Dale Yu: Essen Preview of the new games from Lookout Games

I’ll make no bones about it. I’m a Lookout fanboy.  Not because I have worked with the company before on games.  Not because I regularly kick Hanno’s butt in fantasy football.  Not because they have yummy beer at their Essen stand from time to time…  But because they make good games that I love to play. I cannot remember the last year that I didn’t find a good/great Lookout design. Taking a quick peek at my game shelves – there is an inordinately high number of Lookout games still in the collection – a collection which is constantly being trimmed as I’m out of space!

  • 2012: Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small
  • 2011: Ora et Labora, Walnut Grove
  • 2010: Merkator, Railroad Barons, Agricola Forest Deck
  • 2009: Agricola – Farmers of the Moor
  • 2008: Le Havre, Agricola X-deck
  • 2007: Agricola
  • 2005: The End of the Triumvirate
  • 2004: Zepter von Zavandor

That’s not too bad. The only year I’ve missed was 2006 – otherwise, the list above is a pretty darn group of games.  Thus, it’s no surprise that I’m excited about this year’s set of releases.  Though I don’t know for sure, I’m expecting there to be the usual panopoly of small expansions for the mainstays (Agricola, Le Havre, Suburbia, etc) as well as some sort of Bohnanza deck… What I do know for sure is that there will be three full releases.

I’ve had a chance to read through the rules, and since there isn’t much other info available on them, I thought this would be a good time to talk about the new games.  (This is one preview in a series of reports on the blog – check out this page for a listing of our other Essen Preview pieces this year: http://opinionatedgamers.com/category/essen-2013/




Designer: Robert Auerochs

Players: 1-4

Time: 75 mins

Game description from the publisher:

Bremerhaven is a clearly structured but complex economic game about the famous harbor town in the north of Germany. Each player builds his own unique harbor and tries to reach the highest combination of money and prestige by the end of the game.

Each round, players are trying to get the most influence on the action fields they want to use. Since you place your influence cards face down, you have to watch closely what the other players might want to do. (You can even place more than one card on one spot.) The options are varied: Get a new ship with new goods into your harbor, close a new contract, change the values of the four different goods, improve your influence card-hand, expand your harbor, buy a new building, or simply rise in the nautical ranks to get more money. But you have to be careful: Every ship and every contract will stay in your harbor only for a short while. (The transporters and trains are waiting!) If you fail to coordinate the incoming and outgoing goods, you might have to pay penalty for not fulfilling a contract!

Bremerhaven ends after a defined number of rounds, and the rules include both a short version and solo rules. Visually the game will be in the vein of Le Havre.

Rough description of game from my rules read (note – that the version I have is not a final set of rules, so there still may be discrepancies from final result).  Please note that I am simply trying to summarize the game flow, not describe how to play the game in detail.

Game is played in multiple rounds until the ship makes it to the end of the timing track.  This is estimated to be 8-12 rounds in a 4p game.  Each round has 4 phases: 1) Bidding, 2) General Actions, 3) Individual actions, 4) cleanup.  There are a number of different boards (areas) where action takes place – there is one board each for the Sea, Land and Town areas.  Each of these boards has action spaces which grant different actions.  There is also a Newspaper Rack for event cards. Finally, each player has a personal Harbor board.

1) Bidding: The bulk of the game revolves around your influence cards – each player gets an identical deck of 12 influence cards and each starts the game with cards ranked 1,2,3,4,5 (leaving 5,6,6,7,7,8,9 in reserve).  You will use these cards to bid on actions which obviously then determines what you get to do.   On your turn, you play an influence card face down on one of the action spaces of the Sea, Land or Town boards.  You could also choose to play a card to the Parking Lot instead.  You may play multiple cards at a single space to try to outbid someone else.  After all cards are played, they are flipped up.  In general, the player who has bid the most value of cards at a space will get the action (to be done in the General Action phase), though there are a few special spaces which allow multiple players to take the action.  All ties are broken by position on the Career chart.  If you placed at the Parking Lot, you will earn money for each card.

2) General Action: going in order from Town to Sea to Land board, the following actions are resolved


  • Building Card – highest bidder gets a card – when built, will give VPs and/or special abilities
  • Building Permit – this action lets you build previously gained building card, expand your harbor OR build up the walls of your harbor
  • Grow Influence – you take the lowest ranked card from your reserve pile to use next turn – and you will discard the lowest existing card when you do – so that your hand size is always 5
  • Change prices – change the price cards of goods
  • Career ladder – exchange any two adjacent pieces on the turn order/rank chart


There is one ship per player available here. The highest bidder for each ship gets the card.  Ships have varying attributes for: cargo the carry, time they stay in the harbor, size requirements for harbor, and VPs.


There are a number of contract cards equal to the number of players.  The highest bidder for each contract card gets the contract.  Each contract specifies what goods are needed for completion, what reward is given (VP, money, both), what penalty is taken if the contract isn’t completed and what time frame is given for completion.

3) Individual Action:

Each player takes actions on their Harbor board. This can be done simultaneously.

There are four main areas on the Harbor board:

  1. Prestige track
  2. Docks (where ship cards go)
  3. Contract spaces
  4. Storage: for buildings or goods

At the start of the game, many of these spaces are covered up – remember that you can expand your harbor with a Town Action…

The actions that can be done here

  • Produce – some buildings make goods or money
  • Convert/Move goods – produced goods can be moved into empty storage spaces or onto contract cards
  • Score prestige – score your harbor – the Prestige track marks the highest score you achieve in any round.  If you current score is lower than the previous high score, the marker does not move.

4) Clean-Up

Deal Newspaper Rack – read the event and do it. They might be good or bad.  It affects all players equally.  Then look at the Progress Card – it may have ship icons on it, and if so, you move the ship ahead that many spaces on the track.  If the ship gets to the end of the track, the game ends.  If not, each player gets their 5 influence cards back and… lather, rinse, repeat.

Game ends when the ship token gets to the end of the track.  Any contracts that are outstanding are then scored.  Your final score is: [money you have at end of game] x [prestige marker on harbor board].

My thoughts based on rules:

First, I should note that the rules also include rules for a shorter (novice) game as well as a solo game.  That is good for me because it will allow me to get the game to the table in any sort of circumstance – whether I’m on my own, with novice gamers or kids, or with my regular group of jaded gamers.

There does not appear to be that much downtime in the game – individual actions are short, and there are many phases where play is simultaneous.  That will help it from feeling like it is dragging on (say, like Ora et Labora with Larry Levy).

The idea of the indeterminate game end is also nice.  This adds some risk-reward to the endgame, especially with which contracts you might choose to take or not.  Certainly, if the ship is near the end of the track, you might not want to take a card with a high penalty because you might be forced to fulfill it if the game ends suddenly…  The scoring system definitely wants you to

The other facet where the scoring looks interesting is that the game only cares about your highest turn-end score in the harbor.  What I’m hoping this means is that you will have to choose when you want to work on the Harbor – it might be early in the game, or it might be late in the game if you don’t have many contracts to work on….



Caverna: The Cave Farmers

Designer: Uwe Rosenberg

Players 1-7

Time: 120 minutes

Game description from the publisher:

Following along the same lines as its predecessor (Agricola), Caverna: Cave Farmers is a worker-placement game at heart, with a focus on farming. Players begin the game with a farmer and his spouse, and each member of the farming family represents an action that the player can take each turn. Players can also expand their family while running an ever-growing farm.

Caverna: Cave Farmers is a complete redesign of Agricola that substitutes the card decks from the former game with a set of buildings while adding the ability to purchase weapons and send your farmers on quests to gain further resources. Designer Uwe Rosenberg says that the game includes parts of Agricola, but also has new ideas, especially the cave part of your game board, where you can build mines and search for rubies. The game also includes two new animals: dogs and donkeys.

Rough description of game from my rules read (note – that the version I have is not a final set of rules, so there still may be discrepancies from final result).  Please note that I am simply trying to summarize the game flow, not describe how to play the game in detail… And I’m doing this on the fly during my first read-through of the rules which is also not yet fully translated, so any mis-statements on my part could be due to me less-than-optimal translation skills.

As this is meant to be a followup game to Agricola, and I’m very familiar with that game (having helped make some of the expansions), I will describe it in Agricola-ese.  If you are unfamiliar with Agricola, I’d go read up on that first somewhere else…. Like my 21 page review here:  http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/255808/agricola-long-review-of-family-game-full-game-s  In fact, the rules even tell you that if you are familiar with Agricola, you only need to read the rules colored in brown in the rules as all other rules are the same as Agricola.

Here we go!  OK, so like Agricola, there are a butt-ton of bits in the game.  The whole first page of the rules is a manifest of pieces – including such items as: 290 wooden pieces, 65 acrylic gems, 3 stables and 5 disks in each of 7 player colors, lots of coins, boards for each player, lots of extra land tiles, scoring pad… The one difference that jumps out here from Agricola is that there are only 29 Spielkarten (cards) in this game as opposed to the 360 that came in Agricola.

The setup looks similar to Agricola. You can choose between the Introductory and Full Game.  Each player gets a board to hold their stuff. You start with 2 Dwarfs (wooden discs).  In the middle of the table, there are boards with action spaces – 12 total – which correspond to game rounds.  Actions on cards will be place here similar to the Gric.  There is another one to the left which has actions based on the number of players in the game.

Goal is to score the most points on your board – thru dwarves, rooms, animals, etc. More on this later.  The player board is split up into 2 sides, forests on the left – which are cleared out in the course of the game for farming and animal husbandry and mountains on the right – which are cleared out for mines and rooms to live in.  After all, since you’re a dwarf, it’s obvious that you’re going to live in rooms hewn out of the rocks.

Scoring is similar to Agricola in that you score for just about everything.  However, from the initial read, it looks to be a bit simpler as scoring isn’t based on quantity buckets but rather on discrete numbers.  Examples of scoring:

  • 1 VP per animal
  • -2 VP for each type of animal you do not have (sheep, donkey, boar, cow)
  • 1 VP per Vegetable token, Gold token, Ruby
  • Mines and Pasture tiles worth VP printed on them
  • -1 VP for each empty space on your board
  • 1 VP per Dwarf disc

One other big difference is that there are weapons in this game!  The rules suggest that players will split themselves up into two camps: one which makes and uses weapons and one which plays more peacefully.  The players in each group will then be competing amongst themselves for the resources that they need.  This suggests that there are times that it may be beneficial to zig while everyone else zags… i.e. if you are the only player to avoid building weapons, you may have a much easier time getting things you want as all the other players fight over things needed for weapons.

Flow of a Round (same as Agricola)

  1. Flip over new action space
  2. Put good on accumulating action card
  3. Take turns to place worker discs (and do the action)
  4. Move everyone back home
  5. Figure out a Harvest if the board says it’s time to Harvest

Differences from the Gric:

The action cards are split into a few stages like Agricola so that you know in general when an action comes up, but not exactly when – Though there is a specific card played in round 4 (the equivalent of Family Growth).

The actions are similar to Agricola in that many of them accumulate goods – but many of them also allow you to place a tile on your home board as well.   You can still take actions to sow a field, add rooms to your house, to choose first player or to grow your family, etc.

There is one new resource in the game – Rubies.  Ruby mines come into play in the later rounds of the game.  The Ruby mine tile itself is worth 4VP.   The mine then can make Rubies, and each Ruby can be used as a sort of wild card for all sorts of stuff in the game.

You can still build fences, and they still double the capacity of a tile to hold animals.  But, in Caverna, you do not place little wood sticks. The fences come pre-printed on the other side of the tiles.  Also, the rules for storing animals are a bit more lax.  There are all sorts of exceptions so that most spaces can hold at least one animal – heck, you can even keep 3 cows in your Breakfast room!

I mentioned earlier that you can create weapons.  These weapons are denoted on chits that are placed on top of worker discs.  Weapon strength varies from 1 to 14.  When you play your discs, they must be from lowest (unarmed) to highest weapon value.

Weapons are made at a specific action card, and you spend ore (up to 8) to initially arm your dwarf. The starting level equals the number of ore spent at that time.  An armed dwarf can then go on an Expedition.   There are reference cards which have a list of goods on them.  Depending on the weapon strength of your Dwarf, you will be able to collect any goods on that card that are listed at Strength value equal to or less than the weapon strength.  The number of goods you take is equal to the level of Expedition that you are on…   Additionally, each time a Dwarf goes on an expedition, his strength increases by one level afterwards.

This is the reason why the dwarves go out in order of weapon strength.  Obviously, you’d like to take an expedition with a stronger Dwarf as he will be able to collect more loot from the expedition card… however, he has to wait his turn in line, and each time he is skipped over, there is a higher and higher chance that the expedition action will be taken by someone else.

At the end of each round, there might be a Harvest… There are the same three sub-phases:

  1. take one good from each field,
  2. feed each disc 2 food or 1 for a baby,
  3. +1 baby animal for each type you have at least 2 of)

But the timing of the harvests is different.  There is a harvest at the end of Round 3. There is a harvest at the end of each Round 5 to 12.  But, the type of harvest can be different based on a marker placed there in setup. Most of the markers are green, and they signify a regular harvest.  Three of the markers are red. When the first red one appears, there simply isn’t a harvest. When the 2nd one comes up, all dwarfs eat 1 Food (instead of 2).  When the 3rd one comes up, each player must still feed their dwarves, but they must choose to only apply one of the other two phases (taking crops or breeding animals).

