Now that GenCon has come and gone, the gaming summer is mostly behind us. There are still many new games to play from the recent releases, but more importantly, the “preseason” starts this week for me. And… no, I am not talking about football. I’m talking about Essen! As I start writing this piece, my handy Delta travel reminder tells me that I only have 60 days until my flight leaves for Europe! So, I only have about 2 months left to try to learn as much as I can about the new games that I’ll be playing (and acquiring) in Essen.
There are a few stages to my information gathering. First, I try to figure out which games are even going to be available. I usually start following the Boardgame News Essen preview (which I hear will still done this year!), the Spielbox.de forums, and the Essen canonical geeklist on BGG. Trictrac is a good source for French information, and there are a couple of other places I might hit once or twice to make sure I haven’t missed anything. Then, I try to read as many rulesets as I can find to learn about the games.
I have really not yet started in earnest with my research, but there are already a few things which I need to investigate further. Over the course of the next two months, I will try to periodically post columns to the blog outlining the sorts of things that I’ve been reading about. My goal is to do this on a weekly basis, but we’ll see how well real-life cooperates with that schedule.
The Spiel Fair itself
There are a few things that I’m curious to learn more about…
1) With the reported demise of Nexus Games (or should I say the non-refutation of the rumors of Nexus’ demise), I suspect that there will be some sort of Musical Chairs for hall space. Nexus had a big space in the corner of Hall 12, and this was pretty prime real estate. My question is — who will move into that space? And will that trigger a bunch of people moving around the Halls to “better” spaces? My current guess is that the French Quarter will grow even larger as they seemed pretty cramped in the center of Hall 12, and they could use the extra space for more demo tables. Or maybe move their sales areas across the walkway to the Nexus area to leave the big central area open for demos.
2) New Kids on the Block – There are always plenty of new booths to be found each year… Often out in Hall 4. It’s often a fun guessing game to try to predict which exhibitors in Hall 4 will make a return trip in the following year. For me, the biggest “new kid” will be WizKids. This American company is one of the big players in the American convention scene, mostly due to their HeroClix system. However, they have been trying to make a move into the (non-collectable) boardgame genre, and they have a few new games to bring to Essen this year (Quarriors, Star Trek: Expeditions by Dr. Knizia, and Star Trek: Fleet Captains). I’ll be quite interested to see how the German/European market reacts to the WizKids lineup for 2011.
3) Exploring Strange New Halls and Boldly Going Where No Booths Have Gone Before – to continue the Star Trek meme, the organizers of SPIEL have announced that the fair continues to grow and that they will open up a new hall for booths. This year, Hall 7 will be the new area for companies to exhibit in. For those of you that have been to Essen before… Hall 7 is in the way back – behind the back walls of Halls 4 and 6. To me, this sounds like the Siberia of the Messe, but that might just be because the huge metal doors to that area have never been open before. On the Messe floorplan, Hall 7 is HUGE – even larger than Hall 6. I wonder what will fill all the space. In days of yore, the kids area used to be there — so maybe large inflatable castles will dominate the area. However, like the booths in the old annex to Hall 4 two years ago, and the poor guys upstairs in Hall 9.1 in 2004, I’d be afraid that some people will never figure out how to get that far away from the front door!
4) Will the Boardgamegeek.com GeekBuzz rating system get an even larger foothold?
Traditionally, the Fairplay.de booth was the place to stop to see what the other convention goers were talking about. Starting 2 years ago, Boardgamegeek.com offered another alternative with their Geekbuzz system. Interestingly (and conveinently enough), they were both in Hall 10 last year – so both surveys could be viewed in a short period of time. While many games made both lists, there were definitely some differences between the two – which I assume is due to the different audiences that each attracts.
In any event, GeekBuzz worked fairly well last year, though there were some kinks to be worked out given that it was only in it’s second year. From what I’ve heard thus far, the system will be a bit leaner, and will be easier for more people to input more votes in less time — which means that folks like me should get an even better real-time picture of the buzz in the Halls from other SPIEL-goers. I’ll try to interview Aldie later this month to see if he’ll give up any more details on how the revised system will work.
(DISCLAIMER: I am a volunteer administrator for BGG. I am not working on the GeekBuzz project in any way nor do I have any financial interest in BGG.)
Some new games
1) MESAgames – Their big release last year, Caravelas, was met with mixed reviews from the critics. I think that this was partially due to the fact that there were some expectations that the game would be more “gamer-y” than it really was. I happen to think that Caravelas is an excellent light game, suitable for families/kids or casual gamers. And after talking to the principals at MESAgames, that was their target audience. In fact, their mission statement says: “To design and promote high quality board games for both children and adults, that are both educational and entertaining.”
