So SPIEL in Essen has crept up on me faster than I expected. This will be my first year attending the fair, and I had grand plans to detail for all our loyal readers my experiences preparing to be a first-time Essen attendee. Alas, I get on the plane tomorrow evening (we will be visiting family in Norway before heading to Germany), so I will save you my eloquent narration of all the pesky preparations — like getting a passport for our dog — and jump right into the things that I expect you are all most interested in: all the new games!
What follows is an elevator pitch* for each of the top twenty games that I am looking forward to this year, along with my hopes and fears and general excitement level.
Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends (Vlaada Chvatil)
The Pitch: Vladda reimagines Go for the Magic: The Gathering crowd.
What I’d love: A card-driven tactical combat game that replaces unit movement with pattern recognition (basically Summoner Wars for the Uluru champion).
What I fear: Analysis Paralysis: The Game!
Bruxelles 1893 (Etienne Espreman)
The Pitch: “Trust us; Troyes didn’t look like much at first, either.”
What I’d love: Pearl Games comes through with another hit by mashing up familiar mechanisms in an interesting way.
What I fear: Art Nouveau lacks the charm of medieval castle-building and thus can’t distract from the abstract, mechanical gameplay.
Anticipation: Very high. Pearl Games has earned the benefit of the doubt (Tournay notwithstanding).
Russian Railroads (Helmut Ohley & Leonhard “Lonny” Orgler)
The Pitch: The guys who made Stone Age hired the guys who made 1880 to remake Snowdonia.
What I’d love: A worker-placement-driven train game – Dominant Species meets Steam.
What I fear: Basically Snowdonia on steroids – a train-themed worker-placement game.
Anticipation: Very high, based entirely on blind trust in my GoF friends (even though I know the design is far closer to my fear than my ideal).
Prosperity (Sebastian Bleasdale & Reiner Knizia)
The Pitch: Knizia! Ystari! That other guy from Keyflower!
What I’d love: A meaty, highly interactive game that is also simple – something like Knizia’s Ra, but with power plants and pollution rather than gods and gold.
What I fear: A simplistic game of solitary optimization: take-a-tile, adjust a track, rinse, repeat.
Anticipation: High. This is a low-risk title; I have more confidence in Prosperity being good (though not necessarily great) than in any other game this year.
Glass Road (Uwe Rosenberg)
The Pitch: It’s not (entirely) yet another installment in the Harvest Trilogy!
What I’d love: A 75-minute game of carefully planning simultaneous and secret role selections.
What I fear: A 75-minute game of Citadels (with resource conversion!).
Anticipation: High. I trust the Feuerland guys, and I’m hoping that Uwe has directed all of his Harvest-related impulses toward Caverna instead.
Bremerhaven (Robert Auerochs)
The Pitch: It looks like Le Havre (don’t tell them it’s not Uwe)!
What I’d love: Tactical card play married with logistical optimization – At the Gates of Loyang on a boat.
What I fear: That a first-time designer thought blind bidding might jazz up his otherwise solitary optimization game.
Anticipation: High. I’m not averse to (and may indeed prefer) some chaos and double-think in an otherwise strategic Eurogame.
Martin Wallace’s Totally Renamed Card Game (Martin Wallace)
The Pitch: Martin Wallace does Battle Line! Martin Wallace’s lawyers do battle!
What I’d love: If the game exists and appears at Essen.
What I fear: That the only copies of Martin Wallace’s best game in the last few years are being destroyed as we speak.
Anticipation: For the game itself: High. For the game making it to Essen: I’ll believe it when I see it.
Steam Park (Aureliano Buonfino, Lorenzo Silva, & Lorenzo Tucci Sorrentino)
The Pitch: Real-time, dice rolling . . . oh, who are we kidding? Marie Cardouat draws beautiful (and terrifying) things.
What I’d love: To find any viable alternative to Galaxy Trucker.
What I fear: That the gameplay won’t hold a candle to the premise and artwork.
Anticipation: Moderate-plus. Moderate for the game, plus for the chance at a Cardouat-signed box.
Ginkgopolis: The Experts (Xavier Georges)
The Pitch: More Ginkgopolis! Why does this need a pitch?
What I’d love: A little extra meat to make Ginkgopolis less of an appetizer and more of a main course.
What I fear: Spending $25 on a couple of cards and tiles that I never get to use because I’m always teaching the game to new players.
Anticipation: Moderate. After a rapid twelve plays, the base game has mostly collected dust. Can this reignite the spark of interest?
Citrus (Jeffrey Allers)
The Pitch: A tile-laying majority game that relies on drafting rather than random draws!
What I’d love: Another Seeland – a great under-the-radar thinky tile-layer.
What I fear: Another Seeland – a clever game that only I seem to appreciate.
Anticipation: Moderate. Can Allers design a lighter game that speaks to me? My favorite of his designs – Nieuw Amsterdam – was also his heaviest by far.
Concordia (Mac Gerdts)
The Pitch: Gerdts gives up the rondel for deck-building!
What I’d love: For the spatial elements to take center-stage during play – basically Hansa Teutonica with some resource conversion and deck-building.
What I fear: A bland and fairly solitary VP-engine builder – Antike Duellum without the combat.
Anticipation: Moderate. My favorite Gerdts game was his other non-rondel title, The Princes of Macchu Picchu.
Rampage (Antoine Bauza & Ludovic Maublanc)
The Pitch: A board game version of a video game version of a Saturday afternoon monster movie.
What I’d love: Smash! Smash!
What I fear: (5 minutes later)…more smash, I guess. *yawn*
Anticipation: Moderate-minus. On the one hand, it’s just a silly dexterity game. On the other, I pretty much lived in a video arcade between 1986 and 1991 – I get it.
Legacy: Testament of Duke de Crecy (Michiel Justin Elliott Hendriks)
The Pitch: Ignacy told me it’s good!
What I’d love: I’m not expecting miracles. Something pleasant, along the lines of 2010’s Last Will, would be fantastic.
What I fear: That the hype has vastly outstripped any actual knowledge I have about what this game is or how it plays.
Anticipation: Moderate-minus. Outwardly, it’s just another Eurogame in a year of just-another-Eurogames. At least Ignacy’s blog was fun to read.
A Study in Emerald (Martin Wallace)
The Pitch: Martin Wallace marries Sherlock Holmes, Cthulu, and semi-cooperative gaming to provide a one-of-a-kind experience!
What I’d love: Wallace lives up to his potential and carries the unique premise all the way through to produce an deep, engaging game for actual gamers.
What I fear: The same thing that happened the last few times Wallace was handed someone else’s unique premise – a disjointed game that fails to satisfy either hardcore gamers or theme-enamored casual players.
Anticipation: Low-plus. Although this seems wonky, I’m a Wallace fan and frankly anything weird and novel is particularly refreshing this Essen season.
Mush! Mush! – Snow Tails 2 (Gordon Lamont & Fraser Lamont)
The Pitch: It’s Snow Tails for Dummies!
What I’d love: If Snow Tails 2 feels more like Mario Cart and less like, well, Snow Tails.
What I fear: That, with six days to go, the Lamont Brothers still haven’t found a camera angle at which the components look good.
Anticipation: Low-plus. The gameplay seems like just the kind of improvement I’d wanted to see, but the authors’ secretiveness is reminiscent of film companies that refuse advance screenings of bad movies. I’m wary.
Caverna: The Cave Farmers (Uwe Rosenberg)
The Pitch: Seven-player Agricola. In caves! With spears!
What I’d love: I honestly don’t know. Why do I buy these things?
What I fear: That it won’t be particularly different from Agricola, but still ends up occupying more table time than the rest of this year’s releases combined.
Anticipation: Low. I’ll play, but best-case scenario appears to be replacing another game I own and don’t play.
Keyflower: The Farmers (Sebastian Bleasdale & Richard Breese)
The Pitch: People will buy anything with animeeples.
What I’d love: Something interesting that doesn’t add too much to a game that’s good enough as it is.
What I fear: That the expansion is unnecessary bloat for a game that was already plenty meaty for a quick auction game.
Anticipation: Low. Keyflower was only my 11th favorite game from the last year, so I’m not sure why I need to expand the game.
Yunnan (Aaron Haag)
The Pitch: A zero-luck tactical balancing act between spending meeples to purchase upgrades and saving meeples to use the upgrades you’ve purchased.
What I’d love: Maharaja with auctions – a highly interactive, highly repayable game of running around and scoring points.
What I fear: The traditional infrastructure/VP tipping point game (from the first page of the rules: “Initially, you want to invest your income in progress; towards the end of the game, you will mainly focus on Victory points.”).
Anticipation: Low. I like zero-luck (particularly post-setup) and tactical play, but the game’s replay value is certainly a question mark. Another one-and-done?
Coal Barron (Wolfgang Kramer & Michael Keisling)
The Pitch: It’s Kramer & Keisling! They could sell a game about cleaning toilets, in which you actually clean a little porcelain toilet, and you would probably still buy it.
What I’d love: For two of my favorite designers to pull a rabbit out of a hat for a second time in a year – Palaces of Carrara was equally dull looking, but proved to be a gem.
What I fear: That someone figured out how to make Magnum Sal even more solitary. Anticipation: Low. My hope here resides solely with the moderately interesting scoring mechanism, because digging coal and filling order cards sure ain’t a game I’m dying to play.
Rokoko (Matthias Cramer, Louis Malz, & Stefan Malz)
The Pitch: A new twist on deck-building where you make dresses to show off at the ball. Err…it’s pretty. Umm…three designers are better than one?
What I’d love: I’m honestly not expecting much that suits my taste; something along the lines of a deck-building Helvetia would be fine enough for a few plays.
What I fear: Pretty much any likely outcome. Cramer has yet to make a game I consider above average, and Michael Menzel does some of my least-favorite professional art (it’s not you Michael; it’s me).
Anticipation: Lowest. It’s on the list because it is among the better-known releases this year from an established company and designers. I’ll play it (I might even buy it), but don’t expect a torrid love affair in the coming months.
Well, that’s it for me. Hopefully my next update will be from Deutschland itself! Viel Glück! (or should that be Spiel Glück?)
* Why an elevator pitch? Believe it or not, but this is largely how I go about purchasing games. I’m not a rules reader (and am a rather bad one when I attempt to be). Instead, I tend to form a general sense of a game from little nuggets of info here or there and then just purchase anything that looks vaguely interesting. (This is also how I evaluate games after the fact, as last year’s Handy Guide to Essen will attest).