Once upon a time, it was fairly easy to define what was, and what was not, an Essen release. These days, it’s not nearly so clear; between a much larger number of re-releases, greater import of games into Germany, and more publisher not focused on an Essen schedule still showing games at Spiel, the list can be looked at many different ways.
The following, then, is a mix – of my true first impressions, of my impressions of games released at Essen which I have yet to play in published form, and of my thoughts on games newly re-released at Essen. And while I find my first impressions useful to _me_, I doubt their correlation for anyone else.
1830 Cardgame (played once) – This game didn’t work for me at all. The random ability to do particular actions was frustrating, but the taxation of holdings, rather than income, means that having the most money and earning the most money can be good enough to finish in last place. If that appeals, you’ll likely enjoy the game more than I did.
Briefcase (played once) – This is yet another deck builder, which has a slow start. Initial hand sizes are four cards, with half of the cards being nearly worthless. So unlike Dominion, where in the worst case a player has just two useful cards, in Briefcase it’s entirely possible to have only useless cards. This does improve over time, and the middle of the game is acceptable, but not outstanding. The game tends to fade away at the end, however; there are limited options for earning victory points, and no variability to the process, making for an anticlimactic ending. Not a game I intend to play a second time, on the whole.
Chicago (not played) – We read through the rules, and passed on actually playing the game. It’s a king-of-the-hill game with a strong take-that element to it, strongly not my type of game.
Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear 2nd edition (played once) – I was fortunate enough to pick this up off of a prize table. It’s a tactical wargame, with some nice ideas, particularly with how units are effected by damage. But I’ve never much cared for tactical wargames, and this didn’t change my mind.
Copycat (played twice, as a prototype) – I won’t give a final judgement until I play the published game some, but I was taken enough by the prototype to buy it when an English edition is readily available.
Cowtown (played twice, once as a prototype)
Crazy Creatures of Dr. Gloom (played once) – Conveniently enough, these games fall together. Both are takes on the classic game Spite and Malice. But while Crazy Creatures of Dr. Gloom is a fairly pedestrian take (albeit with nice artwork), Cowtown adds some nice variation to the system. It’s still not a game I need in my collection, but of the two Cowtown is easily my preference.
Escape: The Curse of the Temple (played twice) – I was amazed to see this atop the GeekBuzz chart at Essen, which was plenty of reason to give the game a try. But I’m not generally a fan of cooperative game, and this did nothing to change my mind. For a timed cooperative game, I believe Space Alert is much more interesting; there’s not much of a _problem_ to be solved in Escape, but instead just an activity with occasional interaction.
Fundstücke (played fifteen times, in the original edition) – This is a fun little filler, particularly with four players, that has long deserved a broader audience. The game is a simple bluffing game, of a type that often leaves me dry, but here it’s quick enough to be very enjoyable.
Ginkgopolis (played twice) – Ginkgopolis had not caught my attention prior to Spiel, but certainly caught my interest when I gave it a play. I’m not sure how well it will hold up to extended play, but based upon early indications I’m optimistic. It’s one of those rare games that feels like more than the sum of its parts; the actions in the game (building a city up or out) is hardly a novel concept, and the theme is not of great interest. But the bonuses abilities earned for building up the city are interesting, and I’ve had enough fun playing it that it moved on to my purchase list.
Goblins, Inc.(played once, as a prototype) – I didn’t care for the competitive teammate aspect of the game, so I’ve not rushed to play the released edition.
Hanabi (played seven times, including once with the new Abacus edition) – I’m not normally taken by cooperative games, but the deductive element works surprisingly well for me. I do think there was a charm to the artwork in original edition missing from Abacus’ version, but it works perfectly well and remains a very enjoyable game.
Keyflower (played three times) – I’ve not had good luck with the Key series; I love Keywood, and got a lot of mileage out of Keydom, but the games since then have all fallen short for me for one reason or another. But Keyflower was very enjoyable, on my first play. The basic premise – three different bidding currencies, where bidding sets the currency for that auction, and actions associated with most auctions which also effectively increase the payout to the winner – works very well, and there are more than enough scoring options to enable a sufficient number of paths to victory. Better, the game has been more enjoyable to play with experience, which is always a good sign.
McMulti (played five times, in the Hexagames edition) – I discovered this game very late, but I’ve been enjoying it and I’m glad to see it more widely and readily available again. It feels a bit old fashioned, but is still quite enjoyable.
