Dale Yu’s Essen 2010 Recap

[Editor’s Note: This is a reprint of my 2010 Essen Spiel Fair recap – which was originally hosted on BoardGameNews, but has since gone “poof” with the demise of the original BGN host.  I’ll repost it here on the Opinionated Gamers blog so it has a new home.  I have integrated a few more pictures into the body of this recap.  My apologies if you’ve already read this before! Dale]

Part 1: Introduction to the Spiel 2010

Right now, I’m on the plane home for Germany typing up my thoughts of the fair on my iPad. Don’t worry, I’m not typing this on the screen, I am grateful to have a Bluetooth keyboard which is making text entry into Pages a breeze! Despite the weather in Germany being pretty much cold, grey and miserable all week – I once again had a great time in Europe getting a little bit of culture in, catching a few game demos, and overloading on doner kebab, currywurst and Rhenish blood sausage (Himmel und äad). In fact, I might say that the blood sausage may have overtaken Doner as my favorite German food!  Despite the grey weather, we were a bit lucky to have rain for only one day while we were in Essen – mostly because otherwise it would have been a bear trying to get the games home from the convention halls without taking water damage.  With only rain on late Saturday afternoon (at which point my bags were too full to really be buying anything), this was luckily not an issue.

The experiment of bringing the iPad as my only computing device was a true success. It is certainly smaller and lighter than even my smallest UNIX netbook and the battery lasts for over 8 hours at a time of constant use.  Because it is an instant on device, it was also perfect for keeping my games spreadsheet on for easy reference, and I was also also to download about 70 sets of English rules prior to the fair and it came in handy on a number of occasions to have a .pdf translation available at a moment’s notice. I was definitely not the only one to think that the iPad would be good for Essen as I regularly saw other gamers referring to their own iPads during the show.

I honestly have no idea if anything is different in Essen itself as I spent probably no more than 2 hours away from the convention hall, my hotel or Ruttensheid-strasse which is one of the streets between the hotel and the Messe. This isn’t because I was so consumed with gaming, but more a reflection on the fact that everything I need including hotels, restaurants, grocery shops, banks, etc. can all be found within walking distance of the Messe area. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration – the Hauptbahnhof has finally been redone, and it is quite nice to finally be able to move about the station without having to go outside (in the rain) or dodge all the construction barricades.

This year the report will be a little bit different as I have already tried to send back bits and pieces from the fair each day.  If I repeat something, I apologize – I’m trying to write this on the flight home while details are still fresh in my mind, though surely I’m still a bit fatigued from the trip.  I will start with some general notes on the fair in this first section and then try to give you a hall-by-hall review of the sights, sounds, smells, and games to be found along the way.

The Gaming Doctor and the other Gaming Doctor

On the whole, I think that the fair was a “good” one.  Other than one or two games, the general response from the gamers I usually meet at Essen and whose opinions on games that I trust was that many games looked “good”, “solid” or “decent” – but very few times did I hear that a game was outstanding.  The two games which were the exception to the rule were 7 Wonders and Troyes.  Amongst many of my contacts, 7 Wonders was already a known quantity though as it has been seen in prototype from since spring 2010.  It was as good as remembered – for sure.  Troyes was also getting the most positive reactions from those I talked to – and this sentiment was also seen at the Pearl Game stand as the game sold out by Saturday at the fair.

My opinions on the games from Essen 2010 are similar — there seems to be a lot of good games in the crop, though I am not sure if there is one game that I would be able to say stands out amongst the crowd as of yet.  Part of the reason for this is that I simply haven’t played many of the games all the way thru.  I’m guessing that I played seven or eight games to completion during the fair.  There just isn’t time (for me) to get to many more than that in the four days if I want a chance to try to see as many of the games as possible.

In fact, as I was looking over my list at the e nd of the fair, I was not surprised to see that there were a few booths which I simply never managed to make it to – especially K2 from Rebel as well as the entire Amigo, Kosmos and Ravensburger stands!  So, at this point, I don’t think that I’m in any position to pass judgement on many of the games, and I’m certainly not ready to give my vote for game of the show… Unlike years in the past, the fairgoers also seemed not to have a consensus game either.

There were two different user-based polls this year – the ScoutAktion list from Fairplay as well as the GeekBuzz list from boardgamegeek.com. Interestingly enough, both of these booths were within sight of each other. This close proximity made it quite easy to go to Hall 10 and quickly consult both lists as well as compare the results.  While the early results of both were a bit different from each other — easy to understand given the low number of votes that each poll had at that point — they did appear to converge by the end of Saturday when I was leaving the fair.

There were always crowds in front of both of these booths, with many people copying down the results into their notebooks or taking pictures with their cameras to refer to later.  Many people, including myself, often use these lists as a quick and dirty way to find games to learn more about.  If a game stays near the top of these lists by Saturday, it is usually enough for me to go to the booth and check out the game to learn more about it.  This year, the game which I did not know much about at the start of the fair (and thus had little interest in before i left) was 1655 by DDD Verlag.  After seeing it in the top 5 of the Fairplay list on Saturday (again, with less than 20 votes overall!), I did manage to fight through the ever-present line at the Lookout stand in Hall 9 to get a quick demo of the game – which was enough to convince me to part with some Euros to bring the game home to try.

While there are certainly some people who use the Fairplay and the Geekbuzz lists to simply determine their purchases, I have found that it is better for me to still learn something more about the games.  The reason for this is that most of the voters at the fair are just like me — gamers that haven’t had time to try all the games at the fair.  A lot of votes are based on impressions from booth demos or partial games.  So, while both lists reflect the sentiment of the crowd on the games during the days of the fair – I have found that this buzz during the fair doesn’t necessarily translate to what will be thought of the games come Spring when folks have had a chance to play them a few times.  Also, given the smallish sample sizes of the polls, it’s hard to know for sure how much weight to put behind the results.   I like the way that Fairplay results include the number of votes behind the overall average rating and the way the Geekbuzz poll splits up the results based on the number of votes cast for the games.

As one of my longtime friends, Christopher Dearlove, commented about the polls: “They serve one purpose… They alert you to games that are worth checking out. But the checking out is what informs the decisions. Asking people has real value, I don’t get an opinion, I get a specific person I know’s opinion.”  His opinion pretty much mirrors mine.  Generally I’ll try to stop and check in folks like Patrick Korner, Alan How or Stuart Dagger (from Counter Magazine), Frank Kulkmann, and many other trusted friends to see what they think of the games.  I know that my tastes aren’t always the same as my friends, but at least I know what they like and how they evaluate games – and this helps me make a more learned decision. Also, since there simply isn’t time to take in a demo on every game that I’m interested in, we often will try to trade 90 second snippets about a game with each other.  It’s surprising how much information you can transmit and receive in a these short 5 minute stops.

Despite the limitations of both polls, they are still resources that I consult at least twice a day while at the fair, and they are also the only realtime feedback resources that I have while at Essen – so I’m thankful for what I get.  Kudos to both stands for doing all the work behind the scenes to make it possible.  It is also nice to have two different sets of data to look at because it certainly seemed that the results were somewhat varied (though they did seem to converge come Saturday). I wonder if the BGG poll got more English-speaking voters at their stand and the Fairplay got more German-speaking voters.

The Fairplay stand

The final Fairplay results are found at:

http://fairplay-online.blogspot.com/2010/10/fairplay-scoutaktion-2010-die.html

7 Wonders                           Repos Production       1,84    126

Troyes                                    Pearl Games             1,98    64

Navegador                            PD-Verlag                 2,04    79

Age of Industry                     Treefrog                     2,05    39

Olympus                                Stratelibri                   2,11    47

First Train to Nürnberg        Argentum                   2,12    34

Key West                               Spiele-Idee                2,13    31

Vinhos                                   Whats Your Game    2,18    40

Florenza                                Placentia                   2,23    30

Habemus Papam 1655       DDD Verlag                2,26    61

Grand Cru                             eggertspiele               2,29    63

Bangkok Klongs                  dlp games                  2,32    40

Merkator                                 Lookout                   2,35    54

Asara                                      Ravensburger          2,36    95

Luna                                       Hall Games               2,36    83

The final Geekbuzz ratings are found at: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geekbuzz/overview/

Junta: Viva El Presidente               4.3                   23

Survive!                                             3.9                   28

Phantom League                             3.9                   22

7 Wonders                                         3.8                   191

Genesis                                             3.8                   92

Troyes                                                3.8                   78

Navegador                                        3.8                   94

Fresco                                                3.8                   145

Dixit 2                                                 3.8                   74

Escape from Aliens…                     3.8                   21

The BGG booth

Attendance at the fair seemed about the same as usual – it was pretty crowded for the weekend.  This year, Thursday seemed to be the busiest day – apparently there was some sort of school holiday in Germany, and many families were in attendance on the first day.  And, as bad as the crush seemed on Thursday, it could have been worse… The ticketing system had some sort of malfunction, and for about 90 minutes on the morning of the first day, people weren’t able to buy tickets at the Messe.  The lines on the outside didn’t seem to ever reach GenCon fubar proportions, but it was still the worst queue I’ve seen at Essen.  Luckily, while the crowds were a bit higher with families, it didn’t affect my day that much as that demographic wasn’t generally trying to see the same games that I was!  The number I heard at the press stand was that the estimated attendance through Saturday was around 120,000 admissions – of course I was eavesdropping, and my German translation skills still leave much to be desired.

And while there may not have been a standout game (or games) identified yet, one thing that I noticed was that there seemed to be even more games to look at and be considered.  When I first started coming to Essen, my list of games that I was initially interested in was usually in the 50-60 range.  This year that list topped 140, and I still managed to find (and obtain) a number of games that didn’t even make my list when I started researching the fair.  I think one of the reasons for this is the Internet, and specifically BGN (and the awesome Spiel preview), BGG and Spielbox.  It has become easier and easier to get information about the new games than ever before.  The worldwide gaming community gets to rules translations faster than ever, and even if rules aren’t available before the fair, I’m usually certain that I’ll be able to obtain a functional translation of just about any game that I would pick up, even those in languages such as Japanese and Polish.

The other contributor to the number of games is that it appears that there are just more companies here with more games than ever before.  The number of companies that were displaying games at Essen this year for the first time was staggering, and many of them brought multiple games with them, and many of these games looked quite promising.  I think that the official count of exhibitors this year as 758 (though I’m not sure if this counts the no-shows or not).

Furthermore, it is becoming rarer and rarer to find games that do not have rules translations available right at the stand or already available online.  One of the stands that I used to have translation issues with, Japon Brand, had English rules up for almost all of their games before the fair even started!  The translation courtesy goes both ways with many of the English companies having German, French, Spanish or Italian translations available as well.  I know that Scott Tepper at Ascora Games burnt the midnight oil to make sure he had well-prepared translations available on the stand, and this likely helped sales as non-English speakers could buy the game knowing they would have a full rule set.

The overall layout of the halls were about the same as usual.  The highly successful French Corner (my term) in the front of Hall 12 directly in front of the entrance was back in full force.  The many different companies which combined to share the huge stand seemed to always be busy.  Most of the big players (Kosmos, Ravensburger, Rio Grande, Queen, Haba, Amigo, etc) were all in their usual places – though there was a huge Hasbro stand in Hall 10 where Clementoni used to be.  I don’t know how much it costs to rent square footage at Spiel, but the amount that was devoted to Cuponk was frankly unbelievable!  The one area that seemed to grow a bit was the Heidelberger area in Hall 9.  Phalanx was not there this year, and the Heidelberger play area absorbed the extra space.

Game prices at Spiel tend to be close to MSRP if you buy from the publisher themselves and at regular retail prices or lower from the discount booths.  Most games from the publisher stands were around 25-40 EUR though there was an increasing number of games that were at 50 or even 60 EUR.  A few publishers offered special prices for the fair which were 5 or 10 EUR off, or sometimes they would include in an extra expansion or special piece.  These prices are balanced out by retail stands that might have a new Kosmos or Ravensburger game for 20ish – much below the list price for these games.  At both publisher stands as well as the retail stands, it is always a good idea to go with a friend and ask if the will give a small discount for buying multiple copies of a game – this also helps get lower prices often.  So, while a trip to Essen is never cheap, there are still a few ways to get games for reasonable prices.

So, in the end, I came home with 49 games.  After weighing my luggage before I left, I found out that my total baggages actually weighed more than I did!  Both of my checked pieces of luggage were at 49.8 on my baggage scale – and these were mostly filled with the bigger game boxes with what few smaller ones I could nest inside.  The majority of the boards and punchboards from my games made it into my small carry-on which came in at a hefty 44 pounds.  The rest of the stuff, including a lot of card decks and wooden bits were in my backpack (28 lbs).  I did get a bit of an evil eye from the gate attendant as I claimed a 28lb backpack as my “personal item”, but it all managed to make it on the plane!  Now when I get home, I will have the fun meta-game of reassembling all of the games with the boards in one back, the cards in another and possibly the wooden bits in my jacket pockets!

All the game boxes

Green Duffel Bag (49.8 lbs)

  • 20th Century
  • Aether
  • Caminos
  • Club 2%
  • Coppertwaddle
  • Era of Inventions
  • Genesis
  • Grand Cru
  • Key Market
  • Khan
  • Magnum Sal
  • Master of Economy
  • Merkator
  • Mousquetaires du Roy
  • Olympus
  • Porto Carthago
  • Rallyman
  • Sun, Sea & Sand
  • The Boss
  • Tricky Safari
  • Troyes

Red 29″ luggage (49.8 lbs)

  • 7 Wonders
  • Aisopos
  • Alchemicus
  • Busstop: The Boardgame
  • Campos
  • Dakota
  • Dobble x 2
  • Dominion: Prosperity
  • Expedition: Sumatra
  • Florenza
  • Goal! x 2
  • Isle Dorada
  • Kaigan
  • Mai Star
  • Norenberc
  • Safranito
  • Skyscrapers
  • Snapshot
  • Travel Blog

Rollerboard carry on (44 lbs)

  • 1655 Habemus Papum
  • Prodigy x 2
  • Boards, rules, bits, punchboards from 18 games in ziploc bags

Backpack (28 lbs)

  • Agricola: F-Deck x 4
  • RRR
  • Totemo
  • Boards, rules, bits, punchboards from 13 games

Jacket (didn’t weigh it, but it hurt my shoulders to have it on – maybe 15lbs?)

  • Railroad Barons
  • Show Business
  • Summy
  • Toscana
  • Assorted bits and stuff in pockets everywhere

All of the stuff in baggies!

