Thank you for checking out my eighteenth review. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**A copy of this game was provided by Capstone Games in exchange for an honest review.
An Overview of Haspelknecht: The Story of Early Coal Mining
Haspelknecht is a game designed by Thomas Spitzer and is published by Capstone Games. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 60-90 minute play time on the box.
In Haspelknecht, the players take upon the role of farmers with opportunities to exploit the presence of coal in their lands in the southern part of the Ruhr region of Germany.
Setup and gameplay for 2 Players
Each player’s board is the same setup regardless of player count. The variance enters in two areas: the development tiles and the resource board.
In a 2-player game, there is one single resource board used which is divided into two sections. On the left are two spaces for three discs apiece, which basically provide a preview of the discs that will enter the pool for selection in the following season. On the right are two spaces for six discs each. Taking from the bottom space with your first disc selection will add a pit water into your mine. In a 2-player game, most seasons will see up to 10 of the discs chosen from the right-hand spaces, meaning the leftovers will merge with the three in each queue and then a few additional discs will be drawn from the bag and placed into those current selection spaces. Also of note, there will be exactly 18 discs used for the game which means they will all be in one of the four boxes at the beginning of a season. There are four yellow, seven brown, and seven black discs in the pool for a 2-player game.
The other change is the development tiles. Only three out of the five tiles in each color are used, meaning that the board is smaller but there will be several developments that do not appear. The strategy you take is not just dependent on where the tiles are placed, but also upon which ones are even available. This also means there is a fairly high chance a player may inadvertently place their disc on a development you wanted, allowing you to pay them an additional cost to claim the development as well if you aren’t already adjacent to that development.
This game challenges the players. You play three years of time, and in those three years there are only three seasons where you actually do something. That means you get a total of nine turns to accomplish everything you need to do. The scarcity of some of the resources needed really challenges you to maximize your decisions. I’m yet to reach the end of the game feeling like I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to, yet I also never feel like I was too restricted in my choices.
The Resource Board is a really interesting mechanism. The bottom box penalizes you with a water if you take from it first. The number and type of discs you take with your first pick are also important to consider because it dictates turn order for the season. Each season you can get at most two colors and at most a total of five discs. I also love that you can plan ahead, knowing three of the discs sliding over in the next turn.
The Development tree is another great mechanic. You have to start at the top. The first player in each of the four colors gets a reward, and the next player gets a smaller reward. You can only play on a development adjacent to one you already have a disc on…or you can go onto a development your opponent is on. But doing that means you also have to pay your opponent valuable materials. So there is incentive to not only plan your route ahead of time, but also to jump on it early.
Points can be really hard to come by in this game. A winning score for us is usually around 30-35, and the other player is never far behind. This is great because it keeps things competitive along the way while also rewarding you for those tough decisions. Do you leave all the coal in your shaft so that you can score more for them next year? Do you push to clear the upper mine Year 1 or get started on the Development tree? So many tough choices because those points are hard to come by and it feels like every point you earned could matter by the end.
The theme in this game is fantastic. It is the small details that matter: the ability to gain an extra food in the summer, increased productiveness from your workers if they both do the same action that season, the coal needing to be mined and then cranked up the shaft, wood needing to be placed to support the ceiling before you can mine deeper, and more. Even the developments make a lot of sense, such as the bucket prevents you from getting a water during the rainy seasons. This was a game designed with the theme in mind, and the overall package is a very engaging experience with interesting mechanics.
The excavation of the coal is a very visual process. The cubes start on your board. The top part clears and becomes a brand new player board with two workers to replace the one. The water level as a factor is fantastic. You have to add the wood sticks in the designated spots to go further. You gain points for digging deeper, as well as unlock symbols that might earn extra points. Well-designed for a player board, even if a bit fiddly in setup.
This is the first game in a trilogy of games. After playing this one, I’m ready for more! The fact that this is the “easiest” of the three has me excited to ramp up the difficulty.
There is great power in certain developments. Depending on the draw you get for those, it is possible to get a ton of points without needing to excavate much in your bottom mine. There are also possibilities that provide a ton of points without needing to try and bring the coal up with the Haspelknecht. So depending on what comes out, you may find the game encourages you to take a certain path in order to maximize your points.
I really wish there were just a few more development tiles in the game. Five in each color come in the box, and in a 2-player game you’ll be using three of those. Which means at best, you’ll have two unique tiles per row if you play a second game in a row. As you add in players, you use more of those tiles so a 4-player game uses all 5 tiles per color. The layout of the tiles will change, and be more impactful at that player count, but I’d love to see a few more in there.
This is a game that anyone who enjoys worker placement games should try. I’ll admit the theme didn’t excite me, but it is executed really well and provides a fun yet challenging experience. The variability in the developments makes a 2-player game have some nice replay value, and there are advanced patterns to put out the tiles to make it more challenging and interesting. You can only plan so much because there is the randomness of the disc draw, but early planning can help you to overcome the desperate need to get a certain color disc.
This is a game that will make you think a lot, which is a welcome surprise. On the surface it doesn’t seem like a taxing experience, and a game of Haspelknecht won’t exhaust you. Multiple plays in a row might drain your mental power, though…and in a good way. You have hard choices to make in order to scrape up every last point possible. This is easily among my favorite worker placement games, and I can’t wait to try out the other games in the Coal Series by Capstone Games.
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