Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Wolfgang Kramer &
Michael Kiesling


No. of Players:
2 - 4



Things like trains and tracks always have been of special interest especially to young boys, and some of them have kept this fascination for all their life, beginning to build building costly model railways when they have reached retirement. I am still quite a bit away from retirement, but one of the things which had interested me during my days as a youngster was the organization and working of a mine. I was especially fascinated by the narrow gauge railway system which was used in mines, and I guess that all of this has to do something with the fact that I grew up at Essen which lies at the heart of the Ruhrgebiet, Germany's former coal-mining district.

It is due to this special interest of mine that I was positively surprised to find a new game on coal mining at the SPIEL '13 convention, and I was even more pleased to see that the new game Glück Auf by EGGERTSPIELE was not only designed by award-winning authors Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling, but it is actually located at my hometown Essen and it is titled after the traditional miner's greeting which translates to "good luck". The players take the roles of aspiring coal barons who try to establish and manage their own coal mines, and the player who uses his work force best over a duration of three working shifts (rounds of play) will have won the game.


One thing is granted - the graphic presentation of Glück Auf has been done in a rather atmospheric and catchy way. Already the gamebox cover shows the outline of a coal mine which looks quite similar to Essen's town landmark - the old mine of Zollverein which has been turned into a museum and a place of events after its closure in 1986. This good impression continues with the game components, since both the gameboard and the individual shaft boards of the players pursue the same graphic style, and so players who are generally interested in this theme will be quickly drawn into the game.

The game itself is mostly based on a normal mechanism of worker placement, and despite the fact that all parts of the rules work well together I have to confess that I had hoped for a more surprising and unique game from two designers of such international renown like Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling. But let me elaborate on this…

As indicated, the players can chose and perform actions by placing workers on different locations on the main gameboard, and by these placements they try to establish an effective production chain for their own coal mine. Thus, they can go to the bank to get money, and the money then can be invested to purchase new tunnel tiles which show lorries loaded with four different types of coal. Depending on the type of coal, the tunnel tiles will be added at different levels of the player's mine shaft, and the player then can visit a location on the main gameboard which will give him mining actions. These actions then can be used to move cubes of coal and the pit cage within the mining shaft, and when enough coal has been moved into the pit cage it can be moved back to the surface where the coal is unloaded. Coal can be stored in a player's personal stockpile, but it is most efficient if a player has acquired one or more order cards on the main gameboard so that coal can be unloaded directly from a the pit cage onto an order card. Whenever one or more order cards have been filled with the required amounts and kinds of coal, the player finally can trigger the delivery of the order by an action on the main gameboard, and for all delivered orders victory points will be scored.

At this point a comparison between Glück Auf and the Polish salt-mining game Magnum Sal by Marcin Krupiski and Filip Milunski is unavoidable, since both games have tried to transfer the operation of a mining business into the form of a boardgame. However, despite some similarities like orders, the stepwise discovery of the tunnel tiles and the different types of coal/salt found within the mines, the games' core rules feature some major differences where Glück Auf unfortunately comes in second after the three years older Magnum Sal. One of these differences is the fact that Magnum Sal features only one mine shaft which is used by all players, and the use of only one shaft ensures that there is a lot of direct player interaction. This is strengthened even more by the fact that the players may use other players' workers to move their salt cubes from the mine, and they may even annoy each other by moving cubes of ground water onto neighboring tunnel tiles where other players are planning to mine. In Glück Auf player interaction remains indirect and focused on timing, since a player can quietly operate his own coal mine once the tunnel tiles have been purchased. He just needs to make certain that he places his workers at the right moment on the best gameboard locations, and so Glück Auf will appeal mostly to players who want to build up production chains which can be operated without other players' interventions. Of course, I do not deny that this might be a satisfactory exercise on its own right, but it seems that the whole genre of worker-placement games has evolved so that modern concepts usually try to incorporate a higher degree of direct player interaction.

Another point where Magnum Sal is one step ahead of Glück Auf is the diversity of playing elements. Glück Auf requires the players to deliver their coal orders by different means of transport, but Magnum Sal offers mining tools, ground water and a market place which give the game proverbially more (playing) depth. The choice of actions in Magnum Sal is broader so that the players need to manipulate more adjusting screws when it comes to fine-tuning their strategy. In Glück Auf, the whole mining business is rather straightforward and repetitive - acquire orders and tunnels, move coal, move pit cage, fulfill orders and then start all over!

However, there are also some elements where Glück Auf actually can claim credits for itself, and one of these elements is a slight variation of the worker-placement mechanism which has been chosen. So, a player actually is allowed to chose any action on the main gameboard, even one which has already been chosen by another player (or himself!) during the same shift. To chose such an action, the player simply needs to send one more worker then the last player who has used the action, and so the possibility to re-visit a location actually implements an interesting variant of the usually "first come" approach which is taken in other worker placement games. This variant ensures that no player is absolutely locked out from an action which he desires to perform, but at the same time it also increases the level of calculations since the players need to keep an eye on the number of workers they may still need to perform other important actions during the same shift.

In addition, Glück Auf also can score with its stepwise increasing scoring possibilities, since the scoring at the end of the first shift only allows the players to consider their delivered orders, whereas the following scorings take delivery vehicles and empty lorries into account as well. Furthermore, the final scoring also awards players who were able to construct their mine shafts by adding tunnel tiles in a "balanced" way, whereas players with undelivered orders left will be penalized. Only when this multi-leveled way of scoring has been mastered by all players Glück Auf can be enjoyed at its full strategic level, and it is certainly an interesting challenge to optimize a player's mining operations to make most of the various scoring possibilities.

Overall speaking, Glück Auf features some interesting elements (including a cute implementation of the shaft operation), but it somehow lacks the playing depth which would have been essential for long-lasting replayability. If you compare the game with a model railway, you get a nice train but unfortunately you have just enough tracks to build one circle. You can make the train go slower or faster, but in the end you will be longing to get junctions and more tracks in order to allow for a more fancy railway system.

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Copyright & copy; 2014 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany