Essen Games: A Handy Guide

I just got back from BGG.CON last night and am going to write up my thoughts on all of the new games I tried there.  I got in 18 different Essen games (in addition to the 17 I’d already tried and ranked).  In the meantime though, I just had to share a quick write-up that a friend of mine sent me today.  The following comments on the new crop of games were written by Ben McJunkin, and while I disagree with many of his opinions (because we have fairly different taste in games), I found his comments hilarious and entertaining.  And after all, this is The Opinionated Gamers where all sorts of crazy opinions on various games have a home, even if I think they’re totally off base at least half the time.  I also played some of these games with Ben, so I sprinkled some editor’s notes throughout in brackets and italics to add some context.  And with that, take it away Ben.

Here are my impressions on everything played so far:

Terra Mystica
Total Plays: 11
My Rating: 9
It’s As If: The secret love child of Hansa Teutonica and Kingdom Builder grew up to become a professional wrestler.
Who It’s For: Eurogamers who inexplicably love Dominant Species

Great Zimbabwe
Total Plays: 3
My Rating: 8
It’s As If: The Splotter guys played Container and realized collusion is fun.
Who It’s For: Splotter fans with an Econ degree.

Total Plays: 4
My Rating: 8
It’s As If: Vital Larcida tried *really* hard to channel his inner Knizia.
Who It’s For: Opportunistic jerks.

Total Plays: 5
My Rating: 8
It’s As If: Ooooh, look at the shiny gears.
Who It’s For: The BGG masses.

Total Plays: 2
My Rating: 7
It’s As If: 7 Wonders was actually entertaining.
Who It’s For: The BGG masses who can overlook the game’s name, art, and theme.  So, about a quarter of them.

Total Plays: 2
My Rating: 7
It’s As If: Civilization and Negotiation games weren’t inherently awful.
Who It’s For: The French.

Total Plays: 3
My Rating: 7
It’s As If:  The best Richard Breese games are not (entirely) Richard Breese games.
Who It’s For: Eurogamers who like stabby auction games; Eurogamers who don’t realize Keyflower is a stabby auction game.

Total Plays: 10
My Rating: 7
It’s As If: You don’t even believe I’m the Duke.
Who It’s For: Anyone with 3-5 friends, a Poker face, and 15 minutes to kill; not Tom.
[Editor’s Note: Ben says this because we played The Resistance together at BGG.CON and everyone at the table knew my secret role within the first five seconds because I broke down laughing.  I actually haven’t even tried Coup yet; it should be amusing when I do.]

Il Vecchio
Total Plays: 1
My Rating: 6
It’s As If: The last six years never happened
Who It’s For: People who wonder why they don’t make games like Thurn & Taxis anymore.

Nieuw Amsterdam
Total Plays: 1
My Rating: 6
It’s As If: Jeff Allers won a contest with Friedmann Friese to design Eurogame: The Game.
Who It’s For: Gamers frightened by unfamiliar mechanics.

Total Plays: 1
My Rating: 6
It’s As If: Space Alert were twice as portable, but only half as interesting.
Who It’s For: People who understand that when the game is called “Escape” you get the hell out of the temple.
[Editor’s Note: Ben says this because he left the temple on his own, leaving several of his teammates stranded.  It’s as if Ben didn’t realize this was a cooperative game… or maybe he was a cylon.]

Total Plays: 2
My Rating: 6
It’s As If: Reiner Knizia was in a car crash in 1998, was rescued from the snowbank by his biggest fan, had his ankles broken by said “fan,” was forced to make Lost Cities over and over again until it was “right,” finally escaped, then tried to make an actual game but was a little rusty.
Who It’s For: People who like Samurai, but hate counting; Knizia fans who bring their iPad to the bathroom.

Total Plays: 1
My Rating: 6
It’s As If: I have this weird feeling I’ve played this before.
Who It’s For: People who bought Carson City.

Total Plays: 2
My Rating: 5 (likely trending upward)
It’s As If: The rules changed before, during, and after every game.
Who It’s For: People who like Antiquity but don’t know it yet.
[Editor’s Note: It did seem as if Myrmes was in constant play at BGG.CON and being enjoyed by most people, but that every game of it was being played with slightly different rules.]

Al Rashid
Total Plays: 1
My Rating: 5
It’s As If: Someone took a good game and intentionally tried to make it dysfunctional.
Who It’s For: Five-player groups with that one guy who was probably going to make a player aid whether he bought the game or not.

Total Plays: 1
My Rating: 5
It’s As If: I already did this last round.
Who It’s For: Flavor-text readers; heavy gamers who’d rather not pay attention until the last round anyway.

La Venise du Nord
Total Plays: 2
My Rating: 4
It’s As If: Someone made a great dice game that only works 50% of the time.
Who It’s For: Lucky rollers.

Palaces of Carrara
Total Plays: 1
My Rating: 4
It’s As If: These aren’t the same guys who made Cavum.
Who It’s For: The sort of gamer who won’t open the envelope with the giant red sticker reading “Do not open this envelope!”

Total Plays: 1
My Rating: 4
It’s As If: Martin Wallace wants to see how far his name alone will take him.
Who It’s For: People who like logic puzzles; people who prefer to play a game that doesn’t actually involve the other players; that one lady in the van.

Total Plays: 1
My Rating: 4
It’s As If: Some game companies have too much money and don’t know what to do with it.
Who It’s For: Tom.
[Editor’s Note: It somehow became a running joke that I am in love with Oddville; I think it is perpetuated by my vehement disagreement with such insinuations.]

Total Plays: 1
My Rating: 3
It’s As If: Friedmann Friese doesn’t understand the difference between game design and performance art.
Who It’s For: Ascension players who really wish more games had themes about office buildings.
[Editor’s Note: This made me laugh, but I actually think Friese is doing some of the most interesting work in terms of pushing the boundaries of game design (and perhaps blending it with performance art) through innovative concepts like the Friday Project, Copycat, and others.]

Antike Duellum
Total Plays: 1/10,000th?
My Rating: 3
It’s As If: Mac Gerdts didn’t understand that the game has to end somehow.
Who It’s For: People who will only play half a game.
[Editor’s Note: I played this with Ben (and even tried it again the next day with a different friend to see if it would work better the next time) and both times it plateaued and essentially locked up after about 45-60 minutes with both players at around 6 or 7 of the needed 9 victory points to win and no real path to victory except grinding it out for seemingly many, many more hours (which we elected not to do, hence the 1/10,000th of a play comment).]

Total Plays: 1/3rd?
My Rating: 2
It’s As If: P.I. was the best idea Martin Wallace had this year.
Who It’s For: Those who still preorder anything that has Martin Wallace’s name on it; Discworld fans who want a deck-builder.
[Editor’s Note: Just to be fair, this was a prototype that was available to convention attendees to try, so it was not a final product.]

*                    *                    *

It’s as if… I’ve lost the will to write up my own thoughts on the new Essen games I tried at BGG.CON because it can’t possibly be that amusing.  I guess I’ll have to try for informative and long-winded instead as I am wont to do.

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25 Responses to Essen Games: A Handy Guide

  1. Length says:

    This was hilarious…thank you.

  2. Doug Faust says:

    Wow, this is the best Essen Games recap ever!

  3. Paul Owen says:

    It’s as if: My wife is across the dining room table wondering what the hell I’m laughing at that’s so funny.

  4. Joe Huber says:

    The secret love child of Hansa Teutonica and Kingdom Builder grew up to become a professional wrestler.

    You know, I’d not been terribly interested in Terra Mystica before, but this suggests to me a game I would find has gone on too long 1/4 of the way through the rules explanation. And, therefore, is a highly useful comment. Thanks.

    (Though I seem to be the only one completely missing the humor in this article…)

    • Craig Massey says:

      Joe, you probably would find this too long, but not because of rules explanation in my opinion. After one play a week ago where five players had to learn the game and rules explanation was over 30 min, I played again and taught rules to three new players. The rules explanation really took only 10-15 minutes. Aside from a few corner cases/exceptions, nothing here merits a long winded dramatic rules overview.

      • Joe Huber says:

        I fear I wasn’t clear – it’s not that I’d find the rules explanation too long. I suspect that 1/4 of the way through the rules I’d be certain it would not be a game for me, given what I think of Hansa Teutonica, Kingdom Builder, and professional wrestling.

        • Craig says:

          Ahh, that makes more sense. Though I’m getting to a point where rules explanations that run overly long likely impact my enjoyment of the game in a pretty negative way. I would agree that the game has some similarities to Hansa Teutonica/pro wrestling thing, but I totally fail to see the Kingdom Builder thing.

  5. Paul Lister says:

    Some one asked what games Terra Mystica resembled and I now can answer them, with full attribution of course

  6. joshhimself says:

    An extremely entertaining read!

    I really see almost none of Hansa Teutonica or Kingdom Builder in Terra Mystica, though. It has one mechanism that’s similar to Hansa Teutonica, but the core gameplay is vastly different. Kingdom Builder? Is that just based on the look of the map?

    • Ben (chally) says:

      Thanks for the comment, Josh. The map aesthetic certainly informs my comparison, but I also intended to draw upon the general idea of competitive terrain-based network building. In both games, the direction of players’s expansion is informed by the type of surrounding terrain (in Kingdom Builder, this is so that players can maximize their ability to teleport around the map; in Terra Mystica, this is so that players can minimize the cost of subsequent terraforming). In both games, the shape and speed of expansion is responsive to (1) the threat of opponents reaching key locations first and (2) randomly drawn scoring cards (end-game scoring cards in Kindom Builder; end-round scoring tiles in Terra Mystica).

