The Rebirth of Spring

by Larry Levy

2010 was not a good gaming year in my estimation.  None of the new games qualified as “great” for me and relatively few were even good enough to enter our rotation.  This, despite a huge number of new games debuting at Essen.  I love exploring new games, so it got to be a bit depressing after a while.

But spring heralds the birth of new life, so perhaps it isn’t surprising that a lot of the new games announced at the recent Nürnberg Toy Fair, most of which are scheduled to appear in the next few months, sound very appealing to me.  Or maybe it’s because a lot of attractive titles got bumped from last Essen for one reason or another and will now have a springtime release.  Whatever the cause, it’s got me excited anticipating a new crop of games.  I thought I’d spread the joy by discussing some of the new titles that most interest me.

The source of most of this information is BGG’s new BoardGameGeek News, so a big thanks to Eric Martin, who has switched gears with ease and is now providing the same valuable service for Geek readers that he did for so long with the old Boardgame News site.  You provide hope during the long cold winter, my friend.  I also got some nice previews at Richard van Vugt’s terrific Nürnberg report on his Gamepack website:  Lots of great pictures and some detailed descriptions of not-yet-featured games.

Here are the springtime titles that have caught my eye, in alphabetical order:

Game: 1830
Designer: Francis Tresham/Bruce Shelley
Publisher: Mayfair
Projected Date: May

Let’s start with one of the more anticipated reprints of recent years.  1830 wasn’t the first 18xx game, but it was the one that turned an innovative game system into a minor religion.  It’s been out of print for years, so the new Mayfair version has a lot of folks excited.  It was recently announced that production delays will push this one to May, but I guess after all this time, we can stand to wait a few more months.

Game: A Few Acres of Snow
Designer: Martin Wallace
Publisher: Treefrog
Projected Date: March

I have no interest in wargames and don’t really care for the deck-building games I’ve tried.  Why, then, am I intrigued by a CDW (card-driven wargame) that’s based on deck-building?  I’m honestly not sure.  The subject matter (the decades-long conflict between Britain and France in the New World that culminated with the French and Indian War) helps; so does the designer.  But even beyond that, there’s something here that has really piqued my interest.  Maybe it’s because I’ve always been fascinated by games that combine genres.  I have no idea when I’d get to play this and I’ll definitely try before I buy, but this is certainly a title that I’m keeping tabs on.

Game: Airlines Europe
Designer: Alan Moon
Publisher: Abacus/Rio Grande
Projected Date: Abacus – March; RGG – April

I’ve always had a soft spot for Alan Moon’s 1990 game Airlines, since it, and not Settlers, was my gateway into the wonderful world of German gaming.  I’ve also had a lot of fun with the 1999 updated version, Union Pacific.  So when I had the chance back in April of 2009 to play Alan’s latest spin on the game system, I jumped at it.  Turns out I liked the new version even more than its two forebears and anxiously awaited news that Abacus would publish the game.  The original plan was to have it ready for their 20 year anniversary later that year, but there were concerns if components could be found to allow the game to have an affordable price point.  2009 passed with no word of the game, and then 2010.  Just when I had all but given up on the prospect of future flights, the announcement came last month that Airlines Europe would finally hit the streets.  It’s one of the games I’m most looking forward to.

AE replaces the system where companies expand by card play with one where the players must purchase routes.  Money is earned when stock cards are played, adding yet another dimension to the “expand or play stock” dilemma.  That’s the biggest difference between AE and Airlines/UP, but there’s a bunch of other refinements, all of which I feel are improvements.  Alan Moon, possibly more than any other designer, is a master of modifying his own designs, and the work he has put in here makes a good system even better.  I can’t wait to try out the new version again.

Game: Die Burgen von Burgund
Designer: Stefan Feld
Publisher: Alea
Projected Date: February

Everyone wonders why Stefan Feld seems to have a monopoly on Alea’s big box games lately.  Maybe it’s because they’re so frickin’ good!  Notre Dame, Year of the Dragon, Macao—I love ’em all!  (I choose to overlook Rum & Pirates.)  He’s got another one coming our way, already available in Europe, which sounds just as promising (it was originally supposed to be an Essen release, but wasn’t ready in time for the Fair).  The heart of the game is yet another clever dice rolling mechanic (Feld has done wonderful things with the little cubes in Roma, Rum & Pirates, Macao, and maybe some others I’m forgetting about).  Each turn you roll two six-sided dice.  You can use a die to take a tile from the matching depot (there are six depots, numbered 1 to 6, of course); place an already chosen tile on an appropriate space on your gameboard (the spaces are numbered 1 to 6); or sell the appropriate type of good that you’ve gathered earlier (there are six goods, numbered…well, you can figure it out).  You can also use a die to take workers, which allow you to modify future die rolls.  So it sounds like you have a restricted choice each turn of a variety of actions tied to the die rolls.  Very Feldian and, potentially, very cool.

There are different kinds of tiles, including multiple buildings and 26(!) unique types of knowledge tiles.  You score VPs by placing certain kinds of tiles, selling goods, and filling up regions of your board.  The duration is listed as 90 minutes.  This sounds really good and, given the track record of both Alea and Herr Feld, it will be an instant buy as soon as one of my regular online retailers get their grubby hands on a copy.

Game: Cargo Noir
Designer: Serge Laget
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Projected Date: March

The latest partnership between Laget and DoW has potential.  Laget talked up the bidding system (in which you place bids on different groups of cards during your turn and if it a bid isn’t raised by an opponent when your next turn rolls around, you win the cards), but even though it’s unusual, it’s not really unique.  Knizia featured something very much like it in 1992’s Pirat (later remade as Korsar and Loot) and similar systems can also be found in Comuni and last year’s Grand Cru.  Still, the game sounds interesting and you know with Days of Wonder that it’s going to look great.  My biggest concern is that this might be too light for my tastes and more of a gateway game.  I would like to try it out, though, to see what I think.

Game: Gold!
Designer: Michael Schacht
Publisher: Abacus
Projected Date: February

I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that Michael Schacht, who has created some awfully good heavier games in the past, is now almost exclusively cranking out middleweight and light designs.  That’s not such a bad thing, because a couple of these look like they may be worth picking up.  The first of these, Gold!, has already been released (on the same day that its iPhone application was made available, presumably the first time that’s been done).  It’s a minimalist card game for 2 or 3, kind of in the style of Jaipur.  And, like that earlier game,  it looks like it may feature some interesting decisions.  Definitely one to keep an eye on.

Game: König Artus und die Tafelrunde
Designer: Wolfgang Kramer/Michael Kiesling
Publisher: Alea
Projected Date: March

As my fellow OGer, Melissa Rogerson, might say, OMG!  A Kramer/Kiesling game produced by Alea?  This has got to be a sure pickup, right?  Well, maybe not.  This King Arthur-themed game looks like it might be pretty light.  Appearance-wise, it looks nothing like an Alea game (although that doesn’t particularly bother me).  The main mechanism is a turntable (which represents the titular Round Table) that rotates opposite 28 spaces (which can contain pawns that represent the King and his loyal knights).  Players play cards to try to move or promote pawns and when the King winds up in a different space, the table rotates so that he remains at the head of the table.  This rotation changes the scoring.  Kramer has stated that the game is about 30% luck, which sounds higher than I usually like.  In addition, this might be a very chaotic design, which would be another negative for me.  Nevertheless, I’ve got to check this out, simply because of the designers and the publisher.

Game: Lancaster
Designer: Matthias Cramer
Publisher: Queen
Projected Date: Unknown

I know very little about this one, but am listing it mostly because of the designer (Cramer’s debut game was last year’s very nice Glen More).  Despite the title, this doesn’t seem to be themed around the War of the Roses, but instead a conflict between England and France (presumably the Lancastrian War of the early fifteenth century, which was part of the Hundred Years War).  The players build castles to best lend support against the enemy.  The board looks very attractive and quite reminiscent of the old Kingmaker game.  The other components also appear elaborate and thoroughly bit-o’licious, as you’d expect from Queen.  The duration is listed at only an hour, so this doesn’t figure to be a heavy historical simulation.  In fact, it could wind up being great or awful, but I like what I’ve seen so far, so it easily makes the list.

Game: Mieses Karma
Designer: Matthias Cramer
Publisher: Kosmos
Projected Date: March

Sometimes a new designer’s first release is the only game idea they’ve ever had; it can be years before such designers are heard from again.  Other times, it’s an individual with tons of good ideas, who was only waiting for that first break.  Clearly, Matthias Cramer belongs to the latter group, as he already has two other games ready to hit the stores.  The theme for this one is really different and, like so many other Kosmos games, comes from a best selling novel (in this case “Bad Karma” by David Safier).  The players have all died recently and are reincarnated as ants.  They will continue to be reborn as other animals until they perform enough good deeds to get rid of their bad karma and get a new start in life as another human.  Here’s hoping that new human won’t be Charlie Sheen!

Game: Mondo
Designer: Michael Schacht
Publisher: Pegasus/Z-Man
Projected Date: February

Another simple, short (20 minute) game by Schacht, but one you may want to keep your eye on.  It most closely resembles the ship building portion of Galaxy Trucker, but here the players are searching for the best terrain tiles to place on their displays, some of which are populated by animals.  Instead of trying to increase your likelihood of surviving the rigors of space, the goal is simply to maximize your points by matching borders and such.  Like Galaxy Trucker, there’s a time factor, but in this case you’re not just racing your fellow players but a hard time limit as well.  There’s three levels of difficulty and different players can use different levels in the same game, making this very attractive for families.

I’m not usually the best judge of these things, but it seems to me that if this is executed well, it could become a bit of a craze, as well as be a genuine contender for the SdJ.  Schacht has been known to have success with animal-themed games in the past, so, as I say, this one could be well worth watching.

Game: Olympos
Designer: Philippe Keyaerts
Publisher: Ystari
Projected Date: April

Philippe Keyaerts has only had four of his games published, but three of them (Vinci, Evo, and Small World) have been major successes.  So a new game by the Belgian designer is always enough to grab my attention.  Having Ystari as the publisher only increases my interest.  The rules haven’t been posted yet, but we do know that there’s a Thebes-ish time track, that players can discover technologies and build wonders, and that the Greek Gods will make their presence known.  Ystari has already announced that this is a gamer’s game with a duration of only 90 minutes, so that, combined with the fact that I’m a sucker for civilization-themed games, has me excited.  I’m really looking forward to finding out more about this title, to see if Keyaerts can catch, uh, lightning in a bottle once again.

Game: Pantheon
Designer: Michael Tummelhofer
Publisher: Hans im Gluck
Projected Date: March

Amidst a plethora of Carcassonne spinoffs and Dominion expansions in Hans im Gluck’s spring lineup lurks this intriguing quasi-civ game set in the ancient Mediterranean.  The designer is listed as Michael Tummelhofer, but as we all know, this is the nom de spiel of HiG head honcho Bernd Brunnhofer.  Players collect cards to claim god tiles (which confer bonus abilities) or “walk” across the map to claim treasure and build columns.  Of the two Mediterranean Civ games, I’m more intrigued by Olympos, but I’m still keeping my ears open for news about Pantheon.  Brunnhofer is a skilled designer, albeit one whose titles have a decided mathematical bent, and since his last two designs were the megahits Saint Petersburg and Stone Age, I’m sure this will attract a good deal of interest in the weeks to come.

Game: Pergamon
Designer: Stefan Dorra/Ralf zur Linde
Publisher: eggertspiele/Gryphon
Projected Date: February

For the last 20 years, Stefan Dorra has been one of the most reliable of the second tier of Euro designers, consistently producing interesting games.  For most of that time, he has also steadfastly resisted the trend towards collaborative design, preferring to work on solo efforts.  Recently, though, he has combined with his friend Ralf zur Linde to produce some party-style games.  Their latest collaboration, though, appears to be meatier.  It’s a set collection game themed around excavating archaeological finds and then displaying them at a museum.  “Set collection” may not be quite the right description:  you’re gathering tiles which each show two different halves of ancient objects and you’re trying to piece together matching halves (which is both unusual and nicely thematic).  There’s a clever mechanism for determining the amount of cash received each turn—the later you choose to go during the turn, the more money you can potentially get and the deeper you’re allowed to explore, but those going earlier get first crack at the limited funds, which could run out before the later players get to go.  There’s enough of these touches to make this a potentially interesting middleweight game.  I’m a fan of both Dorra and eggertspiele, so this is one I’m going to try to check out.

Game: Principato
Designer: Touko Tahkokallio
Publisher: eggertspiele
Projected Date: February

You may have noticed that just about all of the games I’m listing here are from established designers.  That’s no accident; with so little to go on at this point in time, the individuals who have proven they can deliver in the past are the ones who are most liable to grab my attention.  Principato, from the relatively new Finnish designer Touko Tahkokallio, is one of the exceptions.  And, to be honest, I’m not sure I’m going to pull the trigger on this one.  The theme is the tired one of developing an Italian principality during the Renaissance—even the designer acknowledges how overused this has become.  What interests me, though, is the action system.  Players accomplish things by playing action cards, but you can only have two of these cards in your hand at any time.  If you want to start doing different kinds of actions, you have to exchange one of your cards for one of the ones in the display.  So it sounds like advanced planning and opportunism is rewarded.

The reason I’m a little hesitant about the design is that the action cards seem kind of mundane.  Acquire cubes, build structures, gain VPs…they’re all fairly basic.  I was hoping for some quirkier actions, maybe resembling the kind of variety you see in a game like Macao.  However, the basic idea is a sound one and, as I’ve mentioned, eggertspiele usually does a good job of developing their products.  So this may be a “try before I buy”, but I’m still interested in giving it a shot.

Game: Rails of New England
Designer: Walter Hunt/Gregory Pozerski
Publisher: Rio Grande
Projected Date: March–May

I’m a big fan of train games, but despite the many entries in this field, there’s still a particular kind of game that I haven’t seen, but would like to.  That’s one where the players would do the kind of activities found in the old Railroad Tycoon PC game:  in addition to building track, you would also need to establish the businesses that supply or demand the goods to be transported, as well as invest in the cities (by building hotels, etc.) that serve as popular terminus points.  There hasn’t been too much information released about Rails of New England, but from what I’ve seen, it might just come close to this kind of game.  Consequently, I’ve been interested in this one since last March, when Rio Grande said that they would publish it.  Walter Hunt is a fellow Gathering attendee, so I’m also hoping the game does well for his sake.  RGG hasn’t announced a firm publish date, but based on its progress, it should be available before the end of May.

Game: The Secret of Monte Cristo
Designer: Charles Chevallier/Arnaud Urbon
Publisher: eggertspiele/Z-Man
Projected Date: February

I’m not sure about this one, but it may be worth looking into.  The players are smugglers who are trying to find the hidden treasures on the island of Monte Cristo that Dumas’ “Count” didn’t discover.  There’s an interesting action mechanism, where you reserve a particular type of action by placing your marker in line, then get to take it when your marker gets to the head of that action’s queue.  (This is actually done with marbles and a tilted rack, similar to the device used earlier in Darjeeling.)  Co-designer Urbon’s previous credits include Khronos and Utopia.  This might turn out to be lighter than I usually like, but I’ll withhold judgment until I get a chance to read the rules.

Game: Showmanager
Designer: Dirk Henn
Publisher: Queen
Projected Date: March

Okay, I won’t be buying this one, because I own a copy of the original.  But I did want to point out that Queen will be releasing a new version of this classic middleweight, one that utilizes the very attractive original theme of casting performers in a group of plays (no cruise ships will be involved—yay!).  This one is fast, fun, and plays just as well with 6 as it does with 3.  Henn probably introduced the very clever variable costs display with this game, where recently revealed cards cost more than ones that have been around a while.  It’s a great way of minimizing the luck of the draw and now you see it everywhere, but as far as I can tell, it originated with Showmanager.  Anyway, if you’ve been pining for this long out-of-print classic (did I mention it uses the original theme?), wait no more.

Game: Strasbourg
Designer: Stefan Feld
Publisher: Pegasus
Projected Date: ?

Stefan Feld’s games have worked out so well for me that even if he designs one called Dog Poop, I’ll still check it out.  So you know I’m interested in the less scatologically titled Strasbourg.  This is an auction/tile placement game in which the players are jet-setting corporate executives.  What?  They’re actually Medieval traders?  Imagine that!  Anyway, this looks nice and meaty, a multifaceted design with some meaningful board play, so I’m looking forward to checking out the rules.  Without the poop.

Game: The Struggle for Catan
Designer: Klaus Teuber
Publisher: Kosmos/Mayfair
Projected Date: February

The good news?  This is a quick-playing city-building card game for 2-4 players and it’s designed by Klaus Teuber.  The bad news?  I’m not a huge Settlers fan and this looks like it’s probably too light for my tastes.  So worth a look see based on the designer alone, but I’m not holding out too much hope.

Game: Volle Scholle
Designer: Martin Wallace
Publisher: Kosmos
Projected Date: February

Martin Wallace is best known for his heavy, historically themed games.  But he also does some lighter stuff occasionally and this one set in Antarctica sounds like it might be fun.  Players use their cards to bid on Ice Floes of various values.  The winner gets the Floe card while the losers get the choice to either discard or keep the cards they bid with in a face-down pile.  At the end of the game, you score for the full value of your face-down cards if they have enough room to live (that is, if the value of the Floe cards you’ve won is at least as large).  If not, you have to subtract twice the difference of these totals from your face-down card score.  It’s practically Knizian!  Well worth checking out.