The overall number of games is a bit lower than years past, but that is possibly more due to the fact that I just didn’t bring home a lot of small card games.  There was very little nesting going on this year as the majority of the boxes came in one of the two standard sizes (the big KOSMOS square and the smaller rectangle).  So, the volume in my bags filled up quickly.  On the other hand, the games that I picked up also seemed heavier than usual – though I had plenty of empty space for nesting, I think that I would have been hard pressed to do anything more weight-wise.

Interestingly, the boxes made it home in the best shape I can ever remember!  Only one box is irrevocably damaged (Master of Economy – as the glue holding on the side panel wasn’t quite strong enough).  Two or three boxes have mildly dented tops (due to empty insides) and otherwise, everything else looks realy good.  I’ve often had problems in the past because the majority of the game boxes are empty in my two large pieces of luggage in order to meet the weight requirements imposed upon me by the airlines…

I did try a different method of packing this year which seemed to help.  I put very little padding (laundry) around the outside of the game boxes counting on only the baggage to serve as protection.  The boxes had been mostly emptied of their contents for weight reasons… When possible, I did try to nest smaller boxes within the larger ones, but I as mentioned earlier, this was not a common occurrence this year.  After emptying out the boxes of boards and bits, I did then fill up the boxes with my clothes/laundry to make sure the box was full.  At least based upon one year’s results – this may be a much better way to do it!

On a somewhat related note – I might not bring Ziploc bags from home anymore… I used to bring the gallon-sized freezer bags to hold game bits together – it is often easier for me to recreate a game when the rules, boards, cards, and/or wooden bits are all together in a single bag (as opposed to having to hunt down all the different components across all my bags).  However, the American freezer bags were never quite large enough for some of the boards and A4 rulesets.  In Europe, thanks to the metric system, they have slightly different sizes.  The 6L freezer bag they have there is about 2-3 inches longer and perfectly fits the Kosmos big square size boards.  From now on, I’m making a trip to the local REWE to buy packing supplies upon my arrival in Germany,

Those boxes were empty because I have a humongous stack of ziploc bags containing all the boards, rules, cards, bits, etc… Now it’s time for the fun game of re-constructing all the games!

Also, I didn’t spend a lot of time chasing down the odd promo or limited edition whatever this year.  Since I have sworn off buying more Age of Steam expansions until I play the ones I still have unplayed in my collection, that saved me the usual Thursday morning rush around noon trying to get all of them in my bag.  Also, I think I managed to avoid getting many expansions for other games.  I used to try to make sure I got all of the  expansions possible (and there are a lot of them available at Essen), but I found that I generally don’t end up playing them.  So, if special expansions were included with a game, I took them, but I didn’t rush around trying to get that sort of stuff, and it was a nice change.

Part 2: A Hall-by-Hall Tour of Spiel 2010

Well, now that I’ve given an overview of the fair, I’ll try to organize my thoughts going from Hall to Hall as I would walk it during the show. I’ll take you through from when I first enter the Messe in the morning, and you can walk along the path with me.

Hall 12

Many a day at Spiel starts in Hall 12 as one of the early entrances to the fair dumps you into this Hall just in front of the French Quarter. I spent a fair amount of time here during the fair as there were a lot of games I was interested in here. Sébastien Pauchon and GameWorks had Tikal II and Sobek, which both looked great. I did not bring Tikal II back from Essen as Seb let me know that it will be distributed in the U.S. by Asmodee US.

The Tikal II girls

Sobek was a neat little resource-collecting card game by Bruno Cathala. Bruno was nice enough to give my brother and me a demo of the game, and there is a lot of strategy in this little Egyptian-themed card game. You are essentially trying to collect sets (at least three) of the different suits. On your turn, you can choose a card (from the first four in line), play a set of cards to the board, or play a special action card. When you choose a card, if you do not take the one at the front of the line, you place all the skipped cards in your corruption pile. This is important because at the end of the round, the player who had the most corruption loses some of their score. There is also a bit of time pressure in the game because seAdd an Imagets played to the table score much much better than completed sets in your hand at the end of the round. It turns out to be a card game where you want to do more things than you have time to do – all in the space of thirty minutes. Like Jaipur from last year, this is a game that I can see myself playing though the coming year.

Bruno, myself and Sobek

Ystari is another one of the companies to be found in the French Quarter. Mousquetaires du Roy is the new game for the fair – it is a semi-cooperative game which was quite challenging. In our demo, we played three musketeers against the Milady player.

The job of the Musketeers is to travel through the four scenario boards to  get the Queen’s necklace back to the Queen. Each of the four boards gives the players a different set of challenges to make it through the card. While the Musketeers are trying to do this, the Milady player is trying to stop the progress of the Musketeers by throwing many different obstacles in their way. While the Milady player can be handled by the rules alone (i.e. following pre-programmed paths), Cyril from Ystari said that the game plays much better with a human player controlling the actions of Milady. While the Musketeers have only one way to win the game, the Milady player has three different ways in which to win – and much of the tension in the game revolves around the Musketeer’s managing risk on the three different victory tracks – i.e., when can the Musketeers afford to spend actions on trying to further their own progress through the scenario boards as opposed to devoting their energies to dealing with the varied attacks from Milady.

Cyril from Ystari setting up the booth

Though I am normally not a lover of cooperative style games, this game probably goes up with Ghost Stories as the only examples of the genre that you might find me actually playing. That being said, I’m actually looking forward to getting a chance to play the Milady role in a game also, as that is a non-cooperative part of the game.

Cyril mentioned that he had a number of good ideas percolating for Spiel 2011 already – and that maybe even a card game could be possible. Looking at the gamut of varied styles of games that have come out from Ystari, change and variety is probably the one thing you can count on from them.

Asmodee could also be found in the French Area. Though I never did manage to make a connection with the press guys from Asmodee (which I am quite sad about indeed), I did get a few demos in of their offerings for 2010.

The one which caught my eye was Dobble, which is a Speed-like picture/pattern recognition game. There are acutally rules for five different games in the tin, but for the most part they all use a similar base mechanic. Each of the round-shaped cards in the game is filled with a number of symbols or words (such as a green clover, black/white ying-yang sign, yellow piece of cheese, purple dragon, etc). While the size of the objects varies on the cards, the color and shape are always the same. Essentially, your job in all of the games is to quickly look at the cards and find two cards which have the same symbol on them.

One version in Dobble is called Hot Potato – in this version, each player is dealt a card and they hold it in their hand face down to start. Simultaneously players flip their hands over, then players look for a match. When a match is found, you quickly slap your card on top of the card with a matching symbol. Thus, your hand is now empty and the player who was slower than you now has two cards in his hand (with your original card on top). The game continues on with players looking for matches, and when one is found, all the cards are then transferred to the hand of the slower player. The loser is the one who is left with the single stack of all cards at the end. It’s a furious game filled with fun and laughs all around.

Dobble!

Repos Production was another French-speaking company in Hall 12, though they are from Belgium. Their 7 Wonders booth was busy filling all the preorders, and it was always easy to see their employees as they were wearing their customary straw sombreros. They were obviously thrilled with the succeses of 7 Wonders. I had a chance to ask Cedric and Thomas about plans for the future, and they said they are working on a number of things including a new expansion for Ghost Stories.

Before I leave the French area, a quick snapshot with Marie Cardouat, the artist for Dixit

Eggertspiele was busy showing off Grand Cru and Rummelplatz. I haven’t had a chance to try Grand Cru yet, but what I heard about it was so promising that I bought a copy on spec. Rummelplatz is a nice lighthearted game recreating the fun of a summer fair. The game is made up of a bunch of minigames that simulate fair activites. In the end, your successes (or lack thereof) in the minigames gets you a number of chances at the grand raffle at the end of the fair. The game was produced as part of the celebration for eggertspiele’s 15th anniversary, and it also was getting a lot of play on the stand. But, for me, of the two, Grand Cru looks to be the one with legs, and I will play it soon as it is near the top of that list.

Kosmos was also in full force in Hall 12, but I didn’t actually step foot once in the stand. Most of the offerings didn’t catch my eye prior to leaving for Germany, and I’ve had a fair bit of problems getting demos in English at Kosmos (as well as Ravensburger), so I usually have to have a great deal of interest to track something down there. My brother did manage to get a game of Der Pate in and quite enjoyed it. His enthusiasm was enough to get Valerie to try it – and I look forward to trying her copy soon.

Schedule of events at the Kosmos booth

Hans van der Tol manned The Game Master booth, and he had Antwerpen on offer this year. This pick-up-and-deliver game is in the same line as Rotterdam from a few years back. Hans gave us a nice demo, and he said it appears to be a more streamlined version of Rotterdam. I was also quite interested in Fortuna, but it simply wasn’t quite ready for the fair. I did get to see a nearly final prototype version, and it looks to have a high probability of hitting my gaming sweet spot of resource management with different victory tracks. There are still a few mechanisms that they are working on, but I definitely liked what I saw thus far. Unfortunately for you, since it is still a work in progress, there is nothing else I can say now.

Nexus Games took their usual spot in the back corner, and I did get a chance to try a few games from their stand. Dakota is an interesting resource collecting game. It is set in the time of Indians and American settlers. During the course of the game, you place meeples to collect the different resources. Depending on whether you are an Indian or a Settler, the resources will have different values to you. Each round, you will collect resources, and then convert them to gold, use them to build buildings or improve your meeples, or convert them to victory points.

Dakota in action

So far, it doesn’t sound like anything special, right? So here’s the catch – at the start of the game, all the players secretly and simultaneously choose whether they are going to play as an Indian or a Settler – and this decision lasts throughout the whole game. The resources that you are trying to collect are spread out amongst a number of different settlements. After all meeples are placed, each settlement is reckoned individually – only the side (indian or Settler) which has more meeples placed will collect the resources available. So you sometimes have to work with the other players from your “side” to make sure that win a settlement, or else neither of you will collect resources. However, you are still competing against that player for the resources in that settlement. This proved to be an interesting challenge on first blush, though I played only three rounds of a nine round three-player game – so a verdict still awaits a full play of the game.

The other game that caught my eye at Nexus was Prodigy.  It is a “customizable” card game with a twist. While you can choose which cards go in your deck (like most “customizable” card games that I’m used to), the cards themselves are customizable. Each card represents a spell, creature, etc. – but each one has three different scratch off areas on the card. Apparently before you play, you have to choose which one of the three squares to scratch off – each card has a low-valued, medium-valued, and high-valued area – because depending on the sort of deck you’re trying to build, you might need a low, medium, or high version of the card. The numbers that are revealed are also slightly varied, so you still are never quite sure of what you’ll get until you scratch off the square. So while none of the cards are collectible – you get all sixty cards in the base set – there might still be an element of getting more cards if you are chasing a specific value. I honestly don’t know what to think about the idea quite yet, but I have two starter decks waiting for a two player game day.

Hutter/Huch! & friends had a number of games on offer, and I had a chance to try out a number of them. Skyscrapers is a novel 3D-building game where the players build a skyscraper from the tiles using plastic clips. Das Börsenspiel is a neat stock market game where players buy and sell shares from four different stocks. Prices are always in flux due to market forces of supply and demand, and timing is everything. Players have a set of ten timing chips, and each player uses one in each of the ten rounds of the game – the choice of timing chip as well as the buy and sell order for each round are chosen secret and simultaneously – and then when revealed, all orders are done in order based on the timing chips.

Skyscrapers

Campos is a really nice abstract game that deserves a full review (and will get one soon from me). You place triangular-shaped pieces to the board and score points based the largest contiguous areas in the four different colors. As you can imagine, the areas are always changing as pieces are placed to the board, so timing when to use your scoring cards is paramount.

Finally, Fauna Junior provides me with the game that I wanted Fauna to be when it originally came out. In this simpler version of the game, players are asked to determine whether an animal lays eggs or not, eats a vegetarian diet or not, what sort of terrain it usually lives in (desert, forest, marsh, etc) and what its weight is. Weight is handled differently here as players are given a simple set of things to compare to. Players just have to determine whether an animal’s weight is between that of a Q-tip, glass of juice, sack of potatoes, bicycle, adult human, car, and tractor. Not having to know specific weights seems to be an easier concept for younger players to grasp. Additionally, with the changes, you no longer need to have any knowledge of the metric system to be able to play. The game is still in German only, and the cards will need a little translation to at least get the English name of the animals on the card, but that should be easy enough to do.

There was some disappointment on their stand as Vinhos didn’t make the fair in time, but with all of the other games on offer, there were still plenty of things to play at Hutter/Huch. They did offer a nice deal if you still wanted to order and pay for Vinhos at the stand and they included free worldwide shipping with the game. While it wasn’t available for purchase, it was certainly demoed a great deal, and was near the top of both the Geekbuzz and Fairplay lists on Saturday.

The last area of Hall 12 are the smaller booths on the wall that abuts Hall 11. Cwali had three new games on offer, and I like the idea of Sun, Sea & Sand – it’s a game about building hotels trying to entice visitors to come and stay at your hotel. Tricky Safari looks to be a nice luck free game where you are trying to take pictures of the different animals in the game. Summy is an all-wood game that looks like a math version of Scrabble. It comes in at 700gm, and I passed on it, but Corné convinced me that it was worth trying, so it came home with me (in my carry-on, of course). I played Caminos at the Bambus stand, and it is a nice two-player abstract connection game. Travis Worthington was also found here in constant demo mode for his card games from Indie Boards & Cards.

Hall 10/11

I’ll consider these two together as there really isn’t a wall separating these, but there were many large booths here that I didn’t stop in at all: Ravensburger, Amigo, HABA. The 2F/BeWitched booths were always packed. Fürstenfeld and Famiglia were in constant play, and they seemed to be getting good responses from the crowd. I did get in a full play of Fürstenfeld, and it was an interesting resource management game, though my game was only 2P, and I think that it would be more interesting with more players. BeWitched’s booth was a little mini-stage as Freeze is a game about improv acting. The demo games were usually packed, and the crowd watching spilled well out into the hall.

The 2F booth in the midst of construction

Fata Morgana had their usual small stand near 2F/BeWitched, and I’m sad to say that this was the first year in awhile that there wasn’t some new Tichu offering to bring home. They still had the usual single deck tins as well as the limited Bayern edition of the game, but nothing new. Oh well, there is always next year.

The Heidelberger massive discount stand/labyrinth which is usually found in Hall 10 was there but not as crowded as usual. Part of the reason may be that they also had a second sale stand in their massive area over in Hall 9. Anyways, it was nice to not have to constantly fight thru the log-jam of the line waiting to get into the booth.

Mord im Arosa

Zoch had a number of interesting new games. One that caught my attention early on was Mord im Arosa which is a sort-of deductive game where you try to pin the murder of two unfortunate hotel guests on the other players. The neat part about this game is that the hotel is made up of stacking cardboard boxes with a hole in the middle. All the cubes in the game, which represent the victims as well as clues left by the players, are dropped down the center hole at the top and they can end up at any level of the hotel. While the scoring at the end was a bit fiddly, the mechanic of the hotel and the scattered cubes is quite novel.

The other game that looks good is Safranito. This is a new take on the Beer and Pretzels idea; players need to collect spices, and there are pots of these on the gameboard. Players then toss heavy poker chips (of varying values) onto the board trying to land in the pots. Players who have more point values in a particular pot get the spices they need. I actually don’t know more about the game yet because I was pretty much sold after that short explanation. I figure I will play this with the kids in the next day or two.

Safranito in action

The Queen booth was a crowded place, even if some (well, really most) of their planned new releases didn’t make it to the show. Luckily, Fresco was still new for the fair, and had a lot of momentum behind it as it was awarded the DSP 1st prize at the start of the fair. While I’m guessing that it could have been a better show with more of the new games available, the stand still looked like it was doing well.

Rajive Gupta, the head of Queen, wasn’t quite sure on what sort of schedule the delayed games will be released. He did hint that he might try to have at least one new game make a debut at BGG.con in a few weeks in Dallas. More news as I can get a hold of it here as I am quite interested in a number of the delayed games.

Some of the Queen games that made it

In other Queen news, the collaboration between Queen and Winsome Games appears to be continuing. It would not surprise me to see a French-themed railway game in the near future from Queen. While I really think the name “French Connection” would be awesome for a game, “Paris Express” looks to be the name of the upcoming release of SNCF.

Rio Grande Games was in its usual spot, and the tables were always filled. The games available here included 20th Century, Black Friday, Famiglia, Fürstenfeld, Glen More, Industry, Mousquetaires du Roy, Navegador, Space Alert Expansion, Rio de la Plata, Antverpia, Power Grid: Russia/Japan, and all flavors of Dominion, including the new Prosperity expansion. (Disclosure: I am one of the developers of Dominion and its expansions).

Pallets full of Dominion Prosperity, just waiting to be unloaded!

This year, the tables were set up a bit differently at RGG. This year, each table had a single game already set up on it – in years past, you got a table, then went to ask for a demo copy of one of the games. This new system seemed to be a better system as it prevented people from getting table space, then keeping it for the entire day and playing different games – though it did make it a little harder at times to try out the specific game that you wanted as you had to time things a bit better to find an empty table with the desired game on it.

Before I left Essen, I was able to have a nice sit-down with Jay to catch up on all things Rio Grande, and I must say that there is a lot of news! First, concerning the new Essen games – according to Jay, there are plenty of copies of Famiglia and the Power Grid: Russia/Japan expansion in print. For most of the other games new to RGG at Essen, the only printed copies were those that he had at the show. However, based on the printing time estimates, all of these new games should be available in the U.S. before Christmas. Fürstenfeld should definitely make it soon, as should Black Friday. As of the time that I met with Jay, it also looked like he was considering Loch Ness from Hans im Glück and Grand Cru from eggertspiele, though I do not know if a decision was made on these two.

As far as new games go, RGG will be producing a new U.S. version of Carcassone: the City. Unlike the original version – which came only in that spiffy but heavy wooden box – this new version will be in a traditional box. I had a chance to see the cover art, and it is really nice. I might be a bit biased because it is from one of the artists who has done some Dominion cards. (Look at the “City” card from Prosperity, for example.) A few other anticipated games should hit the market soon as well. Rails of New England should be available soon, as will Heavens of Olympus. The artwork on these were both done by Ryan Laukat, and I must say that I am impressed with the quality of the art as well as the way Ryan can do different styles.

Now, a bit of Dominion news. First, Rio Grande has apparently granted a license to a Japanese company to do a manga-styled version of the Dominion base set. At this point, I do not know which specific manga property will be done, but at this point it is slated for a Japan-only release. This version will offer the same cards as the base set, but will replace the artwork with new pieces. In news that may affect the American market a bit more – it looks like there will be a limited-edition large box set offered through Amazon.com for the holidays. This large set will include the base set, Alchemy and Prosperity in a box. List price is not yet set, but $100 to $110 looks likely. This will likely be a limited edition, with probably around 5,000 being made available.

Finally, while it has sucked for everyone with the shortage of copies of Dominion: Prosperity, I have finally found out what was the cause. The bulk of the copies of Prosperity were sent from Europe via ship, and apparently one of the containers that was filled with Prosperity was not quite watertight. Anyways, between the splashing of the waves and rain on the way over, the copies inside the container were exposed to a fair bit of water, and when they arrived here, they were not in saleable condition. Rather than risk putting out damaged games, that portion of the print run has to be redone and reshipped – thus, the delay.  I know that this doesn’t really fix the problem if you want Prosperity and still don’t have one, but hopefully an explanation of what happened will help…

As I had mentioned earlier, the Fairplay booth was on one side of the RGG booth. There were generally crowds constantly around the stand as fairgoers were either voting for games or trying to check out the most updating standings. One of my good friends, Kathrin Nos, is one of the folks in charge of Fairplay. She let me know that she has stepped down from her position of being a jury member for the Spiel des Jahres in order to concentrate on her real-life job as well as her work on Fairplay.

During the course of the fair, I also ran into Stefan Ducksch, who also let me know that he was no longer on the jury. This continues the trend of recent high turnover on the jury – and I will be quite interested to see how this will affect the overall composition of the jury. I did not make the SdJ dinner this year, so I’m not yet aware who the replacement jury members are. On their website, the SdJ has nine members in the current jury, with Bernhard Löhlein continuing to serve as the head of the jury.

The BoardGameGeek/GeekBuzz booth was another busy place in Hall 10. First, just as with Fairplay, there were plenty of people who were either voting or checking out the GeekBuzz results. Secondly, the webcam stream was constantly going with a full schedule of companies doing video demos of their new games. There were plenty of people watching live, though given the time difference, there were obviously more viewers for the late afternoon sessions as opposed to the morning demos. Lucky for everyone, all of the videos are available at BGG, so you can watch them on your own schedule. Third, given its proximity to Rio Grande and FRED/Gryphon, the far end of Hall 10 pretty much was an impromptu meeting point for English speakers.

While not quite as cohesive as the French Quarter in Hall 12, it was still nice to have a place to often see familiar faces and catch up on the buzz on the new games. Though I do some admin work for BGG, I had nothing to do with the GeekBuzz system, and it certainly looks like it was a lot of work. Kudos to Aldie, Derk, Linc, Doug, and Shelley for pulling off the gargantuan task of running GeekBuzz and doing all of those videos!

And on a final note, based on the armfuls of games that I often saw Derk, Doug and Shelley bringing back to the BGG booth as I would stop in, I’m guessing that the library at BGG.con will be quite robust! And since these games will likely be air-shipped, they won’t have to worry about whether or not their ship container is waterproof or not… Here is the preliminary list for BGG.con.

