Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb zwei


Reiner Knizia





The Show Must Go On!

The stone is kept rolling, KOSMOS has released its latest game in the successful series of two-player-games which started years ago with the Settlers-Cardgame. Once again Reiner Knizia has taken the baton, and this time he leads his two players into Germany's most dazzling red-light district, the Reeperbahn in Hamburg St. Pauli. However, this name does not only stand for dingy business, but also for extravagant shows and other spectacular events which are visited by likewise extravagant spectators. And here the game is settled, with the players taking the roles of owners of two more or less famous locations who try to draw either "Schampus Charly", the uncrowned party king, or his wife "Brillianten Lilly" as a patron into their bar.

The game is set up by placing the gameboard between the players. Each player has his own location at one end of the board, and in between is a total of 15 road spaces on which the different characters in the game move to and fro between the two bars. On the space in the middle Lilly is placed, and the two spaces next to her are occupied by "Blond Hans" and "Red Lola", the to most famous - fictional - personalities of the Reeperbahn. Placed on the spaces next to them are Lilly's bodyguards, and together all these people form a group of five which occupies the central spaces of the board. Charly also is present on the board, but he moves on a separate track which is set apart from the major movement area the other personalities use. To finish the preparations, the deck of 55 playing cards is shuffled and each player draws eight cards from the deck to form his starting hand.


The playing cards handed to the players show either Lilly, Lola, Hans or a bodyguard, coupled with a number or symbol depicting the movement allowance for that character. During his turn, a player may play one or more cards for the same character, moving her or him for the indicated number of spaces on the gameboard in the desired direction. Here, a special movement restriction exists for Lilly - she may only be moved in the area between her two bodyguards, thus making it considerably more difficult for a player to move Lilly into his bar. Only if a player succeeds to get a bodyguard onto the final space within his bar he may try to move Lilly there in later turns, but the opposing player will try to prevent this by playing cards of his own. An alternative of playing one or more cards is the special ability of Hans to lure an other character onto his space. Apart from Lola who knows Hans and his tricks for a long time all other characters will be enthralled by his music and thus allow a player to move such a character onto the space occupied by Hans. Finally, a player also may opt to refrain from moving a figure, thus giving him the possibility to swap one or more of his hand cards for newly drawn cards. Thus, if a player had used one or more of his cards for movement purposes he may not discard additional cards but instead is only allowed to re-fill his hand.

After the player has finished his actions, his turn ends with the movement of Schampus Charly on his separate track. At the beginning of the game Charly stands on the middle of his track on a space corresponding to Lilly's space, but during the game he moves on his own, swaing between the two bars at both sides of the road. Charly moves one space towards a bar for each character which occupies the entrance space of a bar, and he is also moved for a space if Lilly and both of her bodyguards are on the same side of the road.

If, during a player's turn, either Lilly or Charly moves into one of the bars the owner of that bar will have won the game. However, the game only lasts for two passes through the pile of cards, and if no player has succeeded to win after the second pass the game comes to its end. In that case, the game will be won by the player who had Lilly on his side of the gameboard when the last turn ended.

This description outlines the basic mechanism of the game, but you will have noticed that a few points still need to be cleared. So far we have talked about the special ability of Hans to lure people to the space he occupies, but Lola likewise has a possibility to influence the movement of other characters. Thus, if Lola stand between Lilly and the bar of the player who wants to make use of her ability, she can beguile other characters and allow the player to use Lola-cards to move such a character instead of Lola. Used in this way, the Lola-cards effectively serve as a joker, allowing the movement of characters for which a player otherwise would lack fitting cards. Yet another special ability for movement is associated with Lilly-cards. If a player uses two Lilly-cards at once, he may - instead of moving Lilly two times - move Lilly and both of her bodyguards for one step in the desired direction. Thus, the player effectively initiates a "group-move".

Finally, another point worth mentioning is the movement allowance given on the cards. Most of the cards bear numbers, allowing the movement of that particular character for a number of spaces. However, there also exist a few symbols which allow special movements: Lola may be called to the center-space of the gameboard, and the bodyguards may be moved together or recalled to the spaces directly next to Lilly. Thus, the use of these symbol-cards may effect a major shift on the gameboard and a lever which is sometimes desparately needed to sway a game which would otherwise be lost rather soon.

This actually is also the right time to blend over to a comment on the game and its mechanics, since it is exactly the use of these symbol cards which partly counterbalances the undeniably high luck factor introduced by the blind drawing of new hand cards. Coupled with the possibility to use Lola-cards as jokers, the players usually retain enough control over the proceedings on the gameboard to prevent a quick landslide victory of the opponent.

I must confess that it is a bit difficult to place this game, since it offers elements of strategy as much as it offers elements of luck. For me, it seems sensible to approach this game by drawing a comparison to other successful KOSMOS two-player games like Lost Cities or The Settlers Cardgame. Both of these titles definitely were games with a high strategic potential, and to my mind this degree of strategy is not as pronounced in Reeperbahn. Although Reeperbahn leaves the players with a strategic choice which cards to use, it seems to be somewhat lighter due to the fact that advance planning is nearly impossible. In a duration of two to three turns a player's hand and also the positioning of the characters on the gameboard may change considerably, and thus it gets almost impossible for a player to develop a coherent long-term strategy.

Still, the immediate choices available to a player form a challenge of their own, and the entertainment factor still rises if the playing of one or more cards can be timed in a way as to prevent a major improvement of the opponent's positioning. Following this more or less turn-based character of the game, the winning chances shift between the players until one player is unlucky when drawing cards for two or three turns in a row. Then an opening will appear which offers the other player a chance to win, and he will need to plan exceptionally carefully since such an opportunity is rare within the limited duration of the game.

Finally, I must point out that Reeperbahn by no means is a game which can be started right away. To gain maximum playing fun, both players must have internalized the movement possibilities of the characters, and only a few rounds of the game will bring a full understanding of the cards and movement possibilities.

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Copyright © 2006 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany