Designer Spotlight: Reiner Knizia


Reiner Knizia is the most prolific designer I know of.  He has designed not only a tremendous number of games over the years, but a tremendous number of good games.

He has achieved a great deal personally and for the hobby in general – he is one of the few designers whose games can be found in high-street stores all over the world.  Let’s have a look at a few Knizia classics.

Reiner KniziaName: Reiner Knizia

Age: 60

Nationality: German

Year of first published game: 1985

Highest ranked game on BGG: Tigris and Euphrates

Known for:

Selected Awards:

  • 2006 Golden Geek, Best Family Game (Ingenious)
  • 2008 Kinderspiel des Jahres (Whoowasit?)
  • 2008 Spiel des Jahres (Keltis)
  • 2010 Golden Geek, Best Abstract Game (FITS)
  • 2011 BGG Favourite Board Game Designer

Many of Reiner Knizia’s games are aimed at families.  His heavier games tend to be more abstract.  I find, like many Euro-game designers, that his games aren’t very thematic, but they are always solid.  I never get too excited about his games, but the thing is, you just can’t go wrong with them either.

There are so many Reiner Knizia games to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start!  I’ve chosen two games that he’s particularly well known for and one because it’s my favourite.

Tigris and EuphratesTigris and Euphrates

Players: 2 – 4

Time: 90 mins

Tigris and Euphrates is considered by many to be Knizia’s best game.  It’s a fairly abstract area-control game of sorts.

Players are placing tiles on a board that join together to form cities.  Players are also placing leaders into these cities in an effort to get points.  When a tile is placed in a city, the player who has a leader of the matching colour gets points.  Rather unusually, players aren’t using pieces of one colour, but rather pieces of one shape (eg. lion, urn, etc.).

When someone places a tile that causes two cities to be joined together, a war breaks out and players who have the same coloured leaders in the newly joined super-city have to compare the number of tiles of that colour in each city to determine the winner.  The loser’s tiles are discarded and the winner gets more points.

The really interesting thing is that you’re collecting points in the four different colours: red points, black points, blue points and green points.  But your final score is the number of points you have of your lowest scoring colour.  So if you have 20 red, 24 black, 18 blue and 5 green points, then your final score is 5.  This forces you to diversify and not spend too much time going after the same cities.

I find it rather dry personally, but if you like abstract war games, they don’t get much better than this.  The mechanism of counting your lowest scoring colour is clever, and gives you lots to think about in terms of strategy, but I find it frustrating if I do particularly well in one colour.  I want to be rewarded for doing well instead of rewarded for being the least worst!

Lost CitiesLost Cities

Players: 2

Time: 30 mins

Lost Cities is a small, two-player card game (although it uses oversized cards for some reason).  Players are collecting cards in five different colours and then attempting to play them from smallest to largest in each colour (each card is numbered from 1 to 10) on their side of the board.

You get points at the end by adding up the numbers on the cards that you’ve managed to play.  However, there are no duplicates, so if your opponent has played the green 5, you will never be able to play that, so you may as well try playing a higher card.

You will never be able to play enough cards of all five colours before the deck runs out (which ends the game) and you get negative points if you try playing cards of too many different colours so you have to focus your efforts on two or three colours.

The hand limit is really restrictive in this one.  You want to keep every card you pick up, but you are often forced to discard cards you would otherwise keep and your opponent can pick up any card you discard.

This often leaves you with a tricky decision to make: you may not want to keep a given card, but your opponent will be able to score a lot of points with it if you discard it.  What to do?

A lot of people really like Lost Cities for the tension it provides and the simplicity of play.  My wife is certainly a fan.  Personally, I’m not as keen on that tension.  I often feel stuck between a rock and a hard place choosing between the lesser of two evils.  I’d much rather a game got me to pick the best option each time, rather than picking the least worst.

Lord of the Rings: The ConfrontationLord of the Rings: The Confrontation

Players: 2

Time: 30 mins

This is not the co-operative Lord of the Rings game by Reiner Knizia, but rather the two-player, bluffing game.

One player takes on the forces of good with Gandalf, Aragorn, the hobbits, etc. while the other player takes on the forces of evil with Orcs, Saruman, a balrog, etc.  Each character standee is placed on a board so that only you can see who each of your characters are.

Players move their characters around and will fight if they move into the same location, but you never know which character you will be facing until the battle begins and the characters are revealed.  This leads to a lot of bluff and counterbluff.

The goodies are trying to get Frodo to Mordor (the far side of the board), while the baddies are trying to kill Frodo.  Each character has a different strength value and a special ability.  The thing I really like about it is how asymmetrical it is.

The baddies are much stronger than the goodies and will win a lot more of the fights.  The goodies have to try and be sneaky and slip around the enemy while they are attacking.

Many of the characters can be beaten easily by one particular character on the opposing team, so you’re always wondering where these characters are.  It’s one of those games where you’re playing your opponent rather than playing the game.  Are they the kind of person to put the balrog in Moria or are they trying to trick me?

Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation was my favourite Knizia game for many years, but I’m actually starting to wonder if it might be overtaken by his recent Spiel Des Jahres nominee, Race to El Dorado, which I’m really enjoying at the moment.

Which is your favourite Knizia game?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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