Few probably seriously contemplate the reasons for the gaps in the domestically available Alea game collection. One need only listen to an old Boardgame Babylon interview with Rio Grande honcho Jay Tummelson to learn the logic behind the omissions: they are games Jay didn’t like or didn’t think people in the US really needed. In the case of Adel Verpflichtet
(that’s Alea Big Box #5 for those with a secret decoder ring), he figured people had plenty of opportunity to buy earlier editions in the U.S. and that it was an odd choice to add to the Alea library since it was an older game. But games like Alea Small Box #3, Die Sieben Weisen by Reiner Stockhausen…well, it’s just something that Jay didn’t particularly like. Although I would disagree with him on Chinatown (the charming Alea Big Box #2), it is hard to argue with him on DSW. The game isn’t terribly popular with the BGG crowd either, despite its creative design. DSW is a negotiation game where players partner with one another in a duel of card play each turn. However, your ally this turn is often your opponent the next. The duels are simple enough; cards with numeric values are played but they must correspond to the role you have selected for the turn or be a ‘wild’ Owl card. The roles are various ‘wise men’ or ‘magician’ types that have a rank each turn and each suit has cards valued from 1 to 7. The 1 cards have a trick – if you play both from the role’s suit, they are worth 11 points. There are also spell cards that let players manipulate things a bit. Plus, they’re a good consolation prize – more on that later.
How do you decide which other player will become your partner? It’s mostly in the cards; you pick a role based on your hand and when you see what other roles are selected by other players, you offer to pair up with someone who selected a role for which you have at least one card and hope they might have a card or two for you, too. You get to exchange cards with your temporary partner and then start playing, aiming to amass a higher total than the opposing team using only cards that match your current role or those wild Owls. The other factor is that the role order at the beginning of the round because that will determine which of the winning partners will pick first from the VP markers for the round. This is really a secondary consideration, although if the two VP chits you are currently vying for are a 7 and a 2 (the range’s extremes), you might not want to help the perceived leader (VP are hidden) get too far ahead.
Right away, I knew this setup might be a bit of a challenge with the kids. Players get picked, which means other didn’t get picked, and kids can sometimes have a hard time with that. Both of my kids are middle-school age and that’s a tough time for not being selected. Happily, the rules of the game pretty much made all of those decisions for us. While there is technically an open discussion about who pairs with whom, it is usually a quick decision governed by one player having good cards for one of the other selected roles alongside cards for their own role. In my few plays of this game, every partnership was decided within a moment or two. The other players then have no choice but to ally. This happened time and again in our game with most of the partnerships initiated by me. Once in awhile, a player may have two good choices but even then, decisions are fairly quick.
Then the game gets a little less interesting. Players are essentially just playing cards with a raw value, possibly playing the special ‘spell’ cards which can manipulate things, and possibly bluffing that they have that second 1 value card for their role. The game’s little conical score keeping pieces and a zig-zag track are used to monitor the progress, which goes fast. As players drop out because they lack any more cards (or don’t want to play them), they get to replenish their hand from a small stack of drafted cards, meaning they’ll see a bit of what they’re up against next. The winners divvy up the VP markers based on their role’s rank for the turn and the losers get spell cards from that deck as consolation prizes. Those spell cards range from okay to awesome and can be played whenever appropriate. They can seriously alter individual outcomes, which can be a little maddening when you’ve been saving up for a big play.
And that’s kind of it; the game has a variable end, with a final tile buried near the bottom of the stack. At the end of the game, there are some one point awards for various things including the player with the highest value in cards for each role and every Owl card left is worth a single victory point.
So what did we think of it? Well, both kids got through the game without any arguing, although there was some question about whether or not people made sensible choices in picking a partner once in a while. For the most part, the easy gameplay made the learning curve small and, by the end of the game, everyone felt like they had had enough fun – but not enough to likely ask for DSW to come to the table again. My daughter managed to edge out my score by about two points only because people were really targeting me at the end of the game, refusing to partner with me if I asked. No fair – but that does happen around here sometimes…
I feel like it’s a game to try if you have the chance – the negotiations and changing partnerships give it a unique feel. But the kids were not really excited by that fact. They thought the gameplay was kind of boring and I have to admit they’re right. So, Die Sieben Weisen – back to the shelf for you and on to the next, far more entertaining game in the series: Edel, Stein & Reich.