players, ages 10 and up, 45 minutes; $39.99)
Of all the games created by Reiner Knizia, perhaps the one that most piqued the interest of gamers here in the United States was Traumfabrik. In this Knizia creation, players vicariously enjoyed the role of film producers as they strove to obtain actors and directors and other essential personnel to put together prize-winning motion pictures. Unfortunately, the game was sold only in Europe. Unless you were willing to order from an overseas source (and even then), the game was difficult to obtain on this side of the Atlantic and, sadly, went out of print. Until now. Uberplay has repackaged this game of movie madness with new art and a new name: Hollywood Blockbuster.
Hollywood Blockbuster comes in a big square box which holds a game board (depicting a spool of film divided into spaces), 5 player screens, 50 contracts, 30 film tokens, 85 production chips, 22 screenplays and a bunch of "film awards" which will be distributed as the game progresses.
Film tokens come in denominations of 0 to 22 (with the values of 8 to 14 appearing twice) and these are placed by the game board. The production chips represent the ingredients needed to produce a film including directors (blue), actors (red), camera crews (purple), musicians (green) and agencies (orange). Most of these display stars and the more stars, the more valuable the chip in rating your final production.
The four 4 star directors are placed aside for now and the remaining chips are shuffled and placed face down to form a pool. All players receive a player screen which keeps the 12 contracts each player starts with (the currency of the game) secret from the other players. (With five players, 10 contracts are received.) Players also receive the three screenplays that match their player screen. Screenplays belonging to screens not in play are out of the game. The remaining 7 screenplays form a stack next to the board.
The game is played in four quarters, with a quarter consisting of a complete trip of the board from top to bottom. At the beginning of each quarter, one of the 4 star directors is placed on the first space (the Director space) with the five famous locations spaces receiving 2 or 3 production tiles face up from the pool (equal to the number found on the space) and the remaining board spaces (called the "party" locations) receiving a number of tiles equal to the number of players, face down.
Starting with the first player, the first space on the board (the Director space) is resolved through an auction. Bids may be in any denomination, even zero. Bidding continues until only one player is left. That player pays for his bid in contracts and those contracts are now divided as evenly as possible and distributed to the other players. (Contracts left over after the division remain unclaimed, added to the next successful bid of contracts to be evenly distributed.) The winner of the auction becomes the first player for the next round of bidding for tiles on the next space.
As production chips are won, a player must place them on the corresponding places on their screenplays. Some places are reserved for directors, others for actors and so on. Any type of chip may be placed on white spaces on a screenplay. Agency chips are wild and may occupy any screenplay slot. There is also a "guest star" space on a screenplay which may be filled with an actor chip to increase a film's value but a guest star is NOT required to complete a film. As the game proceeds, new chips won may be placed on top of previously placed chips (of the same type) to increase a film's value. Unwanted or unusable chips are simply discarded and are out of the game. Once completed, the stars on the chips used in the film are totaled and a film token equal to that value is placed on the film. That film is now finished and the player draws another screenplay to complete from the screenplay stack.
The standard bidding sequence is followed for all spaces EXCEPT the party spaces. There, all face down chips are revealed and all players may take ONE of these chips with the player having the most RED chips (actors) in their screenplays choosing first, the player with the second most choosing second and so on.
When a full quarter is completed, an award for best film is given to the film with the highest value. That film gets the Best Film Award worth 5 Victory Points. (The same film is still eligible to earn this award after subsequent quarters too.) In addition, the first drama, action and comedy completed also earns 5 VP awards. Now, the board is re-seeded with tiles as at the beginning of the game and the next quarter begins.
After the fourth quarter of play, the Major (and final) Film Awards, all worth 10 points, are given out. The drama, comedy and action film with the highest value gets the Best Film Award. The film with the LOWEST value gets the Worst Film Award and finally, the Best Direction Award goes to the player who has the most stars on all his director chips. Now Awards totals are added to the value of each player's completed films plus the number of contracts left in each player's stash. The player with the highest accumulated point total wins!
As in all auction games, you have to keep a careful eye on your bidding as contracts convert to Victory Points at the end of the game. This is a "zero sum game" as far as contracts are concerned as no new contracts come into the money supply; the total amount of funds are simply redistributed. Overbid and you will find yourself without the funds to compete in auctions down the line. And auctions here are relentless. It's one after another and, unlike Modern Art (Fall 1996 GA REPORT) for example, it is the same type of auction every turn (which may tend to be a bit wearing). There is also a bit of advantage to the player with the most actors as he gets first pick of chips on the party spaces and once he's established a lead in this category, it is difficult to overtake him. (This aspect of play might work better if the player with the fewest completed films is given first choice with picks done in REVERSE order.) But the juggling of elements to complete your films, which can make an auction imperative for some and a non-issue for others, keeps players engaged and tends to mitigate potential runaway leader problems. Unlike the original game, actual film stars are NOT represented on the chips (and no CD either as in the original). As it is, the caricatures and similarity of names makes it fairly easy to figure out who is supposed to be who. (In all fairness, this is a purely cosmetic nit to pick and paying for the rights to use real life actors would have undoubtedly been prohibitive.) One interesting change: in the original, Reiner Knizia can be found on a chip as an actor worth MINUS 1 star! In this version, that dubious distinction goes to "Keanu Breeze"!
Auctions have become a true staple of euro style gaming, largely due to the influence of Reiner Knizia who is king of auctions and has used this gaming element to near perfection! For fans of both auction bidding and films who have bemoaned the scarcity of Traumfabrik and hoped for its reappearance, your wait is over. Your wishes have come true with Hollywood Blockbuster. - - - Herb Levy
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