This year, for the first time, I decided to attend Essen Spiel together with Caterina, my 10 year old daughter. Of course I was sure it would be a totally different experience to be not only a gamer but also a father at the greatest game event in the world. I also decided to let Caterina decide our routes, the games to play, and what to do, trying to influence her as little as possible. Of course that probably means I’m going to miss games, not buy as much as usual (or just buy different games), but I’m sure I’ll have a real great and new experience. I made the travel by flight trying to make a narrow games selection: first I decided to delay the purchase of all the games I’m sure I could get easily from Italy. I hope at least Italian publishers will be able to give me their games later. Finally I was lucky because a friend of mine, his wife, and their daughter decided to join in this experience so Caterina was not alone in the Messe!
Wednesday: day 0
Wednesday was a travel day. We got to the hotel at 22:15 since we had some delay with the flight and problem with the trains (we prepared the travel well but we didn’t realize that Koln Airport and Koln HBF were not the same station!). Anyway Caterina was eager to play so at 22:35 we were down in the hotel common room playing games. We were really well received by Martin Wallace and Julia. Thanks to Mik Svellov’s help we were able to play The City by Tom Lehmann. A nice quick and easy game with the core mechanic of San Juan and Race for the Galaxy (cards used as money). You are building your city and every card you play can give you money (cards) or points. Of course you need cards to build better and better buildings but since the cards give you points at end of each round and the game ends as soon as a player score 50 points or more, playing scoring cards in the beginning is also important. Of course cheap cards are used to give you points or money. There are also cards with icons (shopping carts, cars, and fountains) that offer bonus points/money to special buildings. Some buildings have prerequisites and few buildings offer discounts. That’s the game but it is funny and works well: we played 3 times in a row before going bed.
I realized that Caterina probably was the only child in the hotel but it seems it was not a problem for her.
Thurdsay: day 1
Thursday, thanks to my press pass (got for my reviews and articles in ILSA Magazine), we were able to enter the fair at 9:00. The organization was so nice to offer me also free tickets to Caterina and the possibility to bring her with me in the press room. She is also writing her own personal Essen report that I’m going to publish in the next weeks.
Attending the fair with a daughter I realized for the first time how many gadget shops are everywhere. Before lunchtime my backpack was already full of pencils, pens, biscuits shapes, buttons, stickers, and many other fancy “inutilities.” Caterina was able to get something free from almost any booth she visited: impressive! Of course we were there to play (and, luckily, she likes to play a lot). After buying a copy of Space Bastards, Poseidon’s Kingdom (she likes some of the Fragor releases), Dungeon Petz (Caterina is a true Dungeon Lords addict!), and Last Will, we stopped to try Space Maze by Michale Baudoin (Wacky Works): we liked it. You have to try to move in a square tiled maze with your 3 aliens trying to get the relic in the middle. At the beginning of the turn a pull of colored dice (including special movement dice) is rolled and players get actions picking one die each in a round. The turn ends when all players have had the possibility to make a movement action (using a movement die) and two special actions (using normal dice and cards). The nice idea of this game is that each player has 3 aliens in 3 secondary colors (green, orange and violet) and the corridors connecting the rooms are primary colors (red, blue and yellow). You can move your aliens only between rooms if the connecting corridors are in the two primary colors that combined make the color of your alien (i.e., the orange alien can cross a red-yellow connection). The cards allow you to do many things, including shifting and rotating rooms. The normal dice are in secondary colors and each card has an activation cost: you need a die at least of the printed value to play the card and the color (dice are all in secondary colors) means which alien can perform the action. Easy but really nice.
We decided for something heavier and played Strasbourg by Stefan Feld. Since it is not really a new release I’ll just say that we liked it. We moved then to Mondo by Michael Schacht, a game I courted since its release without ever playing it. I was really happy with it: a nice solitaire to play in a group with the possibility to play with the rules that best fit the group. I’m sure I’ll buy it in Italy to use with kids at the school’s boardgame laboratory.
While Caterina and her friend were playing with wooden cubes and balls (assembling routes) we played Dr. Shark by Antoine Bauza and Bruno Cathala (Hurrican). I’m not the kind of player used to like games that need tactile skills but this one is really well designed and quite funny. You have to assemble clue tiles (puzzle pieces) drawn from a bag. The way you get the tiles differs depending which action you are performing (5 different actions): you could be asked to take a fist of tiles and keep one of each color, or just to draw as many different shaped tiles as possible or just as many tiles as possible with the same background. Tiles differ in shapes, color, and backgrounds. You are always asked to recognize without looking and quickly (you get an hourglass to make your action). As soon as you get the right tiles you can assemble the clue and get points. The theme is about a spy looking for clues in a swimming pool with sharks.
Before going for dinner we stopped to try Ted Alspach’s Mutant Meeples, a sort of review of Ricochet Robot with meeples. Every turn you have to to find the quickest way to move a meeple on a random selected target. Meeples move, like in Ricochet Robot, as far as possible stopping only against walls, edges, or other meeples. Each meeple has a special ability that it can use once in the round. The winner actually “chuck-out” the meeple that reached the target and can’t use it anymore in following rounds, actually making the game for him much more difficult. The winner is the one that “chucks-out” all the meeples first. I think a really great take on a classic. Well done Ted!
We stopped for dinner at Drago and then headed back to the hotel where we had time for a quick Poseidon’s Kingdom play. The game is much more difficult to set up than to play. Actually each round you can improve your reef (something really close to Antics anthill) or just add dice to the wave (a big cardboard device that throws dice onto the board during the game … impressive!). Then you move one of your pieces on the board to get food (represented by dice). Food is used to free your friends from the Kraken and you need the right dice to do that (a pair, three in a row, 4 different, 2 that sum 7, and so on).
Adding dice to the wave is important since it is better if you (and other players) are eating your own dice and also you can get some bonus. How much space you move, how many dice can you eat, how many dice can you store, and how many con you put on the wave are all determined by your coral reef. There is also a shark that move on the board trying to eat your pieces. We both liked the game but I’m sure it’s much more fun with 3 or 4 players.
Then we go bed. Caterina is sleeping and I’m writing. Tomorrow will be my second day for “fathers in the messe.”