Mercurius (played once) – OK, I lie – we abandoned the game a bit less than half way through. It’s a stock market game with a mildly clever method for adjusting prices which played as poorly in practice as I thought it might when we read the rules.
Mutant Meeples (played twice, as a prorotype) – I’m not sure how much changed from the prototype, but while I found the challenges the game provided acceptable enough, it felt too derivative for my taste.
Old Town (played sixteen times, with prior editions) – I have not yet played the new edition, but it is beautiful, and an automatic pick-up for me.
Rise! (played once) – Little two player abstracts like this aren’t usually my thing, and this was not an exception. The game works, but it can easily go through stalemate-like periods. It’s quick enough that bigger fans of abstracts would probably get more out of it than I did.
Seasons (played once) – Seasons is not my type of game, but certainly is a reasonable example of the genre. The cards aren’t very exact in their language, but the additional detail in the rulebook clarified nearly all of the questions we had. It is definitely a game worth trying.
Smash Up (played once) – Sometimes, the idea is better than the implementation. The idea of combining two smaller decks of cards to create one big one is a fine one. Smash Up, however, tends towards many destructive cards (which, among other things, have a tendency to extend the game) and wide swings in the strengths of cards which don’t seem to balance out well within a game. Not a bad attempt, but I do believe there’s a better game to be had with this system.
Snowdonia (played three times) – So far, so good. Three plays in, I’m pleased with Snowdonia, which uses a unique theme (mountain train building in Wales) and some interesting variants on typical worker placement games. I particularly enjoy the inclusion of weather as a game element, and the variety of methods for scoring, though I do worry that one of the elements will prove non-viable.
Suburbia (played twice, as a prototype) – There are a number of things I like about Suburbia, particularly the ability to develop cities with a particular character. But I find that the limited availability of choices feels very gamey, and in each game I played I found there was a huge variance in how well a player’s choice of personal goals aligned with the game goals, making for a wide swing in scoring potential which wasn’t, in either game I played, able to be overcome.
The Cave (played once) – Lost Valley, the spelunking game. There are many similarities to Lost Valley, as both are games of carrying a limited number of goods, exploring to find particular items (gold in Lost Valley, new depths, treasures to photograph, or tight passageways in The Cave), and items built being available for anyone to use after. For me, Lost Valley is the more interesting game, but to be fair I’m not overly fond of caves. I do think The Cave is one of the better releases from Spiel, if not one that I’ll be adding to my collection.
The Great Zimbabwe (played once) – At least it’s not Duck Dealer. After finding Indonesia, I developed a greater interest in Splotter games, which was largely killed off by Duck Dealer. The Great Zimbabwe fell somewhere in the middle; it’s too abstract for my taste, but does offer some interesting ideas, particularly with the increasing victory requirements as you take advantage of various capabilities. Others seemed to enjoy it more than I did, though, so perhaps it’s just not for me.
Tokaido (played once) – A huge disappointment, because it’s beautifully produced, and there _should_ be a game in there. But the game misuses the Thebes mechanism of allowing the person furthest back to take an action. Here, because the actions are on the time track, and as a result any action taken in front of you will never be available to you. This leads to a very frustrating game, which works but which does not please.
Trains (played eight times) – This was the first Essen 2012 game to enter my collection, and has surprised me by how well it’s gone over, given my general distaste for deck building games to date. The key, I’ve decided, is two elements. First, the game has no take-that actions; it is a constructive game, with the destructive element (waste) being a natural consequence of the construction, with a built-in method to deal with it. Second, the board element adds tremendously to the system, providing a much more interactive focus.
Trick of the Rails (played once) – I only played this once, back early in the year. And I was not impressed. I’m not convinced that turning 18xx into a trick taking game is a worthwhile pursuit anyway, and Trick of the Rails did nothing to change my mind.
Tzolk’in (played twice, once as a prototype) – There is a good game here. What I’m not certain about, even after playing twice, is whether it’s just a good game, of the type which will be nearly forgotten in a year, or whether the remainder of the game will prove sufficient to make the brilliant idea of the gear-driver actions into a long-term keeper. I’m optimistic – the ability to get onto any gear, provided you pay enough, is a welcome change from most worker placement games – but I think it’s going to be a few more plays before I’m certain.