Essen 2014 Quick Reviews and Previews Japon Brand

Essen Quick Previews-Okazu Games

Isaribi   by Hisashi  Hayashi will make  its Essen debut this fall.  The designer is one of my favorites with a diverse portfolio of games that I enjoy playing and admire for the innovations such as the String series, Sail to India, Trains, Patronize and Trick of the Rails.

Isaribi which refers to the lights on fishing boats at night on the sea is a pick up and deliver game. The mechanism is action based. You start with 1.5 actions.  On your turn you fish, upgrade technology, move or sell fish to the market. Of course there are always more things that  you want to do than you have actions. The number of fish you can collect and the speed at which you move is limited by your tech. The type and amount of fish you can sell is limited by your market and actions. There is a bit of luck in the market determination because it is random card draw. The game is over in 5 rounds so things move along pretty quickly.

Overall Isaribi is a solid game although perhaps not quite as innovative as some of Hayashi’s other games. What really helps raise this game for me above other pick up and deliver games is the fantastic art in the game by Ryoko Hayashi. It’s done in  Ukiyo-e style, a Japanese art movement during the Edo period and feels very thematic.

 Thoughts from the Other Opinionated Gamers

 Joe Huber (6 plays): Lorna’s summary is spot on.  The game is interesting, but what really makes the game is the artwork.  There’s frequently a feel of not having anything to do, or enough to do, on your turn, which is frustrating; the decision to use half-actions is also – unusual, if somewhat justified by the fishing and selling rules.  But these concerns don’t take away from the enjoyment of the game.


Jennifer Geske (3 plays): Totally agree with Lorna and Joe about the artwork. I think the game offers a good balance between long-term strategy (upgrading your actions/net capacity, going out to get more fish, etc.) and short-term (sometimes inefficient) sure gains. The situation where one has nothing to do happens when every player decides to do more or less the same thing each round. After all, fishing is a hard way to make a living :-)


Doug Garrett (1 play):  Only 1 play under my belt at this point; the artwork IS wonderful, though I think the game is just OK.  More plays may reveal some greater depth or enjoyment, but I agree with Joe’s comment about frustration.


I Love It:

I Like It: Lorna, Joe, Jennifer, John P

Neutral: Doug

Not for Me:


Edo Yashiki also by Okazu and Hayashi is quick tile placement game. Also set in the Edo period this game is about building the most prestigious house. It’s kind of like “keeping up with Jones.”

The basic mechanisms of the game are card selection and placement. It feels like a cross between Hanging Gardens and Factory Fun. The cards have 6 sections and you are trying to score columns or rows of same sections of at least 3 length. Cards equal to the number of players are placed, and everyone grabs one and then places it to maximize their score. The challenge is trying to score more than one thing at a time (which I haven’t mastered yet!)  naturally there are rules about how and where you can place the tiles and the advanced game is a bit more challenging.

Makes a nice little filler. I think it will take a few more plays to for me to score better.


I Love It:

I like It: Lorna, Jennifer

Neutral:  Joe

Not for Me:



— Some capsule previews from Jonathan Franklin —


Ninja Taisen – Easiest to think of as a Battle Line relative – After an initial setup of ninjas to protect ‘your side of the line’, your turn is rolling three dice (red, green, and blue), then you you use the dice rolled to move your ninja of that die’s color that many spaces towards your opponent’s end of the line or fight.  If there are ninjas on both sides of that location, they fight!  Rock-scissors-paper is the battle idea, so you need to use your dice/moves to strategically place your ninjas to be able to win battles.  You win when you reach the opponent’s village or eliminate their forces.


Little Witches – It uses a string.  The string connects the witch to its spiritus.   Look at the board here –  The white outlines of the spaces show circles, triangles, and squares.  Each of those shapes has three colors inside it.  To complete a magical circle, the teacher tries to place exactly six footprints on the six identical shapes that have a particular color.  The teacher cannot place a footprint where a student is standing.  Students may move (only one end of the string), pick up ingredients, or flip footprints.  Teachers are trying to complete circles.  Students are trying to earn group points by disrupting the teacher’s plans.


The Edict of KIng Budeaunia – The basic idea is that there are stacks of tiles that must be explored to find the hot spring the king is seeking.  You use workers to seek the springs in the piles of tiles.  There are three levels of tiles, so the stack is deep tiles at the bottom, then middle tiles on top, then shallow times on top of those.  Each turn has three phases – decide whether or not to buy a guard who will give you an extra action in exchange for 2 money – Take two actions (investigate, dig, fight, or hire) or take one double action (detonate).  For one action, you can look at 3 tiles unless you hit loam, dig a tile and gain the reward, fight a monster found on a tile with the combat die, or hire a specialist (one of you starting special cards).  Detonate takes both actions, but you gain extra points if the top card is loam.   You continue to earn money, but the winner is the one who finds the spring.  If two players find springs, the one with the most money wins.


Ars Alchimia – More in the vein of a classic Euro, you are gaining resources to fill orders.  The board primarily holds cards.  Players transmute snow, fire, mana, and sand into daily, industrial, mythic, and academic items.  In addition, the orders for those items have a needed quality, so A is top quality while C is low quality.  Each player starts with 9 workers.  The twist is that if you want to go to a location where someone else already is, you must pay at least one worker more than the previous player on that spot.  When you run out of workers, your turn is over.  After four rounds, the game ends. The heart of the game appears to be the efficient use of the workers as well as some good fortune at the forges when you transmute resources into items.


The Ravens of Thri Sahashri – This innovative two player co-op game is about one player trying to help the other player recover memories. There are 35 cards, each with one of five colors and one of seven numbers.  In addition, each card has four quadrants that are either clear (no crosshatching) or faded (crosshatching).  In addition, there are five raven cards that make things harder.  Ren, who has lost her memory, takes four memory cards and places them face down in front of her in a column.  These are her hidden memories.  Feth, who is helping Ren recover her memories, starts with one memory card in the middle of the table face up.  Feth may draw as many cards as he wants, but if the deck runs out, the players lose.  After Feth has stopped drawing cards, from the cards Feth drew, he places as many of the drawn cards as he can on the card(s) in the middle so that at least one faded memory on each card is covered by a faded memory on the new card.  Feth’s goal is to create a block of the same color that adds up to exactly 7 while also creating as diverse an array of numbers and colors because Ren takes one card from the puzzle and places it next to one of the four face down cards she has, building a horizontal poem from her four cards, so the top three rows must equal 7 and the final row must equal 5. She cannot start the second line of her poem until the first one is finished, so Feth is trying to provide her with the materials she needs for her to create her poem.  The game is even more complex than this description – it is astounding what the human mind can create.


One World and Code of Nines – A four player worker placement/wacky card game that can be played by three.  Memory cards in this game have numbers and effects.  The numbers determine the order in which cards are activated. The game is played in five rounds and the board shows the actions available for each round.  In addition to the static board, there are location cards that become part of the board and create variability  Players have two hidden cards, a Shoal card and an Abyss card.  These are placed on the player mat which also has a will tracker and a space for goods.  Each round, each player gets three actions to use any actions shown on the board for that round or any previous rounds.  Once a worker is placed, no other workers may go on that space.  Every location on the board has an action, including letting you peek at other cards.  The hidden cards that each player has affect how the various items obtained during the game are going to be scored.  Highest score after all memory cards have been applied wins.


Isaribi – A beautiful Euro-style worker placement game about fishing in the Edo era.  The central board has different fishing zones that are progressively further out.  The further out you go, the more valuable the fish caught there.  In addition, there are market cards that may affect demand for that turn.  After setting up for the round, players may fish by hand or net, move their boat, sell their catch, improve their boat/nets/abilities, or flip a market card.  Players may also drop out of the round early.  After each player places their boat in the first fishing ground or the harbor, players take actions,   If you are fishing, you may use action points to move or fish then move again.  The number of action points depends on the quality of your boat.  Fishing with nets uses more action points, but can catch you more fish.  Moving out gains you more valuable fish at the cost of more action points.  In addition, you may move from the harbor to the fishing area or vice versa for one action point, so your initial boat placement has more to do with your likely first action of the turn. The special abilities are beautiful cards that change the rules of the game for the holder.  Most money after five rounds wins.


About lornadune

Board game enthusiast
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