Top 10 Essen Spiel 2013 wishlist: The aftermath

Essen haul 2013After a surprising number of views of my initial Essen Spiel 2013 post a few weeks back, I thought it would be a good idea to follow it up.

My second trip to Essen proved to be every bit as fun, and successful, as the first. With the exception of a slightly fraught boarding process on the return Eurostar at Brussels, all the trains and accommodation went without a hitch (except for the Wi-Fi, or lack thereof – more on that another time…). But did my top 10 pan out the way I’d expected?

Essen Wishlist Top 10 Revisited

  1. Concordia: “This will be a definite buy for me.” And it was, although it wasn’t as definite as it could’ve been. Once I’d started to pick up some bargains I decided I’d only pick up one 30+ euro game, which Concordia was at 35. So I had a good look at quite a few competitors before finally caving in on Saturday morning after a sadly fanboy chat with designer Mac Gerdts. I’ve now played it twice and its looking like a great decision; it plays much like you’d expect from a Gerdts game (short turns, tight play, tricky decisions) and the usual lovely components (including history lesson).
  2. Snowdonia expansions: “Again, these will be definite purchases.” Actually these didn’t turn out to be purchases, as designer Tony Boydell generously gave me them for nothing (I presume for the help with play-testing, rather than me being an upstanding guy…). Due to the wealth of new games sitting on my table Snowdonia hasn’t yet hit the table, but my experience of one of the expansions previously (Mt Washington) means I’m already pretty sure I’m going to love them. I just have to get all the other shinies played first.
  3. Bargains! “Games at crazy discounts – already on the list: Dakota and Artus.” After reading this a friend generously offered to give me their copy of Dakota in return for a copy of The Empire Engine – even more of a bargain! I did pick up Artus for just five euros, while also grabbing a German edition of The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet for only 10 euros and Briefcase for 14 euros. Best of all was grabbing two older games I’d really hoped to find: Rosenkonig for 11 euros – quite the Grail game for me as its been unavailable since I first played it on Yucata.de several years ago – and Nefertiti (plus expansion) for 15 euros. Lastly I got the very poorly rated Anasazi for only two euros – figuring it has nice bits, so if it’s as bad as people say I can cannibalise it for prototype parts!
  4. Warlock: “Auctions/bidding, deck building, tile placement/tableau building and hand management – it ticks all the boxes.” We managed to get a demo of this one and it did seem to tick all of those boxes. However my friend Matt was just as enamoured with it as I was, so I let him make the purchase. It means I won’t get to play it that much, but it wouldn’t have fitted in the suitcase anyway! And our demo was pretty confused, so it will need some more plays before I make a final opinion on it.
  5. Dice games: “Two are standing out for me at the moment: Blueprints and CV.” My research certainly seemed to pay off this year, as both of these games ended up coming home with me. I’ve played Blueprints three times with eight or nine different people and they’ve all loved it; it’s quick and thinky with a surprisingly small amount of luck for  dice game. CV is simply charming and my two plays so far have again been enjoyed by all participants. The artwork is remarkably comical and whimsical, while the marriage of theme to the game really helps set it apart.
  6. Gritty sci-fi games: “Our group likes gritty sci-fi, so why not give them what they want?” While I still stand by this statement, while looking at both Infamy and Enclave I just kept thinking, “Why should I? Its my money and they won’t appreciate it”. And that’s not a knock on the players – they’re simply not into the hobby as much as me and in their eyes we have more than enough games to play already. Infamy looked OK but just sat on a table and wasn’t being demoed whenever we went past. We did get a play of Enclave but it turned out to be an enjoyable if unremarkable euro with a tacked on sci-fi theme – Waterdeep in space, perhaps. OK, but not 30+ euros OK.
  7. Card games: “Yes, there will be hundreds.” And there were, but the two I’d noted didn’t come home with me – three others did instead. I’m pretty sure Cheaty Mages didn’t make it (we found the stand, but it wasn’t there) while we couldn’t get a demo of S-evolution, which at around 20 euros was too expensive to get on a whim when surrounded by so many other bargains. Instead I found a game Zoe had wanted for ages (Nicht Die Bohn! – or ‘not the bean game’, as it’s known) and paid 10 euros for this year’s two games from the Austrian Spiel Museum: Handler der Karibik and Sissi! The former is a nice light push your luck card game, the latter a new take on the classic Bohnanza – the actual bean game. Strange coincidence!
  8. Nice looking euros: “These are my Achilles heal, so I’m bound to come home with at least one other fascinatingly themed gem.” Well who’d have thunk it – I didn’t crack! Our Craftsmen demo was disappointing, while the tables for both Yunnan and Rokoko (which sold out) were permanently packed. Both Madeira and Bruxelles 1893 also looked really good, but my resolve held. I predict one of those four will find its way onto my shelves some time in the near future, but then I said that about Terra Mystica and a few others last year.
  9. Silly racing games: “Both will need to shine to see me part with any cash.” While The Sheep Race won on cuteness, there was hardly any game there at all – especially for the crazy 30+ euro price. I had a test of Banjooli Xeet and that was enough to sell me on, especially as it was under 20 euros. We’ve only played once so far and it went a bit wonky at the end, but hopefully a little rules tweak will make it sing. The art and components are great, as was the first half of the play, so I’m sure we can make this one work.
  10. Mining games: “Not a topic I am drawn to any way…” but luckily I was travelling with a geologist! Again we failed to get a play of Rockwell, which did look really interesting, but on the other hand we didn’t hear a single report from anyone about it either. We did get to play Coal Baron though and it was excellent. Again I left it to Matt to buy, and then we thrashed him into last place that evening! It’s a really great euro though, so he got the last laugh – and he did the same to me at Concordia.

Of the other games I mentioned I just didn’t get a strong enough feeling to take a punt on Origin, but another friend picked it up so hopefully I’ll get a play soon. Lewis & Clark is also still on my list to play, but sold out, while Nations got a very lukewarm reception.

Matt also bought A Study in Emerald and we got a chance to play on the way home in Cologne. It clearly isn’t meant as a two-player game, but we both saw enough to think it’s going to be a lot of fun with more. Crazy, swingy fun perhaps, but fun nonetheless.

In the end I spent the equivalent of £150 on 13 games and more than 10 expansions and promos – pretty good I reckon! I’ve already played and been very impressed with eight of those, with only the cheapest ones left to come, so I’m going to call it as a win. Now, time to start looking for a hotel for next year.

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My Top 10 (well, 25-ish…) Essen Spiel 2013 wishlist

Essen 2013 logoIt’s just two weeks until we head off to Essen Spiel 2013 in Germany. It’s the world’s biggest board and card game trade show, but its just as geared towards the public as it is the industry. This will my second visit and I’m buzzing already.

This year I’m heading off with friend Matt, meeting other friends Lloyd and Sherine on Eurostar and then a bunch of others when we get there. On the way back Matt and me will be stopping off in Cologne and Brussels for a few days too, which should add a bit more blogging juice (unless we spend the whole time in the hotel playing new games…).

You may see board gaming as a niche nerd hobby, but it’s probably a bit bigger a deal than you think – especially in Germany. As a nation the Germans don’t see the basic concept of playing board games as nerdy; good quality tabletop games are an accepted part of family life (but yes, I’m sure most of them still sneer at  role-players).

So when I say big, I mean big: We’re talking 150,000 visitors, 827 exhibitors from 37 nations releasing literally hundreds of new games, covering a conference space of around 47,000 square meters – for four days. Big.

So how the hell do you cut down a 400+ new game list down to a manageable size? Well, you use the Essen Geek Mini website of course. And having studiously whittled it down over the past few months, here’s my…

Essen Wishlist Top 10

  1. Concordia: Board game designer Mac Gerdts is the man behind the rondel mechanism that inspired my only design to date, The Empire Engine. His games tend to be thinky and intelligent, while light on oppressive rules, and this one sees him move away from his beloved rondel and into hand management via cards, while keeping a beautiful board involved. This will be a definite  buy for me.
  2. Snowdonia expansions: It looks like there will be three separate expansions for one of my favourite games, Snowdonia, available at this year’s Essen. One of them I did a bit of play-testing for, while the others all look to add a little more variety to a game I can’t ever see myself getting bored of. I won’t talk about the base game as I’ve reviewed it here. Again, these will be definite purchases.
  3. Bargains! While my friends would say my collection is already ridiculous, I’m actually pretty limited in my knowledge compared to many board gamers. This makes Essen particularly fantastic, as German retailers use it to clear lots of good (but not great selling) games are crazy discounts – although you have to be careful, as they’re often German editions. Already on the list: Dakota and Artus.
  4. Warlock: This is a game that I’ll need to demo, but from what I can garner from the rules it looks like there might be just enough of our favourite midweek game – Race for the Galaxy – along with some interesting new twists to make this a real winner. And at 20 euros, the price is right too. Auctions/bidding, deck building, tile placement/tableau building and hand management – it ticks all the boxes.
  5. Dice games: Both Zoe and me are suckers for rolling dice, so I’m always on the lookout for some nice dice games. Two are standing out for me at the moment: Blueprints is a 30-minute dice drafting game, where you complete patterns on cards with different coloured dice, with different colours giving different benefits. CV is a card/Yahtzee game with nice art and a fun, original theme (the story of your life).
  6. Gritty sci-fi games: Know your audience! Our group likes gritty sci-fi, so why not give them what they want? Two stand out this year to me: Enclave (Polish worker placement game, collecting equipment to complete missions) and Infamy (hire criminals, deploy secret units, screw your friends’ plans, complete jobs). both look potentially fun, but I’ll be looking to try before I buy.
  7. Card games: Yes, there will be hundreds, but two in particular have aught my eye: Cheaty Mages looks like silly anime art fun, where you secretly bid on arena battles while trying to cheat the outcomes. S-Evolution looks to have an interesting tack on trick taking games, adding worker placement and evolution to change what rules each player applies in each round – from playing blind right up to using trump cards.
  8. Nice looking euros: These are my Achilles heal, so along with Concordia I’m bound to come home with at least one other fascinatingly themed gem. These are two to three-hour games where you place workers, gather materials and then turn them into victory points. The contenders: Rokoko (dress making…), Yunnan (tea selling…) and Craftsmen (medieval town building…).
  9. Silly racing games: I don’t have one of these, but there are two coming to Essen that like fun. Banjooli Xeet sees you racing ostriches via bluff and dice rolling, while the equally sensible looking The Sheep Race sees you, well, racing sheep – place your bets, then try to alter the outcome of three races to cash in. Both will need to shine to see me part with any cash – although the sheep one looks gorgeous.
  10. Mining games: Not a topic I am drawn to any way, but oddly there are two mining-themed games that look interesting this year. Rockwell looks like an uneasy co-op, where you need to work together to mine – but are looking to make the most profit. Coal Baron looks a more typical euro, but with some potentially interesting movement decisions to be made to bring up the coal.

Just outside the list was a game I love the look of, am not convinced by at all, but can’t seem to shake my interest in: Origin. It looks beautiful yet simple, while it could offer a lot of interesting strategic decisions – or equally could be incredibly dull. I’ll definitely be after a demo of this one (especially as I’ll be at Matagot anyway to collect a Nefertiti pre-order).

And finally, those games I know I’ll love and lust for but – a) will hardly ever get any table time; and b) will be expensive and not discounted: Lewis & Clark, Nations and A Study in Emerald (I’m not linking them to avoid temptation for myself if I read this back for reference – I know how weak I am).

There are a few more, but you know – I’m getting hungry. And there was me thinking this would be a short post. What a nerd…

(NOTE: Follow up post here)

My board gaming life: 2012 highlights

I think that, if I’m honest, I should describe 2012 as the year board games went from being a hobby to a minor obsession.

Despite saying a year ago I was happy with my collection of just over 50 games, I still managed to practically double my collection. Add to that the fact I had three game related holidays in the year, joined two new game groups and wrote more on board and card games than ever before, the evidence is overwhelming.

For this reason I thought it best to separate my gaming year from everything else, as there was a big list of highlights. But as I started to put the list together it became clear the traditional ‘top 10’ wasn’t going to cut it. So (in 3,000 words or less…) here’s my raggle taggle list of 2012 gaming goodness.

My 8 best gaming experiences of 2012

These really stood out but are hard to categorise. In no particular order:

  • Ra for the Galaxy: While I spent a lot of time playing new and often brilliant games in 2012, Ra and Race for the Galaxy remain firmly in my ever fluctuating top five – usually in the top two spots. It’s been a pleasure to continue playing them, especially with my midweek group (Andy and Carl), and I never see them getting old. Simply brilliant games I enjoy every time.
  • Spreading the love through plastic trains: Another game rarely out of that top five is Ticket to Ride. Once again it has been our go-to gateway game of 2012, with Zoe and me successfully introducing it to four new couples. We just need to make sure we repeat some of those experiences in 2013, as we got a bit lazy late in the year. As for TtR, it should also be said it’s not just its gateway value that makes it shine – it’s a game I’m always happy to play.
  • Games as souvenirs: I guess it’s another mark of my burgeoning obsession, but I love to look on my shelves and see my Greek version of Citadels (from our awesome trip to Paros) and Spanish version of Lost Cities (from my regular trips to Barcelona). They’re great reminders of good times and are far more useful than fridge magnets! Well, ‘Exploradores’ is anyway – sadly my Greek doesn’t extend to playing Citadels (or, in fact, to doing more than asking for a beer).
  • Thrashed by mine own wench: During 2012, Zoe won every game of Ticket to Ride: Switzerland we played – seven wins in seven. This is important to me because it’s brilliant to have a girlfriend who is happy to play games – but also one who is good at them. She talks herself down sometimes, while some games simply don’t click with her, but on her day she’ll wipe the floor with me and that’s healthy! Happy to say I’ve already broken this duck though, with our first play of this year, but this record will forever stand.
  • Score draws: Following on from celebrating my defeats, I’ll move on up to drawing. While some people obsess over winning, I absolutely love a close game – whatever the outcome – and it doesn’t come closer than a great draw. 2012 saw some epic draws, including a fantastic game of Alhambra and back to back draws in Carcassonne – with two different groups in two days. I definitely fall on the side of ‘celebrate your shared victory’ rather than pointless deciding factors (most gold, or similar); you can’t really be expected to play for those in games where draws are rare, so why add these conditions in? I blame American sports.
  • Board in the sun: I’ve rattled on enough about Paros elsewhere, but the memories of sitting in the shade with a beer, enjoying the heat (it was just right for me when we went in early June) and learning a new game deserves a final mention. We learnt both Calus and Power Grid on this trip and my gaming life is much rich for the experience. I’ve managed to balls up going in 2013, but the minute the flights go on sale for 2014 I’m booking us in!
  • Playtesting prototypes: Another mark of my obsession has been further reaching into the hobby through playtesting and designing. I’ve had a lot of fun helping with the upcoming City of Guilds: The Card Game, while joining the Cambridge Playtest Group via Meetup.com has been a real revelation. I’m nowhere near a finished game myself, but to play both mine and other people’s prototypes with published game designers has been truly inspirational. I really hope the likes of Inspector Moss: House Arrest, Space Dogsbody and Divinare Dice get the published versions they deserve.
  • It’s a trip: Again, I’ve rattled on about these elsewhere, but trips to Essen, Eastbourne and Paros were full of great memories that will stay with me forever. Add to that the camaraderie I’ve found through my irregular trips down to London on Board (LoB) – and the related games days that have followed – and it has been a year of travelling far and wide for some fantastic gaming experiences.

My top individual game plays of 2012

I looked back through my gaming year blog on Board Game Geek and picked my most memorable individual plays that don’t get a mention elsewhere.

  • January: A great start to the year thanks to Matt’s hilarious 0 in Peloponnes during a fun gaming night at morph and Davina’s; Zoe trashing me at Hamburgum after seeing a better strategy; and me winning an epic game of Ra (versus Carl and Andy) 39-35-32.
  • February: A rare Endeavor win for me on 46, where I finally remembered there is something to do other than shipping; scoring 200 points in a completely dominant display in Revolution! Sometimes it’s just great to win big.
  • March: Most notable was a brilliant game of Decathlon with Zoe which was tense throughout. I won it 220-219 on the final throw of the dice – we really need to get this Knizia P&P game back to the table soon.
  • April: My first game of the excellent Manhattan Project at London on Board, with Ed pulling out a win that no one (except him, I suspect) saw coming. It couldn’t have been a better advert for the game.
  • May: A pretty depressing month of illness and miserablism was made more palatable by some great solo games; most notably Pizza Box Football, Adventures of D and Mage Knight. There was also a fantastic game of Ticket to Ride with Zoe, Morph and Davina that saw the four of us separated by just 11-points at the end.
  • June: Again with morph and Davina, but this time a different TtR: this time it was Team Asia, which Zoe and me lost 174-168 on quite literally the last card as they just completed a tunnel. Carl and me also had an epic two-player slug fest in Race for the Galaxy, which I lost 62-60 in a prestige drawing vs big military high-scorer.
  • July: I really didn’t expect Zoe to like Pizza Box Football – not did I expect one of the closest games of the year, with me finally losing 16-13 in overtime. We also had a fantastic game of Through the Ages where Zoe took a huge lead that I almost managed to claw back, finally going down 225-211.
  • August: A brilliant day at the Olympic tennis ended with Zoe’s first trip to LoB and us finding Jambo in the big random box of games; one that has since been bought and become a favourite. I also thoroughly enjoyed coming in dead last at Stone Age to Carl and Andy – a game I’d previously dominated; while Carl scored 87 in RftG – the highest total in any of our 200+ plays to date.
  • September: We had a fun game of Pompeii with morph and Davina, where Morph got crap draws and barely got a person on the board – but got them all out and came second – while Davina got bucket-loads out and then got terrible tile draws, ending up last. I also had a memorable introduction to Vanuatu at LoB.
  • October: The real Essen playing highlights were Snowdonia (with the Woking crew) and Tzolk’in with our new Australian friends. I also have a great image in my mind of playing Love Letter on the train when visiting Zoe’s sister.
  • November: Most noteable from our Eastbourne trip were the plays of Die Macher (thanks to Soren, who also introduced me to Vanuatu) and Goblins Inc (with the rather silly Tom and Lloyd). Also noteable was a great introduction to Terra Mystica on another regular LoB night.
  • December: Two Morph related incidents stand out: him crying with laughter while playing Cards Against Humanity, plus his Stone Age epiphany; he hadn’t liked it when we played a long time ago when he’d only just started gaming, but playing now he just ‘got’ it – and nearly beat me too.

The best 16 not new but ‘new to me’ games of 2012

I was going to painstakingly distil this down to 10, but then I realised I already on my third page of A4 and thought – why bother? So, in no real order:

Bought

  • Notre Dame: Engaging, tactical and strategic, while being well produced and playing in under an hour.
  • Puerto Rico: A classic for a reason – tough decisions, barely any luck and where watching your competitors is crucial.
  • Caylus: The granddaddy of worker placement rewards forward planning, but also ruthlessness.
  • Power Grid: A genius blend of route building and auction mechanisms which, despite the odd theme, looks great too.
  • Dixit: I’m not a party game fan, but the creativity this encourages through its beautiful artwork is impossible not to fall for.
  • Jambo: A brilliant two-player card game that has a great (and hard to find) blend of strategy, luck and interaction.
  • Acquire: A clever mix of tile placement/area control with a stocks and shares engine that actually makes investing seem like fun.
  • The Boss: There can’t be a game that packs more painstaking decisions into such a tiny box. Clever, quick and a lot of fun.
  • The Scepter of Zavandor: An economic/auction game with a fantasy theme? Who cares, it works!
  • Jaipur: Two-player set collection with just enough push-your-luck bells and tactical whistles to make it stand out from the crowd.

Not bought (yet…)

  • Fairy Tale: Card drafting done right in a tiny box of cards. It shall be mine! Should have the popularity 7 Wonders has.
  • Kingdom Builder: A lovely twist on area control, which initially looks restrictive but is quite the opposite.
  • Glen More: Another big game in a small box, this tile-layer has a great rondel mechanism and builds beautifully to a climax.
  • Galaxy Trucker: Space! Build your ship on a time limit then fly your box of bolts to its ultimate destruction! Fun!
  • Die Macher: My head still hurts. Hours and hours of German political wrangling, deal making and influence building. Brilliant.
  • Cards Against Humanity: A party game where being the most inappropriate and simply wrong in the head will get you the win.

I’ll add two expansions here too – Rattus: The Pied Piper and the Rattus 2010 Bonus Cards. As any good expansion should, these breathe new life into a game that I’d initially enjoyed but that had started to gather dust. You could of course argue that these should’ve been in the original box, but that’s another debate…

My 7 favourite new releases of 2012

I certainly didn’t play them all, but these are the 2012 releases that had the strongest impression of me. There were plenty more; in fact three great games I really enjoyed – Seasons, Goblins Inc and Coup – were on the list until the last minute. However, I felt there was a significant drop to those, so I left them off. So, in order of love:

  1. Snowdonia: My game of the year – worker placement goodness with the theme perfectly integrated alongside some properly clever mechanisms to keep the game ticking along and to be different every time.
  2. Tzolk’in: Another brilliant worker placement game, where the gears work perfectly to negate annoying upkeep duties. There are lots of routes to victories and forward planning is a must.
  3. Terra Mystica: The Eclipse killer for me, intelligently integrating area control with civ building and worker placement to make a non-confrontational yet tense and interactive experience.
  4. Plato 3000: What a surprise this was; a cyberpunk themed rummy variant that does just enough to the solid original mechanisms to make it a real gamer’s game.
  5. Love Letter: There are just 16 cards, it has very simple rules and it packs a ridiculous level of luck – but who cares? Fast, furious and fun.
  6. Copycat: I’m totally sold on this simple blend of Dominion’s deck building, Through the Ages’ card drafting and Agricola’s turn structure. I’m not sure of its staying power, but for the moment I’m having a blast.
  7. Manhattan Project: Another worker placement game that stood out from the crowd. Blocking key spaces is fantastic, especially on other players’ personal boards, while the hidden endgame conditions make for some tense finales.

I’d also like to add Ticket to Ride: Asia here as my best expansion release of 2012. It brings two genuinely new maps to the game – one introduces a brilliant team variant, while the other plays faster than any other version of the game. Both are great fun.

Incidentally, I didn’t play Descent 2, Waterdeep, X-Wing, Mage Wars, 1989, Space Cadets or Mice and Mystics (most now in the BGG top 250), while I don’t consider Android ‘new’ (although I enjoyed playing it back in the day).

And not forgetting…

It’s traditional around this time to put the boot into a few things; to let off some steam on some crap because it’s therapeutic, fun to read and possibly controversial. That’s pretty cheap, in honesty – but I’m going to do it anyway. Why the hell not? These things wasted my precious free time and/or money and I have precious little of either (although this blog post may call that into question).

  • Kickstarter games: What a bunch of crap – and I fell for it. Three times. I won’t go into the Glory to Rome debacle again here (I save that for my therapist), but since then I’ve been burnt twice more: Ace of Spies and Lost City of Karez, both of which I was meant to collect at Essen in October, still haven’t arrived. Bastards. So help me god, I will not back another game on Kickstarter – although the site itself isn’t to blame and I’ll continue to use it to back other things (such as the fantastic The Spiel podcast).
  • Crappy games: I’ve played a few real stinkers this year – the worst offenders being Swordfish and Courtier (both get the strategy/luck/length mix completely wrong), Spectaculum (a pointless rearranging of the Knizia toolbox), Among the Stars (combining the worst elements of drafting and tile laying) and Barista (lovely bits, lovely box, no game).
  • Overhyped games: Only a few for me this year: Suburbia (an exercise in mathematical efficiency totally devoid of charm), Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (Agricola with the game skilfully removed) and Spartacus (either too long, or too short).
  • Race for the Galaxy: Where the hell is the Alien Artefacts expansion! Bastards! And Dice for the Galaxy too. Don’t make me come over there…