The Speicherstadt Makeoverspiel

Post by: Grant Rodiek

If you’ve seen my Twitter commentary or read this blog, you probably know, or at least have a hint, that I like The Speicherstadt. Actually, like is a bit of an understatement. I love this game and it’s easily one of my favorites. This is my favorite Feld by far, and I think it’s a great game for a few reasons:

  • Fantastic variance in how the cards come into play.
  • Tight, yet simple resource management, which reduces amount of math in play.
  • Highly interactive and arguably mean, without feeling that way.
  • A beautiful twist on auctions and worker placement.
  • Easy to learn and teach. One of my favorite games to show to non-gamers.
  • Short. The game is often 45 minutes, even with a full 5 players.
  • Brilliant expansion. Arguably, one of the best expansions I’ve played.

But, holy nerd gods does the game’s presentation not do its mechanics justice! Firstly, it’s called The Speicherstadt, which references a warehouse district in Germany. It’s not English, and for people who didn’t study German in Austria like me, it’s a bit of a mouthful. Though, I must admit that once my friends were taught to say it, they began shouting it like a battlecry. The expansion’s name, Kaispeicher, is even worse!

Also, it has a man moving a pallet of goods into a building on the cover. Also, brown.

Frankly, I don’t think the game has received the love it deserves, and I believe that’s partially due to how it has been presented to the consumer audience, at least in North America (which, yes, I recognize isn’t the entire world, but it’s a significant market, nonetheless).

A quick explanation, for those not aware, is that many publishers, especially those as big as Z-Man, will often partner with publishers in other markets to co-publish a title. This helps save on manufacturing fees and development fees, such as art, the printing itself, and localization. But, whereas a name like Trajan or Castles of Burgundy span multiple markets, The Speicherstadt is a miss.

Enough whining! Step into my hypothetical publisher’s Tardis, where we shall revise The Speicherstadt to be a winner in America. If I could ever sign a previously released title to craft a new edition, this would be the one. Note: I referenced Doctor Who to improve site traffic. I in no way endorse or condone this show.

Firstly, the theme must be altered. This is dangerous territory. When considering a theme, one must carefully consider the actions the player will take and not slap an inappropriate veneer over the game. A boring truth is better than an exciting lie.

The game is about turning limited resources/investments (coins) into great outputs (points/profits). To do this, you must shrewdly outbid and outmaneuver your opponents, all seeking similar goals. Some things that come to mind with this premise:

Politicians expending influence and jockeying for position to gain positions and pass favorable legislation. This is dangerous territory, but I believe farcical politicians passing laws not tied to any country or culture could potentially work.

To replace the fire of Speicherstadt, you could have political scandals, blackmail, and external crises. Contracts could be legislation or deals. The goods (cubes) could be influence from various constituents, wealth, or bargaining chips of some sort.

Inspirations: The Prince, British Commonwealth styled parliaments, or perhaps a more futuristic bureaucracy, similar to that seen in the universe of The Resistance.

A Wall Street style stock market. This is essentially the same premise of The Speicherstadt, but I believe this approach allows me to apply a more modern and colorful vibe.

To replace the fires, you could have recessions and depressions, and other such negative forces. Contracts could be requirements from investors and board members, or the elements of product launches.

Inspirations: Take a look at the Wall Street trading floor. It’s madness!

Local business starting from scratch to gain customers and prestige. Or, go broader with start ups with similar products jockeying for investors and IPO. When I think of this, I think of my small home town where new restaurants and small shops constantly appear and disappear. They fight desperately for customers, loyalty, and to stand out.

I also look to my current surroundings in Silicon Valley, where there are so many companies trying to gain the best employees, give the best benefits, and convince everyone they have the best product. Players would act as owners or CEOs, guiding their new company.

The resources could be awesome employees/personnel that are needed on product launches (contracts). Some of this might be a stretch, which means there would be a lot of work involved in making this intuitive, clever, and appropriate. That goes for all of the themes, really. Nothing is a clean A to B switch.

What is something that you think would work? Comment below!

Secondly, the game would need a short, to-the-point name to match the theme chosen. The name should follow standard conventions for what good looks like, including:

  • Short
  • Action focused (I love verbs or strong nouns)
  • Conveys the player’s actions
  • Confirms the theme from the cover art

As I don’t have a theme, I won’t bother too much with names, but it’s not too difficult to begin churning ideas from the three noted above.

Thirdly, I would completely revise the art style. I would focus on a style that is highly stylized, colorful, and a little silly. After all, politicians, CEOs, and Wall Street traders are all a bit ridiculous, hyperbolic characters. Political cartoons have been having fun at their expense for centuries.

Cards would tell stories of the actions and assets players buy in the game. My first thought, naturally, goes to Brett Bean, a masterful character artist.

His characters are always colorful, slightly exaggerated, and show a great range of emotion. If you don’t follow his work, his morning routine is to go to a local coffee shop and warm up by drawing other customers. Here are some of his pieces that I think match my goals:

My hope for the art would be that it would draw the eye of customers walking through a game store. My hope would be that the characters shown on the cover and on the cards on the back would make them smile and be curious about what’s going on. And, when they discover the premise, that they don’t think “oh god, not another game about business.”

The key is to stand out without confusing. It’s very tempting to go 200% wacky and wild, but then you might utterly confuse your consumers. “Wait…what the heck is this game about?” If people ask that question, you’ve failed. Dudes wearing brown homespun pants and wielding pitchforks on games might be boring, but people know what they’re about.

Would I change the game? No, not at all. Other than taking a stab at the rules to improve clarity and adding a round example, I wouldn’t touch the gameplay. I would include the expansion into the base game. In this hypothetical future, there would need to be a very good incentive for people to give this game another look. Packaging the expansion and base game together should satisfy that, or at least raise eyebrows.

What is a game you would love to revise from a publisher’s perspective? What is an overlooked favorite, or a gem that could be tweaked to 11 with just a new coat of paint? Share your thoughts below!

Thanks for going along with me. Have a good weekend!

3 thoughts on “The Speicherstadt Makeoverspiel

  1. This was really interesting to read, Grant. I love The Speicherstadt, and honestly I didn’t even know there was an expansion until you mentioned it here. Brett Bean seems like a great pick, and I agree that changing the name would be key. Also, I’d like to see other designers use the waiting-in-line/auction mechanism.

    • The expansion is difficult to find, but it’s FANTASTIC. Whereas the base game is very clean and icon driven, the expansion adds some clever, weird, and nasty cards that have text.

      Also, it adds a row of cards above the board. A player can bid on these like other cards, but unlike the others, ONLY the player who bids can buy or pass on it. The twist is the price of it is based on the total number of cards above it. So, like the other bidding, going first gives you first right of refusal, but also highest risk of a high cost. Very clever way to reuse the core mechanic.

  2. A parody of Silicon Valley as the theme?

    Argh! Another game for my queue.


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