Nearly twenty years ago now, Mike Siggins wrote in one of his excellent Essen wrap-ups in Sumo: “What is certain is that on the evidence of Essen, the German hobby is still a hundred times more active than our own, underlying problems notwithstanding, and that the half dozen decent games we gamers can reliably expect have never failed to materialise.” While the difference in the activity in the hobby seems to have changed, I’ve found Mike’s assessment of a half-dozen decent games as a very accurate way to look at Essen – no matter how much the event has grown, I still tend to look for, and find, around six decent games each year. There are exceptions – 2013 brought far more than six games to my collection – but it’s usually spot-on.
Still, I was curious – does this metric apply to others? And, of equal interest to me – which are the half-dozen decent games from this year’s Essen? So I sent out a note to the Opinionated Gamers, receiving a half-dozen replies – plus ten.
As to the first question, the responses were essentially unanimous – Mike’s standard applies just as much in 2014 as it did back in 1995. Most responses indicated that the precise number might differ a little from year-to-year, but coming up with exactly six games felt like the right number. Some folks indicated that six wasn’t necessarily a natural breakpoint in 2014, but the numbers suggested were all clustered in the same area, ranging from four to eight.
So, what did your Opinionated Gamers see as the decent games of Essen 2014? Surprisingly, given the diversity of opinions, there was one game which was listed by more than half of responses – Abraca…what? This was a bit of a surprise, as while I’ve seen the game well received by most groups, I wouldn’t have expected it to stand out sufficiently to necessarily make top-six lists. Another game, Deus, did nearly as well, appearing on seven lists; that was less of a surprise as I’ve frequently heard this listed as a hit for folks. The third most frequently mentioned game was Mysterium, followed by a four-way tie for fourth between The Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Colors of Kasane, Fresh Fish, and Hyperborea. Other games mentioned on multiple lists include Alchemists, Aquasphere, Boom: Runaway, Coup: Guatemala 1954, Five Tribes (which might have been listed more had more folks considered it to be an Essen release), Hansa Teutonica: Britannia, La Isla, Mangrovia, Nations: The Dice Game, Orleans, Patchwork, Ravens of Thri Sahashri, Rolling Japan, Terra Mystica: Fire and Ice, Versallies, Villannex, and Witness.
Of course, many of the Opinionated Gamers writers are still working their way through the Essen backlog. Will Abraca…what? and Deus remain at the top of the heap as folks continue playing more releases? I suspect they will both remain near the top, given the breadth of support so far, but beyond that the other games will vary quite a bit. Ravens of Thri Sahashri, for instance, has only been played by two Opinionated Gamers so far – but both listed it; perhaps with wider exposure it will be recognized by more as one of the half-dozen decent games of Essen 2014.
So – what are _your_ half-dozen decent games from Essen 2014?
Thoughts of other Opinionated Gamers:
Greg Schloesser: I am still making my way through the Essen releases, and am waiting on many more to arrive. The only one I’ve really enjoyed so far is Castles of Mad King Ludwig. La Isla is also good, but I don’t think it is going to elevate beyond “good”. I have high hopes for several others, but so far I’ve not been terribly impressed by this year’s crop of games.
Larry: Actually, I usually find considerably more than half a dozen “decent” games from each year’s Essen. The key, of course, is how one defines decent. I’ve chosen to define it as a game I’m quite happy to play (will hardly ever veto) and will sometimes suggest. Taking that standard, I looked back at my ratings from 1999 (when I first began seriously playing German games) to 2013. Unfortunately, I don’t know which games were Essen titles, but it’s pretty safe to say that most years at least 75% of the notable games debut during Essen. Anyway, the number of my “decent” games per year varies from 8 to 21. That’s a significant variance. Using my 75% rule, it’s looks like even the worst years have at least 6 decent designs, but the best ones have two or three times that many. By the way, my number of decent games tends to increase over time. I attribute that mostly to the fact that more games are released today than there were 15 years ago and that number has been steadily increasing. It also seems that there are considerably more games I consider good, but not great these days than there used to be.
What if I chose to define “decent” as games that I give an OG rating of “I love it”? In that case, the number of games would fall below Mike’s half dozen standard. Most years, I have fewer than 6 games I love which appeared over the course of the entire year, much less at Essen. The number of great games, though, has stayed fairly constant per year over the 15 years I considered. For me, at least, greatness doesn’t vary with time, but decency does!
W Eric Martin: Joe presented us OG writers with this quote from Siggins and asked for a list of a half-dozen games that fit the category. I supplied that list, but my list of decent games would easily hit double digits, decent being a low bar to clear on the way to excellence, supremacy and rapturous bliss.
Also, the categorization of which games qualify as Spiel releases has blurred in the past couple of years, with European titles spilling over into Gen Con (Abyss) and U.S. releases washing up in Essen (Red7) and limited releases that make you wonder whether or not something qualifies as released or not (both Five Tribes and Samurai Spirit at Gen Con 2014). I don’t tend to worry about such things, but they do become issues for those making lists.
Lorna: Well I easily find at least a half dozen games I consider decent at each Essen. I have a reasonably broad palate and enjoy different types of games for many reasons. To me the expansion of the the hobby has certainly brought so much more opportunity for any given individual to find games they like. I love that designers from so many countries are entering the market, it’s not just Germany but designers from the 4 corners of the world that are all making their mark. Their cultural and individual perspectives make the world of board gaming so much more interesting to me now I can’t imagine going back. There are so many more of each type of theme to choose from, new takes on old mechanisms, new mechanisms etc, that I suspect if you can’t find at least a dozen games you consider decent you aren’t looking hard enough.
Dale: Like Lorna, I also generally don’t have a problem finding six games that I consider at least decent. For me, this exercise is more about paring the list down to ONLY six! Now, I’ll admit, that I may have a slight numbers advantage in this process as I’ve already played 94 “Essen 2014 releases” – though the definition of this is a bit loose. In any event, I think even the most jaded Eurogamer would find at least 6 decent games in a pool that large! (I also had to abstain from rating/ranking a number of games this year that I have personally worked on…)
Though ratings are sure to change over time, and many of my ratings may only be based on between one and three plays, I currently have 11 Essen 2014 releases that are “I love it!” and 32 games that are “I like it”. My overall impression of 2014 is that there are a lot of good to really good games but thus far very few stand-out “instant classic” games that I feel that I’ll definitely be playing ten years from now. I’ve been very happy with the variety of games I’ve played thus far.
Andrea “Liga” Ligabue: six is a good number but seven, eight, five could be good as well. Of course, the real problem about Essen 2014 releases are Essen 2015 releases. I think some games need time to consolidate and there are a lot of games I really would like to play more than 3-4 times but the newcomers are knocking on the door. I was lucky to have sons that are growing up looking the piles of games stored on the stairs in my home and sometimes asking me to play something not really new. The second problem is to have a real good definition of Essen’s releases … nowadays games are released almost with continuity during the year especially if I wait the localization.
It would be great to have time to play a game at least 5 times in an year and some games are like good balsamic vinegar needing time to make emerge their true flavor.
I’m still waiting to play most of the Essen’s releases but if I could stop the time today there are some titles impressing me and I’m sure I would like to play for many years:
Hyperborea: is one of the best games wisley shaking german mechanic and strong theme. Some new real good ideas, something old smartly refreshed with a gorgeous outfit.
Richard I: probably the greatest 2014 surprise. A game that really works well with up to 8 players working in team but rushing for a solo victory. A really balanced game of strategy and planning. Great
Versailles: one of the few novelty in the crowded worker-placement group. A tense and well designed games often ending in an engaging last point challenge.
Imperialism: Road to Domination: a well designed and well themed game with a strong core mechanics and all the needed special effects. Really good.
Dark Tales: a light 2-4 players games with a nice mechanic and a great outfit. Not a really deep strategic games but a filler I’m sure I would like to play and play again.
Tiny Epic Kingdoms: not really an Essen release but I got my copy close to Essen. A well designed filler with strategy and theme that you can bring almost everywhere. Great