Larry Levy: My Essen First Impressions #1

They say it’s nice to have friends in high places and, lacking that, you might as well have friends with good taste in games and plenty of disposable income.  So I thank my lucky stars that some of my gaming buddies insist on importing the hot Essen games right after the Fair.  Naturally, I show my appreciation by helping them get played.  Here are my impressions after our first Essen Saturday.

Terra Mystica (1 play):  I was afraid that there might be too much stuff in this design, but I really enjoyed my first game.  There’s a ton of rules, but once you get those down, the gameplay is surprisingly smooth.  Despite numerous options, it’s not hard to focus on an appropriate strategy and try to implement it well.  A major feature of TM is that you can benefit by building close to other players.  However, in spite of that incentive for cooperation, much of what takes place is multiplayer solitaire, which I wasn’t expecting.  In this instance, I think it works, as your opponents can’t mess with most of your planning, but there are still races to claim certain key board locations and top spots on the game’s four tracks.  The fact that this is a perfect information game with no random elements is a big plus for me, particularly since gameplay is still quite dynamic.  Our four-player game didn’t seem to take too long, which was nice.  Finally, there’s an insane amount of replayability, because of the 14 player races (all very different) and other options that change with each game.  At this very early stage, this is my favorite of the Essen games so far.

Tzolk’in (3 plays–2 with the prototype, 1 with the published version):  Gotta love those gears!  And no, they’re not a gimmick, but really assist with the play.  They force you to deal with a sort of planning that you’ve probably never encountered before and which is really challenging and really fun.  Namely, figuring out how to get the most out of your placed workers given that you can’t place and remove during the same turn and that you have to either place or remove each turn.  The rest of the game features interesting and varied choices and there seems to be plenty of paths to victory (I’ve seen a different strategy work in each of my games).  Unfortunately, I got off to a terrible start in my latest game and struggled throughout.  However, far from souring me on the game, I’ve been thinking about what I did wrong and how I should play next time, which is always a good sign!  All in all, this is a very impressive design, which thoroughly deserves all the buzz it’s been getting.

Keyflower (1 game):  Man, this game has a lot going on!  Maybe too much…I’m not sure they had to include the Carcassonne-like tile placement, or the cube movement, or even the skill tokens.  I admit, I felt a bit overwhelmed during my 4-player game.  It’s interesting to compare my experience here with Terra Mystica, which has even more rules, but has far more focused gameplay (not to mention, much of Keyflower’s complexity comes from the special rules on all the tiles, making it harder to grasp as a whole).  This probably represents more of a personal preference than any kind of a flaw, as I prefer more focused designs to wide open ones, so judge for yourself.  Still, overall I enjoyed my first game and feel this is a promising design.  With any luck, I’ll have a better grasp on things in future plays.  Maybe playing with 3 will make it easier to wrap my head around it.

Tweeeet (1 play):  This team game from Cwali isn’t bad, but it didn’t particularly engage me.  It’s quite abstract and it’s not clear how much control any one player has.  It does have the potential to be really vicious, which is often appealing to me, but our game seemed relatively bloodless.  I’d play again, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this bird has flown.

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6 Responses to Larry Levy: My Essen First Impressions #1

  1. Ben (chally) says:

    Really glad you enjoyed Terra Mystica, Larry. I’m hoping that game gets enough traction with our group that I can play it relatively often.

    As for Keyflower, I think that 3-player is probably my sweet spot as well. I am still on the fence about whether to keep it, but the fact that I want to keep trying it (rather than giving up) bodes well. Turns out we were making a mistake by not playing the skill tokens on the boats face-up. That should make future games feel a little more controlable.

    I am greatly looking forward to this weekend, as well, particularly if I can get CO2 to the table. I think it shows a lot of potential, but I need to see it in action with four players because so much depends on the inter-player dynamics.

  2. francisco fernandez says:

    Hi,I appreciate your comments.
    I am really interested in keyflower and terra mystica?Are both playabe with two?
    Is it worth buying both? Or the feeling of play is similar?


    • huzonfirst says:

      Francisco, I don’t think Keyflower and Terra Mystica are remotely alike. The former is an auction game (of sorts) with a little bit of a worker placement feel. You don’t know which tiles will be revealed in later seasons and this can have a strong affect on play. There is also a great deal of player interaction.

      TM is a game of perfect information, with no random factors. Player interaction is important, but much of what you do cannot be affected by your opponents.

      The two games have a very different feel. Keyflower is more of a cube churner: you produce cube X, which you can convert into cube Y, which you then can turn into VPs. It does this in an innovative and unusual way, but that’s the basic concept. TM is more of a building game: I build structure X, which gives me income on future turns, allowing me to build more structures, all of which lead to VPs. Again, the way in which this is done is distinctive and atypical, but that’s the family of games this belongs to. So based on this, there’s no reason why owning one of these games would dissuade you from buying the other.

      Unfortunately, I haven’t played either game with two players. Can anyone who has played Keyflower or Terra Mystica with two help Francisco out by commenting?

      • Andy Parsons says:

        My only play of Keyflower to date was two-player. It works perfectly well with that number, though I still shared Larry’s “this game has a lot going on” reaction.

    • Ben (chally) says:

      Hi, Francisco. In my opinion, Terra Mystica and Keyflower are not remotely alike. I think Keyflower plays well with two, although I like it best with 3. I really enjoy Terra Mystica, but I would not recommend the 2-player game (it is fine, but not as fun as the game with 3-5). I will play with 2 when my wife suggests it, but I will not suggest it myself.

  3. Dan Blum says:

    We played Keyflower with four and everyone enjoyed it. I am not sure I would try it with six. It definitely has a lot going on, but I think with a little experience it will be quite manageable.

    I thought Tzolk’in was interesting, but I am not at all sure I like the rule that lets players occasionally turn the gear twice. You can plan as carefully as you want, but if someone decides to do that before you take your people off, the planning can be kind of pointless.

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