      More fundamentally, however, I think these two games (for me at least) appropriately capture the essense of Terra Mystica’s design: it is a dry, resource-management Euro with tech trees and indirect conflict that often benefits one’s opponents as much as oneself. I wanted to express that essence so that prospective players understood what they were getting (for example, though Terra Mystica’s tech tress is more akin to Eclipse than Hansa Teutonica, I fear that a comparison to Eclipse would confuse more than it would enlighten). When Dominant Species was released, some players were suprised by the juxtaposition between the box cover and the game inside. The potential for a similar surprise exists here: this is not a theme-rich fantasy game. I was therefore hoping to draw upon examples that carry the right connotations, regardless of whether the mechanical comparison holds up under scrutiny. :-)

  7. jeffinberlin says:

    Very funny first impressions, Ben, especially when read together in context–although I’m not sure I could win a game design contest of any kind with Friedemann. Unless I only worked on Thursdays.

    • Ben (chally) says:

      I’m really glad you are able to take the list in the lighthearted manner intended, Jeff. I quite liked Nieuw Amsterdam and have a copy arriving some time this week. (My numerical ratings tend to be lower than many others, but almost anything I rate between 5 and 7 falls into OG “Liked it” category).

      • jeffinberlin says:

        Yeah, Ben, I know you are one of those people who actually takes a “5” to mean “average” and I appreciate that. And it was clear that you were having fun poking fun at even your favorite games from the week (and at yourself, claiming that one of those was for “opportunistic jerks”–hilarious!). Like I said–context is everything.

  8. Aaron says:

    Great reviews, but seems to me the games you got fewer plays in rated generally lower than games you really got to explore…11 plays of Terra compared to 1 play of Snowdonia…very useful notes though…and I was fortunate to acquire a copy of Myrmes myself and I would have rated it a 5 myself after 2 plays…my wife and I have now gotten a dozen plays in though and it certainy trended higher…place it at an 8 now!

    • Ben (chally) says:

      That’s certainly true, though the causation arrow might at times be hard to discern. I loved Terra Mystica after one play, and so I pushed to get it to the table as often as possible. I was less impressed with Snowdonia after one play, so I’ve spent my gaming time trying out other titles rather than revisiting it. I quite liked La Venside du Nord after my one play with Larry, who also had positive things to say about it in his First Impressions column, but my second play was inexplicably terrible (hence the “only works 50% of the time” comment).

      In the case of Myrmes, it was just a matter of some bad luck at BGG.Con. It was the very first game I played, as it was a high priority for me, but was taught the game incorrectly in several very important respects. Unsurprisingly, it fell flat. I discovered some of the rule mistakes during the game and others afterward when talking to people who enjoyed their experiences. I made an effort to try it again, but my second session was still tainted with a number of rule misunderstandings, many of which required unwinding a turn or two during the game. Needless to say, that tends to produce a less-than-stellar experience. Now that I understand the rules, I see a lot of potential in the game, so I expect my rating to increase as my playcount does.

      • mcjarvis says:

        You would need to get your head checked if you played a game, didn’t like it, and then decided this meant you should play it ten more times.

    • joshhimself says:

      Aaron, wait … we’re supposed to be playing the bad games more and the good games less?

      And to think I’ve been doing it wrong all these years.

      • jeffinberlin says:

        I don’t think Ben is saying at all that all the single-play games on this list are “bad.”
        With such a crowded marketplace, it certainly makes it more difficult to get in multiple plays of the same game when the first experience is not a great one, which is too bad, as that can be influenced by so many factors out of a game’s control.

        • Joe Huber says:

          While that’s certainly true, I suspect most gamers can differentiate between a poor experience with a game due to the circumstances and a bad game.

  9. morganzax says:

    The be fair it’s CO2 that I’d assumed was a bastard child of Hansa Teutonica, with the subgame of going places where you know other players are going to bump you off.

  10. It’s As If: Friedmann Friese doesn’t understand the difference between game design and performance art.

    Oh, there is a difference between art and game design, that’s new to me. I try for years now to convince people the game design is art. (there were some very good interviews here on opinionated games about that)
    Or do you mean “game design” and “performance art” as two different kinds of art and I was not accepting the borders between them. Maybe because of being an artist, this is just what I have to do.
    Sorry I’m not a craftsman in my job, I believe I’m an artist. You can not activate my action by putting some resource cubes on me.

    • huzonfirst says:

      “You can not activate my action by putting some resource cubes on me.”

      I cannot tell you how much I love this quote, particularly as it applies to Friedemann!

    • Ben (chally) says:

      Hahaha. Well put, Friedemann!

      I actually had a rather in-depth discussion with Tom about your artistic approach to game design on the flight to BGG.con, and you have my strong support in those efforts. However, game design is a peculiar art form, as the final product is intended to be used by the very audience it attempts to address. Like Grecian columns, one half of the artistry is in the utility. In the case of Copycat, my feeling is that the game succeeded more in providing a thought-provoking meta-commentary on the process of game design than it did in producing an enjoyable game-playing experience for those at the table.

      • What I did: I took the mechanisms of three “optimize your victory points” games (a category which I normally dislike) mixed them together, but did not build an optimizing game out of it, I translated it in my favorite category “race games”. Now it is just a race game. On the other hand I took these well balanced games, where you can only get better by finding tiny little hidden victory points and destroyed that feeling by allowing skyrocketing victory point explosions. This seems to produce a love it or hate it game, which is for my opinion better than everybody’s darling (not lover). Lucky me the sales are good, too. :-)

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