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, and today I cover Raptor, Porta Nigra, and T.I.M.E Stories (no spoilers).
Essen 2015 is in the books. I woke up early, packed, weighed my luggage, and determined I had room for a couple more games. I walked over the main train station for some breakfast. Much to my delight, the SdJ and DSP winners were being featured as part of a games tour.
For breakfast I bought what I thought was a small pastry. Instead they gave me the entire thing! Not bad for about 2.50 Euro.
Inside the Messe
The first thing I did was go sign up for a T.I.M.E Stories demo. I had missed out on the first three days, and when I got there at around 9:45, I saw why: there was already a line! Fortunately I did get signed up.
Then I went to play Among Nobles and a couple of other games. As I travelled from booth to booth, I did some shopping at the used game stands, picking up a few more small card games. (I’m bringing back nearly a dozen!) I also stopped by the Asmodee booth, finding that the Bloody Inn in English was back in stock, so I picked up a copy of that too.
A note on shopping for used games at Essen: if the game is widely available, wait until Sunday to buy it. A lot of the used game booths had even better deals on Sunday. I paid 5 Euro for a copy of one game that was marked down to 3 Euro on Sunday.
As I write this, the BGG Top 10 is: 7 Wonders Duel, 504, Codenames, Mysterium, Baby Blues, The Bloody Inn, T.I.M.E Stories, Celestia, Burger Boss, and Fog of Love. The BGG list is prone to bias from stands close by, and the Fog of Love stand was very close, but the others were not.
The final Fair Play list was: La Granja, Mombasa, Nippon, Signiorie, 7 Wonders Duel, Council of the Fourth, Grand Austria Hotel, Codenames, Isle of Skye, Mysterium, Shakespeare, Discoveries, My Village, and Celestia.
The two lists are obviously at odds. I think the BGG list is more reflective of what I saw on the ground, although I know nothing of Baby Blues or Fog of Love.
The big addition I would have to both lists is Ticket to Ride: UK, which I felt like I saw everywhere. Also, Porta Nigra did better at the convention than I think both lists are conveying.
Thoughts on Games
I’m going to keep this brief. As always, these thoughts are based on at least one full play. These are just first impressions: I’m sure the OG will follow-up with full reviews in the coming weeks.
Raptor (1 Play)
Raptor isn’t on any hotness list, but it looked like a cool two-player game to me, so I sat down for a demo that turned into a full play. And I really enjoyed my play: this is a tense and fun two-player game.
One player takes on the role of a hunter, with the goal of capturing three of the baby raptors. The other player plays the raptors, with the goal of getting three of the baby raptors to safety. The game is card-driven, with players simultaneously revealing their action cards. The player with the lower numbered card uses the cards’ ability, and the player with the higher numbered card gets action points (the number on their card less the number of the other players’ card).
I played the hunter, and trapping the baby raptors can be difficult, althought he game still felt balanced. The production value was excellent (as is always the case with Matagot), and the gameplay was smooth. I’m excited to get a few more plays of this in over the next couple of months, even if I don’t think this is something we’ll be talking about in a year
My Initial OG Rating: I like it.
Porta Nigra (1 1/2 Plays)
This may be Kramer and Kiesling, but it feels more like Stefan Feld. Porta Nigra is point salad: delicious and crunchy point salad, but point salad nonetheless.
The goal of the game is to maximize points… no surprise there. But there are several ways to do it. There are four structures around the board, and building on any of them gives you points in different ways.
The game is driven by an action point allowance system (a favorite of Kramer and Kiesling), but the actions available are determined by which card (of two) you select out of your hand. I hadn’t seen that mechanic before, and I really enjoyed it.
I liked the game. It may be point salad, but with the classic Kramer/Kiesling refinement, and it is my favorite game from that duo in the last few years.
My Initial OG Rating: I love it.
T.I.M.E Stories (My comments are spoiler free!)
I didn’t understand what the hype was all about until I gave it a play, and all I can say now is that the hotness is deserved. This ended up being my second-favorite game of the convention (after 7 Wonders Duel), and I’m really looking forward to getting it home to play with my group.
The game comes with one case… and only one case. But don’t worry: you won’t solve the case on your first play. I’m told that it takes at least six hours to solve the case, which will equate to at least five or six plays. For some people that’s an issue, but I consider five plays out of a game decent value, so it doesn’t bother me. And in the end, you’ll likely need more plays.
You travel back in time to an insane asylum in Paris about a decade ago. You’re given so many “time units” – generally 25 I believe – and are assigned a character with a strength and a weakness. You start out in one location in the Asylum, and you and your fellow characters must explore that location for clues about the case, finding objects along the way.
For various reasons, you might be forced to spend your time units, and when you run out, you appear back in the future, losing all objects along the way. If they are critical to the mission, you’ll need to remember how to get them.
The game is tense, particularly as time units run low. The game system was easy to learn, and the board is beautiful. This is going to be hot for the next few months.
My Initial OG Rating: I love it.
Leaving Essen, and Staying at a Castle
I left the convention around 3:00, sadly missing the opportunity for another spiral fried potato (the line was too long). I’m going to do a wrap up post, but I wanted to discuss my last evening of the trip: a stay at a castle south of the city.
The Schlosshotel Hugenpoet is a beatufiul, moated hotel from the 17th century located a few miles outside of Essen. I’ve enjoyed exploring the castle grounds, and it provided a comfortable place to relax on my last night. There was no gaming here, but I’d still recommend it to future convention attendees as a relaxing wrap up (or start) to the adventure.