Ben McJunkin – An Essen First-Timer: Day 2

Today was my third day (second official) of experiencing the SPIEL fair in Essen.  It was a very different day than the last two.  There was little shopping left – I picked up Caverna, Yunnan, and 2-F’s Folder set.  And there was actually much less playing and demoing than I expected as well (don’t worry, there was still some).  Why were things so different, you ask?

Lesson 9: Things Will Go Wrong.  It’s inevitable.  You plan.  You prepare.  You map out your routes through the halls.  You pack two outfits for each day.  You bring medicine for diseases that were eradicated last century.  Still, something will find a way to throw a wrench into your plans.

She looks so innocent, right?

This is Kookaburra.  She’s a veteran traveler.  She’s flown cross-country on numerous occasions, made herself at home in more hotel rooms than I can count, and greatly enjoyed her recent trip to Norway, during which we stayed in a rustic cabin in the middle of nowhere.  Naturally, Kookaburra joined my wife and I for our trip to Essen.  There’s only one problem.  Kookaburra hates Germany.

That’s the only way I can explain it.  She’s been a bit on edge ever since we landed in Dusseldorf, and apparently she decided to engage in some neurotic barking while my wife and I were out.  So now she cannot be left alone in the hotel room.  Which means that my wife and I had to alternate our trips to the halls today, which much wasted time spent walking to or from the fair while the other one of us unwrapped and punched our new games (to lighten the checked bags).

So when things inevitably go wrong, you’ve just got to roll with it.  We hired a dogsitter for part of tomorrow morning, so I’ll try to get a little more time in the halls tomorrow. (And then I intend to spend the afternoon gaming).

Lesson 10: Bring a Buddy.  It turns out that Essen is just less fun when you’re wandering the halls completely alone.  Perhaps it just takes some assertiveness that I lack, but I found it particularly difficult to get involved in the games that most interested me.  At one point, I sat down at an open table of American Rails in the hopes of drumming up at least a demo, but I never got more than some glances from a few passersby, and one comment on the use of paper money.  Getting at least half the table filled would have gone a long way toward generating more interest.

Even when I managed to get in a play of a game that I was eager to try, it’s just a little less fun to be nasty to random strangers, such as when I played a secret card to spring a customs agent on an unsuspecting player in Cornish Smuggler.  If that had been Tom Rosen on the other end of that confiscation, you can bet I would have been laughing about it for weeks.

Relatively early. I had not yet shown Yellow my true colors.

Lesson 11: Döner is Your Friend.  Given the need for an early night (by this point in the fair, it seems everyone is sore and exhausted), Dale and Brian Yu offered to get a quick dinner with my wife and I.  We had fantastic Döner (aka Schwarma) Pizza at a little place in Ruttenscheid (which was kind enough to allow our dog inside).

Gratuitous picture to make Christian Leonhard jealous.

The night before, I had an awesome Döner Sandwich near the train station with some buddies (and I don’t care what you say, Larry, the bread was still the star).  It’s one of the best cheap eats the city has to offer, and it is offered in spades.

Actual Gaming Notes.  Unfortunately today, it’s just a few quick hits.  It was just that kind of day.

Cornish Smugglers ended up not quite working for me, despite the opportunities for nastiness.  The game is largely about turning a little money into a lot of money by buying goods and smuggling them around a map.  The core ideas are clever, but I found the centrality of card synergies not to my liking (you basically build up a network of associates to assist you, and the better the randomly available cards happen to fit together, the better off you will be).  I also thought that the game’s micro turns were not quite polished.  Players each take one action at a time until the whole table passes, but some actions are big and wipe out a whole round’s worth of resources, while some actions are small and need to be taken five or more times per round.  So there was a lot of unevenness in the amount of time players spent actually playing.

Fields of Glory: The Card Game was interesting enough on a first play.  We really didn’t tap into the strategy of the pre-fight deck building at all, and many of the battles were pretty lopsided.  Even though it’s relatively simple for a Martin Wallace game, my comparison to Battle Line was likely misplaced.  It should likely hold more appeal to the tactical skirmish gamers – those who like, say, Summoner Wars – than to the Knizia fans.

Gluk Auf / Coal Barron was a very smooth middleweight game.  It’s exactly the kind of thing I expect to get played a lot at the fair – the options are easy to understand, which few rule exceptions and simple systems.  With an experienced group, it could likely run as short as 45 minutes. I’m not sure there’s enough meat on the bones for me, however.  It’s basically a worker placement game with a cycle of actions that everyone roughly follows – get money, buy coal, collect orders, move coal, then ship coal.  The worker spaces are not exclusive (though late-commers have to spend more workers), so the game mainly seemed to be about finding a place in the cycle that made your use of workers most efficient.  At the end of each round (there are only three), players score points for first- and second- pluralities in a number of areas, but the cards containing this info are intended to be hidden (yet are trackable).  I’m glad to have played it and would try it again, but I would likely be fine not owning the game.

Concordia is currently getting some buzz, and I am eager to get that to the table soon, despite being fairly ambivalent about it upon my read of the rules (I happened to get my box signed, as well, so I have a vested interest in a positive outcome).  I believe I have a session of Wildcatters scheduled for tomorrow, which I am extremely excited about.

Sorry for the short (and picture-deficient) update.  Thanks for reading!

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6 Responses to Ben McJunkin – An Essen First-Timer: Day 2

  1. Tom Rosen says:

    You can bet I’m going to keep my eye on you if we ever play this Cornish Smuggler game! Or any game I suppose.

    I’m jealous of the food too, but not so much the plethora of Yu’s.

    Sorry to hear Kookaburra went a bit crazy. See Scout on the other hand would never trick me into taking her overseas by ever acting calm, so there’s my silver lining.

    • McJarvis says:

      I’d like another picture of the growing game purchases, unless that has all but stopped by now.

    • McJarvis says:

      Of course, Scout would have the advantage of helping to clear lines for hot games so you could get right to the front of the line. You need to think more aggressively, Tom.

  2. Jimmy says:

    Sadly your thoughts on Cornish Smuggler match what I was afraid of. Still hoping to hear about Concordia… has anything you’ve played so far excited you?

  3. will sargent says:

    Big thanks for these interesting Essen reports guys, but one thing concerns me: You burn all that oil across the skies to eat machine-recovered compressed mutton and horse meat on a pizza?????!!! That’s almost as bad as dining in a Maccy Ds!

  4. Yoki says:

    Döner am Bahnhof is the place with the best kebab in Essen. I didn’t even know that you had your wife and dog along, now I’m sad I missed meeting them.

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