In any event, there are three games that MESA are doing for Essen 2011, AGUA, LIXO? and VINTAGE. VINTAGE is already available in Portugal, and it is a game themed around the production of Port wine. It’ll still be new to me by October, so it’s on my radar.
AGUA sounds a bit more educational — from the designer: “this game is about the water cycle: that it evaporates from the sea, rivers, lakes, etc, into the air, where it forms clouds, the clouds move with winds, when they pass over mountains it starts raining, the rain will supply rivers, lakes and underground water, and from here it goes to the sea. In this game, players can influence the water cycle. The board represents the water cycle, with all the elements described above, each of them is numbered (from 1 to 6). Players throw dices and each of them choose a movement (one dice) that they want to do. Then they will have to move their water (colour cubes for each player) between those elements. The board also has the population, that is increasing at the same time it’s fed with water, and players will try to ensure the population gets the water that it needs.”
I thought at first that this might be too simplistic and overly educational in focus. However, a discussion with the designer showed me that there’s more to AGUA than is first apparent. Says Gil d’Orey, “I think AGUA is based in a educational theme. But to reduce the game to that (Educational) I think it would lead to a mis-conception of what it is. It’s a very competitive game…”
The final relase from MESAGames is Lixo? which is ” a cardgame about the domestic garbage and the respective colours. There are 2 kinds of cards: CONTAINER cards and GARBAGE cards, each in the possible 5 colours. Players will have in their hand GARBAGE cards, in whatever colours (some have 2 different colours). GARBAGE cards worth negative points, so players will try to recycle them, that is, to get rid of them.
As to the CONTAINER cards, these worth positive points (from 1 to 5, in each colour), and are placed in the center of the table. These are drawn one at a time.
For each CONTAINER card, players can bet any number of cards of the correspondent colour from their hand. Whenever all players pass, the highest bet wins that CONTAINER card (place it next to him, worthing points) and discards the GARBAGE cards that he has bet, meaning those were recycled. All the other bets loose, meaning the GARBAGE cards will be placed next to each loosing player, and these worth -1 point per card at the end of the game. This is a betting and bluffing cardgame, for 2 to 6 players, 20 min. It is highly amusing and, as any game where bluff is important, it requires some strategic skills.”
I just know the basics about these two, but given the pleasing production quality of Caravelas (and the fact that my two children are part of the target audience for MESAgames), I certainly look forward to learning more about these three titles.
2) Matagot – Games from Matagot have frankly been hit or miss for me. Despite its somewhat unfinished feeling, I loved their first release, Khronos, and I also enjoyed Cyclades from 2009. This year, there are two releases from them that I know of. First is a extension to Cyclades which I hope breathes some new life into an already solid game.
The other release is the much anticipated Bauza game, Takenoko. I had actually hoped that this would be ready last year, but it was put off until 2011. I am a big fan of almost all the games from Bauza, so I’m definitely interested in this one on that basis alone! The short description available thus far is “In Takenoko, the players are going to fit out a bamboo plantation intended for the diplomatic present received by the emperor of Japan, a big panda of China. They are going to cultivate plots of land, to irrigate them and to grow bamboo shoots thanks to the gardener. They have to compose with the sacred animal and its excessive taste for the crunchy stalks and the soft leaves… The player who will grow most bamboo by managing at best his plots of land and by satisfying the delicate appetite of the panda will win the game” I am hoping that Matagot releases more info as the SPIEL grows closer…
3) Dominion: Hinterlands – If you hadn’t heard yet, the next expansion to Dominion will be released. I can’t wait to see it! (DISCLAIMER – I was part of the development team that worked on Dominion)
Donald X. has provided us with yet more witty back-of-the-box backstory for Dominion: “The world is big and your kingdom small. Small when compared to the world, that is; it’s moderate-sized when compared to other kingdoms. But in a big world like this one – big when compared to smaller worlds anyway, if such things exist; it’s moderate-sized when compared to worlds of roughly the same size, and a little small when compared to worlds just a little larger – well, to make a long story short – short when compared to longer stories anyway – it is time to stretch your borders. You’ve heard of far-off places – exotic countries, where they have pancakes but not waffles, where the people wear the wrong number of shirts, and don’t even have a word for the look two people give each other when they each hope that the other will do something that they both want done but which neither of them wants to do. It is to these lands that you now turn your gaze. ”
4) IronGames – Bernd Eisenstein has already come up with two games from his smal company, IronGames, that I very much enjoy (Peloponnes and Porto Carthago). I’m also a big fan of Maya, an older Abacus game. The IronGames releases for 2011 will take a slightly different direction this year as they are both card games.
From his press release:
Enter Rome at the time of the slave uprisings under Spartacus! The players play the part of the escaped slaves who try to increase their sphere of influence and undermine the Roman establishment. Using their cards, they expand their power in seven different categories. At the end of the game, each player tries to be stronger than Rome – and, of course, stronger than any opponent. Or, through intrigue, a player can join forces with Rome and thus contribute to its victory over the slave revolt. PAX is a multi-faceted game of card management and influence, in which each card requires a tricky tactical decision.
They were the most powerful nations of their time: the Carthaginians, Romans, Hellenes, Egyptians and Persians. Pergamemnon assembles all of these peoples for an epic showdown. Each side may also conjure mythical creatures in order to influence the battle in its favor to gain the victory. Pergamemnon is a deck-building game of direct conflict, with clashes between the most powerful nations of antiquity – thus including plenty of interaction!
Rules for both of these should be available soon, and I am definitely looking forward to reading up on these two!
5) Lookout Games – Ora et Labora is the big release that I’m anxiously awaiting. It’s the next huge game from Uwe Rosenberg. I’m a big fan of most of the complex Rosenberg games, so this was instantly on my radar as soon as I had heard about it.
From the publisher’s description: “Ora et Labora will be Uwe Rosenberg’s 5th “big” game. It’s based mechanically on Le Havre and set in the Medieval era. Each player is head of a Monastery that gains land and constructs buildings, little enterprises that will gain resources and profit. The goal of each player is to build-up a working infrastructure and manufacture prestigious items, like books, ceramics, ornaments and relics to gain the most victory points at the end of the game.
Le Havre fans will recognise many well-known mechanics like loads of different two-sided resources with a basic side that can be upgraded (turned) to something more useful. New buildings enter the game from time to time and can be constructed with building materials that players may gather as one of their possible actions. The other possible action is to enter a building with one of your workers.
What’s completely new about the game is a clever Rondel mechanic that introduces the resources. Agricola and Le Havre are quite fiddly at times as you are constantly moving stuff on and off the board. This is no more in Ora et Labora. The Rondel shows numbers that refer to the amount of resources in a given Rondel segment. There is one resource token of each kind on the Rondel. At the beginning of each round, the Rondel is turned by one segment. This adjusts all the resource counts with a single move – extremely clever.”
I’ve had a chance to start looking at the first draft of the rulebook – and it’s definitely scratching the complex game itch that Agricola also does… I’ll try to talk a bit more about the game once I get through the rules this weekend!
Walnut Grove is another interesting game – I’m in the process of interviewing one of the designers (Paul Laane) about it — but here’s what I know so far:
“The game itself has a easy to learn structure: you’ll play 8 years, each with 4 seasons (phases). In spring, you expand your farm by one tile, trying to enlarge land areas. In summer, you place your workers on your farm to harvest resources – the larger the area of that color, the more you get. In fall, you ave one action it town – either sell some goods, or get another worker, or buy a minor or major improvement, or pick up some additional resources. In winter, you need to feed your workers and heat their quarters. Fun twist: blue workers want blue food (fish), white workers want white food (dairy), yellow workers want yellow food (grain). As spring, summer and winter don’t have a turn order, but are played more or less simultaneously, the game runs pretty fast. 30-45 minutes”
Based on that description, Walnut Grove sounds right up my alley! The one sentence description of it pretty much sums up why this is my most anticipated game right now: “Walnut Grove could be also described as a light mashup between Carcassonne and Agricola.”
Other rumored releases include: Feudality (a Tom Wham game!) and Gnomes of Zavandor. However, I’m still waiting for Hanno to either post or email me more info on these games, so I’m pretty much in the dark on these… And, I’m trying to figure out which of these are co-productions and which are Lookout originals!
I’ve found one picture of Feudality – and I can see it has very non-Euroish d8 involved… (Thanks to Klemens for the pic)
6) The Austrian Games booth – Every year, the Viennese Games Acadamy (run by the de Cassans) has a booth in Hall 9 where they promote their annual game award, the Spiele der Spiele. The award winners for 2011 include:
- Spiele der Spiele – Asara
- Spiele Hit für Familien – Mord im Arosa, Qwirkle, Uluru, Voll in Fahrt
- Spiele Hit für Kinder – Lego Heroica, Schusselhexe
- Spiele Hit für Experten – Der Herr der Ringe Kartenspiel
More details for this can be found at their website at www.spiel-der-spiele.at
The other big thing at their booth (and the reason why I always make sure I visit it!) are the exclusive promo items that they sponsor. Usually there is a small cost or donation involved, but it’s always well worth the money.
While I don’t have any more specific details yet, I’ve learned that the promos that will be offered this year include Pantheon (Hans im Gluck) and Burgen von Burgund (alea). As I get more details, I’ll pass them on here.
There are plenty more games that I’m just starting to learn about (especially more on the Asmodee lineup) – but I’ll save those for the next preview blog entry!
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor