Essen Preview #21 Last minute games to consider!

Well, the time has almost come to leave for Europe… In fact, as you read this, I’m probably in the air already headed off for a week of fun and adventure on the Continent.  As usual, there is a flurry of last minute information on games that is causing last minute havoc on my carefully planned list of games to look at next week!

First, some sad news – a number of games have already been announced as “not being ready for SPIEL”

  • Kalua (Homoludicus)
  • Galaxy Trucker expansion – ready just after Essen
  • Takenoko (Matagot) – should be ready by November
  • Casus Belli (pd Games)
  • Murder! Mystery! Mastermind! (Black Dove Games)
  • Das Dorf / The Village (Eggertspiele)

There are probably more, but this is the short list that came to mind as I was typing this up.  I will consult with the local SPIEL guru (Jonathan Franklin) and have him come up with a more complete list…  Is there a reason for this?  Possibly still a sequelae of the Scheer bankruptcy earlier in the year.  Eric Martin just did an interview with the director of Ludo Fakt with some great inside info on how these games of ours are produced…

OK. Time for the new games to consider!

1) Pala – Cambridge Game Factory


(Disclaimer – the designer, Jeff Allers, is a contributor to the Opinionated Gamers)

Pala is a trick taking card game where the players are artists, trying to find the right color of paint on their palette.  In order to do this, you mix the paints (cards) on the palette (the trick) to find that right color.

There are in fact two different games included in the box, as the published version of Pala includes two ways to play. Both variants use the same mechanisms for playing tricks, but have different bidding and score rules. Thus, once you wrap your head around the basics of the game, you can play two wildly different games with those core rules.

  • In Impressionism, players collectively determine the value of different colors (suits) by discarding cards from their hands before the round begins. Points are bad, analogous to Hearts.
  • In Pointillism, players bid with colored chips to indicate the colors they expect to win, but over-bidding risks losing all your points for the round. Points are good, analogous to Spades.

The theme of paint mixing has been used a lot in the past couple of years (Fresko and Pastiche to name a few), but interestingly enough, this game had been created long before those other games came to market.  I’m looking forward to giving this new take on trick taking games once I get a copy next week!

2) A Fistful of Penguins – Wattsalpoag


(Disclaimer – the designer, Jonathan Franklin, is a contributor to the Opinionated Gamers)

A Fistful of Penguins in a nice little dice game that is the maiden published design for Jonathan Franklin.  Players act as zookeepers, and they roll dice to try to add different animals to their collections. Depending on what sorts of animals you collect, you will earn money based on the arrangement!

Each animal has a unique way to earn you money:

  • Kangaroos score by the square of their number (i.e. 3 Kangaroos = $9)
  • lions are worth big bucks, but if you score lions, then only the lions score
  • camels are a decent $5 each, but they score zero if any lions are present
  • squirrels steal money from the other players
  • moose score the most, but each moose must be paired with a squirrel in order to score
  • Penguins don’t earn you money, but they get you penguin tokens. A penguin token can be used to add another die to your group, or to reroll as many of your dice as you wish

There is a nice push your luck element to the game, and the game plays quickly.  I had the chance to play a pre-production prototype of the game, and our games took about 20 minutes tops.  My kids were able to quickly get into the game as well, learning the rules easily.

So why the name?  Well, having a fistful of penguins is a great way to start your turn because it gives you the most flexibility when rolling the dice – you can either add more dice to roll or try to re-roll the dice which don’t go your way…

3) Infarkt – Czech Board Games

OK, this game pretty much came out of nowhere.  I had been a bit surprised that I hadn’t heard anything from CBG yet this year – in years past, they had been at Essen with Insula and Verona.


This year’s release is called Infarkt.  From the head of CBG, Jakub Tesinsky: “The main strength of the game is very strong theme – it feels like real life stories – It is not uncommon that after the game players take event cards and explain the history of their life and joke about it.”

So how does it work?  In a nutshell… Each player gets a player board – the one with all the colored circles on it – and those columns each represent some sort of statistic about you: weight, depression, diabetes, heart disease, blood pressure, money, etc.  The goal of the game is to be the last person left standing – you win when all the other players have died…  You die when any of the health columns drops down into critical zone.

Over the course of the game, each round you have to take an event card which will affect your vital statistics.  Then, you place your three meeples on the various parts of the board to take actions at the Supermarket, Fitness Center, Pharmacy, Workplace, etc.  Each of these places offers you benefits.  For example, you can buy drugs at the Pharmacy – these drugs are represented on drug cards.  At any point in the game, you can “take” some medicine which will hopefully improve your stats.  You could also go to work, where you earn some money, but this then makes your depression worse!

As I’ve read the rules, it certainly sounds like a fun and interesting experience game.  Two possible issues would be: 1) it’s an elimination game and 2) the non-standard box is going to be a weird one to fit on the shelf!  But it looks like it’s certainly worth a look-see at Essen!  Finally, it is worth noting that there are 5 extensions already added in the box to give you more variety and complexity in your games of Infarkt.

At this time, availability and cost are unknown, but I’ll try to get this info from Jakub.

4) Alba Longa – Quined


This one piqued my interest due to the theme – it’s about Rome – and I find that I am predisposed to games sent in that era.  In this game, each player controls their own city and strives to be the first erson to have a largely populated city filled with monuments.

I’m interested to see how all the different mechanics work together there.  There is an element of dice rolling/drafting – in each round, you roll dice and then assign a die to a specific task.  There is also some worker placement issues going on in your individual city.  Finally, there is some direct conflict – which is uncommon in Euro games these days – as your soldiers fight opponent’s cities.

There are also three extra extensions added in the box to give you a lot of variety in the game.  The production quality looks great (in line with previous Quined games).  They are taking preorders now on their website,, and will also offer an Essen promo, The Sentinel – another expansion for the game.

5) Hawaii – Hans im Gluck

OK – so I still don’t have a lot of info about this one… Waiting for the English rules translation to be finished up.  But, I have spoken with the designer and he assures me that the game itself is language independent component-wise.

So, for now, all I have are a few pictures of tiles and the back of the box illustration.  We’ll have to imagine together what sort of game can be played with those bits!  (and, man, do I like the art that I see so far!).  According to Mr. Daigle, there is no confirmation yet that the game will be distributed domestically at home, but Rio Grande has a fairly good track record of co-producing the games from Hans im Gluck, so I’d expect to be able to get this back home in short order.  I will try to confirm this with folks as I see them at Essen.

OK – well I’m off to enjoy my complimentary transatlantic beer/wine while you keep getting ready for the weekend!  I should still have a few more posts between now and SPIEL, but no guarantees…

Until your next appointment,

The Gaming Doctor

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.
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4 Responses to Essen Preview #21 Last minute games to consider!

  1. David Reed says:

    Dale, you have to stop adding things to my consider list! Seriously, thanks for all of the great write-ups. Have a safe trip and a good time in Essen. I look forward to what you are able to pass along while you are there.

  2. jeffinberlin says:

    Trick-taking games are notoriously difficult to pitch to a publisher, as there are already so many, and I had several ideas back then about turning the color-mixing mechanic into a full-fledged board game, but Fresko beat me to it. I really like that game, however, especially it’s theme.

  3. gamingleet says:

    Infarkt wins my award this year for “box least likely to make me think there is a good game inside”. Interested to hear how it plays!

  4. Alan Biggs says:

    You can read a bit more about Alba (Graeme Jahns) and some other games presenting themselves at Essen from Canadian designers in the News & Announcments section of the forums at

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