FRED/Gryphon were in the corner as usual, and they had a lot of folks looking at and buying Defenders of the Realm, Charon Inc. and Baltimore & Ohio. Railways of the World: The Card Game was also moving fast and may have sold out by the end of the show. Sean was constantly doing demos at the stand, and Keith was busy in meetings all day. I never had a chance to catch up with Keith at the end of the week to see whether he could tell me what to expect from FRED/Gryphon in the year to come, but I look forward to finding out about their new games.

Hall 5

Walking out of Hall 10, you get a refreshing 10m walk in cool air as you flit between buildings. Hall 5 always makes me hungry as there is a nice pretzel stand that you have to walk past right as you enter. The first thing here was the Queen Games play area and the Dixit play area. Both of these “booths” were filled with tables and the opportunity to play there. In the Queen area, I saw Discover India and Fresco getting the majority of play.

The entry into Hall 5 is always a slow one as there is the inevitable logjam at the Kaufhof Galeria sale booth. The usual bargains were on hand there for both the newer releases from the larger German houses which do not sell direct at the fair (Kosmos, Ravensburger, Schmidt, etc.) as well as some really good deals on closeouts from years past. Additionally, this year crowds formed here as Kaufhof apparently has an exclusive distribution deal for Dominion: Prosperity in Germany for now. I think that this might be a retail thing only as I did see other German stands having Prosperity for sale – but people were still going to the Kaufhof stand for it.

Quined from Holland had Era of Inventions this year. This is a very beautifully done worker placement game. I had a nice demo of the game from my friend Leonie, and I look forward to trying it. It’s supposed to be a good two hours long for a first time play, so I’ll try to do as much prep as possible with the rulebook to get that first game moving along quickly.

Another Dutch company, White Goblin Games, which used to partner with Quined, was in the other corner of the hall. They had Norenberc, the newest Andreas Steding game. This was one of the autobuys for me this Essen as Steding has become one of my favorite game designers – after Hansa Teutonica last year, I would have tried any game done by him. I also was intrigued by Khan and picked up a copy to try.

Norenberc

A lot of smaller booths are hidden in the nooks and crannies of this hall. Onni games from Finland was here with a new abstract called Aether – I tried this one out and liked it, but there is clearly a second level of strategy to be used here that I couldn’t summon up on the first play. For each tile that you play, there is one color which can negatively modify its value, and I simply lost track of that too often to play well in my first game.

Aether

Lino from Giuoco is an interesting abstract. It is the follow-up game after Koplopers and Dwarslingers from 2009.

Irongames was against the wall again with Porto Carthago. The booth was too crowded to get a full demo, but given how much I liked Pelponnes, I just picked this up on spec.

Porto Carthago

One surprise I found in this hall was Rallyman. This was a game that was on my list, but only for the theme: road rally racing. I didn’t really know much about the game initially, but stopped by the booth to get a demo. The designer of the game, Jean-Christophe Bouvier, turns out to be a retired rally driver himself and actually not much of a gamer otherwise. He has been working on this game for about nine years now (in conjunction with some veteran gamers) and has produced a game which is easy to learn while keeping a lot of the feel of rally racing. A full review of this should be done soon by myself as I can’t wait to try it out.

Rallyman at the press conference

Ted Alspach and his cronies were up against the wall pushing the Perpetual Motion Machine as well as the 2010 set of 6,326 Age of Steam maps. (Actually, I think the number is likely closer to seven or eight maps included this year). Nearby was Martin Wallace at the English joint stand; both London (Treefrog Games) and The Great Fire of London 1666 (Prime Games) were doing well, though there were the inevitable confusing moments with two similarly named games found at the same stand.

I tried to Photoshop Ted out, but he's just too tall for that

Finally, a trip through Hall 5 is never complete without saying “Hi” or “Bye” to Kris Gould at the Wattalspoag booth and their ubiquitous black tropical print shirts. Last Call was new for the fair and was getting good word of mouth from those who tried it. Jet Set is still one of my favorite games from him, and I was a bit sad that the expansion didn’t make this Essen, but it looks like the work that Kris put into getting Last Call done was worth it. Kris also surprised me this year with a different light blue tropical print shirt for setup day.

An unbelievably muted Kris Gould who is playing Claim It!, one of his earlier designs from a few years back

Of all the halls, this was probably the one I was in the least because most of the square footage here is taken up by play areas (Queen/Dixit/the BSW bus) or by big booths that I’m not often interested in (Kaufhof, Mattel, the random sci-fi DVD stand along the entire courtyard wall, etc.). But I did walk through it a lot because it’s on the way to Hall 4, which I dub the Hall of small companies.

Hall 4

Crossing through the small foyer into Hall 4, the first thing you see is the Korean Pavillion and the humongous Gemblo board. As usual, there were a number of new Korean games on offer here, including an interesting figure-skating themed game. A lot of “standards” from the many companies including Gemblo and Peeper were also still featured.

I ended up spending a lot of time in Hall 4 (or walking to and from Hall 4) because there were just so many booths over here that had stuff I was interested in. Moreso than any other hall, Hall 4 is jam-packed with smaller booths. There are four larger booths right as you walk in – Tuonela, Korean Pavillion, the Dominion tournament area run by Hans im Glück and some gaming museum booth – but almost everything else in this hall is tiny. The Dominion tournament area had about twenty tables where Dominion was constantly in play.

There were many companies that were new to the fair to be found here, and many from Eastern European countries. Gry Leonardo is from Poland, and they had a number of new games. The one which looked most interesting to me was Magnum Sal, which is a worker placement game where you are trying to get valuable minerals out from the town’s mine to use to fulfill contracts at the palace. Sinonis was also a new firm from Poland, and they had three games at the fair. Show Business was getting a lot of buzz at the fair; it’s a simulation game about forming your rock band, writing songs and taking the band on tour. While I’m quite interested in the theme, I was a bit daunted by the reports that a rules-only demo of the game took as much as an hour. Master of Economy is another promising title from Sinonis. Rebel was also there with K2, which is a game I wanted to see, and simply missed getting to.

My brother and I trying on the Japon Brand booth gear

Japon Brand was back with even more games than usual – at least 15 different games were for sale here. Well, they were for sale from late Friday afternoon as their entire shipment of games had been held up in German customs and were not released until Friday. Despite that, the stack of game reservations that people made were impressive. A number of games there looked quite good, and the style and type of games ran the whole gamut. There was an interesting foam-pieced game called Hau La where you build a foam statue with the pieces while trying to end up with the highest positioned player marker. Busstop is an intriguing puzzley game where you are trying to pick up the right passengers to fill your bus up. Mai Star had a theme which I couldn’t pass up: you are striving to be the geisha who is most successful at entertaining customers. String Railway is a lighthearted train game where you use strings as your train lines connecting the station tiles that you have played to the board. I’ve got a handful of their games in my bag, and I look forward to trying them out over the next few months.

String Railway

Hau La in progress

Genesis from Gigantskop was a nice find here too. Peter Hansson and his company had been away from Essen for a few years mostly because the global economy had simply made it too hard to try to successfully produce and sell a game. However, things had changed for this year, and Genesis finally made it to the show. This is an interesting cube collection game where players take the role of angels in the first week of creation. Players can collect cubes in the three different colors and later turn them in to do the work of each of the first days of creation. There are some clever timing issues involved in when you get cubes and which cubes you can get. There is also a nice mechanism in which your angel can traverse through time into the different days of the first week of creation (of course, only those days which God has already created up to that point in the game). The game moves along fairly quickly as you only have a few options on your turn: you can choose to move your angel, collect cubes from where you are, or do a work on the day where you are (assuming you have the right cubes). There is a nice bit of pressure to make every action count as there are only 21 total actions that you get in a game. Additionally, the number of total cubes in the game is quite tight, and there is a nice bit of strategery that can be had in hoarding cubes to keep them from your opponents. This was one of the games that I’m most looking forward to playing.

