(So, I already wrote a short bit while on my phone on Wednesday – I am using that as the base for this longer recap as I now have a bit more time to fill in the details – so if some of this sounds familiar – it is!)
Well, setup day is always hectic here in Essen. There is always someone with an emergency or crisis. The rare booth will have everything under control by 3 in the afternoon; the remaining 95% scurry around trying to get everything ready for the masses to arrive the next morning. Most everyone is still too busy to talk much to us, though we sneak in a few minutes here and there.
In general, the security here is relaxed. People are setting up booths on their own schedules, and when they are done, they pretty much just leave with their product in the middle of the stand. I have seen a few stands that will wrap plastic wrap around their shelves or some that might drape a dropcloth in front of the games – but most everyone else just trusts that their stuff will be left alone.
As I mentioned earlier, the customs saga still looms in the morning. The Japon brand booth still empty…
The good news is that I heard around noon that the games were cleared thru customs so there should be a happy ending there. I have never seen Tak look so happy! Once the games arrived, a common scene from this year unfolded. Cartons are hastily ripped open, and the entire team of volunteers takes CE stickers and starts placing them on every unit. Lots of companies are having to sticker their games, and I heard that the fair organizers (Merz Verlag) were even providing rolls of pre-printed stickers to vendors in order for everyone to be compliant.
While walking around, I did see one of the three?! different versions of Modern Art coming from the Far East.
I’ll admit to not knowing much about them, and I will defer to Modern Art fanboy Chris Wray to talk about them more. I believe that he brought two of the versions home – the one shown above is not yet in production and will not be available until next year.
The press event was larger in square footage but it felt like fewer exhibitors. I missed the lunch presentation this year because I kind of lost track of time. I did get to the new games exhibition though, and as usual, it’s a great jumpstart to the fair. It’s like getting a practical crash course in the games at SPIEL in two hours. For a number of reasons, I was not able to really be as comprehensive in my research prior to this year’s fair; so I was really looking forward to some one-on-one time to get up to speed quickly.
The new games exhibition is in a large display room located off of hall 1. It actually remains set up for most of the show so that press members can come and get nice pictures of the games without people around. During the show itself, this room is largely unmanned other than security guards that wander around to make sure no one steals the games… But, it’s the hopping area on Wednesday afternoon. Every table is covered with examples of new games for sale at this year’s SPIEL, and most companies have employees there to help explain the games to you.
Some of the booths can be quite involved and extravagant – it’s almost as if it’s a second booth for some companies. I thought I had taken a picture of some of the bigger displays, but either my memory is bad in my head or perhaps on my phone. Anyways, you’ll just have to imagine it for now…
One game that I was really looking for was Time Arena from Blam! – an imprint being distributed by Blackrock Games. Time Arean is an hourglass based game that was described like Clash Royale, a game that you may have played on your phone.
In this game, you control an army of figures that come up on spawn points. They each have different actions, and your goal is to either destroy all the opponents pieces or occupy all their spawn points. If I got the rules correct, when a piece is taken off the board, you flip over its color coded sand timer, and it cannot come back into play until it’s sand timer is empty. The game also uses a phone app to serve as a round timer. I downloaded the german version of the store from the Google Play store here in Germany, but I have been assured that the EN version is already available when I get back to the States.
In the background of this picture, you can also see Paper Tales, a great little Japanese card game that is being reprinted – I reviewed that earlier this fall
Catan was there in the Game of Thrones sense – I actually didn’t stop to hear the demo of this. But, I can tell you that Westeros does not appear to be perfectly hexagonal in shape like the mythical island of Catan.
Doppel X from Schmidt. No English rules, but I’m still gonna try it. I’m pretty much a sucker for these family games from Schmidt. They tend to be lots of fun, easy to play and teach. Sadly, I’ll have to do a translation myself unless someone on BGG beats me to it. I spoke with Thorsten from Schmidt who said there is no EN version and currently no plans for an EN version. But, it involves dice and a bit of dexterity – and that’s all I need to know for now.
For you Benndorf fanboys, Wuerfel Blitz.
Wuerfel Blitz is a simple speed game. There are 9 dice- six colored dice which have mostly pips but also have a few sides with big dots of different colors as well as three white dice that have only colored pips on them. The whole bunch is rolled and then players race to calculate the total score for the round – this is the number of pips on all dice whose colors are NOT seen as a big spot on any other die. Once you think you have it, you shout out the number. If you are right, you get a white stone for 1 point. Once you get to three white stones, you can turn them into a black stone which you cannot lose. You can possibly lose the white stones if you make an incorrect statement to the score for a round.
Tummple is a new dexterity game from Game Factory, a Swiss company. Here, you roll a die which tells you what to do. You might have to place a wood block either longways or on its end. The white pieces act as blockers, you cannot place a wood piece on top of a white half sphere while the yellow pieces make the entire wood piece that it touches off limit to other wood blocks. I believe you are out of the game if you cannot legally play.
A tale of Pirates from Cranio. What a cool 3d ship – this was the second game at the press show that I ran into that involves sand timers. It’s a cooperative game where players use the sandtimers as their crewmen on this pirate ship, and they can only perform their chosen action when their timer has run out. There are at least 10 scenarios in the box, and I was told that the easier ones would take 10-20 minutes. I didn’t get much more to it than that – simply seeing the boat and the sandtimers was enough for me to know that I was interested in trying this one out at home.
A lot of people missed Fold It last year – including myself. Goliath has picked up this nice family weight game for mass distribution. It’s a speed game where each player has a printed hankerchief; and on a round, they have to fold and manipulate this handkerchief to show the desired icons on it. I was happy to see this game make it back to the market, though as I’ll mention later, it has its own competition from a new game!
