Another year, another Essen. That may well be a cliché, but so quickly do the shows come round that it seems as if just weeks are passing in between. Getting old, I guess. But not too old to enjoy myself for a few days at the biggest game fair in the world. At one point Eric Martin introduced me to his wife as an "Old One", which made me smile, and sound like some sort of mythos creature. In reality, it probably applies to anyone who was playing German Games, B.S. (Before Settlers). As I approach my twentieth Essen anniversary, I rather like the idea of being a boss card in Arkham Horror.
If you want me to give you some general impressions, and I'm sure you do, then they would be that prices were up, smoke and crowds were down and that there were quite a few no-shows amongst the games scheduled to appear. The latter is down to the usual suspects: printing errors, delayed development, artists breaking their hands, etc. The lack of crowds was noticeable. Uniquely, game demonstrators on the big company stands were hanging around with nothing to do. They were even offering to demo games as you passed the empty tables, though why I would be interested in one of the girly pony games is a mystery. The reason? There was a fairly major train strike in Germany throughout the fair, although the U Bahn was running. As for prices, who knows? But the sub 20 Euro game was rare, and we saw a lot of 35 to 50 Euro games, both of which are unusual. Were I still at the show today (Sunday) I'd bet my house on at least a few reductions.
Sometimes it is possible to determine some trends, but this year all that was apparent was that there is ongoing sequelitis for some companies (Eggertspiel are working that rondel mechanism hard) and we are playing games that we have pretty much seen before. Normally such recycling is Bruno Faidutti's domain, but there were others at it this year. See below for the culprits!
Lastly, two small gripes. There are now marked signs of the British Abroad syndrome. One notices this in places like Spain and Florida, and it gets worse as the resort becomes more popular. I haven't been troubled before, but this year I ran into some annoying types. Secondly, if game rules, or a website, have been translated into English (note the clue in the word), could we please have a Union Jack rather than a Stars & Stripes icon? Or, at the very least, both. Thank you. That was my Pub Landlord impression, but boy does it grate. Even the French do it!
The annual disclaimer applies: what follows is what I was able to get to over the space of three days, mixed with chatting, browsing, eating, checking out miniatures games, and, it must be said, a fair few beers. There are gaps. I defy anyone to cover everything. On my list are about ten games I didn't even have demoed, let alone get to play. There were probably at least another hundred games that didn't even register.
It was another good year, but there are just so many games now that the reporter in me surrenders, lays down, and whimpers. When one is walking past entire companies, with perhaps five games on show, any one of which could be game of the year, it is hard to even say the words 'comprehensive coverage'.
And so, to the games. Where I have offered a view one way or the other it is only where I have played it and am confident that I have got a reliable feel for what is going on. Obviously in time I will return to the games, good and not so good, and check my findings.
2F-Spiele occupied their normal corner in tandem with Andrea Meyer, making for two designers of the weird and sometimes wonderful. Interestingly, the stars were right for each of them this year as both produced a credible hit. Friedemann had Filou (or Felix: The Cat in the Sack). This little card game, very reasonably priced at 9 Euros, was riding high in recommendations and on the Fairplay chart. I bought one following a short demonstration but when we went to play that night, I had not been given English rules. Safe to say, if you like Friedemann's style, this is a must buy. Quick and fun. Andrea had another of the top hits, Linq, but I can save you some money. It is a German word/social game with a 'detect your partner' element, but it will need an English version to be playable. Since that version doesn't yet exist, we Anglophones must wait. Finally, there was another set of power plant cards for Power Grid, which this time apparently change the game considerably.
Abacus had a very nice Zooloretto expansion, in English, if you knew who to ask, and a promo Polar Bear tile. They also had Darjeeling, which is at least half a good game. Designed by my old mate Gunther Burkhardt, this is a game about picking and shipping tea. Very nice components, some excellent ideas, and a really nice tempo in terms of deciding when to commit to shipping, and whether to go for small or large shipments. It is let down badly by the tea collection mechanism, which can be too random and also unbalanced, but otherwise I liked it. Were this fixed somehow, I think it could be a winner.
ADG were back, with Harry Rowland in fine form. They had what seemed a huge amount of World in Flames product, 7 Ages of course, and the item of most interest to me; a late beta of the Empires in Arms PC game. I am looking forward to getting that one onto the computer.
Alea presented Im Jahr des Drachen, designed by Stefan Feld. Herr Feld can do no wrong as far as I am concerned (Roma, Notre Dame and Roma II coming in 2008), so this will be a must purchase when the English edition appears. German friends of mine were full of praise, in one case saying that this is the best game Alea have done. Can't wait.
Amigo: We spent quite a while at the Amigo stand on the Thursday, when tables were freely available and help was at hand. We learned Michael Schacht's Patrician (English version from Mayfair) and all enjoyed it. Patrician is yet another take on the area control, card play and making buildings genre. It was quick, and it worked as a super filler, but one couldn't help feeling that we'd seen it before. The other issue was that while the situation was interesting, there wasn't much in the way of decision making.
Next up was Bohnroeschen. This joins the ever growing range of Bohnanza spin-offs - there are two Bohnbooks out this year as well - and sees the basic game amended by a series of tasks, in a nod to Was Sticht. So, one might need to have fields with a total value of six, hold five money, have each field valued at one, or have nothing but Soya planted. When you achieve the condition at the end of your turn, you advance to the next one. You can skip a task by paying a bounty. Essentially then, Bohnanza with hurdles. I am no fan of the popular Bohn series, through over exposure really, but will gladly play it every now and then. Personally, this variant just adds to the torment, but I suspect keen players might find the conditions make a nice change from the norm. Amigo also provide some cool beanshaped dobbers. As I can't easily pronounce this one, I have decided to call it Bohn Breaker.
CBG (Czech Board Games) collected their IGA award at the show for Through The Ages, and kindly put the last 40 copies up for grabs by way of a lottery. I say kindly, but there was a 20 Euro premium on last year's price! This game looks set for continued success with the reprint on the way from FRED. The big question, however, was whether last year's initial success was a flash in the pan. It wasn't. Combined with CGE (below) the Czechs are still looking fresh and bringing some interesting ideas to gaming.
CBG had two games, one of which most of us ignored because it contained plasticine/clay, but on balance there shouldn't be too much wrong with Laborigines. The basic idea is that modified lab creatures have to try and survive. This will doubtless get played in due time. The other release, Jantaris, was rather clever. An octagon of areas surround a central market. Players work to build control of individual markets, then monopolies, and also get involved in negotiation through a matrix system - this is not the usual verbal haggling, but action chit driven. It all came together very nicely, and although one can never be sure of games played in Essen, I will have high hopes when replaying this one.
CGE (Czech Games Edition) are sort of a separate company to CBG but in most gamers' minds we just grouped them together. There is apparently no schism, as they all still seem to get on, but I can't explain because understanding Czech corporate restructuring is beyond me.
Anyhoo. Galaxy Trucker is the new game from the designer of Through the Ages, and it would be hard to imagine a greater gulf between the two. Trucker is a Factory Fun style game, where you build a spaceship from components, and assess market conditions, against the clock. In phase two, the ship suffers the slings and arrows of spacial fortune. That's it really. I didn't buy it because I know there will be copies around, and that I will like as not only want to play once. I may be wrong, but I rarely see much replay value in this type of game. Or, I get bored easily. Take your pick. If I like it, I can buy it later.
The second game was altogether more meaty. League of Six is, for me, a very interesting design. Having played it, I was impressed but with hindsight that was mainly by the mechanisms taken individually and not, perhaps, as a whole. Based on the Hussite Wars, but so loosely as to be almost irrelevant, this is an intricate game of many interacting parts. There are a number of innovative mechanisms, a clever twist on the Amun Re bidding system, and more turn order devices than I have ever seen in one place! It appears to be a game with plenty going for it. I am not saying it is perfect, as there are definitely problems in the final storage phase and elsewhere, and a marked degree of looping, but overall I am thinking three and a half/four stars.
The other side of the coin is that three of the people I played with felt that there were larger, structural issues. In a nutshell, the game was accused of playing itself, with the gamer's role akin to watching TV. They also thought the game was calculable, and so ultimately prone to lengthy analysis and slow play. And related dullness. I disagreed, but only really because I play most games by the seat of my pants, on hunches, and with an approximate feel for value. The conversation developed and I would put it down to different gamers having different skills, preferences and, importantly, toleration levels. I would happily play this again now, and expect to play at least three times, but I will keep an open mind on the issues discussed.
C4/Creative Cell: Walking around on the Wednesday afternoon, looking for a game to buy and play that night, it was recommended that I have a look at The Circle by first time attendees, C4. I duly went to the stand, and seeing a well produced game about Victorian spies, plonked down my 30 Euros. The theme and ideas are excellent, and they have really done a professional job on graphics and artwork. About the only omission would be passing the game to a developer, I guess, which has had dire consequences.
Generally, the concept is good. Players represent a country deploying secret agents against The Circle, a sort of 19th century Illuminati. The currency of the game is secrets, and this part is neatly done. Broadly, you either strengthen your intelligence and future power, or you recruit and use agents using the same action points. The aim is to infiltrate The Circle with several spies and be the first player to score the necessary VPs. There are country specific and neutral spies, and each has a different skill. As one might expect, there are counter spies, double agents, assassins and several more besides.
There are two major issues that effectively killed this game for us. Firstly, the pace of play. After we had slogged through twelve pages of rules, and read out the sixteen (!) different types of agent powers, we got underway. Everything you do seems to revolve (literally) around the clock device, on which the agents must mature for a number of turns before they are ready for the field. If they perform an action (mission), for sometimes just a minor effect, they are back on the clock and again we wait. The pacing and feel is all wrong for the subject matter. The result is that we quickly gave up even considering missions, and instead infiltrated The Circle, bringing immediate victory points. After almost two hours play, we had had enough.
Crime two is using an olive green and a turquoise, and purple and orange, as colours on the cards. Not easy to define in anything but good light. And it is important.
My feeling is that The Circle almost works, but those workings are so slow as to be effectively unplayable. It felt like it needed to be a computer game to get the pace up. Others were less complimentary. I may be off base here, but it is almost as if they knew where they were going, but came up with the wrong mechanisms. It's a shame because the theme is great, and in keeping with good looking games that need some TLC, I will hang onto this one.
Days of Wonder were selling various versions of Ticket to Ride, with the Swiss expansion being the latest addition. It is clear that the game have a huge following, and one can see why. Probably related to that fact, there were no discount copies around the show, and Days of Wonder held to the 30 Euro price point. On the Thursday, Mik Svellov arrived at the Press Office with the Scandinavian edition under his arm, which I never saw on sale. The map is, to say the least, unfortunate!
DDD: There is always one stand I miss. This year it was DDD, who had displayed their Die Wiege der Renaissance card game in the press area. It looked great, I noted it down, and never got round to finding them. Which is a bit annoying as the game has been talked about since in positive terms. I will see if I can track down a copy.
dV made a splash with Bang! and then Leonardo last year. According to everyone I spoke to they had nothing new this year, apart from Bang! packaged in an artillery shell (!), and so I didn't check out the stand in detail. Mistake. On the ferry home, Martin Leathwood produced Borneo from his pocket, which he had already played twice. This turns out to be a clever card game that, I believe, was chosen from the design competition held at the Lucca game convention each year. From what I saw and heard (I was playing Mr. Jack on the next table) this is one to check out.
Eggert-Spiele had two new games, as promised. Hamburgum received the better reception of the two. While it looks like yet another rondel-area control-build a church game, everyone that played it said it was good to excellent. Much the same depth as Antike and Imperial, but quicker and cleaner. I have to say it doesn't look all that, but it seems reasonable to expect good gameplay from this up and coming company.
Cuba sounds like Puerto Rico, looks like Puerto Rico and according to some, plays like Puerto Rico. As we also know, Cuba (the island) is quite close to Puerto Rico. Conclusive evidence? One gamer of my acquaintance suggested that Alea should call in their copyright lawyers! Other gamers are leaping to its defence, saying that it is indeed different, oh yes it is. Personally, I'm fine with whatever is in the box. It is designed by one of my favourite teams (responsible for Pillars of the Earth) and I am not super keen on Puerto Rico anyway... There was a lot of good crack about this game, as with Hamburgum, and I feel it is unlikely to be the same game. As I don't own Puerto Rico, I felt I could reasonably purchase Cuba. Okay, okay. I fell for the gorgeous graphics.
Fantasy Flight: In truth, I am not entirely sure what was new at this massive stand. I certainly hadn't seen Starcraft before, in one of the gravestone boxes, and Dust looked very good indeed. I had expected this one to be a skirmish game of sorts, but the map is at strategic level and the little bases and mechs are placed in cities. I had written this off, but am now very much interested again. There was also a new Beowulf game, again by Reiner, to coincide with the forthcoming film; a new version of Condottiere in a small box; and another Descent expansion.
Ferti had a new version of Reiner's ancient but still highly playable En Garde. There is a 3d cardboard piste, with a backdrop, and two plastic fencing figures. Very, very cool. Tempted to buy for my friend who fences, tempted to buy one all for myself. In the end I did neither but I will doubtless crack next year. Or, I suppose I could make one myself.
Fragor split people right down the middle with Antler Island. Some people didn't care for it at all. That didn't stop it selling steadily. I was lucky enough to get a game at the stand, and I really enjoyed it. For me, it is their best effort so far. The game is quick, tense and fun. Much snappier and more streamlined than Hameln, and on a par humour wise. It uses the trademark Fragor animal bits, this time elks converted to stags - Gordon Lamont suggested aquatics for next year. It has a very neat pre-programmed action system that allows some flexibility, and a brutal 'king of the hill' victory condition that means you have to clash antlers at least once, and often more. Good play requires timing, a balance of resources, and solid tactical choices. It is all done and dusted in well under an hour, with learning. There is no doubt that it is at the light/family end of gaming, but then haven't Fragor always been there? One of the show highlights for me.
FRED Distribution had the excellent Uptown, a mock up of the forthcoming Through the Ages reprint, and Rails of Europe, which is an expansion for Railroad Tycoon. They also had an English translation of Reiner's well regarded book of poker variants, published in German a decade ago, which I happily carried off for review next time.
Games for The World are the publishers of the hugely enjoyable The World Cup Game, which was published last year. Shaun Derrick the designer has, as promised, followed up with scenarios for 1958, 1962 and 1966, and another set covering 1934, 1938 and 2006. My personal favourite is 1970, and I hope Shaun gets round to that one.
Goldsieber offered an interesting title, Liebe & Intrige, I think largely aimed at the female market judging by the box colour. This is a story building game that claims it recreates the world and books of Jane Austen, although it looked more bodice ripper territory to me. Whatever, the thought of a game that makes stories is always of interest, but of course the German text is going to squash it. If anyone could tell me how this one works, I would be very grateful. Also on offer was Akkon, in theory a game about Templar warfare. I couldn't find anyone to demonstrate it, sadly, and there is a lot of German text, but this must be checked out.
Goliath had a re-issue of TaYu, a good game that I very much regret selling. This new version will let you play the game, but the beautiful components of the Kosmos original are absent, replaced by red acrylic.
Hans im Gluck: Time was that Hans im Gluck released one game per year. Nowadays, there might be as many as half a dozen or more. As the St Petersburg expansion didn't appear, we were left with a couple of Carcassonne expansions (these seem to breed if left in a room together), Travel Carcassonne, Underwater Carcassonne and a Carcassonne Deluxe system which has all the tiles, all the rules, and a large plastic sack to keep them all in. Seriously, I liked the look of the Carcassonne Big Box, which for 35 Euros got you pretty much all the earlier games. My favourites remain The Discovery, which seems so much more elegant than the others, and The Castle.
There were also two bigger box games: Oregon and Ming Dynasty. I was told that both would appear in an English edition, so I eliminated them from my enquiries. It turns out though that both may well be playable as is.
Histogames will always be on radar because they published Friedrich, still one of my favourite games. This year, after quite a break, they had King of Siam. This area control game drew above average comments, and in some cases a lot of praise for its clever card play, tough decisions and Liberte like power vacuum. Another one to try! You could buy this and Friedrich for 40 Euros, which was a steal.
Hurrican collected their IGA award at the show for Mr Jack, a game that still impresses me. Sadly the planned expansion was not available, although it now sounds as if the cards arrived on the Saturday. The expansion includes five new characters for the game, and it will be interesting to see how they fit into the game as the structure is somewhat fixed. Hurrican also had Animalia on the stand, which now has wider distribution. As I said in my earlier review, this is a decent card game if you can handle the cutesy graphics.
Japon Brand brought over a dozen titles with them in their suitcases, and once again they suffered from constantly selling out of the popular games. I went along early this year, and while I liked the look of the samurai chess variant, I plumped for Origin of Falling Water, recommended by two passers-by and the stand manager. We played that night and I was disappointed. It is a strange matrix form of trick taking game in which one could see the idea, but playing it was a nightmare of planning, and there was too much luck and too little control. In fairness, the hilarious rules were worth the price of entry. If anyone can shed light on the other ten new games, I would be interested. I don't really want to say that decent games from Japan are a rarity, but on the evidence of the last few years, they are definitely more miss than hit.
JKLM had a couple of major new releases, Caveman, Murdero (listed, but I didn't see it - this is a murder mystery CCG!) and Power & Weakness - the latter is an interesting looking game by Andreas Steding set in post Roman Britain. There were lots of copies of Phoenicia being played, which is a very good game in the Outpost/Zavandor mould, which I will be reviewing next time. There was also an expansion set for Kogge, and a card game called Stop Lights.
Kosmos were majoring with two new games of The Golden Compass, based on the excellent novels by Philip Pullman. This meant the stand had a huge armoured polar bear, which was a must for photographers. One game is based on the book licence, and the other (more for we gamers) draws on the imagery from the forthcoming film. The latter game is German only at present, but will be in English very soon. The game is designed by the Italian design team behind War of the Ring and Marvel Heroes, so hopefully it will be a cut above. It looks lovely, and I expect to play an English prototype in the near future. There was also an expansion to Pillars of the Earth that was selling very well, but, again, is in German only at the moment. Mayfair are expected to do the English version, but we don't know exactly when that will be. Another game on display was a two player series title based on Perry Rhodan, a curiously popular SF book saga. Reports were positive, and I look forward to trying it. I believe Kosmos also had some Settlers stuff out back, and Anno 1701.
Lookout Games caused some furrowed brows with Agricola. They had a tempting new gamer's game about farming (at last!), by an established designer, but featuring some German on the cards and no-one knew if it would ever get an English version. It also weighed a lot, putting off anyone who was flying home - these days, baggage limits are enforced with punitive fines. So, to buy or not to buy? The designer is Uwe Rosenberg, of Bohn fame, and to make matters worse, pretty much all the buzz was positive. If I take myself back a few years, the chance to buy a lovely looking game that might need a bit of work with the rules was something I did all the time. In this case, the talented Melissa Rogerson has already done the hard work on translation. So, unfazed, and always keen to support the smaller companies making such games, I handed over the cash, lugged it home, and I will play as soon as I can.
Lookout also had an unusual version of Bohnanza, featuring artwork submitted by fans. Sadly, it is all a bit amateurish. UK readers will think Vision On. Not that I am exactly the target market anyway.
Matagot were back, and their customer service hasn't improved a great deal. Say what you want about the French, and I hear many dissenting voices, but dealing with Matagot is reminiscent of buying a ticket on the French railway system. They don't care, they are rude, and if they can obstruct you, they will. Otherwise, I like the French, and France. In the case of Matagot, one wonders if they want to sell the game. So when I tried to get a game of Utopia (mainly because of mixed feelings about Khronos, the box is huge, and it is not inexpensive) I was greeted with a shrug, Gallic attitude, and a suggestion that I wait until a slot became available. At that point one was expected to learn the game oneself! So, for the very first time in Essen history, I thought, 'sod it', and walked off. But because I am a professional (!), the game runs about two hours, was deemed very good by almost all those that played, and it looks lovely. I'll get to play it within the month, and will report back.
Mind the Move have been a regular point of call for most gamers over the last few years, even if their games have left me cold. I believe I am right in saying that they weren't at the show this year.
Moskito were demonstrating Tribun, which is the theme-morphed game that I played as Sammelsurium last year and greatly enjoyed. This is a no brainer purchase, really, given the designer, but most understandably decided to wait for the English edition. For many, including the Fairplay voters, this was game of the show. Told you so!
Nexus had a nice looking prototype of motorcycle racing, a subject that we rarely see. Sectional track, and hopefully little bike models, should make for a must buy. They will need to be careful with the title though - I once worked in MotoGP licensing. Sadly, Battles of Napoleon, one of the games I am most looking forward to, will now not appear until later in the year.
Phalanx had two new games, Lascaux and Chicago Poker, but most talk was of Before the Wind, a game I have played a lot recently and which I regard highly. It was pleasing to see BtW making a good showing, high on the Fairplay chart.
Portal Publishing had a new version of Neuroshima Hex. I like this game a lot, and asked if I could get hold of the attractive new map. The designer politely explained that I could get the new map if I bought the new version. No messing, these Poles. I could probably have worked that out for myself...
Queen are fast becoming one of the big players, and had several new games for the show. One of these I had hoped for, one was a complete surprise, and another seemed to be transparent because I heard not a single word about it all show.
The surprise was Fish Market (Fangfrisch), which avoided most of the show previews. This is a great little filler. Turn over cards featuring various kinds of fish, representing the day's catch. Buyers watch until they decide to buy, and then they hit the Halli-Galli bell provided. They pay a flat 10 gold, the seller gets increasing money the more he sells. Store the fish in either crates or the freezer, and sell them later. Dead simple. Nice little game.
And finally, a game I saw last year in prototype and instantly liked. When I saw the box, I was almost sure it would be good. And I was right. Giganten der Lufte (Airships) is a short, punchy dice game by Andreas Seyfarth. A long way from Puerto Rico, and even Thurn & Taxis. This one bears some similarity to Um Krone & Kragen, and offers a comparable experience. The plot is that you are a company building airships, and through research, technology and improved resources (all cards gained through dice), you can build more and more advanced models, finally peaking with the Hindenburg. There are some interesting deicisions, a strong theme, and a real sense of building. Yes, there is luck, but in the context of the game it was no problem for me. One of the hits.
R&D Games broke the trend of recent years by having more than enough Key Harvest games on sale, at a very good price point. Adding belt to the braces, you could buy a different version altogether from QWG who, I am ashamed to say, I never found. Key Harvest returns Richard Breese to familiar territory after last year's diversion into Fowl Play, while retaining the superb art and production standards he is known for. Having played this one several times already, I can say that you will not be disappointed. I particularly like the cube pricing mechanism, and the simple device of 'gaming bingo' in trying to collect the right tiles is surprisingly gripping. I really like this game.
Rackham were present in the miniatures hall, a place where I spend a lot of time, and the future strategy was clear: pretty much anything apart from pre-painted plastics and AT-43 was on sale. The metal figures are going, as is the Cadwallon RPG. Hybrid and its expansion were under half price, making them almost affordable! This is, of course, a major shame as it seemed that Rackham were doing everything right, making a decent shot at Games Workshop rival, and doing it in exciting style. But cash flow problems, international marketing and new product launches can get you every time, and so I hope they manage to pull through. They are too good to lose.
Ragnar Brothers: Sharing a stand with R&D, Gary Dicken of the Ragnar Brothers made his first visit to Essen. He brought along copies of 2nd Edition Canal Mania, a few conversion kits (I grabbed one) and had details of their new game, Monastery. The latter game was not available because their artist broke his hand, which as you might imagine puts a crimp in your style. Expected later this year.
Rio Grande normally get slotted under other companies, but this year they alone had Tom Lehmann's Race for the Galaxy. In English. Yes, it is finally out. One of the most awaited games of recent years is in my hands. It had better be good!
Sierra Madre Games were back, this time with a full blown colour, Anglo-German language production: Origins: How We Became Human is a game about the very start of the human species, and resulting development and civilisation. It is no secret that I am a big fan of Sierra Madre games. I have therefore played a late prototype, and very much enjoyed it, so look forward to getting the published version to the table.
Truant Verlag, who have been around a while, did their first big box game in the shape of Kingsburg. This was that difficult proposition: a new company in the field, with a large game, at a large price. Does one take the gamble? I didn't, but those that did said it was decent. But nothing more than that. I would like to play it, nevertheless.
Valley Games had one of the better marketing ploys of recent years, with Miss Canada demonstrating games on the stand. It would be naughty of me to suggest that the many admiring eyes were for her rather than their new release, Container. Personally, as attractive as Miss C was (she did an excellent job of describing the game, by the way), I preferred her mum. I think that says a lot about me… Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, Container. A number of people I spoke to said this was Best of Show. The game is indeed a clever one, with lovely ship models, but I had such a poor outing (I ran out of cash too quickly) that I am going to defer judgement on this one. Valley also had their reprint of Hannibal, which looks spectacular. Miss Canada was evidently not playing this one, in case there were any wargamers thinking of marriage proposals.
What's Your Game released Ghost for Sale, a deduction game aimed at the younger audience.
Winsome Games' release was Wabash Cannonball, which was getting an awful lot of good press before the show. A decent, meaty railway game in an hour or so is something I am always open to. Of course, John Bohrer only produces a limited run each year, and I had not ordered one. Fortunately, as John and I go way back, I was able to secure a copy. Thanks John. Can't wait to play this one.
WOTC/Sony: I apologise for bringing computer games into this report, but for me The Eye of Judgment was the buzz game of the show. One couldn't miss the many large screens showing the amazing battle sequences of a Magic style game, and people kept walking up to me saying how much they wanted the cards and the game, and trying to justify the 100 Euro price tag. Not to mention the PlayStation 3 you need to play it, and the fact it is collectible! Sounds like a money pit to me. In fairness, I was very impressed by the graphics, and when I found out the game was a hybrid, with cards that are 'played' into the computer by way of a camera, I felt I could happily mention it here. Have a look, it is probably another step down the road for gaming technology.
Ystari may have taken second seat behind the Czechs in the 'Company to Talk About' stakes, but they are not exactly idle. Their new game is Amyitis, which no-one seems to be able to pronounce except to make it sound like a disease. I didn't buy it as there will be lots of copies at the club, but I am keen to try as soon as possible. Again, generally good press on this one. There was also a small expansion for Mykerinos.
Z-Man are really starting to push the games out. There have already been a number this year, and Essen saw the release of 1960: The Making of the President, Prophecy, El Capitan and Chang Cheng. 1960 was a must for me, being a big fan of election games, and it is co-designed by Jason Matthews of Twilight Struggle fame. Not exactly a difficult decision, this one. I will look forward to playing Prophecy, as Frank Branham has spoken highly of it. My liking of this one will depend on it being considerably better than Runebound, and much much better than Talisman! Chang Cheng looked good, although being a game about the Great Wall of China lead many gamers to think it would replicate Reiner's earlier effort. I don't think this is the case, and, again, I will play this in time.
Quite a few games that were slated to appear at Essen didn't. Here are a few, which in all honesty I was happy to cross off my list - to save money and decisions, not because I am not interested.
Mr Jack expansion - delayed. The cards arrived with square corners rather than round (and if you know the game, you know why that is a problem!). Possibly, the cards may arrive on Saturday of the show.
St Petersburg expansion - delayed until December. No one knew if this is just the Spielbox expansion in a box, or rather more than that, so I asked at HiG. Apparently it is the Spielbox cards, plus some new cards.
Age of Piracy - didn't make the show, more likely to be at Nuremberg '08.
Battles of Napoleon and Age of Conan are both delayed.
As you can see, I pretty much ignored all the little card games (they will show up over time or cause a stir somehow) and abstracts. This is not to belittle the efforts of Kris Burm, Peter Burley and many others, I just don't feel I can cover them. Increasing specialisation takes its toll.
My standout games so far, bearing in mind the pile of unopened boxes, are
And the unplayed games that tempt me the most:
Many thanks to BoardGameGeek.com, Spielbox.de and BoardGameNews.com without which writing this report would have been an awful lot slower. I would also like to thank Richard Breese and Martin Leathwood for moving me country to country, Harry Rowland for a great (and truly huge) dinner, and Klaus Knechtskern and Patrick Korner for very interesting chats. And Charlie, Ken, Kurt and Marion, you know how much I enjoyed the week.
Once again I must blame you for helping to empty my wallet. I'm excited to grab some of these as they come in.
Many thanks for your write up. I am always interested in what others got fron ther shopw and their experiences. Every year I seem to pick up more hints and tips that can improve my experience.
I am in interested in your comments about Brits Abroad Syndrome. This was my 5th consecutive trip to Essen and my group noticed a significant increase in British and American visitors. All of which we found as polite and friendly as the many other International visitors we had the pleasure of meeting.
I believe it is the International diversity that makes Spiel what it is.
Of course, in general, everyone is very nice. As ever, it is a tiny minority.
...Mike, your voice & take on all this is delightful.
aka fluff daddy
An excellent thoughtful report as always, and I only part company with you in the matter of preferring Miss Canada's Mum.
Great read, Mike - thanks.
Matagot – I had a similar experience. I had one spot left in my suitcase and was very interested in Utopia but the explanation I was given by the miserable git on their stall was done so reluctantly that there was no way I was going to buy it. (I bought Tribun instead which I suspect was a better decision anyway).