Next to Gigantoskop was the Aqua Games booth, a new company from Finland. They had Toscana which is a game about winemaking and selling those wines when the market is right. The designer gave me a nice demo of the game and served a pretty tasty rosé wine with it. The artwork for the game is very distinctive and pleasing to the eye. I’m hoping that the quality of the game is on par with the quality of the art and graphic design.

Ascora Games is a new start-up by my good friend, Scott Tepper. His maiden game is Kaigan, which is themed around mapping the Japanese coastline. Copies from the initial print run were moving at a steady clip, aided by excellent translations available on the stand as well as some very nice limited-edition starting player pieces. (The tiger eye one was way cooler than the onyx one IMHO.) Production quality is awesome (printed here in Germany at Ludofact), and I can’t wait to get this one on the table. Scott said that Funagain will be stocking the game domestically, so you should be able to get one of the 1,000 copies that were made if you are interested.

In the booth next to Scott was the oddest booth: Two small square tables with chessboards manned by two senior citizens. You could play chess against them and you could buy the €85 chessboards on which you were playing on, but there was no display or signage or anything. I found out almost by accident that they even had stuff to sell. Weird.

Travel Blog

Czech Games Edition was there. I picked up 20th Century on spec alone because I’ve heard mostly positive things on it. Petr did sell me on Travel Blog, though… This is an interesting game idea which uses either the map of the USA or Europe to play. The gist of the game is that you have a circular board with a card in the middle – say, Ohio – then the circular board is surrounded by a handful of other cards. When the round starts, you quickly have to place your marker next to the card that you think crosses the fewest number of state lines, but isn’t directly adjacent to the state in question. So Virginia or New York would be good (with only one state between them) while Georgia isn’t quite as good (two states). Now consider trying it on the European map! For me, I find this sort of thing both entertaining and educational – kind of the same reason why I really liked from a few years ago. After a few rounds, Travel Blog managed to jump into my Ikea bag of holding for a short trip back to the states.

Surprised Stare was in the first passageway and they had Totemo on show this year. This is a clever game of placing colored wooden blocks onto the board with the goal being to match the colors on the faces of the cubes. The wooden blocks are brightly colored. Tony was also thrilled to say that Fzzzt! has been picked up by FRED for a larger distribution along with the first expansion for the game.

One of the hallmarks of Hall 4 are the multitude of used game sellers located towards the back of the hall. With all the new games on offer in the past few years, I haven’t really been looking out for games, but there were still a few games that I found which are worth noting. A fairly well-preserved copy of Full Metal Planete was around for €150. One stand had a full set of White Wind games (both large and small boxes) for €900. I meant to go back at the end of the week to see if it had sold or not. The other interesting note was that I was asked by a friend to keep my eye out for a copy of Goa. Never saw one all week, which I thought was a weird thing.

Hall 4 is also the place for one-year wonders (as it were). Plenty of companies get booths here for a year to push their game – which are often quite good. However, if there’s nothing else in the pipeline, sometimes these companies don’t come back. i9n by Strothmann Spiele is an interesting game about finding oil wells. The gimmick to the game is a set of punchcards which are combined in the game with up to five other cards to eventually limit the number of valid possibilities from 32 sites to only one. It is a nice and unique idea in a well-produced game. I’ll be interested to see if there is a new game next year from the company.

Another possible one-off is Sticky Wickets, the heinously expensive cricket game. I’m honestly not sure how well a €660 game sells at a game fair in a country that doesn’t play cricket. I mean, it was certainly beautifully done, and I hope that they do well, but I do have my own reservations about the business plan here.

Here's your game, that'll be $1,000 please

Caravelas from MESAboardgames in Portugal is another beautifully done game. This is a pick-up-and-deliver game set in the period of Portugal’s colonial empire. A nice movement system using the ocean currents helps move the ships around the board.

Catty corner from them was the Pearl Games booth where Troyes was being demoed and sold. I had read the rules prior to leaving for Essen, and I felt that it might be a great game for me and my group. I was hoping to get a demo of it at the fair to decide, but I could never get close enough to the table to even eavesdrop on a demo because the crowd was always so great. After trying for two days, I just decided to pick one up based on my reading of the rules and stop making the frequent trips back to Hall 4 in hopes of getting a demo.

Troyes

On one of those trips into Hall 4 of trying and failing to get a demo of Troyes, I did stumble by the R&R Games booth and got a very animated pitch from Frank DiLorenzo, the head of R&R, of his new game Hey Waiter! I’m firmly convinced that Frank could sell anyone just about anything because his pitch is so darn good, but when he’s got a good product such as Hey Waiter!, it is truly an impressive thing to experience. I’ve seen the game in a couple of prototype forms from the designer Anthony Rubbo, and I was excited to see his game finally in print. In Hey Waiter!, you’re trying to get your dishes delivered to the restaurant patrons. A neat system that uses combinations of two different cards to choose your action is the heart of the game. Though I really wanted to take a copy home from Essen, the game should be widely available at home – and given my dire luggage situation, I had to say no. However, it will certainly be part of my next online order.

Designer Anthony Rubbo and his new release, Hey Waiter

Hall 6

For the most part, Hall 6 is an afterthought for me while at Essen. The reason for this is that this hall is essentially the role-playing area for the fair. While I’ve always been one to appreciate a nice corset and fishnet stockings (of which there are many to be had in Hall 6), it’s just generally not my scene. That being said, there are sometimes a few board games that manage to get hidden over here that interest me in addition to the usual boardgame suspects that actually fit in a bit better in this area (such as Pegasus Spiele which imports a lot of titles from Steve Jackson Games).

Ascension had a fairly large stand in the midst of Hall 6, and this new deck-building game had a lot of demos and players. The stand here seemed bigger than their stand at Gen Con this year, so maybe this is a sign of how well it is doing this year.

Another interesting idea was X610Z (read as “existence”) which was being sold as a collectible card board game. Unfortunately, they lost me at collectible as I have sworn off all collectible games once I gave up Magic.

Stratelibri was also over in the warrens of Hall 6 with their new game Olympus. They didn’t have many copies of Olympus there as they said they had to airship in their entire stock for the fair. It is a resource management game where you try to gain favor of the different gods in order to help you better use your resources. There are lot of different gods in the game (read – many special abilities as each one offers a different bonus), so I am a bit worried that there may be some AP potential here, but otherwise it sounds really good. Though there wasn’t much talk about this early on in the fair – part of which may have been due to their location – by Saturday there was a growing hum of positive remarks about it.

That was about the full extent off the gaming action that I noticed in Hall 6. Despite that, I ended up here more often than not because it had the best snacks. My favorite hot pretzel vendor moved into here instead of her usual Hall 9 location. There was a nice stand selling freshly made crêpes in the back, and the fried donut bus was there – and you could pretty much smell your way to their counter from all parts of Hall 6.

Hall 9

On this verbal tour of the halls of the Messe, Hall 9 concludes the circuitous route I have chosen to take. The back portion which connects with Hall 6 is more no-man’s land for me as it is filled with the comic book portion of the fair. I’m honestly not sure what else is back there because I pretty much didn’t stop once to look. You know you’ve reached the board game area, though, when you hit Stronghold Games and Z-man Games.

Stronghold had Survive and Code 777 at their stand. At this point, they are focusing on doing reprints of older games which still have current demand. They are striving to do the newer versions with quality components and high production values. They did have a print proof copy of their version of Confusion arrive on Saturday. The tiles in this new version are made of a nice acrylic, and it is quite easy to slip in the inner piece which outlines the movement of the piece. The version also includes huge dry-erase boards for you to keep track of information in the game. I am definitely looking forward to seeing the finished version of this game. Future plans for Stronghold include updated versions of Outpost and Crude. At some point, they said they would also start looking at doing original games, but they are trying to establish themselves right now with reprints with updated components.

Survive!

Z-Man was busy as usual: the Hansa Teutonica expansion was in high demand as was the English version of Luna. I never had a chance to talk to Zev this week as he was seemingly always in meetings or demos, but I’m guessing that he’s managed to sign on to do domestic versions of a number of games.  Merchants and Marauders seemed to be getting a lot of attention from the convention goers, and by the end of the week, about half of the many titles on sale at the Z-Man stand were sold out!

Richard Breese’s Key Market stand was just next to the Z-Man sales booth, and while there was surely some disappointment on Richard’s part that his production run was a bit smaller than expected, he did sell and deliver all of the copies from the print run. If you didn’t get one at Essen, he did say that a good number of them should be available from Funagain, so you should go there to check on availability. At this time, there is no plan for a reprint as he’s already working on the game for next year, which might be another addition to the Key series, though he’s not quite committed to that plan yet and there is another good game to consider which would not be a Key game.

Richard Breese, all sold out!

ElfinWerks had a full collection of the games that they are doing together with other pulishers (mostly Italian firms) including Kingsburg, Jerusalem and the new Florenza. Florenza looks to be a good worker placement game. In this one, you are vying to commission the best works of art in Florence. Similar to Caylus, there are a number of workshops in the game which each have their own special ability that can be used by yourself or by other players (who of course have to pay for the use of your workshop).

Ghenos Games moved into their own booth this year and had a set of three sports based games, each of which was a simulation of the actual sport. Interestingly enough, each of the three games had official licensing, which the designer, Alfredo Genovese, said had helped get the game much better exposure in the local Italian markets, including major department stores and even grocery stores. The racing game has an official Formula 1 license, the basketball game has an official NBA license, and the soccer game has an official Champions League license. Hopefully the licensing will attract even non-gamers to try them out. I had a chance to try a bit of the basketball game with Alfredo, and it is certainly a good simulation that captures the flow of a real game.

“Funfoge” was there on Wednesday setting up their booth, and luckily the typo on their huge sign was fixed by the show’s opening on Thursday to say “Funforge.” Isla Dorada, a new design from Bruno Faidutti, was being shown here. The game design and art is fabulous. In this game, the players are explorers who have crash landed on an island which just happens to be chock full of treasure. You try to steer the group towards the treasure to be the explorer who brings home the most; to do this you try to win auctions.

The "Funfoge" booth - this was corrected by Thursday morning!

Fragor Games was doing well with Antics, and though they didn’t sell out the entire print run prior to the official opening of the fair as they had done in years past, the stock was steadily decreasing at the stand all week. I had a chance to catch up with Gordon Lamont on Saturday and asked him about what was to come in the future for Fragor. While the plans are not yet certain, one of the leading candidates is a more advanced version of the engine used in Snow Tails where you still have the dual motors on left and right and have to deal with drifting, but the catch is that another dimension will be thrown into the mix so that you have to worry about up and down as well as left and right. I’m too tired to try to figure out how you could do this, so I’ll just leave that up to the Lamont Brothers.

DDD Verlag seems to move their booth every year, and this year they could be found in Hall 9. Their new game 1655 – Habemus Papum is about trying to elect the pope. In the short description I got, the game is played over 18 rounds, each of which has a closed fist auction where players bid for the right to choose cards from the table. These cards are used to help vote for the pope; some of them have special abilities on them as well. Reactions from a few people that I talked to who had played it said it was quite good and the auctions didn’t seem repetitive (which is what I was afraid of when I heard it was round after round of blind bid auctions)

This tour of the Messe makes its last stop at the Lookout Games booth. Hanno Girke celebrated the 10th anniversary of his company by putting out a number of new games as well as running a number of special promotions for the fair. For me, the flagship of the crop was Merkator which is the new release from Uwe Rosenberg. In Merkator, you move around Europe collecting goods (wooden cubes) that you then use to complete contracts across the continent. A interesting mechanism involving time markers not only serves to control the flow and eventual end of the game but also gives the players the ability to move to certain places or even take a turn along with another player. I greatly enjoyed my one play of the game thus far, and I think that this will already be a permanent part of the game collection.

Hanno from Lookout (on right) talking with Christian H (Amigo, on left)

Others felt that Poseidon was other big game of the show for Lookout, this being an 18xx game set in ancient Greece where trade routes instead of railroads are evaluated. There was also a neat two-player 18xx-based card game called Railroad Barons out this year. The usual set of expansions were to be had, including a new set of Agricola cards to collect across the fair, the F-deck (which I was one of the designers for), and a few Le Havre cards. There was also the annual addition to the Bohnanza catalog.

With all of these things on offer, it was no surprise that the stand constantly had a queue in front of it. I’m not sure if Hanno is planning such a ambitious release schedule next year, but if not, I’ll always be looking forward to these anniversary years because of the quality of the games seen this year. As I was leaving the fair this year, I did have a quick chat with Uwe Rosenberg and I asked hi what he was working on for next year. While he didn’t give me a lot of details, he did say that his new game was in the mold of Le Havre but would involve even more interesting play from the building cards. Based on that description, I’m ready to sign up for one already. Hopefully Hanno or Uwe can give me more details soon…

Here I am... trying to hit Uwe up for more information!

And just as I ended my year at Spiel this year at the Lookout booth (with a nice Belgian beer called Black Dragon I think – came in at 10.5% alcohol), so does your tour of Spiel 2010. I’m sure that there are sights and sounds that I haven’t remembered to mention as well as plenty of stands that I saw but didn’t comment on here. I’d be happy to answer any questions or take corrections as I’m sure that there are many things that I either missed or mis-remembered from the whirlwind trip.

I have really not tried to give too many detailed opinions on the games because I frankly haven’t had the chance to play that many of them yet. I hope to get a lot of them in over the next few weeks with Great Lakes Games, Thanksgiving break, and Christmas break to get some serious gaming in – and I don’t think that my experience is out of the ordinary for an Essen-goer these days. Most of the people I talked to said that they played at most two or three games to completion each day because there were so many games to try to get to while they were in Essen.

That should pretty much cover it all for this year… Already looking forward to a great trip next year!

Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor

Advertisements

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Convention Report. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Dale Yu’s Essen 2010 Recap

  1. Interested to reread and see how initial responses panned out into market reactions.

    > In fact, I might say that the blood sausage may have overtaken Doner as my favorite German food!

    That’s good to hear, since Doner isn’t German food. ;-)

    > After emptying out the boxes of boards and bits, I did then fill up the boxes with my clothes/laundry to make sure the box was full.

    I assume the games have been properly fumagated after you got home?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s