I got a copy from JKLM Games earlier last week and spent quite a while trying to figure out the rules. I don’t think we made any bigger mistakes, the rules weren’t quite that hard, only a bit complicated. While the components are shoddy (the route marker tiles are especially unpleasant), the game is wonderful and worth trying. Unfortunately the game is being published in very small editions (300 copies are out now, with another 300 coming sooner or later), so getting it might be difficult. It’s worth it, however, and I do hope the game would get picked up by a major publisher.
So, what’s so great about Kogge? Well, for me, it’s just about everything I expected from Die Händler. That was a disappointment. Kogge is more dynamic. I think it would take repeated games with same people to really enjoy Die Händler, and that’s just not going to happen.
But, about Kogge. The board depicts seven cities involved in Hanse trade. Each city produces one of the goods (from common to rare: ore, fur, amber, salt). Each player has a ship (Hanse ships are called cogs, hence the name of the game) and a trading office. Ships will sail across the Baltic Sea, trading goods and founding offices. First player to get 5 development points wins. Each office is worth one development point.
Sailing just isn’t so simple. From each city, you can get to two different cities. Those cities are determined by route markers. Route markers are tiles with city numbers. They aren’t equally distributed. It’s easier to get to the ore-producing cities than to the cities producing salt. Route markers are the second currency in the game. They are used in auction to determine the player order. Players can also replace route markers on board with route markers in their hand. So, if you have a 2 route marker, you know you can get to Turku whenever you want — just replace a route marker in the city you’re in with that route marker and on your next turn you can sail to Turku.
Goods, in the other hand, are used to build offices (three different goods and a route marker of the city are needed) and to buy bonus tiles (worth 1 DP) from the Guild Master. Goods are also used to buy route markers. Players can get more goods from the cities. Trading is easy, as players get two cubes for each cube they give away. However, if you’re greedy, there’s also a “none of my goods for all your goods”-option, ie. raiding. You can raid cities or other players for instant profit. That’s fine, except you get a lifetime ban to that city. That didn’t stop us!
The Guild Master, then. He roams around the board, moving either one or two spaces each turn (determined by the first player that round). When he finishes two laps around the board, the game ends and players’ holdings are scored. He also skips raided cities, so each raid makes the game shorter. That’s an interesting touch. Our first game ended when Guild Master made his laps, but if I had won the turn order auction, I would’ve held him back and won the game on my turn. That’s life.
The game is very dynamic. The routes shift and you have to keep on thinking forward. Plan the next turn in advance, and you’ll be better off. There’s room for opportunistic plans, surprise raids and other dirty tactics. There’s trading between players (for goods, route markers or services) — we didn’t do that in our first game, but if your group is into trading games, the possibility is there. The rules are a bit tricky to start with and the game could use some player aids, but especially after you get your head around the various ways route markers can be used, it’s all fairly easy.
Our three-player game took a little over one and half hours, and that’s certainly going to decrease with more experience. We spent lots of time wondering about what we could do. With fast and experienced players, I expect three-player game could take an hour.