NORIS SPIELE have many fine games available on the European boardgames market. Two of these I discovered at Essen in October and would like to introduce you to them here and now.
The first of these, CUCINA CURIOSA, is a Reiner Knizia game for 1-4 players aged 8+. Games typically last between 20-30 minutes and are easy to play once you have removed the tiles from their cardboard sprues and read the rules through once. The rules booklet is in three languages, German, French and Italian, and so it is off to the superb www.boardgamegeek.com to seek out the English translation. NORIS doesn't have the rights to publish the English rules, but luckily a gentleman named Markus Müller has come to our rescue and written a précis of them on www.boardgamegeek.com. They are not the exact rules but coupled with my learning the game when I played it in Germany with Frau Gabrielle Rosshirt of Noris Spiele I now sort of know enough to give my opinion and impression.
CURIOUS KITCHEN: Home of the Hopping Lobster
The rulebook is in German, Italian and French only but with a little help from Google translate the rules are as follows:
1. Every player is given their own Kitchen - a playing board that is designed of 16 spaces. Players are also given a set of 20 kitchen tiles; each set consists of the same 20 tiles and are distinguished by the colour on their flip side.
2. One player (the oldest) is named as the staring player and they take their 20 tiles and shuffle them face down, eventually forming a draw pile. The other players place their tiles face up in front of them, laid flat if possible so they can all be clearly seen.
3. The first player now flips over their top tile and puts it face up in front of him. The other players locate the same tile among their display and when all players have done so they simultaneously place it onto ANY one of the spaces on their personal boards. They can put it on any space and in any orientation. By placing tiles, gangways will be generated to allow you to (mentally) walk around your kitchen. The idea is to be able to "reach" as many lobsters as possible (they are pictured on some of the tiles). "Reach" means that you need to have a clear pathway from the door (at the bottom of your playing board) to the lobster(s). However, there are also fish bones, and these will cost you points at the end of the game if you are able to reach them.
4. Tiles do not have to be placed adjacent to other tiles, nor do passages have to join up. Kitchen appliances can be backed onto other appliances or onto passages and passages can end at appliances. You have to remember though that you only score by creating a clear pathway from the door in the south.
5. Once placed a tile may not be moved, turned or played on top of. Once everyone has placed 16 out of the 20 tiles, the game ends. Every lobster you can reach gives you 1 point, while every fish bone loses you 2 points. The player with the most points wins.
CUCINA CURIOSA looks and sounds too simple to be enjoyable but it is actually quite a challenging, labyrinth - style puzzle of a game. For instance, although every player is always placing the same tile it is highly unlikely that players will either choose the same square each time or place it in the same orientation. Tiles may not be laid on top of other tiles nor may they be laid so they are in part off the board, ie out of the 16x16 grid. It isn't as easy as you may think to ensure you score lobsters and not bones. There are also lobsters and bones positioned already on the board that you can encompass into your passages, or not!
You can play this game solo, like doing a crossword without any clues. The game will always play the same but be different because only 16 of the 20 tiles are used and they are randomly drawn, so no planning is possible. When playing with youngsters it is better to keep the game as the rules denote, but if you are playing with adults already schooled in the strategies of board gaming then you can take some liberties with the rules and perhaps play it Carcassonne style, each player having a random stack of tiles from which they draw the top one and play it, or you could have each player take the top three from their own stack, play one and draw one. Both of these ideas work okay and give players more choice without making the game any easier, just possibly a little more strategic. I am not suggesting you don't play the game as it is written, Reiner Knizia is probably the world's greatest board game designer, but having the occasional optional variant can't hurt.
The components are basic card tiles with small illustrations on them. This is a shame as the artwork of Fabia Zobel and Andrea Hofbeck gets somewhat lost from being shrunk down to fit the tiles.The colours used for the flip side of the tiles are all pastel shades - this seems to be all the rage at the moment (using pastels) - and under regular house lighting, especially here in the UK, the Green and Blue look quite similar. This has no bearing on the game, only in the sorting of the sets into colours.
CUCINA CURIOSA is a good, fun game for families and good fun for children to play alone, hopefully getting them to put down their iPhones and Tablets and find real interaction amongst friends. It is unusual to have a boardgame where children aged from about 8 years and up can play without adult supervision required; as long as the kids have been taught to respect their games and not bend or chew tiles.