The Lamont Brothers





After the great success with the cute sheep in Shear Panic in 2005, FRAGOR GAMES now has come back with their new game Hameln, once again equipped with nine beautifully crafted figures (6 King Rats, 1 Emperor Rat, 1 Cat and 1 Pied Piper). However, in comparison to last year the box size has grown considerably, and this year the game actually included much more playing material and a stately sized gameboard.

As the name and the figures suggest, the game plays in the medieval town of Hameln where the inhabitants were faced with an enormous rat plague. In the game, each player takes up the role as head of one of the town's families, and it will be the aim of the game to become the most influential family after three phases of play.

The gameboard features the town of Hameln which is divided into four quarters, and each of these quarters consists of several houses which are either baker's houses, butcher's houses, cheese dairies, ale houses or influence houses. The first four of these houses are called "production houses" which may produce the associated type of goods, whereas the fifth kind of house yields an income of Florins (game currency) to their inhabitants. Two familiy members may occupy each house - one male and one female.

At the beginning of the game, each player has two of his family members on the gameboard, one occupying a male space in a butcher's house around the town's central square and one occupying a female space in a different butcher's house which is likewise situated around the central square. The game then is played in rounds, with the players taking turns following the order how influential they have become. At the beginning, each player has the same influence so that a starting player is determined at random, but during the game the players may acquire more influence by occupying influence houses or buying influence, and thus the turn order may change following appropriate actions of the players.

During his turn, a player has to perform one of the four available standard actions:

  1. Chose a house in which a male family member is present and produce one unit of goods (or money if it is an influence house);
  2. Chose a house in which a female family member is present and prepare a child to marry (or receive money if it is an influence house);
  3. Marry and move into a house; or
  4. Sell goods.

Activating a house always means that the active player activates the house not only to perform his own action but also allows the player owning the house's other occupant to perform an action with his family member as well. Thus, if the active player activates a male figure to produce, the family head of the female occupant now may prepare a child to marry. To prepare a child for marriage, the player now draws a wooden cube from a bag, and depending on the colour of this cube he may move either a new male or female family member onto the appropriate space of the church.

If there are two children of opposite sex and belonging to different players available in the church, the option to marry become available and the player who performs this action ow may move one of his family members and his new partner from the church onto one of the free houses on the gameboard. To perform this action an initial cost needs to be paid by the owner of the male figure moving to the new house, and once occupied the new house may be used for production like any of the houses which were occupied sooner. The production a player accumulates may also be sold, and depending on the kind of goods a player has produced he receives a price of one to four Florins for each unit of goods he sells. However, a player also may decline from taking Florins for a sold unit of goods and randomly draw a rat trap instead. These rat trap tokens (each with a value from one to three) he stockpiles till the end of the game and they are one factor when determining each player's victory points.

Talking about rats, the activation of a house also attracts the dreaded rats roaming the streets of the town. If an house is activated, a number of rat tokens needs to be placed on the alleys around the house, and the number of the tokens placed depends on a marker which had been randomly assigned to the house at the start of the game. If all four alleys around a house should become occupied with rats during the course of the game, the house becomes overrun by rats (signalled by a Rat King figure which is placed there) and may be activated no more until the overrunning situation might be ended.

Here now a player's optional actions come into consideration, since a player may - in addition to his standard action - perform one of the following optional actions as well. Thus, a player may decide to purchase the car, placing its figure in front of himself and removing one rat token from the gameboard. If this removal should end an overrun situation for a house, the Rat King is removed from that house and it may be used for production purposes again. A player also may buy influence (the price depending on the situation in the game), and this influence is used to determine the order of players during a round and also may be beneficial at the end of the game. Finally, a player may also opt to bribe the Pied Piper by putting Florins onto one of the Pied Piper spaces associated with each quarter of the town. If the bribe at that space is higher than the bribes at each other quarter, the figure of the Pied Piper is immediately moved to that space.

A phase ends when all available King Rats have been placed at houses on the gameboard. Now the Pied Piper comes into action, moving to the quarter with the highest bribe and removing all rats from all alleys in the quarter in question. The Pied Piper takes the bribe from his space for his services, but furthermore he demands that each player who has family members in the church (ready to marry) must pay him an additional amount of money. If a player cannot pay for one or more children, these children are removed from play and will score negatively for their family head at the end of the game.

This way the game is played through three phases, and in each phase the maximum number of King Rats is increased by one. In the third and final phase, the last King Rat is represented by the figure of the Emperor Rat, but this figure only serves the purpose to remind the player's that play has reached the final phase. When the phase is over, each player receives victory points depending on his influence, his wealth, the value of his rat-traps, houses (not overrun!) with a family member and ownership of the cat. Ngeative points are awarded for each child stolen by the Pied Piper. The game then is won by the player with most victory points.

A nice shot indeed! The Lamont brothers had received much praise in advance, and this was not least represented by the fact that Hameln actually was sold out before the SPIEL 06 even started. All 1000 copies were preordered, but to my mind all buyers will not only receive beautiful figures but likewise a well-constructed game. When learning the game it might be necessary to have a demonstration round in order to give the players a chance to understand the different scoring possibilities available in the game, but once the mechanism has become clear to everybody the game works smoothly and offers some neat rules. I especially liked the idea of sharing houses with other player's family members, meaning that spending an action to produce always caused another player to gain a benefit as well. Keeping an eye on the raising level of rats is also important, and thus a player may be well advised not to produce with too many houses unless he wants the streets of the town to be flooded with rats. As for the story behind the game, I think that - although the game has strong economic playing mechanisms - it captures rather well the spirit of the story of Hameln.

To sum it up, I rather liked the new ideas the Lamont brothers have put into their new product, and I hope that this game might find a publisher like Shear Panic did. It would certainly deserve a bigger audience! Also, there is another chance to get one of the highly sought after FRAGOR games next year, since Gordon confided to me that they already a discussing a few concepts for a new release next year which still need a bit of finetuning. And - of course - the new game also will contain some beautiful figures since the inclusion of such outstanding playing pieces definitely has become an important trademark of FRAGOR products!

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2006 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany