Tom Rosen: Essen Second Impressions

I initially reported on my Essen first impressions a couple weeks ago and I’m back to update those with my Essen second impressions.  This is based on the new games I tried while at BGG.CON as well as the games previously discussed that I had the chance to try again.  I’m not going to repeat what I said about the 17 new games in my first impressions post, so will assume you’ve read that if you care to do so, and will just discuss the new games and any new thoughts on the games I’d already tried once.  I’m again going to try to rank the games based on these early impressions, but keep in mind of course that this is generally based on just a play or two so is simply meant to give you an early idea about the games rather than an experienced analysis.  I’ll also break down the games into the classic Opinionated Gamers categories of (1) Love it; (2) Like it; (3) Neutral; and (4) Not for me.  Since actions often speak louder than words, at the end I’ll tell you which games I’ve purchased, which I plan to purchase, and which I’m considering purchasing, and finally the last few Essen games that I’m still looking to try sometime if someone in the area picks them up.

LOVE IT

1) Patchistory – I’ve already praised this game enough, but wanted to mention it again to say that I’ve now played it two more times, for three plays total, and it continues to be my favorite game of the new crop.  I’ve played it with four-players on the equality side, three-players on the liberty side, and two-players on the equality side.  I think three players may be the sweet spot for this, but it seems to scale reasonably well.  I don’t have a strong preference between the liberty or equality setups.  The two player game was interesting, but seemed to be dominated by money and the ability to outbid the other player.  We played with open money with two players since it was easily trackable and important to do so.  I’m mostly just happy to report that the game has stood up to a few more plays and I’m eager for a wide release someday so I can get a copy.

2) Geistesblitz 5 vor 12

3) Yunnan – I’m bumping this one up a couple places from the previous article.  I’ve played it two more times, for a total of three plays, and I’m really enjoying this one.  It’s truly a Hobbesian game due to its “nasty, brutish, and short” nature.  I don’t recommend it to anyone that would mind a lot of bumping players back and various other direct screwage.  But it’s so fast that I don’t think there’s much time to really stew over the conflict or slights.  I should warn that the end will almost always catch you off guard, at least for the first play or two.  Players’ scores will slowly get up to 40 or so and then quickly jump to 80 before you know it, which triggers the end.  I have some trepidation that Yunnan will get same-y like Saint Petersburg given the similar focus on finding the inflection point between money production and VP production, but am hopeful that the auctions and player interaction will keep it fresh for much longer.

4) Bruxelles 1893

LIKE IT

5) Amerigo – I tried this game once at BGG.CON and was happy to see Feld trying something different from the point salad approach that has plagued his recent popular releases like Bora Bora, Trajan, and Die Burgen.  Amerigo uses the cube tower to great effect by determining which actions are available each round and the strength of those actions.  There were a couple copies at BGG.CON, but they were in constant use for four straight days.  I visited the tables repeatedly for days until I managed to find an open seat and get in a game. Now I’m eager to play again, especially because my first game was plagued by a slightly defective cube tower that let way too many cubes through.  I gather that there is a relatively easy fix and will make the variety of actions more variable and more interesting.  It should also make the actions slightly weaker so we don’t fill up the board and max out every track by the end of round 4 out of 5.  I’m definitely looking forward to trying this one again once it’s available.

6) Nations – The other new civilization game this year is also interesting, although not as novel as Patchistory.  Nations has been billed by many as the Through the Ages killer, but I definitely didn’t see that in my first play.  It certainly seemed like a Through the Ages derivative, but I don’t see any reason why it would overtake the king of civilization games. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised that Nations had enough of a different feel to be worth playing again and maybe even buying.  The military aspect seemed significantly de-emphasized since there were several new ways that weaker players could deal with it (e.g., raising stability instead or starting wars themselves to set the strength threshold low). Another big difference from Through the Ages is that not all the cards come out every game, so you can’t plan for a particular leader or wonder to hit the table. Finally, Nations effectively gives players infinite actions each round, only limited by their resources and the card row, so it felt a lot looser and more forgiving than Through the Ages, but I understand there are harder difficulty settings to try that will at least reduce resource acquisition somewhat.

7) Relic Runners – I was very pleasantly surprised by this new Days of Wonder game.  I always want to try the new Days of Wonder game each year, but had mostly written them off after Cargo Noir, Mystery Express, and Colosseum.  I figured that they just made pretty games that weren’t for me, but Relic Runners was much more interesting and involved than I was expecting.  I’ve only played it once, but am definitely considering picking it up so I can try it again.  I don’t even tend to like pick-up-and-deliver games (like Bombay), but this one was more focused on route building and action efficiency aspects.  It didn’t hurt that the components were gorgeous, but I was ready to see through them to a shallow and pointless game, which was not the case.  On the other hand, I wonder if this game may ultimately be caught in a strange middle ground between being a bit too fiddly and involved for the Ticket to Ride crowd, but not meaty enough to hold the interest of frequent gamers.  Only time will tell, but hopefully it continues to be as fun as that first play.

8) One Night Werewolf – I think it’s safe to declare this the game of BGG.CON 2013.  It was being played everywhere I looked repeatedly.  I played it 9 times at the convention and had a blast with the game.  I’m looking forward to bringing it home for the holidays to introduce to family and friends.  For me it’s a huge improvement over traditional werewolf because it plays much quicker, has no player elimination, doesn’t need a moderator, and has a great mobile phone app to accompany it.  If you like quick little games like Coup or Love Letter, then check this one out.

9) Francis Drake – The last of the games that I’m considering buying, at least for now. I’ve got to cut myself off somewhere.  I describe this game as the lovechild of Egizia and Age of Empires III.  I had tried the prototype last April, and got to try the finished game at BGG.CON.  It’s a very interesting game of resource management.  I understand from the designer Peter Hawes that there’s a lot of theme baked into the game’s mechanisms, but since I don’t know much about that, I only have the mechanisms to go on.  Thankfully they’re solid and engaging.  You travel down a path to acquire resources in the same way as Egizia, so you can jump ahead to grab attractive options but can never backtrack, so will end up getting less overall stuff if you do so.  Then you spend those resources in a second phase on the other half of the board to combat forts and boats for victory points in various ways.  You play three rounds, which are somewhat repetitive, although your trade goods accumulate over those rounds.  The bits are very nice and honestly the biggest thing holding me back is the fairly large box size combined with my serious lack of shelf space.

10) Ka-Boom – This was a great kids game that I got try a couple times at BGG.CON.  Players take turns trying to build towers out of various blocks in the center of the table, while the other players use mini-catapults to launch dice at the tower under construction, trying to knock it over.  You earn points for completed towers based on their size and complexity, and the first player to a set point total wins.  You know it sounds fun and it’s even more entertaining than it sounds.  I thought it was actually better with three players than with four because it was more feasible to build something with only two attackers as opposed to three.

11) Concordia

12) Citrus – I haven’t had the chance to try either Concordia or Citrus a second time yet, but will be on the lookout to try both again.

13) Twin Tin Bots – This game clearly looks to be Philippe Keyaerts’ take on RoboRally.  Players pre-program movement operations for their robots on a common board, then execute those operations to move around the board running into each other… mayhem ensues.  I’m actually slightly tempted to sell my copy of RoboRally and replace it with Twin Tin Bots, but will need to try someone else’s copy a few more times before deciding whether to do that.  It seems a shame to sell off such a classic, but I can’t really see a reason to have both and this one looks like it may potentially improve upon its predecessor primarily by being a bit quicker.  RoboRally’s biggest downside is that it can get bogged down, which inhibits the fun of chaotic out-of-control robots, so hopefully Twin Tin Bots can continue to keep the pace up and keep the mayhem from getting dull.

14) Pick-a-Polar Bear – It’s like Pick-a-Pig but with polar bears!  What more could you possibly want?  Okay, it’s not as great as the king of speed puzzle games Geistesblitz, or even the second tier of Uluru and Ubongo, but it’s still good fun in a tiny package.

15) Coconuts – A silly Koren dexterity game of launching coconuts into cups with a monkey catapult.  I preferred the silly German dexterity game Ka-Boom mentioned above, but I’m not one to pass up enjoying a silly dexterity game from anywhere in the world.

NEUTRAL

16) Lewis & Clark – I was eager to try Lewis & Clark at BGG.CON because I’d heard such good things from other Opinionated Gamers, plus the art and theme looked great to me.  I was a bit disappointed after my first play, but I think that’s at least partly due to the fact that I played with 5 players.  The game claims to work with 5 players, but that not only leads to excessive downtime, but also means you don’t really care what 2 players are doing. This game uses the 7 Wonders mechanism of producing resources based on what your left and right neighbor are doing.  This is one of the reasons I want to try the game again with just 3 players.  Then again, it is essentially a deck-building race game, neither of which are mechanisms I tend to particularly enjoy, so perhaps this one will ultimately be not for me.

17) Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy – I tried Legacy twice at BGG.CON, once with two-players and once with four-players.  I thought the person cards were great because the art, names, and abilities were generally very funny and evocative.  On the other hand, it felt like there was a disjunction between the relatively light weight of the game and the large amount of text that you had to read on the numerous person cards that were turned up.  For a fairly simple and quick game, it tended to get bogged down in reading cards and considering the interactions of abilities.  I preferred my two-player game for its speed over my four-player game due to the downtime.  I’ve heard several people compare this game to Last Will, but I don’t see any gameplay similarity; I think the comparison may derive from the fact that they both have somewhat darkly humorous themes and vaguely similar artistic presentations.

18) Say Bye to the Villains – This was a quick, cooperative card game from Japan that I played a couple times and enjoyed both times.  There’s really not much to this game and there’s a lot of luck, but I found that it takes far less than its listed 45 minute play time and was entertaining to see the strange cards come up and villain powers.  I’m not sure it’s worth going through the trouble to track down unless you’re a particularly big fan of Japanese card games, as it’s certainly not the next Fairy Tale, but on the other hand it’s better than many of the quirky Japanese card games released each year.

19) Mauna Kea – This game is Touko Tahkokallio’s take on Survive and Downfall of Pompeii.  Touko did the fantastic Eclipse and the enjoyable Walnut Grove, but Survive is an excellent classic and sure is hard to beat.  If you’re going to take on the king, you better not miss, and unfortunately I think Mauna Kea may have missed here.  The game is clearly going for a quick, light family game, but the same style of game has already been done several times very well before and I didn’t see this game adding anything.  The game can end very quickly depending on how the lava comes out and the “advanced” cards can really move things along, but I’m not sure anything can beat the shark fins and sea monsters from Survive when it comes to run away from the center and try to survive imminent death type of games.

20) Steam Park

21) Wildcatters

22) Prosperity

23) Auf Teufel Komm Raus

24) Machi Koro – I haven’t had the chance to play any of these five games again yet, so they remain here in neutral territory.  I’ll probably try many of them a second time in the next couple months so they may ultimately rise to “like it” or fall to “not for me,” but for now they’ve failed to make much of an impression or interest me in any particular way.

25) Nauticus – This is the new solitaire game by Kramer & Kiesling from Kosmos.  Okay, technically the game plays 2 to 4 players, but I didn’t see any reason to care what my opponents were doing.  The game’s mechanisms were relatively interesting, but it really took multiplayer solitaire to the extreme.  Usually I like when games allow you to specialize in a particular strategy and not force you to diversify, but Nauticus may have gone too far in this regard. There are increasing marginal returns for focusing on goods or ship building, and these are so significant that you are essentially compelled to stick with your approach for the second half of the game regardless of what your opponents do.

26) Rampage

27) Triassic Terror – Perhaps I’ve just played too many games since all I can do is say that X new game is so-and-so’s take on Y old game, but here I go again.  Triassic Terror felt very much like El Grande with dinosaurs. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if Survive is king of one style of games, then El Grande is emperor of the universe.  I mean it’s El Grande, Kramer’s masterpiece. Dinosaurs are great and all, but it’s not feasible to design a game in the same vein as El Grande and withstand much scrutiny.  I enjoy other area control games that add an interesting twist, like San Marco or Kreta, but I didn’t see it in Triassic Terror personally.  I think the biggest difference is that the board seemed optimized for four players whereas El Grande is optimized for five players, so if you often find yourself having four players then Triassic Terror may make sense to pickup as a substitute.

28) Field of Glory: The Card Game – Another game to compare with an older game… Martin Wallace’s clear take on Knizia’s Battleline.  Although of course this one adds a bunch of chrome to complicate things and/or make them historically thematic, depending on your proclivities.  I don’t have strong feelings one way or the other about this game.  I am definitely neutral on it.  It took a bit long for what it was, but my opponent assured me that it was the longest game of it he’d seen and that it usually goes quicker.  One of the core mechanisms is the ability to use cards for their face abilities or for money, like San Juan, so be warned if that’s not something you enjoy.

29) Caverna – Caverna is just a new map for Agricola.  You know how you buy new maps for Age of Steam, Ticket to Ride, or Power Grid?  Well now you can buy one for Agricola, although it’s over $80… so there’s that.  I’m entirely neutral on Caverna.  It exists for those who want an Agricola variant.  After playing it once, I can tell you with certainty that it exists and it is Agricola in a cave.

NOT FOR ME

30) Ebbes – This is a relatively quick and chaotic trick-taking game.  The gimmick is that you don’t know what color is trump, what color is worth positive points, and what color is worth negative points until part-way through each hand when certain cards are played to set those parameters.  That’s an interesting concept, but I think I’d rather be playing Was Sticht or Njet, my go-to trick-taking games for years now.

31) String Savanna

32) Ginkgopolis: The Experts – I loved Ginkgopolis.  It was my second favorite game of 2012 after Keyflower.  However, Ginkgopolis: The Experts was not an expansion for me. It adds six possible modules to the game, most of which add complexity to a game that’s great because of its simplicity and speed.  The one module that I thought was interesting was the addition of the 24 and 25 level buildings where you can spend three tile draw actions to get one and pick which color you want.  I like the idea of those as a way to get a particular color if you really want one and a way to prevent being overbuilt, which increases the area majority aspect of the game.  On the other hand, I thought the parks snowballed in value too much and the experts/events added an extra layer without adding anything really new or interesting.  The best part of the whole package was definitely the reference cards for the cards that are added to the deck by each building value, but those should have been in the base game!

33) Renaissance Man

34) Russian Railroads

35) Patronize – Here’s a quirky Japanese card game (like Say Bye to the Villains) combined with a gimmicky trick-taking game (like Ebbes), and what do you get?  A game that is definitely not for me.  It’s certainly not as bad as Mascarade or Glass Road below, but it’s not something I need to play again.  Designer Hisashi Hayashi did String Railway: Transport, which I thought was the best string game so far and very enjoyable, but Patronize was yet another trick-taking game, this time at least with only a very few turns, but nothing there to keep me coming back.

36) Mascarade

37) Glass Road

*                    *                    *

The new games I still want to try are Origin, Keyflower: The Farmers, Romolo o Remo, Artifact, Rokoko, and Bremerhaven.  I always like trying Matagot’s newest offering (like last year’s Kemet), so Origin leads the list.  I’m also generally interested in giving Matthias Cramer’s new game a go after the somewhat interesting things he’s done with Glen More, Lancaster, and Helvetia.  Keyflower was my favorite game of 2012 so the expansion is one I’ve got try, and new games by Allers and Lookout are not to be missed either.  Lastly, I’ve heard Romolo o Remo compared to Antiquity and Roads & Boats, so I’ve obviously got to try it.

Lastly, since actions speak louder than words and the games I’m willing to shell out cold hard cash for are clearly the ones I’m really most endorsing, here in short-form is what I’m buying or considering buying.  The games I’ve already added to my collection are Yunnan, Geistesblitz 5 vor 12, One Night Werewolf, and Pick-a-Polar Bear.  The games I plan to buy when they become available are Patchistory and Bruxelles 1893.  And the other games I’m strongly considering buying are Nations, Relic Runners, Amerigo, and Francis Drake.  Looks like a good crop of six to ten acquisitions out of 37 games tried, not a bad ratio and lots of fun experiences at BGG.CON to make the exploration of so many new games totally worth it.

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13 Responses to Tom Rosen: Essen Second Impressions

  1. Dan Blum says:

    I really don’t see Nauticus as multiplayer solitaire. Figuring out which actions the other players are likely to take when is very important, much as in Puerto Rico. The game is admittedly not as interactive as Puerto Rico, but this key element is definitely there.

    I also maintain that it’s not possible to win by concentrating on only ships or only goods unless everyone else is playing badly. The small number of middle pieces puts a hard limit on how many big ships you can complete, and you need ships in order to deliver goods. (It’s possible that a strategy of building a few small ships early and then just buying and shipping goods the rest of the game could win, but I’d have to see it done.)

    • Tom Rosen says:

      I don’t really consider the exhaustion of a piece limited component in a game to be much in the way of interaction. You’re right that it will impact one player if another player buys up that component, but all that means to me is that from the outset I should buy that component early and quickly if I want it. I’m still not sure my opponents’ behavior during the game will affect the way in which or the speed with which I purchase that piece.

      And you’re totally right that the actions are made available to the players just like in Puerto Rico, but in Nauticus 7 out of 8 actions are taken each round (at least in my three-player game) so almost everything will be made available, and more importantly, it seems to matter far less in Nauticus whether you are the one to select the action. The bonuses are not tied to the actions so I didn’t really care if I selected the action or if my opponent did. In Puerto Rico I may need to take Settler so I can get a quarry or take Trader so I can get into the trading house first, but in Nauticus, the only difference is the unrelated bonus of workers, money, or VPs. In practice, it meant that I often picked an action based on the unrelated bonus, since I didn’t care if someone else later picked the action I really wanted to do (and probably preferred it that way if the related bonus was weaker). I could count how many turns were left at any given time and knew I’d get a chance to do any necessary action soon enough. Anyway, I wanted to like it more, being Kramer & Kiesling after all, so I’ll try it a second time, and will hopefully see the light then, but not yet certainly.

      • Dan Blum says:

        My point was not that limited ship pieces adds interactivity, but that it makes it impossible to pursue anything like a pure ship-building strategy unless all the other players cooperate with you. I still don’t see how you can assert that you are “essentially compelled to stick with your approach for the second half of the game,” given that.

        Taking a more general view there’s a sort of damned if you do, damned if you don’t flavor to your comments overall. Nauticus is bad because (you say) you have to lean on one strategy the whole game. On the other hand, Russian Railroads is bad because there are too many ways to earn points. (Which I actually disagree with – I don’t think RR is a “point salad” in the usual sense because to win you need to plan carefully to maximize a particular source of points; getting some points here and some points there is a sure way to lose.)

        • Tom Rosen says:

          Fair points Dan. Although you’re not damned in my book if your an epic civilization game or a speed puzzle game… or Netrunner :-)

          By “compelled to stick with your approach for the second half,” I don’t really mean that you have to do exclusively ships or goods, but just that you’ve pretty much set your focus in the first half, and from there on out, it seems that you’re strongly incentivized to continue because additional goods are worth so much more and larger ships as well. It’s kind of like aristocrats in Saint Petersburg or watering holes in Hacienda. The escalating point values in those games also bothered me, although I often think triangle scoring dominates games it’s in too much.

          I don’t think Russian Railroads is bad because there are too many ways to earn points. I think it’s silly because you earn so many points in the later rounds. It’s like Family Feud or many other game shows. It wants to make sure that no one feels out of it after the first few rounds, so it makes sure the last few rounds are worth enough to vastly overcome any early deficit. I also don’t want players to have to sit around being essentially out of the running for hours, but it just began to feel a bit absurd in Russian Railroads by the time everyone was earning like 70-80 points a turn from all sorts of different methods that had nothing to do with railroads. It makes a 315 to 312 victory seem awfully random. It also made Age of Steam look very thematic by comparison. I guess I’m also just tired of traditional worker placement. It was done wonderfully in Caylus, innovated slightly in a few games since then, and simply re-used in lots of other games like this one. Then again, 14 out of 15 Opinionated Gamers seem to love it, so I recognize I’m in the extreme minority on this one.

