When I first saw Ignacy Trzewiczek’s name on the box of Robinson Crusoe, I didn’t even try to pronounce it! Like many Polish names, there always seemed to be too many unusual consonants to trip up the unwary.
As I played (and enjoyed) more and more of his games though, I realised I needed to figure it out! Apparently it’s pronounced “ig-NAHT-see CHEV-i-check” or something close to that at least. The Polish language always seems subtle and erudite.
He hasn’t designed that many games, but he has a remarkably strong track record. He also runs Portal Games, which is a very successful publishing company so he keeps himself busy! Let me tell about a few of his games and his overall approach to design.
Name: Ignacy Trzewiczek
Year of first published game: 2002
Highest ranked game on BGG: Robinson Crusoe
Robinson Crusoe (2012)
Imperial Settlers (2014)
The Witcher (2014)
Stronghold 2nd Ed (2016)
51st State: Master Set (2016)
First Martians (2017)
2013 Golden Geek Best Thematic Board Game (Robinson Crusoe)
2014 Golden Geek Best Solo Board Game (Imperial Settlers)
Ignacy Trzewiczek is the king of the 2nd Edition/re-theme. His earliest hit was Stronghold, which originally came out in 2009. He released a 2nd Edition of it to critical acclaim last year.
After the original Stronghold came 51st State and the standalone expansion The New Era, which were then combined and streamlined into 51st State: Master Set. Prior to the Master Set though, he re-themed and re-worked 51st State to produce Imperial Settlers.
Just this year he re-themed the original Robinson Crusoe to bring us First Martians. There are a few new mechanisms and it feels quite different, but the core mechanisms are essentially the same.
Time: 60 – 90 mins
Stronghold is a two-player castle-defence game. One player attacks the ‘stronghold’ (castle) while the other player attempts to defend it and fight off the encroaching hordes.
One of the neat things about it is the build-up. Prior to any actual fighting, the attacker can spend time building up their forces, constructing catapults and ladders to help with the siege. However, the longer the attacker spends preparing, the longer the defender has to shore up their own defences.
Once the attacker commits and starts sending in their orcs and trolls (rather disappointingly represented by different coloured cubes), fighting takes place on the various wall sections around the castle.
If the attacker ever manages to breach the walls and kill all the defenders in that section, then they win. The defender just has to survive long enough.
The problem, as the defender, is that you don’t really have enough troops to defend all sections of the wall. You have to anticipate where the attack will be and make sure your defences are strong enough there.
It is unexpectedly difficult for the defender to move their troops around and fixed defences (like cannons) can’t be moved at all. This leads to feints, bluffs and then a sudden rush to the weakest accessible wall section. It is incredibly tense!
A little too tense for me I’m afraid. A lot of people like Stronghold, and it’s certainly a solid game, but personally, I didn’t enjoy the experience. I like games where you’re building something up generally – where you can look at the board at the end and go, “I built that!”
Stronghold provides the opposite feeling. Try as you might, all your carefully laid plans gradually come undone and you wonder if you’re ever going to win through. I also find the artwork to be bland and uninspiring.
Nevertheless, if the theme grabs you and you can cope with the tension and losing most of your troops by the end, I would recommend it. The game itself captures the feeling of a siege better than any game I’ve ever played.
Players: 1 – 4
Time: 90 – 180
I love the theme of Robinson Crusoe. You’re stranded on an island, you have to survive and ultimately escape. It’s primitive, visceral and thoroughly engaging.
There’s a certain amount of engine building in the game: building a shelter reduces the amount of wood you have to use to keep the fire going in cold weather, for example. There are lots of things that will drain your resources (bad weather, hunger, predators, etc.) if you don’t use your time wisely and construct useful items.
There’s a great dice mechanism when attempting to complete actions. One dice determines whether or not you succeed, one dice determines whether you take a wound, and one dice determines whether an ‘adventure’ is triggered (these are usually bad!).
The adventures are always specific to the type of action you were attempting, which helps thematically and it allows for a wide variety of possible outcomes when taking actions.
Another thematic element is the daily event cards. As well as providing random good and bad events for you to deal with each day, it is possible for adventure cards to be shuffled into this deck.
So you might find a nest of large eggs, which you can take for food, but then you have to shuffle a card into the adventure deck. At some unspecified time in the future, if you draw that card, a large angry mother shows up in your camp looking for her eggs. It’s a great way of providing ongoing story elements.
There are also several different scenarios that you can play, which provides lots of variability. Everything from the Swiss Family Robinson to Volcano Island!
The game is tough, but there’s a great sense of achievement when you win and it rewards careful planning. There is obviously luck involved, but the sheer number of dice you roll during the game mean that the luck tends to balance out. I’m a huge fan.
Players: 1 – 4
Time: 60 – 90 mins
51st State is set in a post-apocalyptic world where human factions are scavenging and trading what they can in an attempt to survive.
It is an engine-building, multiuse card game. You have a hand of location cards and you have to think very carefully about how to use them.
You can raze a location to gain instant resources, you can trade with a location to provide a regular resource each round, or you can build a location to provide an ongoing ability.
As with other multiuse card games like Race for the Galaxy or Glory to Rome, you’re never going to be able to use all of your cards for the cool ability on them, so you’re always having to make difficult decisions about which ones to build and which ones to sacrifice.
This creates a great deal of tension for me and, as I mentioned earlier, I’m not a big fan of tension. Except that Robinson Crusoe is also tense. I think the difference is probably that Robinson Crusoe is co-operative. For some reason, I also seem to be very bad at multiuse card games, so this might taint my viewpoint slightly!
Despite the well-crafted theme on all the cards, it still feels rather abstract to me. You’re essentially turning one kind of resource into another and then cashing them in for victory points. There is a certain amount of interaction, but mostly you’re just trying to build your engine the fastest.
I really like engine-building games generally, but this one is hard. If you play with experienced players, you’re going to be annihilated.
Your actions are also limited by your resources – effectively you can keep taking actions as long as you still have resources to use each turn. If you play badly, you can find yourself running out of actions quickly while everyone else keeps taking turns.
It’s one of those games that always provides you with plenty to think about, but you really need to play with people of equal ability/experience or it’s not going to be much fun.
If you enjoy other multiuse card games, I think you’ll enjoy 51st State. I never played the original, but by all accounts if you want to jump in, the Master Set is the way to go. I like the theme; I think I just need more practice!
Portal’s tagline is ‘Board games that tell stories’ and that’s very much the approach the Ignacy Trzewiczek aims for. He is one of those designers who works hard to fit the game mechanisms around the theme.
It does mean that his games can feel a little clunky at times. He packs so many different mechanisms and resources into his games that it can be difficult to get your head round it all. It doesn’t help that the rulebooks often leave a lot to be desired. The 51st State: Master Set rulebook was much better than the original, but many of Portal’s rulebooks are difficult to understand.
People sit up and take notice when Ignacy Trzewiczek releases a new game. He is an accomplished designer whose core philosophy really appeals to me. His games don’t always connect with me, but every now and then he hits a winner.
Do you like his style? Which of his games appeals to you the most?