A game by Klaus Teuber, published by Gold Sieber
These comments copyright 2000 by Steffan O'Sullivan
The main part of this page last updated January 16, 2000;
I added the section on Die Neuen Entdecker at the end on February 21, 2002

Entdecker is a game that has gotten bad press in the past. It was Klaus Teuber's first game after the best-selling Die Siedler von Catan (The Settlers of Catan), and expectations were running high. But it was quickly decided by many gamers that this was no Siedler, and therefore unworthy of consideration.

I have to admit I didn't understand the game at all when I first read the rules, and had no one around who had played to teach me face-to-face. I was influenced by the negative comments not even to try it as written, so I never played the game as it should be played until 1999. Once I did, however, I quickly became an Entdecker convert! In fact, I think the game has a greater replay value than Siedler over the long haul - though I haven't played it as many times as I've played the latter, so only time will tell.

Entdecker means Discoverer, and it's a good name. The components consist of board with a number of ocean-blue squares and a victory-point (VP) track around the outside, many tiles to play on the board squares, some wooden pawns and other pieces, treasure chits, gold tracking cards, a spinner, and some player aids (in German only, alas). The tiles are quite handsome, consisting of some combination of water and island terrain, and when the game is ended, it makes quite a pretty picture.

Most of the tiles are turned face down and mixed, then stacked in five stacks, still face down. There are some tiles, with numbers on the back, which are kept aside to fill in spaces with no empty squares adjacent to them later in the game.

Each turn everyone receives some gold - every player gets the same amount as any other player, but that amount varies from turn to turn - and sets off to explore the unknown. You pay (in advance of taking any move) one gold for each tile you wish the option to reveal, then pick a starting place with the ship counter provided, and start picking tiles. Each tile has from 0 to 3 land edges, and 1 to 4 water edges. When you place a tile next to a previously placed tile (or the edge of the board, which is all water), land-edges can only touch land-edges and water-edges only touch water-edges. So some tiles can't be legally placed but still count as drawing a tile for gold expenditure.

Once you've placed a tile, move the ship onto it. If you've spent gold enough to draw another tile, you may do so, moving from the new position. But if the tile you have moved to contains land, you may wish to end your turn in order to place a unit on the land, claiming it. You have three types of units: scouts, forts, and a settlement. It cost one gold to place a scout, three gold to place a fort, and six gold to place a settlement.

When an island is fully discovered, whoever has the largest unit type on it scores VP equal to the number of squares the island covers, then retrieves their unit. In addition, a treasure chit is drawn if the unit is a fort or settlement, and that value (from 1-4) added to the VP total of the island. The person with the second largest unit, if any, scores half value, and so on. (By the way, this scoring system means that different strategies are possible: do you try to control many small islands or a few big ones? Going for the big ones can pay off handsomely, but can also backfire if the interior of an island is never discovered, and can also tie up your forts for too much of the game ...)

The game moves fairly quickly - a turn rarely takes more than two minutes, and usually less - yet there are some interesting choices. How much gold to spend on exploration, and how much to save for building is the first choice. Then, where do you start your exploration? Next, some of the tiles have question marks on the back - do you choose one of these or a tile with a plain back? (The question mark tiles can be good: find gold, find ruins worth victory points, or meet friendly natives and gain a treasure chit - or bad: sail into a storm and loose the rest of your turn, meet pirates and lose half your gold, or meet hostile natives and find it more expensive to build.)

When you draw a tile which can be legally played, it often can be played more ways than one, and that requires another choice. You also have to decide, if moving to a land tile before having drawn all the tiles you are allowed, whether to keep drawing tiles or stop and build. And finally, if you do build, you have to decide what type of unit to place.

The game is quite interesting, I like it a lot. While it's true there's a fair bit of luck, I find it has less luck than Teuber's Siedler. Even with the luck factor, you still have interesting decisions to make each turn, and I find that a lot of the choices involve assessing risk versus gain - that is, choices that take the luck into account.

For those who are turned off by the luck, there is a variant by Emanuel Soeding at the Game Cabinet which decreases the luck factor somewhat. I haven't tried it, but have seen many postings praising it. Me, I'm happy with the game as it is.

There are lots of subtle plays possible, which I haven't really discussed. Playing off of someone else's started island is an interesting possibility, for example. You may end up helping them, but I've found over all the chance to hone in on their action - or simply do them some damage - is a little higher. Learning when to take chances with a low gold outlay, or when to secure your odds of getting a good tile by spending freely are something you'll discover with practice. Likewise, recognizing key starting points and bowbing moves is something that you'll learn the more you play. And I find that the sign of a good game, myself.


[Note: I had written my own Entdecker rules (before actually playing the game the way it should be) and had posted them here. In 1999, I finally learned the correct way to play Entdecker, and realize now that it is such a better game than the variant I had written that I have removed my rules, which were lackluster, to say the least.]

Die Neuen Entdecker

(This section added Februray 21, 2002)

Now that Kosmos has released The New Entdecker and Mayfair will be releasing it in English, I feel I should address it. Unfortunately, I don't like most of the changes. The good news is that with the New you can come close to recreating the feel of the Old! I'll tell you how in this article.

What don't I like about the New? Four things, predominately:

  1. There is a whole new game aspect added: scouting out native huts. While this should be a side issue, the point values are so high that it becomes the main game. It hardly matters how well you do at the exploration part - the hut mechanism determines who wins, and it's very luck-driven.

  2. The spinner is replaced by a vile dice mechanic where the one who runs low on gold has to roll a die to see how much they get. Everyone else gets one more gold than the die-roller. This means the first to be the die-roller has a good chance of being stuck in that role for a long time, giving the other players even more gold every time, and it's a never-ending downward spiral. If you lay low for a turn (spending only one gold trying to break the cycle), the other players can simply do the same, making sure you're always the die-roller. Very broken mechanic.

  3. You start with some high-point tiles face up on the board. Very bizarre - this is terra incognita, how do you know where a 10-point waterfall is? This forces development along certain paths, ruining the freedom of exploration the old game provided.

  4. It's a much longer game. There was no need to do this - it felt right at about an hour playing time. The new is at least 90 minutes and seems to drag.
To be fair, they did improve the game in some areas:

  1. You can buy one of the face-up tiles (numbered backs) to place on the board for 4 gold. Great rule!

  2. Starting along one of the long edges (or tracing to it) costs the normal amount of gold to explore. Starting from or tracing to one of the side edges cost +1 gold. Starting from or tracing to the opposite long edge costs +2 gold. (If tracing, trace to the cheapest edge to start. If you trace a path through other players' pieces, however, you may have to pay extra to those players: 2 for each settlement or fort you trace through, 0 for a scout.)

  3. The gold tracker, admittedly clumsy in the Old, has been replaced with gold coins.
(You can actually use the first two rules with Old Entdecker and I recommend you do so.)

Unfortunately, to my tastes the bad outweighs the good, and I don't care for the New very much at all.

Playing Old-style with the New Version

Fortunately, it's not hard to recreate the feel of the Old if you own the New game. I admit it's a little clumsy, but it works. Here's how to do it:

  1. Print out and read the Old rules here.

  2. Give each player one settlement, two forts and three scouts - don't use the rest of the scouts. Ignore the whole hut area.

  3. Make some chits - you'll need 20 discovery chits and the New comes with only 9, and they're grossly the wrong point values. If you don't want to actually make chits, the easiest way to do this is with the new State Quarters conveniently provided by the U.S. government. The fronts are all alike (assuming they're all from the same mint), so you can't tell which are which. You'll need a few from four different states:

    • Five of one state to be 1-point chits (Agave, Breadfruit, Guava, Papaya, Passion Flower)
    • Seven of another state to be 2-point chits (Avocadoes, Cucumbers, Melons, Paprika, Peanuts, Pumpkin, Vanilla)
    • Six of a third state to be 3-point chits (Beans, Chocolate, Pineapple, Rubber, Tobacco, Tomatoes)
    • Two of a fourth state to be 4-point chits (Corn [Maize], Potatoes)

    I recommend getting those with some sort of botanical theme, as the discovery chits are all plants. Georgia, Connecticut, South Carolina and Vermont are good choices, but get whatever you can and record which state represents which point value. Follow the rules for their use. [Note that since the board is larger, you may need more than 20 chits. If so, add one to each value. Other valuable New World plants to discover include: blackberries, cranberries, cinchona, echinacea.]

  4. Events (tiles with Question Marks): the ratios are slightly off, but they're close enough. Gold, Pirates, and Storm are fine as they are. Natives you'll have to change, though. The problem is there are six of them, and you really don't want six of one type. Your best bet is to roll a d6 when you draw one:

    • even, it's Friendly Natives - draw a plant chit (coin), which doesn't give you any immediate points but will add to your total number in trying to get the most.
    • odd, it's Ruins: three victory points, score immediately.

    Record the die rolls - when you've gotten three of one type, the rest are the other type. Just do without Hostile Natives - it's okay, they didn't add much, to be honest.

  5. Getting gold: get rid of the terrible die mechanism, but keep using the gold coins. Pick a start player, and every time their turn comes around, they determine how much gold each player gets. You don't have a spinner, alas. The best bet is to use 1d4+1, which returns a result between 2-5 with an equal chance of each, which is what the spinner does. If you don't have a d4 (or don't like to roll them - they generally roll poorly), you can use 2d6 with the following table:

           White Die  |  Black Die  |  Gold
             Even     |    Odd      |   2
             Odd      |    Even     |   3
             Even     |    Even     |   4
             Odd      |    Odd      |   5
    That is, find two dice, one black and one white. Roll them together. If the white one is even, the amount of Gold each player gets is even. If the white die is odd, the amount of Gold each player gets is odd. If the black die matches the white die (not necessarily in exact value, just in evenness/oddness), the amount of Gold each player gets is high. If the black die is the opposite of the white die, the amount of Gold each player gets is low. With a little practice, you won't even need the chart.

    Yet another way to do this would be to take two pennies. Get a bold, black permanent marker and write "1" on one side of one penny, and "2" on the other side. On the second penny write "1" on one side and "3" on the other. Shake both in your hands, toss onto the table, and add the numbers: the result will be an equal distribution from 2-5.

  6. Do use the two rules from the New that I mention above:

    • Ability to buy a face-up tile for 4 Gold,
    • Different starting costs for different edges.
That's it - that'll create the Old Entdecker rules close enough as no matter, with a couple of nice improvements from the New Entdecker. Enjoy!

Back to SOS' Gameviews
Back to Steffan O'Sullivan's Home Page