8 May 2002 . . . More than most, Alea's latest game, Puerto Rico and its predecessors Princes of Florence and Traders of Genoa, present a formidable challenge for designers. The popularity of the game within its niche is immense – there doesn't seem to be anyone who dislikes it and, at least around here, everyone is asking for replays. Within just three weeks of availability in English it has shot to position 65 in the Internet Top 100 Survey and will no doubt climb much higher. Popularity like this will be hard for publishers to ignore. The open question is whether less comprehensive entrants in the sophisticated games category will be able to make any headway at all in its wake. Or is this "Alea-style" – for we must acknowledge the obvious influence of editor Stefan Brück – is this Alea-style game in the future for all publishers? Or at least until the next breakthrough comes along? . . . With all the hubbub over Puerto Rico it might be a good time to highlight that there are still Holy Grails of game design out there. Or call them dragons to be slain if you prefer. Whatever you call them, when and from whom are we going to see the following: . . . Military Game Division: Interplanetary, multiplayer science fiction game featuring empire-building, variable starting powers, ship design, exploration, neutrals and space monsters completeable in two hours or so. Many have tried this one, but so far none of Twilight Imperium, Throneworld, Stellar Conquest, Godsfire, Federation & Empire Starfire or J.U.M.P. Into the Unknown have satisfactorily solved it. Not that it is so easy mind you, but then, that's part of the reason it's a holy grail. If anyone does manage to make it, preferably with nice, assemble-able plastic pieces, it ought to become a crossover classic, reaching both the science fiction and wargamer crowds. . . . Society Game Division: The ideal traveling merchant game, incorporating historical flavor, experience, planning, more skill than luck and a satisfying resolution/endgame. Some of the aspirants have included Auf Achse; Merchant of Venus; High Seas; James Clavell's Tai-pan; Fugger, Welser, Medici; and Samarkand. Empire Builder and its relatives work as a specialized case, but one that is substantially built on drawing track which is somewhat outside the grail specs. Mike Siggins also discusses the requirements of this grail in the summary to his review of Ostindiska Kompaniet. . . . Card Game Division: A trick-taking game having valid strategic options even when dealt a bad hand. Mü comes close by expanding the number of hands which can be made to work. For example, even if you are dealt a number of "0" (zero) cards, you can conceivably make 0 the major trump. But it's still possible to draw a hand such as following which really isn't particularly good for anything: Blue 0-2-4 Red 1-3-6 Black 3-5 Green 0-6 Gold 1-7. Pisa, David & Goliath, and Sticheln seem to have tried as well, but don't quite get there. . . . Now maybe I haven't considered all the possibilities, so if you think there's a published game out there that satisfies one of these, be sure to let me know. Otherwise, keep your eyes open and let's see if any of these show up in the near future. . . . Or maybe you have your own idea of what is holy grail? The perfect stock market game? The board game that reduplicates the RPG experience? Or yet something else? If so, let me know and I will list it here. . . .
Please forward any comments and corrections to Rick Heli