Essen Day One: What was hot, and what I played… (Chris Wray)

As with my past coverage, I’ll be posting each night about (1) what’s hot, (2) what I played, and (3) general thoughts on the convention.  I didn’t get the chance to play many games today, but I did get 90+% of my shopping done, so I’ll spend the next three days playing games.  Unfortunately, that means I only have two snap reviews tonight, one on Majesty for the Realm and the other on Fast Forward Flee.

What’s Hot

I always find it fun to follow the Fairplay and Geekbuzz lists.  The Fairplay list is less subject to manipulation to publishers, but it doesn’t provide much information early during the convention, and in fact, it provided no details today.  (I last checked the booth around 6:45, and I haven’t since seen anything on their site or Twitter.)  GeekBuzz doesn’t have many voters at this point, and that why when you look at it looks divorced from reality.

So without good outside data, here’s my best guess based on my observations on the ground and conversations with the other Opinionated Gamers.  I’d guess that the hottest new games are (in alphabetical order):

  • 2F’s Fast Forward Series (Fear, Flee, Fortress)
  • Agra
  • Altiplano
  • Azul (Plan B’s booth was extremely crowded this morning.  A lot of folks were there for Azul or Century: Spice Road.)
  • Charterstone (This and Gaia Project led to enormous lines at the Feuerland Spiele booth.)
  • Clans of Caledonia
  • Gaia Project
  • Heaven & Ale
  • Indian Summer
  • Keyper
  • Kosmos Exit Games (I just keep seeing people walking around with stacks of them.)
  • Majesty: For the Realm
  • Meeple Circus
  • Merlin
  • Montana
  • Noria (Probably my pick for hottest game of the convention.  It seems to be everywere.)
  • Nusfjord (The line at Lookout/Mayfair today was consistently long.  They’re moving a lot of product!)
  • Palace of Mad King Ludwig
  • Pandemic Legacy Season 2
  • Photosynthesis (This was released at Gen Con, but I saw people toting it everywhere today.)
  • Santa Maria

I haven’t seen some of the most “thumbed” games on the BGG preview being carried around the halls.  And I’ve seen very few copies of Queendomino, which surprised me.

One of the longest lines I saw this morning was actually for the new Carcassonne mini-expansion.  Carcassonne: Die Märkte zu Leipzig was produced in a signed, limited print run of 600 copies, with 300 being distributed at a prior fair and 300 being distributed at Essen.   By coincidence, I actually got into the HiG line early to get their annual Spiel promo, and the halls opened right then, and within minutes hundreds of people were behind me.  The people at the HiG booth looked awestruck.  I was awestruck… I didn’t realize the competition was so intense for Carcassonne mini expansions and promos!

Another amazing little piece of hotness at Essen is Modern Art.  Yes, Modern Art, the Knizia design first released 25 years ago.  Three different publishers have a new version of the game for show/sale at Spiel this year, and the Oink Games version seems wildly popular, even at an (outrageously high) asking price of 39 Euro.  People (including myself) were clamoring to get it before the halls even opened.  My guess is that only the price has stopped it from selling out.

What I Played



Designer: Friedemann Friese

Publisher: 2f-Spiele, Stronghold Games

Flee is part of a trio of games in the “Fast Forward” line of games put out by Friedemann Friese and 2f.  Each box contains a deck of cards, and the idea is that you don’t have to read a rulebook: the rules are on the cards, and the game teaches you to play as you go along.  The deck is presorted, and the game will also morph mid-game, as was the case with Fabled Fruit.  Dale did a preview of the series a few days ago.

I’m going to avoid spoilers here, but in Flee, you and your teammates are cooperatively trying to avoid a monster.  If your turns starts and the monster is in your play area, everybody loses.  So the entire game is centered around manipulating the turn order and the location of the monster.  As you move your way down the deck, you get new challenges, plus new ways of avoiding the monster.

