Playing Games: Hamburgum

Board games are making a come back — in a big way. Feature stories from outlets as varied as NPR to BoingBoing highlight how people (especially Millennials) are unplugging and embracing this lower-tech form of entertainment. Boutique game shops are popping up all over the country to cater to the needs of a growing board-game culture.

Sophisticated, and often beautifully designed, modern games are a far cry from the drudgery (and often rage-inducing hours) of Monopoly or the Game of Life. City building and architecture are common themes, inspiring our new series of reviews which kicks off with an older favorite called Hamburgum.

Rio Grande Games | ages 12+ | 2-5 players

The economic prosperity enjoyed by the German city of Hamburg in the 17th century stimulated urban improvements. In the board game Hamburgum, players guide this process, gaining “prestige” by erecting buildings and contributing to the construction of the pride of Hamburg – its churches. To accomplish these tasks, players must purchase building materials such as timber and brick by selling popular commodities: sugar, beer, and cloth. A player can amass commodities by building refineries, breweries, and textile mills, although as more of those commodities become available, their value is reduced for every player.

Hamburgum is a game of strategy; no dice or cards are used. Every turn, each player chooses one ‘action’ to perform, such as purchasing building materials, selling commodities, or constructing buildings. Opportunity cost is an important consideration each turn because for every action a player chooses, he or she delays performing other essential actions. Timing is important as well. Not only must players maximize the efficiency of their choices, but they also compete against one another in obtaining the best building sites and making the most prestigious donations to the various churches. Donating to the construction of a church allows players to select “donation tokens,” which generate prestige points based on various circumstances. Other important aspects of the game include selecting the most advantageous tokens and determining the best time to score those tokens.

Hamburgum allows for a variety of playing experiences. The game board depicts a map of Hamburg presented in the style of a 17th century etching, while the reverse side of the board depicts a similar map of 17th century London. Either map may be used without affecting the rules. Players may develop other features that affect the game, such as officials (like “councilman” or “vicar”) and mercantile halls. The game also includes a second set of “officials” that may be used in an advanced variant.

This review of Hamburgum was written by Philip Stiff, who also writes about vintage role-playing games at blog Thoul’s Paradise

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