Essen Day One: Thoughts from a First Time Attendee
Note: This is my first time attending Essen, so in my entries this week I’m discussing the convention from the perspective of a first time attendee. I’m also providing snap reviews of games: below I talk about Ticket to Ride United Kingdom and Skyliners. These are just first impressions: I’m sure the OG will follow-up with full reviews in the coming weeks.
If I had to pick one word to describe the first day of Essen, I would go with “overwhelming.” The halls have hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of games for sale. Every kind of game is available, often in several different languages, with options spanning three or four decades. At least 800 new titles were released leading up to today and today. Tens of thousands of gaming enthusiasts flooded into the building at 10:00am this morning, and by noon, one of the biggest buildings I’ve ever been in was packed and teeming with excitement for board games.
The size of the convention is hard to get your head around until you’ve seen it. But for some perspective, there are several booths at Essen bigger than the largest FLGS I’ve been in. Most booths are smaller — think of a typical booth at a fair or carnival — but there are hundreds of them. And the number of gamers attending is enormous: the halls — which must have double, triple or even quadruple the floor space of Gen Con — were absolutely packed. (My understanding is that Gen Con attracts a similar number of people, but at Gen Con people often don’t hang out in the exhibition hall.)
But the coolest part of Essen is who was here. Thousands of German families — often spanning three or more generations — showed up to support the hobby and buy a few games to play over the next year. It was cool to see how games are viewed here versus back at home.
What I bought and picked up…
I spent most of the day shopping, snagging promos, exploring the Messe, and talking with designers and publishers.
My shopping is nearly complete — I’ve got room in my suitcase for maybe two or three more medium sized games plus a few smaller games — but here’s a partial list of purchases: T.I.M.E Stories, Ticket to Ride United Kingdom & Pennsylvania, Russian Railroads: German Railroads, Porta Nigra, 504, Zug um Zug Deutschland 1902, and Skyliners. I also bought several used games (there’s a great market for that here).
I spent a huge part of the day picking up promos, including: Ticket to Ride Orient Express (a mini expansion for Ticket to Ride Europe), Cacao Volcanoes, two expansions for Snowdonia, two expansions for Caverna, new characters for The Voyages of Marco Polo, Zooloretto Kiwi, some Carcassone tiles, bonus tiles for Limes, the “On Fire” tiles for The Game, and extra cards for Mysterium.
I played a few games, but only a couple are worth mentioning: Ticket to Ride United Kingdom and Skyliners. My plan is to spend more of the day tomorrow playing games, so that’s when I’ll do the most first impressions.
My Favorite Moments
I met dozens of designers and publishers today, but here are my favorite interactions from the day:
- Interviewing Dirk Henn for the SdJ series. The next entry in the series is Alhambra, and I had written most of the article, but I had been unable to talk to Dirk Henn. He was hanging around the Queen Games booth today, and thanks to Dale alerting me to that fact, I asked if he’d do an interview. I’ve interviewed many of the SdJ designers, but this was my first in-person interview, and it was a blast. He’s an incredibly fun and funny guy, and Alhambra has a cool backstory.
- Meeting Jeff Allers and Richard Ham. I had set up a meeting with Jeff Allers, a writer for this site, to get a demo of Citrus, his game that has a new edition being released at Essen. We were talking about the game when Richard Ham — a.k.a. Rahdo — stopped by to talk to Jeff. I’m a big fan of Rahdo’s run throughs — he is one of my favorite video reviewers — so getting to hear him and Jeff talk about game design was fascinating stuff.
- Playing Ticket to Ride United Kingdom with two people from Britain, one of whom works as a railroad executive there. The game is excellent, but the conversation about the map was hilarious. Let’s just say that the are several alleged Duluth-like situations. Also, while Cambridge is present, Oxford is not.
There are countless other experiences. You never know who you’re going to meet at Essen, especially if you spend any time with the Brothers Yu. (Another highlight of the day: dinner at a German restaurant with them… they’ve really got the good local places picked out!)
Ticket To Ride United Kingdom
I’ve always heard Ticket to Ride: Märklin described as the “gamer’s version” of Ticket to Ride. Well move over, Märklin, because there’s a new map pack in town that is arguably better for gamers: Ticket to Ride United Kingdom and Pennsylvania.
As the name suggests, there’s a new map. In my limited experience, that map can be cutthroat like the previously-released India or Switzerland maps. There’s also a ten-train route that can be built to receive 40 points (which I believe is the longest route in the entire TTR series). But the big addition to the game are technology trees, which turned out to be an excellent addition.
I thought this would add quite a bit of complexity, but that is not the case. The technologies — which can be paid for with locomotives (or four cards that are traded for a locomotive) — are basically special benefits. Some have to be purchased before you can build in certain places on the map — for example, you need one tech to build in Wales or Scotland, one to build on ferries, and another to use double track. Other provide bonuses: for example, one card makes it where any three cards can be traded for a locomotive (instead of four), and another gives two extra points per completed extra ticket. Which techs you take becomes part of your strategy and hand management, and it can make the difference between winning and losing. It works really well, and it does add some depth to the game.
It is hard to say after one play, but I think this has the chance to end up becoming my favorite TTR map. I haven’t played the Pennsylvania side, but at first glance the United Kingdom side makes the expansion worth the price.
My Initial OG Rating: I love it!
Skyliners caught my attention because of how it looked and who published it: it is a Hans im Gluck game that looks very similar to Manhattan (a game HiG released), so I expected that this would basically be a new iteration.
I was wrong. The closest thing to Skyliners I’ve played is Pueblo, a Kramer/Kiesling game that was a strong SdJ contender a few years ago.
Skyliners is easy to learn, but considerable depth. At the start of the game each player takes the pieces of their color: there are floors, roofs, and parks. One your turn, you simply place a piece, and the game ends when all pieces are placed. You can place a piece almost anywhere. It’s that simple. Scoring happens at the end of the game.
There are three ways to score: for the buildings you see from your edge of the board, for the buildings with your piece on the roof, and for having the tallest building be in the randomly-selected region you drew at the start of the game.
You get one point for each building you see from your edge of the board. So if the first column in front of you had size 1, size 2, size 4, size 3, and size 5 buildings, you’d get four points: you wouldn’t be able to see the size 3 over the size 4. Conversely, if the first building were size 5 instead, you would only get one point because you wouldn’t see the buildings after it.
You get points for having your piece on the roof based on moving around the table and putting the pieces on the first available spot on the left.
Overall is it is a simple, family-friendly strategy game that would make a great intro game. It plays in about 20 minutes, and I think it should be generating more convention buzz than it is.
My Initial OG Rating: I like it.
The first day was incredibly fun, but I’m tired! More to come tomorrow.