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.