Traumfabrik (Dream Factory)

Designer: Reiner Knizia

Artist: Doris Matthäus

Publisher: Hasbro

Who will make the best film? Can you imagine a modern day version of the game? (Photo credits: Andreo@BGG)

Traumfabrik is also known as Dream Factory in the English-language reprint but the original version of the game was first published by Hasbro in Germany. The first version of the game came out only in German and never reached the English-speaking shores. That is unfortunate since the original version from Hasbro was quite exquisite and showed real portraits of Hollywood movie stars and directors from the yesteryears. The materials used are quite real and associated with classic movies. Even a CD of popular soundtracks of old hits accompanied the game. What a treat! It’s something you don’t see any more these days and quite frankly not financially feasible. My understanding is that due to licensing rights, the original version was never reprinted. Instead, other version of the games with caricature of Hollywood personalities have replaced all the original portraits. As good as the production values of the original version of the game are, the game play is even better. It doesn’t matter which version you have, really. You ought to get a copy of the game regardless.

In Traumfabrik, players are titans of the movie industry, doling out contracts to attract talent and to secure the best crew to produce movies with the intention of sweeping the major awards during the game and at the end of the year. Victory points are awarded for each movie produced and also for awards won throughout the game. Naturally, the player with the most victory points, win!

There are 4 quarters to the year leading up to the Academy Awards. Each quarter, players will have several opportunities to bid for talent to fill up all the required elements for producing a movie. To begin with, players are given three movie scripts each from different movie categories and each with different requirements. For example, some of the scripts will require a combination of director, actor(s), special effects team, etc. while another script might require a director, actors with an orchestra and camera crew. Each of these required slots are empty to begin with and must be filled with talent which comes in the form of tiles randomly drawn from the bag for auction. Importantly, talent are rated differently. For example, some directors like Alfred Hitchcock or John Ford comes with 4 stars, which are one of the highest-rated directors available in the game. Other no name directors might have a single star or no stars at all. This rating applies to all tiles for all types of talent. So you could have actors with 3 stars and special effects teams with 1 star, etc. Naturally, tiles with more stars are higher in value and are more sought after. Once a movie is completed, the total number of stars contributed by all the different elements are tallied and a scoring chit that shows the sum total is placed on the completed movie. For the most part, the higher the value on the chit, the more points you will get during and at the end of the game.

To obtain the tiles that fill up the slots on a movie script, players must bid for the talents using contracts provided. Each round, there are eight locations on the board that must be visited in sequence and in most of the locations, between 1-3 “talent tiles” are randomly drawn from the bag and place on the location. An around-the-table auction is then carried out with the highest bidder winning all the tiles on that location. Since this is a close economy, the contracts from the winning bid is redistributed amongst all the losing bidders. Thus, the currency for bidding (e.g. the contracts) remains constant throughout the game and is merely circulated between players. The winning bidder is then allowed to assign the talent tiles between the movie scripts. There are two special “party” locations on the board which function slightly differently. No auctions are conducted on these locales, rather tiles are distributed based on the collective number of actor tiles placed on all the movie scripts for each player with the one having the most getting the first pick and so forth.

The scoring methodology in Traumfabrik strikes a good balance between chasing after short term goals while keeping a close eye on the major awards . Each quarter, the best movie (based on the total value of the stars on the completed movie) gets a 5 VP award. Besides that, in game awards are also given to the first player to produce the first movie of a particular genre. There are three awards, one for each category. Clearly, there is a race element to the game: you want to make a movie that is competitive enough for short-term awards each quarter, yet you can’t afford to sit around for the perfect tiles to come along. A movie with mid-range values might be good enough to sweep the best movie award for the one or two quarters if everyone else is slowly building up their movie scripts. That extra 10 points, one for each quarter is a huge bonus and not to be ignored. Same goes for the quick and dirty completion of low-value movies to nab the genre awards that are first come first serve. At the end of the game, 10 VP awards are given to the best movie made in each category along with the worst movie produced (Raspberry Awards). There is also a best director award which is the cumulative number of stars for all the directors of your movies. All of the end-of-game scoring requires some careful planning as will as the right timing to beat your opponents. The game is interactive in that players must be keeping a careful eye on the competition, particularly when it comes to genre awards.

Every time I pull out Traumfabrik, I have a really enjoyable time. It is after all, a classic Knizia auction with an elegant rule set and minimal chrome. A lot of the decisions in the game boils down to timing and being able to prioritize needs. You must not be tempted to bid unless you really want something. In which case, it pays to go all out to get what you want. The hard part is letting go of some bids while concentrating on others. This can be agonizing since winning a bid means you are likely to be non-competitive for the next several bids. It’s critical to look at the board and plan ahead as to which fights you want to pick.

For a Knizia game, the theme is surprisingly strong and the auctions makes sense. Filling up the scripts with tiles is fun, intuitive and the Hollywood is actually quite an underutilized. In Traumfabrik, the theme and mechanisms blend extremely well.

Among the many games I have played that are designed by Mr. Knizia, only two have employed a closed economy system. The first is the criminally underrated Orongo (rank 3000+ on BGG) and Traumfabrik is the other. I enjoy closed economy systems for the reason that it is an antidote for gamers who dislike open ended auction systems. Far too often, I hear players disliking auctions because they have a hard time placing a value on items. Hence, they either feel foolish for overbidding or can’t compete because they underbid. While a closed auction system does not mitigate all these issues, it does place a cap on the total amount of currency available for bidding. If you know precisely the amount of money circulating around the table, then you know roughly how much an item might be worth. In Traumfabrik, that value is quite clear especially after the first few auctions. You can’t really wait for too long and you don’t have a ton of money to begin with. After all, the value of items are bracketed by the total currency available during the game.

Traumfabrik is a fantastic auction game where the auction doesn’t dominate. Unlike Modern Art where the value of the paintings is wide open, the auction in Traumfabrik is a little bit more….corralled. Assembling all the elements of the movie is fun and rewarding but the careful player that looks around the table will likely have an edge. Traumfrabrik makes the occasional appearance on the table, but I do enjoy it each time. The pace is brisk and even though the auctions can feel a little repetitive toward the end, the game is wrapped up shortly after. I think the theme is perfect for the game and I can’t see anything else going well with the mechanisms. For me, this is ranks among other Knizia greats.

Final word: Great!

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