I had the good fortune of playing with the Noseworthys and Jeff Allers.  Playing games with them was one of the highlights of the convention for me.


Flee being played.  Warning: Do not zoom in on card text if you want to avoid spoilers from near the start of the game (though I seriously doubt you’d be able to read the cards).

There indeed was no rulebook, and we jumped right in by reading the ground rules from cards.  The game was a bit slow at the start — almost like it was ramping up with a tutorial — but by the second act, we had interesting decisions to make, and we were cooperatively plotting out the best way to avoid the monster.  And I was intrigued by what would come next in the deck.  Ultimately, we lost three cards before the third act.

I have to quibbles with the game.  First, though there is no rulebook, you do still have to stop and interpret rules, which is understandable, but the text on the cards could be a bit verbose and interpreting rules as a group can be time consuming.  Second, on a new playthrough, this will almost certainly have a little bit of that T.I.M.E Stories route optimization, but this was a bit more dry than time stories.

Overall, I’d play it again, and I know I’m going to because my group in Kansas City will love this.  And I’m looking forward to trying Fear and Fortress.


My Initial OG Rating: I like it.




Designer: Marc Andre

Publisher: Hans im Gluck, Z-Man

I first played Majesty for the Realm back at the Gathering of Friends when it was codenamed Middle Ages.  The game was my most-anticipated Essen game — literally my top pick — and I was disappointed late last week when I was told that Majesty wouldn’t be getting an English release at Spiel ’17.

Though I couldn’t purchase it, I could play it: HiG has English copies set up, and their employees were able to teach me and two very kind Germans to play the game.

The game lasts 12 rounds, and each round, you draft a card.  There are six on display, the first one is free, and you add worker meeples if you want to take a later one, kind of like how you use coins to draft races in Small World.

Each color of card has a special ability that helps build your kingdom.  They can help you score points, attack other players, etc.  So after you pick your card, you put it in the kingdom.  That’s it: each decision is small. But each decision also has a big effect.  The abilities stack, so it behooves you to focus on one kind of card.  Plus, the player with the most of each card color gets a bonus.  But, players get a bonus for having as many colors of cards in their kingdom as possible, so you have to weigh becoming overly strong in one card type.

So though you make 12 small decisions, it feels like you’re playing a much bigger game.

Here’s my conclusion: Majesty is fantastic.  It is everything I loved about the prototype, plus some of the best board game art I’ve seen, and it has nice weighty plastic tokens.  Marc Andre (of Splendor fame) shows his game design genius, taking the “micromovements” he’s known for and working them into a clever game.

Is this better than Splendor or Century: Spice Road and other micromovement games?  Probably not: I suspect there’s a larger element of randomness here.  But Majesty feels deep, my decisions feel meaningful, and it plays very quickly.  Add in the fact that it has some of the best artwork at Essen, and I can’t wait for this to hit US shores.  This is going to be big.

My Initial OG Rating: I love it!

Despite being a group that writes back and forth most days, the Opinionated Gamers rarely meet in person, in part because we live on three different continents.  Even those of us that live on the same continent are spread out.

Several members of the group are staying at the same hotel, so we met up tonight for games.  We didn’t get a picture together, but here’s a fun one of me, the Noseworthys, and Brian playing Pocket Mars (though I’m taking the picture and am not in it), with other OGers gaming in the background.  It was nice to see everybody and play some games!


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8 Responses to Essen Day One: What was hot, and what I played… (Chris Wray)

  1. Thanks for the report! Good stuff, and you are right about Fairplay… no results whatsoever on Thursday (which is fine, I guess, though inquiring minds want to know!!!)

  2. jaxommm says:

    Is Majesty language independent?

    • Chris Wray says:

      For the most part, once you know how to play, yes. There are German names on the cards, and a couple of words, but they don’t affect gameplay if you know what the cards do.

  3. Melissa says:

    We should have taken a photo! Oops!

  4. Matt says:

    So is Majesty available in other languages? Looks like your peer got a copy:

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