Saturday, January 19, 2008

At last, a visit to the Copper Kettle Company!

My good friend Jack recently blessed me with his kindness. For Christmas, he went the extra mile and acquired for me a copy of a game I've been eying for a long, long time: Copper Kettle Company, commonly known as Kupferkessel Co. Kupferkessel Co is a game which has no English version, so it is hard to find in the US. Only one or two online sellers ever carry this game, one of them being Fair Play Games. I had made it known to friends and family via wishlist that Kupferkessel was available at Fair Play Games. Why had I not acquired it for myself? First of all, the game was rarely in stock, and had a tendency to sell out pretty quickly. Second of all, I never buy games at Fair Play Games. All of our game group orders have been through Thought Hammer or Boards & Bits. I didn't want to take the step of ordering a single game and paying full shipping fees.

Jack, knowing all of this, worked behind the scenes to acquire a copy of Kupferkessel Co. for me, running a game order without my knowledge. Before I go on, I'll share the interesting story Jack shared with me. He happened to order the game when it was in stock at Fair Play Games. To Jack's dismay, the game order never arrived at his house - UPS had lost it. So, for Christmas, he handed me an image of Kupferkessel Co. and told me the tale of the shipping mishap. Fair Play Games had courteously sent him replacements for every game except for . . . Kupferkessel, which was now out of stock. Then, in mid January, Jack showed up at my house with Kupferkessel in hand. Fair Play had finally obtained and shipped out a new copy.

For what it's worth, Jack assured me that Fair Play did everything they could to make the situation satisfactory for him, offering discounts, free shipping, price matching, etc - everything they could do to rectify the situation. Go, Fair Play Games!

The box, with a size reference.

My First Impression

By the next day, my wife and I had played Kupferkessel 4 times. It turned out to meet all of my hopes and expectations. The experience was improved by the efforts of two helpful BGG users:

Nick Pitman (MonkeyMagic): He designed an English rulebook downloadable as a PDF. It has the exact same format and size as the actual manual. When you print it out on your printer, it pieces together to form a booklet. There would have been NO WAY for us to learn this game without this wonderful contribution from MonkeyMagic.

Michael Weston (delta1119): He designed a quick reference page that explains everything briefly on a single page, front and back, which fits in the game box. This page was invaluable for our first few plays.

These helpful fellows made this German game easy to learn and play. So, on with the review.

Things my wife and I liked right away:
  • The game is quick: about 20 minutes
  • The components are great: big, easy to move pawns; wonderful art by Franz Vohwinkel
  • The rules are easy to understand
  • The mechanics are original, reminiscent of Mamma Mia
How the Game Works

The game board is made up of a 6-by-6 grid. The grid is created by placing square-shaped cards from a shuffled deck, so the board is different every time. Each card depicts a wooden cubby hole containing ingredients. What kind of ingredients, you ask? Why, the ingredients necessary for witches and wizards to complete magical potions. There are 14 types of ingredients, with 4 of each type, valued 1 to 4 points each. The ingredients include (as far as I can tell):
  1. Roots
  2. Mosses
  3. Pumpkins
  4. Raven Feathers
  5. Bats
  6. Whiskers
  7. Mushrooms
  8. A Chest Full of Snake Scales(?)
  9. Eyes of Newt
  10. Vines
  11. Frog Slime (?)
  12. Cobwebs
  13. Ostrich Egg Inscribed With Arcane Symbols (?)
  14. Dragon Blood (or maybe it's just steaming red wine?)

The cards, loaded with quality art.

One player uses a white pawn, the other player uses a black pawn. The pawns are about 3 inches tall, made of wood, and shaped somewhat like a figure wearing a witch or wizard hat. The mechanics are simple: you move your pawn around the board a number of spaces (determined by the top card of your cauldron) and then take a card from the row your pawn is next to. Refill the now-empty slot from the draw pile and it's the next player's turn.

What you get in the box.

As you accumulate cards, you put them on top of your "cauldron", which is just a stack of cards. If you have played Mamma Mia, this is much like the oven. You are not allowed to look back in your cauldron. Instead, you are required to remember what you've placed in your cauldron, which is actually quite easy to do, so don't run away just yet.

There is a scoring reference card for each player than reminds you of how to score your cauldron at the end. This is the interesting part of the game. The designer has devised an interesting scoring method. Knowing how scoring works is what empowers you to make good decisions as you pick up cards.

Scoring reference, front and back.

The game also comes with a small stack of recipe cards. These are an additional way to gain points. Again, these behave like the recipe cards from Mamma Mia. When you are going through your cauldron stack at the end of the game, if you meet the conditions on your recipe cards, you get the points for them. These are part of the variant game, included in the rule book. We played with recipes from the beginning. They are simple enough that you need not leave them out. They help to give you something to work for, so I recommend using them.


My wife and I have played this game a handful of times since acquiring it, and I have only won one time. I thought my wife would like this game, and she does. And she's good at it. I have lost too many times to blame it on luck. For some reason, playing this reminds me of playing Lost Cities with my wife. It's something about having cards with points on them, and making useful combos out of those cards. My wife is talented at this particular type of thinking.

Despite my losses, I keep coming back for more, inviting another play. The process of play is enjoyable enough to offset any losses. First of all, the game is short. In about 20 minutes, we're done. It's kind of fun to imagine walking around the magic shop, browsing the shelves for ingredients. Second of all, the game is easy. You move your pawn, you take a card. This decision is typically quite simple because you have in mind a specific set of things you want to collect. The only difficult decisions will be deciding between two or more cards you need from a single row. I realize that this makes the game sound like it's very luck based. Yes, there is certainly some luck and randomness, but you always have the sense that you are deciding the best course of action. For instance, the card you draw determines how many spaces you will move on your next turn. So, you can theoretically try to arrange your number selections in a way that maximizes your efficiency in moving and taking cards.

Let me leave you with a couple more observations.

1. When in doubt, collect your own color. Each card has a number and a color on it. There are a few different colors to choose from. Included among these are black cards and white cards. Black cards count as double points for the black player, and the reverse for the white player. The only caveat is that if you only get 1 of a card type, it counts negatively. If it is a card of your own color, the negative points are doubled.

2. Not all recipes are equal. More complicated recipes don't necessarily earn you more points. There is a recipe which requires you to collect a whole bunch of plant ingredients. This one is only worth 10 points, while the 15-point recipes are actually easier to complete. You will need to keep your recipes in mind as you play, making decisions about how much effort you want to apply to the recipes. There is no penalty for failing to complete a recipe, so don't be afraid to just bail on a recipe that isn't working out. Go for sets of 4 of an ingredient instead - especially in your own color.

I recommend this game to anyone who frequently plays 2-player games. This seems like a great wife game to me - partly because it has been successful in my case, but also because it just has the makings of a wife game. Sure, that's a subjective claim, but that's my vibe - do with it what you will.

Unfortunately, the game is not easy to obtain, at least not for US residents. This game is an import for us. The components have no language on them, so the English rules are all you'll need to download from BGG. Keep your eye on the online sellers like Fair Play Games. Then, when they get their stock in, nab a copy before they're all bought up!

Designer: Günter Burkhardt
Publisher: Goldsieber
Players: 2 (with a 3-player variant)
Playing time: 15-30 minutes

My rating at the time of writing: 8 (rated after 6 plays)

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