There’s a Magic maze expansion – new rules and challenges with guards in the mall now. To be honest, our group really struggles with even the medium set of rules to Magic Maze, so I am not sure if we need the added complexity. But, a lot of people were quite excited to see this one and learn the new rules twists.
One of my favorite puzzle series has more expansions – the Escape Room: Das Spiel series uses an electronic box which you get in the base game that serves as the timer as well as the adjudicator of the solutions. We’ve already played the first few expansions that come in stand alone boxes, and while they have been of varying quality and difficulty – on the whole, I enjoy the puzzles presented in this series. I am hoping that these come to us in an English version soon.
Agra is gonna be a table hog, but man, what a beautiful game. This is described as a very complex combination of a worker placement and area control games. I was told that this is a game where 2hrs would not be out of the ordinary for 4p. Once you look at the pedigree of the designer though, Michael Keller, and realize that his previous games were La Granja and Solarius Mission – this level of complexity should come as no surprise at all.
Noria was a beautiful game whose art and components clearly catch my eye, but I was put on high alert by others who got a demo earlier. It’s called a “wheel builder” and there is some sort of black plastic contraption on which pieces will be placed on. Your actions will be determined by the those pieces. Two of my close friends also tipped me off to this one – Jeff Allers (who games at the shop where the designer works on her games) as well as Klemens Franz (who has done some of the art) – they both thought this would be my style of game. There is a fair amount of buzz about this one on Wednesday, especially because it is rumored that Noria and its stablemate, Indian Summer, will be in short supply due to a production shortfall. While low numbers certainly affects the overall profitability due to a ceiling on sales, the fear of missing out will cause gamers to rush to buy a game even if they don’t know much about it. I had a chance later in the week to speak with Ms. Wagner, and it looks like her floating city might be a great hit.
Benndorf part deux. A new Qwixx expansion. It’s blurry because Friedemann pretty much knocked me over in his rush to get somewhere. In this expansion, each player can get a character tile which then gives them some sort of special ability. I honestly didn’t find out more – once I heard it was only 2 EUR, I knew I was getting two copies, one for me and one for Luke. We’ll hash out the details later.
And, though it sounds flippant, this happens a fair amount at SPIEL. If I’m pretty certain that I’m going to like a game – or if the price/mass combination is right, I will possibly just get a game on a flyer and not take too much time to learn more about it. Sometimes it’s the publisher or designer that drives this, sometimes it’s just beautiful bits. But, in any event, with over 1,000 new games to look at, sometimes you have to save a few minutes here or there to give yourself enough time to look at something else that might be stupendous. In this case, 2 EUR for something that extends a game that I love and is small enough to fit both into a front pocket – that’s essentially an Essen slam dunk.
As I continued to wander around, I saw a third hourglass game – Kitchen Rush, from Artipia – this one reminds me of the Xbox game Overcooked that we sometimes play together. No one was here to explain it, but this was put high on my list as I now had an hourglass trilogy to complete
Charterstone is in the house. This one doesn’t seem to fit my playing style, so I”m personally taking a pass on it. My brother, however, is totally psyched for this one – and he’s bringing a copy home in his luggage as well as a recharge pack for it.
Finally, a huge shout out to Friedemann for bringing me some of my wife’s favorite candies from Bremen – kluten. He was rushing back and forth across the room during the entire time because he had multiple tables in different areas, and he was trying to man them both simultaneously. He was also celebrating his 20th anniversary of making games, and he had a nice present of some green tea (obviously green) and honey that he presented to me.
The Bonk guys were there too – it seemed like there were three or four companies that were selling Bonk (to different home markets, I’m guessing) – but they win the prize for the best shirts at the press event.
After the official press event, I made it to the annual Zoch/Noris event. We got a chance to see some of the new Zoch games, and were served a tasty lunch (as always). As Zoch is from the Munich area, the lunch is usually Bavarian. We were served the usual weisswurst meal, and this year, I was finally able to eat the weisswurst correctly. Apparently the Bavarians will castigate you if you don’t peel the meat out of the casing. Though, now that I finally learned how to get the casing off – I was told that the true experts somehow manage to suck the meat out from a small hole. I am thinking that they were pulling my leg hoping to see me try such a feat.
We then had a great visit with some of the folks from Happy Baobab from Korea. As I told you earlier, I was pretty psyched to see that Fold It had made it to the mass market. I was even more psyched to see a new game BattleFold come out which uses the same folding mechanism, but now with a battling game on top of it. In this game, you race to fold your handkerchief to show the right symbols; and then the symbols seen act as your actions for the turn.
We also saw a re-do of Koryo, now called Cannon Busters – while the game is still very tactical; it felt a bit more put together. You get a hand of cards each round, from which you can only play 3. The player with the most cards of a particular rank gets to take a special ability associated with that rank. Each player may also have cannon cards which allow you to roll a d8 and possibly destroy cards matching that die roll. At the end of the gmae, you score points based on having a majority of the cards in a rank; scoring points equal to the rank.
Finally, got to play a cool dexterity baseball prototype – the folks from Asia may actually be more into baseball than Joe American at this point.
After that, most of the booths were finished with setup and most people were packing up for the night. We did make a brief stop at a few opening parties – little events hosted by a few stands to get a chance to get a beer (or champagne at Days of Wonder!) and catch up with old friends and relax a bit just before the show starts.
And, lest you think I forgot – I did scope out the new location of the spiral potato booth.
Until your next appointment
The gaming doctor