Peter Prinz


G@mebox Star



Although the title Jenseits von Theben might suggest that the new QUEEN GAMES product by Peter Prinz actually takes the players back into ancient times, it is not necessary to go back in time for many centuries. Instead, let us just go back to the year 1901, a time when famous explorers where uncovering the secrets of many excavation sites in the area of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Thus, the players take the role of junior explorers, ready to travel through European cities to gather information and equipment necessary for an expedition. Once the preparation is done, the players will voyage to the ancient sites of Greece, Crete, Egypt, Palestine or Mesopotamia, and there they will try to uncover valuable artefacts which they may put for display at exhibitions at the museums of the European capitals.

All a player receives at the beginning of the game is a set of five excavation permits, one for each of the ancient sites on the gameboard. For further preparation a stack of exploration cards is shuffled and the first four cards are revealed and placed on holding boxes of the gameboard. Likewise, five bags of artefact markers - one bag for each excavation site - are placed closeby, together with reference cards listing the values and distribution of the excavation markers available at each excavation site. Finally, a time-token for each player is placed at the starting space of the timeline around the gameboard and some special gadgets called "Chronokel" are placed at hand.


The game then starts with all players starting their voyages at Warsaw, and during the first few rounds of the game the players will try to travel around Europe to gather exploration cards which they deem useful. Each of the exploration cards on display in the holding area of the gameboard is assigned to a city on the gameboard, and if a player travels to that specific city he is allowed to take the corresponding card(s). There is no currency in the game so that the players do not need to pay for the cards, but instead the players have to spend time for travelling and for the taking of exploration cards. Thus, a player has to spend one week for each step he makes on the gameboard, and in addition he has to spend one or more weeks to take an exploration card at his destination (the time necessary to take a card is listed on the card). Thus, the order of the players during the game is neither clockwise nor predefined in any other manner, but instead it will always be the player whose time-token is furthest behind on the timeline who will be allowed to take a turn. This may result in a player taking several turns in a row, whereas another player who has spent many weeks for a specific action may have to wait for a few other players to conduct their turns before he may act again.

The cards available at the European cities vary between Knowledge cards, Equipment Cards, Voyage Cards, Lecture cards and - in the later phase of the game - Exhibition cards. Most useful for a player's explorations are the Knowledge cards, since these cards will assist him during an expedition. Knowledge cards bear either a colour of one of the five excavation sites, making them useful only for that specific site - or no colour at all, which means that these cards are useful for all excavation sites. However, these more useful cards take more time to acquire, and thus a player will have to decide carefully whether he wants to obtain such a card. Furthermore, the knowledge cards can be subdivided into permanent knowledge and local hints, and a local hint card may only be used once whereas the other cards become a permanent possession of the player.

If a player thinks he has acquired enough knowledge to start an expedition, he will travel to one of the excavation sites for which he possesses useful cards and an excavation permit. Once he has reached his destination, he adds up the value of all of his knowledge cards available for that excavation site and enters this value into his Chronokel-gadget. Depending on how many weeks a players wants to stay, the Chronokel will tell the player how many artefact markers the player may draw from the bag corresponding to his current excavation site. From this bag the player may draw artefacts (each worth between 1 and 7 victory points), additional knowledge or just worthless rubble. After the excavation, artefacts and knowledge are kept by the player, whereas rubble is returned to the bag so that it gets more and more difficult for later explorers to draw items of value from this bag. Also, the player has to cancel his excavation permit for the area of his excavation, so that he is detained from digging at that place again before the year ends with a renewal of ALL excavation permits of ALL players.

The effectiveness of an excavation may also be raised through Equipment cards. Thus, a player may acquire digging tools which allow him to draw more artefact markers or assistants which also will increase the player's general knowledge. Also quite useful are the Voyage Cards, since these kinds of cards will considerably shorten the time a player has to spend on travelling.


Very important for the accumulation of victory points are the Lecture cards and ther Exhibition cards. Whereas Lecture cards may appear in the game right from the beginning and may be taken by the players just by spending time, the special method for shuffling the deck of exploration cards ensures that Exhibition cards appear later in the game. Like other exploration cards, each exhibition card is assigned to one of the European Capital cities, but the players may not take such a card just by travelling to the city and spending the required amount of time. Instead, each of the exhibitions requires one or more artefact markers from two or three of the ancient sites, and only a player who has the required markers is allowed to spend the time to take the Exhibition card. In terms of victory points, the Exhibition cards bring a player either four or five additional victory points (depending on the size of the exhibition), whereas the Lecture cards get more valuable if the player succeeds in collecting several of them.

The game ends after two or three years of playing time (depending on the number of players), and it will be won by the player who has collected most victory points. However, as may be guessed from the outline I have given, a player may try several strategies in order to become the winner. Thus, a player may try to focus on just a few expeditions in order to have enough free time to collect valuable exploration cards, but he may also try his luck and perform ample excavations in the hope of finding many valuable artefact markers. Still, due to the fact that additional victory points are distributed in the final evaluation for having most knowledge for one or more of the ancient sites and because excavations get much more effective if a player has acquired enough knowledge, none of the players will be able to ignore the acquiring of exploration cards completely. Instead, it is the clever balancing of acquiring cards, travelling and excavating which is a key to winning the game. And while it is true that there is a palpable influence of luck due to the fact that artefact markers are drawn at random, each player has a good degree of control whether he wants to push his luck or to concentrate on retrieving just enough artefacts to give him a chance to acquire a good choice of Exhibition cards.

It has been a long time since I have last seen a boardgame offering such a rich atmosphere coupled with a perfectly fitting set of rules and a splendid graphical layout. Gameboard and cards are nicely illustrated, and especially the "Chronokel" is a nice gadget which can be easily used but at the same time is much nicer than just a set of tables printed on a sheet of paper. What is more, the rules actually strengthen the good impression which I got just from looking at the game, since the mechanism of letting the players plan how to spend their time most effectively nicely reflects the spirit of a "race" for the most prestigious deeds while at the same time leaving ample room for planning on how to beat the opponents when it comes to collecting cards and artefacts. To my mind, Jenseits von Theben is an outstanding game which presents the players some clever new ideas and a very entertaining and competitive playing spirit, and for me it should be one of the hottest candidates for this year's gaming awards...

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

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Copyright © 2007 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany