Essen Day 2: What is hot, and what I played… (Chris Wray)

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For me, Friday at Essen means more time playing games and less time shopping.  This posts covers several topics: (1) what’s hot, (2) the International Gamers Award ceremony, and (3) what I played.

What’s Hot

As always, I discuss the Fairplay and Geekbuzz lists.

Here’s the Fairplay list of this evening, in the same order they appear on the list:

  • Gaia Project
  • Clans of Caledonia
  • Altiplano
  • Azul
  • Bunny Kingdom
  • Clank!
  • Heaven & Ale
  • Notre Dame (10th Anniversary Edition)
  • Majesty for the Realm
  • Rajas of the Ganges
  • Memoarrr!

Here are the top 10 on the BGG buzz list:

  • Azul
  • Charterstone
  • Clans of Caledonia
  • Dragonsgate College
  • Altiplano
  • Anachrony
  • Noria
  • Fog of Love
  • Photosynthesis
  • Agra

These lists are starting to resemble the reality I’m seeing on the ground.  The Fairplay list seems more accurate to me, but always, the truth is probably somewhere in between, and if a game is on both lists, its’ having a good convention.  (The games on both lists are: Altiplano, Azul, and Clans of Caledonia.)

Studying the BGG list for a moment, I don’t know much about Anachrony — I don’t recall seeing people carrying it around — and I’ve made fun of Fog of War before for taking advantage of being next to the BGG booth.

Two games that are missing from both lists have a strong bias working against them.  Pandemic Legacy Season 2 and Charterstone are both extraordinarily hot games at the convention, but the Fairplay honor system is that you won’t rate a game unless you play it.  Since almost nobody wants to play a legacy game at a convention, both of those games are at a disadvantage, despite their enormous popularity.

I stand by my list yesterday when describing what’s hot: 2F’s Fast Forward Series (Fear, Flee, Fortress), Agra, Altiplano, Azul, Charterstone, Clans of Caledonia, Gaia Project, Heaven & Ale, Indian Summer, Keyper, Kosmos Exit Games, Majesty For the Realm, Meeple Circus, Merlin, Montana, Noria, Nusfjord, Palace of Mad King Ludwig, Pandemic Legacy Season 2, Photosynthesis, and Santa Maria.  I’m adding Raja of the Ganges, which I did seeing being purchased frequently today.

So who’s having a really good convention?  Plan B Games and Feuerland Spiele.  They’ve both had enormous lines, and I haven’t been able to get a demo of their games because it was so crowded.  Plan B’s Azul is hot, Century Spice Road seems well-loved, and their new partnership with eggerspiele (maker of Heaven & Ale) was smart.  For Feuerland, they’ve released Gaia Project and Charterstone, plus the Fields of Arle expansion, all of which have been well-received.

The International Gamers Award Ceremony

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The International Gamers Awards were presented by OG’s Melissa Rogerson at 1:00 today at the BGG booth.  Melissa gave a great presentation!  Congratulations to the winners this year: Great Western Trail in the multiplayer category, and Arkham Horror: The Card Game in the two-player category.

What I Played

Azul

Azul.jpg

AZUL

Designed by Michael Kiesling

Published by Plan B Games

Dale did a review of Azul earlier this month, so I’m going to be brief on the rules explanation.  A number of “factories” are set out; the number varies by the number of players, and we had nine for our four-player game.  Each factor receives four tiles.

On your turn, you can take all of the tiles of a color from a factory.  The rest go into the middle.  You can, instead of taking from a factory, take all of the tiles of a color from the middle, but the first player to do this become start player for the next round and loses a point.

You have a board of five rows, with the first row having one space, the second have two, etc.  You want to complete a row by filling it with matching tiles.  At that point, it carries onto your grid, and you score points for tiles next to it already on the grid.  At the end of the game, you also score points for completing columns, rows, and getting all five tiles of a particular color.  The game ends when one player has completed a row, and at that point the player with the most points wins.

Azul.jpg

I had the good fortune of playing this with Jeff Allers, plus a fellow gamer from the U.K. and another from France.  The word used during gameplay was “smooth.”  Your decision is simple enough — pick the set of tiles you want and choose what row to put them in — but the design of the game is such that it is a decision of enormous consequence.

Dale’s line on the game is perfect: “There is a certain ease and elegance to the rules, a certain beauty to the components and a surprising depth of gameplay.”  He said it could be a SdJ contender, and I wholeheartedly agree.

My Initial OG Rating: I Love It!

Meeple Circus.png

MEEPLE CIRCUS

Designed by Cedric Millet

Published by Matagot

I’m not a big dexterity guy, but I had to try Meeple Circus.  A friend in mid-Missouri is looking forward to the game, and it has had decent buzz.  Plus, every time I passed the Matagot booth, people were having laugh-out-loud fun.

In Meeple Circus, you’ll compete over the course of three rounds.  The player with the most points at the end of those rounds wins.

Everybody begins with two meeples, a blue one and a yellow one.  At the start of each round, players draft their resources and — in some cases — restrictions.  There are various pieces in the game, everything from different colored meeples, to donkeys/elephants, to circles and planks.

Once the draft is done, everybody gets a set amount of time — Matagot has provided music for download, or you can just set a timer — to arrange their meeples and other pieces in the best possible combination.  There are three placement rules: (1) everything must fit in your play area, (2) pieces must have a piece on top of them if they’re on the ground, and (3) pieces can’t be placed on their side.

MeepleCircusPic.jpg

Once time is up, each ring in the circus is scored.  Players get a point for their blue meeples if they are on the ground, a point for their yellow meeples if they aren’t on the ground, and a varying number of points for red meeples depending on how high they are.  Additionally, there are public demands, and if players for the various shapes (such as meeples stacked in a pyramid) they earn extra points.  Finally, some of the cards you drafted at the beginning might have goals that score points, and points are awarded to the first two players to have completed their circus act.

It’s cute and fun.  There’s a certain amount of dexterity required, but it is more of a puzzle game, as you have to find out the best way to arrange your meeples under time pressure.  There’s a high degree of replayability here, which isn’t always the case with dexterity games.

We had laugh-out-loud fun playing it, and several people were watching us play.  I’ll probably pick this one up when it arrives stateside.

My Initial OG Rating: I like it.


Other Thoughts

I got the chance to play Battlefold, and though I didn’t write it up above, I thought it was clever.  It’s a “folding” game, where the fastest player to fold certain combinations on a piece of cloth earns advantages in battle.  The first player to eliminate the other players wins, but there’s a trick: if a player dies, they aren’t truly eliminated, instead becoming a ghost that still participates in the game.  The ghost has a timer mechanic, and the ghost can win if the game goes on long enough.  I really enjoyed my play.

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(You can’t tell it from the picture  above, but the green component up front is a piece of cloth that I’ve folded into a required combination.)

So how’s the convention going this year?  A few observations:

  • Everybody thought yesterday was more crowded than last year; I thought it was less!
  • Everybody thought today was less crowded than last year; I thought it was more!
  • Regardless, it is too dang hot in that convention center!  There’s a smoking area near the 2F booth, and I frequently find myself going outside to cool down!

Now that I’ve gotten my inner curmudgeon out of the way, I think Essen is going really well this year.  There’s a great crop of games, its clear the hobby is growing, and the year ahead in gaming looks promising.

I’ve noticed two broad trends at Essen this year.  First, publishers (and gamers) now put a higher premium than ever on component quality and production value.  Azul, for example, could have been made with cardboard tiles, but the thick, chunky tiles make the game, and I think that’s what’s partially driving its popularity.  Nearly every game on the hotlist has exceptional artwork.  And cardboard money even seems to be taking a backseat: Majesty for the Realm has nice chunky poker chips as its currency, and we’re seeing more and more games with metal coins available (Charterstone, Clans of Caledonia, etc.).  There’s also a renewed focus on graphic design.  Sure, we’ve seen this trend coming for a while now, but 2017 is the year of beautiful games.

The second broad trend is on the growing global reach of the hobby.  There are now several exhibitors from Asia, and they’ve brought some amazing games with exceptionally clever twists.  More than 51 nations are represented by exhibitors at Spiel ’17, and you can tell that this is driving innovation and interest in the hobby.


Tomorrow’s my last day in the Messe, and I’m looking forward to playing a few more games and exploring the used game stands!

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5 Responses to Essen Day 2: What is hot, and what I played… (Chris Wray)

  1. W. Eric Martin says:

    “Two games that are missing from both lists have a strong bias working against them. Pandemic Legacy Season 2 and Charterstone are both…” Chris, Charterstone is #2 on BGG’s Geekbuzz right now, and yes, I’ve seen plenty of people carrying that around.

    • Chris Wray says:

      Sorry, I meant that they didn’t join the ranks of the three games on both lists. My jet lag-induced insomnia is hurting my clarity in writing! :) But yes, the BGG list is capturing Charterstone’s success, and as of this writing, is still sitting at #2. And, as of this morning, Charterstone has joined Fairplay!

  2. jeffinberlin says:

    A positive result of the “glut of new games” being released is that publishers are forced to increase their production quality. This is good news for buyers and for designers. I saw some absolutely gorgeous games in Essen. No “chrome” will disguise bad mechanics, but it’s good to know that good mechanics are getting better production values so that they can get the attention they deserve.

  3. jeffinberlin says:

    I also enjoyed playing Azul with you, Chris, what I see as an easy early pick for Spiel des Jahres. I was concerned when I first saw the game that it was another low-interaction build-your-own-puzzle game. But to play the game well, you need to be aware of what you are leaving the other players. As the game goes on, you can predict what they will take, and plan for the tiles that they will leave you. The mechanisms are original, but simple & intuitive enough for anyone to learn. We had a blast playing it last night at the hotel with gamers, then I taught it to a non-gamer father and his 7-year-old son on the train on the way back to Berlin. I’m not trying to tell the Jury what to do, but…

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