So that’s the games I’m looking forward to investigating this spring.  With any luck, a healthy subset of these will ensure my 2011 gets off to a roaring start.  What about you?  What recently announced games are you intrigued by?

This entry was posted in Commentary. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The Rebirth of Spring

  1. Anye says:

    Larry, did you try Poseidon?

    Reviews are mixed on it. I love it – some 18xxers love it, others hate it. Alas, my other half hates it too. That was my favorite new game of 2010, which for me was generally weak as well. Most of the new games we played at BGG were “solid 7s”, although there were several that I didn’t get a chance to try that had good buzz. I do like Navegator a bit more, I’d rate that a solid 8 :)

    • Larry Levy says:

      I haven’t had the opportunity to try Poseidon, Anye, but I’d like to. I have very limited experience with 18xx and this might give me a chance to get the feel of those games in a reasonable time frame. Hopefully, I’ll see you next month and you can introduce the game to me.

      Have you had the chance to try Railroad Barons? It’s a two-player quasi-18xx card game by the same designer and publisher as Poseidon. If anything, it’s even more controversial than Poseidon among the 18xx crowd. As a quick two-player game, it would be ideal for you and Jason, but I don’t know if it would give you the kind of 18xx experience you were looking for. It’s another one I’d like to check out some day.

      Navegador was my 2010 game of the year. It and London are the only games from that year that I rate as high as an 8. Neither completely blow me away, but they’re both quality designs, have very good pacing, and are consistently enjoyable. Those qualities were easily enough for them to be the leading games for me last year.

    • Eric Brosius says:

      I tried Poseidon, and it works remarkably well for an “introductory 18XX game” (a genre that hasn’t been easy to get right.) It’s not going to be a favorite, but it’s a real game (in contrast to Railroad Barons, which was worth a try but isn’t something I’ll be looking to try again in the future.) I’ll admit that my tastes are jaded by Tom Lehmann’s 1846, which I’ve played 31 times now since my first play in May, and which I’ve rated as a ’10’. 1846 is a fine introductory game that holds up well to repeated play. I put my order in for it in July and am getting close to getting a copy.

      My Euro of 2010 is Black Friday. I’ve also played one game of 1880: China and was intrigued by it. Those are the only two non-expansion non-wargame releases from 2010 that I put in the “really enjoy” category.

  2. jdegann says:

    I believe that most of the negative commentary on Poseidon is from 18xx practitioners, who focus on what the game is missing relative to other entries in the genre. If you look at the game on it’s own, it stands up fine. I do have some gripes – it tends to lack gamerly touches – “bombs” – that would make it more exciting. In the end, it’s a good medium-heavy business game that can appeal to Power Grid fans.

  3. jeffinberlin says:

    I met both newcomers Matthias and Touko at Goettingen last year, and judging by their other prototypes, I’m sure you won’t see the last of them, and I think it’s completely appropriate to mention them here!

  4. Doug Adams says:

    I thought 2010 was a great year … Yomi and Rallyman went into my all time top 10 (just when I thought the concrete had set), and a lot of stuff appear to be keepers. Others approaching great are Puzzle Strike, The Hobbit, 20th Century, the charming Catacombs and superb War of the Ring Collector’s Edition. I’m sure there’s others but I see a large earthquake has just occurred near Japan and I better get back to work.

  5. peer says:

    I just played Pergamon and while completly different in the mechanics it still reminded me of Die Speicherstadt – but in a good way. You know I do like the Speicherstad, but after a few ganes I think I saw everythig there is already and I think it depends too mjucb on your turnorder when certain cards are coming.
    In pergamon there are also things beyond your control, but it felt less like a crapshot and more nuanced and -more important – more flexible system, that doesnt turn stale so quickly (but hard to tll after one gae of course). At thze same time its as small & easy as Speicherstadt. So It definitly has potential.

  6. Keith Shapley says:

    Excellent column Larry. As a gamer on the perifery of the gamegeek universe ((Ed. still in denial?)) an overview of what 2011 will bring is most useful. Olympos is top (ie the only entry) of my must buy list.

  7. eivai says:

    Thank you for this great piece of content. Best Regards

Leave a Reply