  2. jdevesa says:

    Hello,

    would you mind giving more insights about Russian Railroads? Why is not for you? Thanks

    • Tom Rosen says:

      Sure, no problem. Any of the games I didn’t write about here are ones that I discussed in my Essen First Impressions post and that I haven’t had the chance to play again, so didn’t have any updated thoughts on. From my Essen First Impressions on Russian Railroads (http://opinionatedgamers.com/2013/11/10/tom-rosen-essen-first-impressions-2013/):

      “Russian Railroads – Now we’re down to the below average games. I think the first six games were above average, the next six were average, and these last five are below average. That just happens to be a pretty even spread. Then again, this game is one I expect to be adored by many and to shoot up the BGG rankings. It’s extremely reminiscent of many recent Stefan Feld designs, of the Bora Bora and Die Burgen family. I like the older and less convoluted Feld games, like Notre Dame, but this recent trend of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink designing does not work for me. Russian Railroads is that school of design. It is a classic “point salad” where you can get lots of points for doing X, or Y, or Z. You and your opponents will all earn hundreds of points, building up an engine that churns out gobs of points in the later rounds. Mechanically it’s a traditional worker placement game with innumerable point scoring opportunities that are entirely disassociated from the theme. I don’t understand the appeal.”

      • jdevesa says:

        Thanks Tom. Being a Spaniard, I was tempted to translate the rules, but have read mixed feelings & reactions about the game. I put aside the chore, but it’s on my wish list yet.

        I moved towards Patchistory and it looks like I made the right choice. Eager to get my copy, as many others. In the meanwhile, translating the rules is all I have about this game.

        • Tom Rosen says:

          I think that makes sense, but I should note that of the 15 Opinionated Gamers I know that have played it, I beleive 10 of them rate it “Love It” and 4 of them rate it “Like It” and I’m the only one rating it “Not For Me.” Perhaps one of those 14 fans can come along and tell you why I’m totally mistaken, because for the life of me, I’m perplexed by all the people saying this will be the game of the year.

  3. jdevesa says:

    Also, I’m glad to hear some praise for Days of Wonder Relic Runners. I truly believe is well deserved. Game components are top-notch and I’m fond on the theme. It’s nice for young players to run the jungle searching for ancient treasures.

    Another game catching my attention is Francis Drake. Though I have read a bit more about it, it’s at the top of my wish list.

  4. AED says:

    “Not for me” listings with no explanation why they are “not for you” aren’t very useful!

    • Tom Rosen says:

      All the games without an explanation here, including the “not for me” ones, are discussed in the First Impressions post linked at the beginning. I figured people wouldn’t want me to repeat myself. This post was mostly meant to slot the new games I tried at BGG.CON into the ranking of Essen games I posted a couple weeks ago. I tried about half of these 37 games before BGG.CON and wrote them up then and the other half at BGG.CON so I wrote them up here, but perhaps confusingly decided to intermingle them within the ranking of the Essen games that I tried a couple weeks ago. Maybe I need to clarify that further at the beginning. For a discussion of all the games left blank here (along with my first impressions on games I tried again more recently, like Patchistory and Yunnan), check out my First Impressions post linked at the top.

  5. Frank Hamrick says:

    I beg to differ with you that Through the Ages is the king of civilization games. “Civilization/Advanced Civilization” is king! All others are pretenders. (IMHO)

  6. will sargent says:

    These post-post Essen write-ups are really useful after the chaos and hype of the in-show reports (although I do enjoy Dale’s photo updates when he can get the upload speed), so thanks very much for your efforts. Relic Runners, Francis Drake and Ka-boom are three that stand out for me here. Please keep your brief updates coming (maybe other contributors could borrow your very readable format so we can cross-compare) as I particularly enjoy your concise reasoning behind your hits, misses and maybes.

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