Hamburgen – I didn’t like this at all. I hesitate to make a judgement like this after only one playing but the game seemed obvious and the rondel mechanism that I like so much in Antike and Imperial just didn’t work. (Guildhall early in the game, church late in the game with trade as often as needed inbetween).
Agricola – I too got tempted into buying this which is surprising as my patience with anything with non-English text these days is virtually nil. 10 years ago I wouldn’t have minded the paste ups etc but now I just worry that I will never get it to the table.
The Sierra Madre game was probably the one that I came home being most excited about. I’m glad I didn’t let the 30 minutes I spent wandering round the chainmail costumes and six foot swords trying to find the stall put me off.
Miss Canada – to me she looked about 15 and weighed 5 stone in which case, I too would probably have preferred her mum had I seen her
She did indeed look as if she needed a pie or ten.
A bit closer to 25 I'd have thought.
Helo Mike, Hello Mickael,
(first: PS : sorry for my poor English...)
I am very surprised about what happened to you on our booth in Essen, where you were poorly received. This is absolutly anormal.
Maybe we are french, but we try to be as friendly as possible with the players ! ;-)
Please, could you tell when you came to our booth (if you remember of course), who receive you, and what happened?
Thanks a lot and have a nice day,
Mike, I played Liebe und Intrige twice during the week -- and it's a nice filler -- about 45 minutes of lightweight fun. I have a copy at home with me -- look for a review in the next few weeks in my column...
I also have most of the Japon Brand games -- though with the influx of games, I might not get to them until well into the winter!
Good seeing you again
Good seeing you too Dale.
I shall look forward to the review with interest.
Mind the Move wasn't In Essen. Actually Emanuele and his wife Barbara was at the fair Saturday at least but without a booth.. This year no MtM games but I know there are already some nice projects in Emanuele brain!
Concerning Nexus, are you sure ? Are you talking about Nexus Games ? I know they have Garibaldi - la Trafila, Wings of War Deluxe and some demo copy of Micro Mutant Evolution. Also a demo copy of Rattle Snake.
Real nice report, anyway. Thank you very much and good play!
Great and rather thorough overview.
The worst disappointment is that Origins hasn't been inked to paper yet. I was hoping to play it in a couple of weeks.
The next worst disappointment is the death of Cadwallon. Somewhere in that massive mangled translated tome is a great tactical minis RPG screaming to get out. Their Hybrid game is totally worth a look if you can still nab one cheaply. Probably the best of that breed of game since Space Hulk.
You know, I think Cadwallon really took a hit because of that initial translation work. I agree entirely on the game system. Needless to say I have kept the game and the excellent tile sets.
Hybrid was about £80 ($160) for the game and expansion in the UK. A friend of mine has loaned me a copy, and it is on the too play list. So, pleased to hear that view.
At the show, I think the pair were down to $60, so unless it sells out, it should be easy to pick up.
As it was, I got four of the AT43 mechs, which weren't reduced.
Well, here I am again reading a report of your 20th Essen, and me not going again. I am awash in feelings of deja vu and nostalgia. Good lord, Ken Tidwell surfaced somewhere or other with a report! Its like old home week.
Anyway, thank's for capturing a bit of the excitement that makes this week like the arrival of Christmas catalogs for gamers.
Oh, and btw, I think they use the American flag because they spell "shop" properly, with 1 "p" and no "e"
A short postscript.
Today I picked up the English version of Golden Compass, designed by the War of the Ring team, and very nice it looks too. Expect this to be in the distribution channels very shortly.
Also, I got to play 1960: Making of the President. Superb game. One of the standouts of the show.
Thanks for a very entertaining report. I’m really eager to hear more about Origins: How We Became Human. I’ve been a bit too intimidated by the other Sierra Madre titles to get and try one, but the few snippets I’ve read about Origins make it sound like it is more approachable. And it has a cool theme as well.
My biggest disappointment is the delay of Monastery. Broken artist’s hand?! That excuse is too good to have been made up!
Thanks Susan. Appreciate the comment as I enjoy reading your reports so much.
We will be playing Origins as soon as possible, probably later this month.
Monastery sounds really interesting, and the box artwork is stunning. Can't wait to see the rest.