There are clearly more harvests in this game than Agricola, so this will make food even more important. The game eases the ability to get food in a number of ways.  First, you will take crops from your fields more often and you can breed animals more often.  Furthermore, you can always convert goods, animals and crops into food at any time.  You don’t need to wait to make an oven, grill or some other Major Improvement.  Just about the only thing you can’t convert to food is Dogs.

So, in the end, it’s just like Agricola in that you are collecting goods to build things, raising crops and herding animals to feed yourself, and at the end of the game, you score points for everything…

Uwe the Dwarf

Uwe the Dwarf

My thoughts on the game:

This is an instant pick up for me.  I love Agricola, and it remains one of the top 3 games of all time for me.  While there is obviously a lot of overlap between Caverna and Agricola in the rules, there are enough changes to provide me with a whole new gamespace to explore.  One of the biggest challenges for me in Agricola was working with the Improvement and Occupation cards to come up with the right combinations to succeed.  Both of those are not present here.  Instead, there is more of a focus on getting your engine to work efficiently as there are many more harvests.  There are still some opportunities to get differential bonus scoring – mostly in the special room furnishing tiles – but this will hopefully feel less due to luck as all players will have a more equal chance to get any of them, not just luck of the draw from the card deal at the start of the game.

I love the idea that you can play this game solo – after all, I had played Solo Agricola over 150 times when that first came out…  And, this certainly is set up the same way for solo optimization games… I also love the idea that the game can play up to 7 but I will have to wait and see if this pans out in reality.  It remains to be seen how much down time there will be in between turns with that many at the table.

I cannot tell how the Weapons and Expeditions will affect play.  It seems from the hints in the rules that you can succeed without making too many (if any) weapons, and in fact, the hint suggests that most games will have players who choose to do either choice.  The bonuses that you can acquire from the Expeditions seem really nice though for a single action, but I don’t yet know how hard it will be to accumulate the ore needed to make a spiffy weapon, etc.

The only thing that I am sad about is that this game will likely weigh around the 5 pounds that Agricola does… That’s a guaranteed 10% of one bag’s weight allotment right there!  And I know I’m bringing one of these home.   It’s really hard to say anything else about the game right now without playing it, but I promise to report back as soon as possible come Essen Week!  The Lookout stand, assuming I can find it in the new layout, will be one of my first stops.  I wonder who the lucky neighbors will be that have to endure the near constant queue of people waiting to get to the booth!




Designer: Brett Gilbert

Players: 2-4

Time: 15 min

Ages: 6+

Game description from the publisher:

Everybunny knows that rabbits love the countryside — and carrots, of course! The best carrots of all grow between the train tracks, but you have to keep an eye out for trains! Roll the dice and hop your rabbit to the best carrot patch; as long as you don’t need to flee out of the path of the train, you can happily nibble away. Chomp, chomp, chomp…

In Karnickel, each player places his rabbit on the circular train track made of eight interchangeable tiles, sets the train engine on its start space, then takes turns rolling the custom dice. After you roll, set any die that shows the “train” out of play, then count up how many times each of the player colors appears on the remaining dice; you must move one of the rabbits (yours or another player’s) clockwise around the track the full number of spaces. You then pass the rabbit dice to the next player. Players take turns, each time rolling only the dice passed to them and hopping the rabbits from tile to tile, trying to land on the tiles where they will be able to collect the most carrots.

When a player rolls only trains, the rabbit hopping has to stop as the train is ready to move! That player rerolls all seven dice, counts up the number of trains rolled, then moves the train that many spaces around the track. Every rabbit on a tile that the train moves through is scared away by the engine and hops off the track, failing to collect any carrots this time. All rabbits still on the track after the train moves — either because the train didn’t reach them or because they were on one of the two tunnel tiles — get to grab 1, 2 or 3 carrots…or maybe lose one — exploding carrots are a risk!

Everyone then hops back onto the track, and the next player rolls all the dice to start a new round of play. Whoever has the most carrots when one player has at least eight carrots wins!

OK, for this one, there’s nothing left to summarize – it’s all in the short description above.  Clearly, this is targeted to a slightly different demographic than Caverna or Bremerhaven, but it still looks to be an interesting game for the younger set.  Klemens has done his usual superb job at the artwork, and this certainly makes the game more attractive.

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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2 Responses to Dale Yu: Essen Preview of the new games from Lookout Games

  1. xitoliv says:

    Thanks, Dale! (As if I needed more reasons to look forward to Caverna!)

  2. Kerrin says:

    Cant wait to try out Caverna

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