  This review also appeared in Counter Magazine #14

The very first German-style game I was exposed to was the now famous Settlers of Catan.  Not a bad game to begin with, eh?  It wasn’t long thereafter that I heard about a new ‘exploration’ game from the same designer, Klaus Teuber.  This new game had the strange-sounding name of ‘Entdecker‘, which means ‘Discoverer’ in English.  The theme was that of exploring the seas in search of land and riches.  The theme was intriguing, especially since I was a fan of such exploration games as Conquistador and New World.

At the first opportunity, I purchased Entdecker and eagerly devoured the rules.  My first playing, however, was very disappointing.  There seemed to be little tension and the game was one of grabbing quick points and moving onto the next island.  After that one playing, the game sat dormant on my shelf for quite some time.  Eventually, I gave the game another chance … a very wise decision.  Future games were all tense, exciting and filled with interesting choices.  Entdecker became a favorite.  It was then that I learned that my first game was an aberration wherein the entire board consisted of tiny islands.

Interestingly, the game seems to have undergone a similar metamorphosis of opinion within the gaming hobby at large.  The game was pretty much dismissed as a lightweight early after its release.  As time passed, however, more and more people began recognizing its worth and people’s opinions of the game seem to have risen considerably.  That’s a good thing as the game is deserving of praise.

With the game’s growing popularity … AND Herr Teuber’s increasing clout and influence as a designer … it comes as no surprise to find that he and Kosmos have released a new, upgraded version of the game.  The word is that the original Entdecker had many design features of the new version, but it was streamlined before publication.  After having played the new version several times, I, for one, am happy to see these features reintegrated into the game system.

The game is very similar to the original Entdecker, but does possess some significant changes which really add new layers of strategy.  Before I discuss these additions and changes, however, a brief description of the original Entdecker is probably in order.

In Entdecker, players represent explorers setting sail into the unknown in search of land, fame and riches. To begin the game, the board is completely empty.  Tiles are added into the borders, eventually creating the ‘world’ as new lands are discovered.  These tiles are flipped at random, so there is a great deal of chance involved.  Still, there are planning and strategic decisions which somewhat mitigate this ‘chance’ element.

One per round, a player spins an old-fashioned game spinner to determine how much money each player receives as funding.  On a player’s turn, he must begin his exploration either along the edges of the board or from a previously discovered space.  He then announces how much of his treasury he will spend on exploration.  This equates in game-terms to ‘how many tiles will I turn over this turn?’ 

Once this decision is made, the player proceeds to reveal tiles, one at a time, from the five stacks of face-down tiles.  These tiles show a variety of land and/or water spaces, most with travel routes indicating the possible paths of the ship.  Some tiles, however, cause random events to occur, including pirates, hostile or friendly natives, gold discoveries, etc.  These tiles are clearly marked with a ‘?‘, though, so a player can opt to play more conservatively and avoid these, instead choosing tiles from different stacks.

If possible, the tile selected must be played immediately next to the ship in an available location.  If the tile cannot be placed due to illegal constrictions on the travel routes, then it is simply discarded.  If placed, the player then moves his ship to that newly placed tile and can then either continue revealing tiles (provided he still has tiles to reveal, based on the amount of money he committed for this journey), or opt to cease his exploration and colonize the newly discovered land tile. 

If a player opts to continue the exploration, he reveals and places more tiles, up to the amount he originally declared.  When his exploration is at an end, he can then colonize the LAST tile he placed, provided he has money remaining in his treasury to pay for this expedition. 

To colonize a land tile, players must pay for one of three different possible pieces:  scout (1 gold piece), fort (3 gp) or settlement (6 gp).  The purpose behind colonization is the ultimate control of an island.  Once an island completely forms, the player who has the highest valued land unit on the island scores ‘discovery’ points for that island.  The value of the points scored is equal to the number of land tiles the island comprises, as well as the addition of a discovery ‘bonus’.  This bonus is determined by revealing a commodity token, which can be valued at 1 – 5 points.  The ‘discoverer’ of the island receives the token itself, which may ultimately yield bonus points at the end of the game.

All other players who have land units on the island also score points, but on a decreasing percentage basis.  Each player scores half the points the player above them scored.  For instance, if an island comprised of 8 tiles were completed and the bonus token gave an extra 4 points, the total value of the island would be 12 points.  The largest discoverer would receive 12 points, while the next largest discoverer would receive 6 points.   The next player in line would receive 3 points and the 4th player would receive 1 point.

If players tie for the most valuable unit on an island, then the next largest piece is examined to determine who is the ‘discoverer’.  Ultimately, if the players are still tied after examining all pieces, then they each get the discovery points.

After the completion and scoring of an island, all land units on that island are returned to their respective owners.  This is VERY important, as each player is limited to only 2 forts and 1 settlement.  The decision on when and where to place these units is a critical one and vital to success in the game.  Scouts are a bit more accessible as they can freely be removed from the board without first completing an island.

The game continues in this fashion until the board is completely filled with tiles.  At that point, the player possessing the most discovery tokens (not their value, but the number of tokens) receives a bonus equal to the number of tokens he possesses.  The player with the highest point tally is the victor.

There are few other minor rules, but this covers the bulk of the game.  As mentioned, other than my initial playing, I have always found the game to be fun, tense and exciting.  It also does evoke some of the ‘exploration’ atmosphere it seeks to create.

Die Neuen Entdecker adds more levels to the game, increasing the player’s choices, options and strategies.  Here are the significant changes which have been made to the game system:

1) Gold:  As opposed to the Entdecker ‘spinner’ method of obtaining gold, new money is only gained if one player drops below four gold.  When that player’s turn arrives, he rolls a die and collects income based on the roll (2 – 6).  All other players, however, get 1 MORE gold than that player.  This adds quite a bit to the game as players must carefully manage their gold lest they consistently be in a position wherein they are supplying their opponents with more gold than they themselves are receiving.  At first, I didn’t think this would have as large as an impact as it did, but it really is constantly on your mind throughout the game and does alter how you plan and take your turns.  Quite nice.

2) TilesTeuber has incorporated a variation of the widely acclaimed ‘Billabong Gamers’ variant, wherein face-up tiles are available to be placed onto the board.  Now, there are face-up stacks of tiles (representing all of the various tile types).  Players can purchase tiles from these stacks, but at the hefty price of 4 gold apiece.  Further, players must decide IN ADVANCE whether they will be using face-up tiles on a round, or face-down tiles.  They are not allowed to purchase tiles from both stacks during a single turn.  Again … quite nice.

3) Starting Costs:  Only the southern (or northern, depending upon your perspective!) side of the board provides free expedition starting costs.  If a player opts to begin on the east or west side of the board, he must pay 1 gold piece for this privilege.  The northern side of the board is even more expensive at 2 gold pieces.  This may not sound like much, but in a game where money is constantly tight, it is significant.  As in the original, players may begin on a previously discovered tile, but they must be able to trace a path back to the edge of the board. If this path leads to either the east, west or north side of the board, then the associated cost must still be paid.  Further, if this path passes by an opponent’s fort or settlement, then that player extracts a 2 gold piece royalty from the moving player.  Ouch!

4) Set-up:  The board is pre-set with several tiles already visible.  These tiles are located on the interior of the board, however, and must be reached by developing the board so that it eventually connects.  Most of these tiles are empty ocean, but three or four (depending upon the scenario being played) are island pieces and contain attractive … and valuable … waterfalls.  These are marked with tokens which give bonus points (5 – 10) to the player who ultimately is the largest discoverer of that island.  These bonuses are larger than those which were present in the original Entdecker, which has the result of making these islands highly contested.  These high-valued tokens troubled me at first, but repeated playings have revealed that it actually increases the tension and competition in the game.  That’s a good thing.

5) Discovery tokens:  Gone are the discovery tokens which were added to the value of an island and used to award a bonus to the player collecting the most tokens during the game.  These have been replaced with the ‘bonus’ waterfall tiles described above.

6) Explorers:  This is probably the most significant change.  As an island is completed, scouts are NOT returned to their respective owners.  Rather, they are placed along the seven jungle paths which lead from the explorer huts.  Each of these huts contains a chip which carries a value of 5, 10 or 15.  These chips, one from each hut, will ultimately be rewarded to the players who have the most scouts along the respective paths.  The first player to place a scout on a path draws a chit at random from the supplied cloth bag, peeks at it, and slides it under the hut’s roof.  He has the advantage of knowing the value of the chit.  Each path has one other spot which allows the player placing a scout there to peek at the chip.  However, since scouts must be placed in order along each path, it becomes an interesting placement struggle as players attempt to secure this valuable spot. 

When I first read this new addition, I was quite dubious.  Even through the first half of my initial game I didn’t really ‘see’ what it added to the game system.  However, as more and more islands are completed on the main board, more and more scouts are placed upon these paths.  It becomes a tense struggle to gain the majority on several of these paths and to keep ahead of your opponents.  Now, the closing out of islands becomes significant, not only for the points the islands generate, but also for the ability to place scouts onto these paths.  Timing is also of critical importance, so it is usually advantageous to get your scouts placed before your opponents.

Lest one think it a simple matter, then, to quickly place scouts onto the islands, close them out and move them to the paths, there’s another issue to consider.  Each player has a limited number of scouts.  Once they are placed onto a path, you will NEVER get them back.  An over-ambitious player can find themselves without scouts as the game draws to a conclusion.  This can … and has … been devastating. 

To be fair, however, I have been involved in one game where the ‘hut’ board determined the outcome.  The luck of the draw regarding the value of the hut chips can greatly benefit one player over another, giving that player a decided advantage.  Still, if this becomes obvious (one player loading up one or two hut paths with scouts), then players must be willing to adapt their strategy and concentrate on other scoring opportunities instead.

So, I’m quite the fan of this new addition to the game.  It adds a whole new level of decision-making, choices and strategy to what is already a fun and interesting game.  The only drawback is in the design … the bonus chits are for some inexplicable reason printed on both sides.  When slid under the roof of a hut, it is still quite easy to catch a glimpse of the chit’s value.  Printing the chit on only one side would have easily solved this problem.  I’ve pasted small, round stickers on one side of these chips to prevent this problem. Further, the scouts are small, round cylinders.  These are easily knocked over and, of course, they tend to roll away.  Why regular wooden cubes weren’t used is beyond me.

There are a few other minor changes, but these are the significant ones.  The game components are quite nice and attractive, although the tiles are a bit thinner than those used in the original. 

So, the big question:  If you own Entdecker, should you purchase Die Neuen Entdecker?  Hmmmm … I did, and I’m not disappointed.  I find the new game more challenging and a bit deeper.  The old Entdecker probably won’t make it to the table much more.  The games just aren’t THAT different to warrant them both being played.  Still, the collector in me tells me that I probably won’t be selling the old version, either!

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Responses

  1. I never seem to get the huts I need to win. The little bit of luck in the tile draw makes for a good exploration game. (7/10)


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