Larry Levy: My Essen First Impressions #4

Here’s another installment of my early views of some of the new Essen titles that I got to play recently.  Most of these were with our newest OG correspondent Ben McJunkin, as we delved deep into the wonders of his game collection.

Il Vecchio (1 three-player game):  This was a very enjoyable game, but I’m really afraid to play it again, since both Dale and Jennifer said in their comments of Ben’s review last week that their ratings plunged after their first try!  But as a responsible journalist, I guess I’ll have to take the chance and keep playing this.  The things I do for my readers…

I’m a huge fan of the early efforts of designer Rüdiger Dorn–Goa, Louis XIV, Jambo, and Traders of Genoa are all amazing games.  Then came some decent middleweights which I don’t mind playing:  Arkadia and Diamonds Club.  But the last of these appeared four years ago and there’s been nothing I’ve had the slightest interest in since then.  Consequently, I didn’t hold out much hope for Il Vecchio.  To my surprise, it was a really good game–nicely dynamic, plenty to think about with many moving parts, and with a strong game arc.  It’s true that there doesn’t seem to be anything truly innovative about it (other than the middleman movement), but it still feels fresh.  Strangely enough, the game it reminded me most of is Luna, even though there are some significant differences between the games; I think it’s because you’re acquiring different kinds of tokens with your actions and usually exhausting your workers to do so.  I also think the thing that keeps this from being just another cube pusher is the geographic element, which keeps changing, of course, as the middlemen do their merry dance over the board.

It’s not obvious to me that this game won’t have legs.  Naturally, after one game, I can’t talk about replayability, but it sure seemed as if my strategy was strongly based on my beginning City Council tile.  I’d expect to be able to explore other strategies in future games with other starting tiles.  So I’m hopeful that my opinion on the game won’t suffer the same fate as it did with my fellow OGers.  In any event, while this doesn’t represent a return to greatness for Herr Dorn, it’s nice to see that he’s still capable of creating a solid, entertaining title for gamers.  Good for him.

Ginkgopolis (1 three-player game):  This was one I was looking forward to, as some of the early reviews were glowing in their praise and designer Xavier Georges has a proven, if short, track record.  However, my first play wasn’t ideal.  It was reasonably entertaining, but it seemed very chaotic for my tastes, with a semi-random collection of cards coming your way every turn and wild swings of fortune on the board, as the players frequently took over buildings to influence the area majority points.  However, Ben convinced me that the engine-building portion of the game, based on the cards you collect, can be an equally important source of VPs as the board play, so I do want to try this again with this new insight.  I still have some reservations, particularly given the likelihood of accidental kingmaking (which happened in our game and gave me the win).  I can see where the game might work best with 2 players:  the kingmaking problem would go away and you’d have a much better idea of the cards you’ll be getting each turn.  Sure enough, the Geek’s recommendations strongly favor 2 players.  Unfortunately, that’s a number I rarely play with.  So this is still a promising game for me, but I’m not sure it will ever live up to some of the lavish praise it’s been getting.

Qin (1 two-player game):  This is reminiscent of the games Knizia used to crank out with great regularity:  clever, elegant, and quite good.  It’s a pure abstract, a genre that I’m not that fond of, but the tug of war over the villages adds enough interest for me that I’m willing to play this.  The fact that you seem to be more concerned about not setting up your opponent, rather than pursuing bold offensive moves, is a little disappointing.  Interestingly, the side of the board for “experienced players”, with its scattered and smaller villages, looks as if it might inspire more dynamic play, so I’ll have to try that side the next time I play.  It’s still too abstract to become a favorite, but it’s nice to see that the Good Doctor can still produce a simple and appealing game like this one.

Keyflower (2 games, one each with 3 and 4 players):   My first game of this was with 4 and while I liked it, I felt more than a little overwhelmed at how much was going on.  This time around, we played with 3 and it was definitely easier to get a grasp of things.  Setting up your engine was fun and the auction/action decisions were challenging, with plenty of player interaction.  And there’s a huge amount of variety, of course.  It still doesn’t rank up with Terra Mystica and Tzolk’in at the top of my Essen list, but it’s definitely a good game, maybe slightly over-designed, and one I want to play some more.  3 players was really good, but now that I have a better grasp on the concepts, I’ll probably enjoy it with 4 as well.  Playing with 6 (the max) would be insane, though!

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4 Responses to Larry Levy: My Essen First Impressions #4

  1. Ben (chally) says:

    Larry writes: “I still have some reservations, particularly given the likelihood of accidental kingmaking (which happened in our game and gave me the win).”

    *cough* I think you mean “gave me A TIE for the win.” ;-) It also gave the “accidental” kingmaker the other share of that tie, which hardly counts as kingmaking in my book.

    That said, I prefer the game at higher counts despite the possibility of kingmaking and chaos. For my tastes, the two-player game runs too long and is too much of a calculating tug-of-war. Ideally, I see this game as a super-filler. With experienced players, I’d like to be able to churn out games in 45 minutes or so. If that means its a little more swingy and unpredictable, so be it. It will still be a fun ride.

    • huzonfirst says:

      Oh yeah, I forgot that we actually tied, Ben (I’m usually lucky if I remember the outcome of a game 5 minutes after it ends!). But the issue remains the same. If you had had one fewer point, you still would have done what you did (justifiably) and that WOULD have wound up being kingmaking. So there’s still plenty of scope for that to occur, which is unfortunate in my eyes.

      I wouldn’t mind trying out Ginkgopolis with more players, but I’m usually not a fan of swingy, unpredictable, and chaotic. I also note that in the Geek’s recommended player counts, the preference level goes further down with each added player. So you may wind up having a hard sell, Ben!

      • Joe Huber says:


        FWIW, my two plays were with three and four players, and I very much enjoyed both games. I’m not sold on it being best with 2…

  2. David Fair says:

    Regarding Qin…

    I will only play the “advanced” side anymore. The basic side simply offers a game that almost always plays out the same, whereas the advanced side seems to offer more variety and tougher decisions. My rating went up a full point after i discovered the joys of the advanced side.

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