Chris Wray: Quick Thoughts on 10 Essen Games

We’re a little over two weeks past Spiel ‘17, and I’ve played about 40 new titles.  So has my game group: every year, I invite everybody I regularly game with in Kansas and Missouri to a small get-together (called “Essen West”) where we play through the recently-released games I hauled back in my suitcases.  I recently wrote about what the attendees at my event thought about various games, but I wanted to do a quick post detailing my personal thoughts on various Essen releases.  

We at The Opinionated Gamers are working on writing up reviews of the games: it takes a while, because we try to play a game multiple times (and have various contributors play it) before we start chiming in.  Reviews will start rolling out in a couple of weeks.

These are just my personal initial thoughts, and some of the ratings below are after just one play, so keep that in mind.  Also, to cover all of these titles, I’m skipping any rule review and going straight to my opinion.  



One Opinionated Gamer I played with at Essen described it as “smooth,” and I’d say that’s the perfect word.  The gameplay is fantastic: it is tense, deep, and truly original… I can’t even think of what to compare it to.  Everybody I’ve played with has enjoyed it.  In fact, it was the highest-rated game of my Essen West event.

I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t get a Spiel des Jahres nomination.  And with its first two releases — Azul and Century: Spice Road — Plan B Games is suddenly a publisher to watch.  

My Initial OG Rating: I love it!



So far, me and my Charterstone group are not impressed.  There’s been a lot of rules ambiguity, and the gameplay just isn’t that interesting.  Worse, we struggled to identify the campaign’s long-term goals and framework at the outset, which is frustrating.  We’re told gameplay gets better as the board fills out, so all of us are holding out hope still, but Charterstone is off to a rocky start with us.  Of the four of us in the group, our preliminary ratings are three “neutrals” and one “not for me.”  We’re an enthusiastic bunch, so those are abysmal ratings.  I hope it gets better, and maybe it will.  Either way, I should have a full review in coming weeks.

My Initial OG Rating: Neutral.



Clans of Caledonia

Clans of Caledonia fills a void in my gaming life that I’ve long chased: a good economic game.  This is certainly a heavy Euro, and it’ll appeal to that crowd.  The comparisons to Terra Mystica are fair (but perhaps slightly overstated), but I love this far more than I liked Terra Mystica.  

Every aspect of this game’s production is, in my initial opinion, almost perfect.  Perfect… not a word I use very often, but one I’m willing to use here.  I love the art.  I love the graphic design.  I love the metal coins.  I’m thrilled that the box is exactly the right size for the components.  The rulebook is well written, and the player aids are awesome.  I’m even a big fan of the theme, the historic tie ins, and the variable setup.  My only gripes are that the game could use a scoring player aid, but I can make my own, and that one player should have been a color other than white because of the use of white milk tokens.  

But enough about the production value: the gameplay is fantastic.  It’s tense, and crunchy, and fans of heavy Euros are gonna love this.  Its an economic game, complete with price-fluctuating market, and I’ve been looking for a good game along those lines for a while now.  

Clans is probably my second favorite of the Essen titles.  And, realistically, with a few more plays, it could become my favorite.  Heck, I could see this one entering my personal top 20.  

My Initial OG Rating: I love it!


Fabled Fruit: The Lime Expansion

I wrote a full review a few days ago, since I’ve already worked my way through the deck.  But here’s the highlight of that review: We loved this expansion, but we loved Fabled Fruit, that’s to be expected.  

The best part of Fabled Fruit was discovering the new locations, and there’s still that joy here. The game is simple and fast, and for experienced Fabled Fruit players, we were able to jump right into The Limes Expansion.  Adding a new in-game currency (the Limes) allowed Friedemann to add some cool new mechanics, and it’s clear he put a lot of thought into designing the new deck.  At times there are plenty of limes, and at times, they feel like a rarity.  The gameplay shifts in delightful ways, and each new location card was eagerly anticipated by my group. It took us 8 plays and about 3 hours to get through this, and I’d happily do the campaign again.

My Initial OG Rating: I love it!


Indian Summer

Indian Summer is the sequel to Cottage Garden, and reportedly the second game in a polyomino trilogy.  Throw in Patchwork and A Feast for Odin, and it is abundantly clear that Uwe Rosenberg really loves polyominoes.  

I liked Cottage Garden, but many folks understandably found it a little dry.  Indian Summer is a bit more engaged: you’re trying to fill your board as quickly as possible, and the best way to do that is to earn bonus tokens.  One of those bonus tokens adds interactivity by letting you take your opponent’s polyominoes.  

This rewards clever placement of the polyominoes more than any other Uwe title, and as a result, I liked this considerably better than Cottage Garden.  That said, I’ve played 6 times, and I’m already getting a little bored by Indian Summer, so I don’t think it has the long term potential of Patchwork (my favorite polyominoes game).  But if you’re a fan of the genre, this is worth checking out.  

My Initial OG Rating: I like it.  (Was previously at “I love it!” though.)


Majesty: For the Realm

Majesty is pure joy to me.  Marc Andre (of Splendor fame) shows his game design genius, taking the “micromovements” he’s known for and working them into a clever new title.  The production value is also fantastic: this is some of the best artwork I’ve seen in a game, and the mini-poker chips were a nice touch.  

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.  

I don’t understand why this isn’t on more Essen hotlists.  This was the second-highest rated game at my post-Essen event, and it was the most favorited by attendees.  

It is my most-played Essen title so far, and as of right now I’d list it as my favorite Essen game.  

My Initial OG Rating: I love it!


Pot de Vin

Regular readers know that I adore trick taking games.  But me and my group are not Pot de Vin fans.  The artwork is beautiful, but the gameplay is obtuse and chaotic, and the result is the lowest-rated game of my post-Essen event.  Of the four of us that rated it, two were “not for me” status and two were “neutral.”

In theory this seems fun.  You want to capture a certain amount of “support” from the guilds, which are denoted by symbols at the bottom of the cards.  Ideally, for each guild, you capture some — but not too much — support.  The problem is that, to be good at the game, you’d need to know where exactly the guild support is on the cards, and it does NOT line up with the suits.  You constantly have to look back and forth at the player aid.  And at the end, there’s a large amount of math for what’s supposed to be a fun and quick trick taking game.  

Reading the rules, I thought I’d like it.  Playing it, I didn’t care for it one bit.  I’m going to give it a couple more tries, but right now, it isn’t for me.  

My Initial OG Rating: Not for me.  

TTR France

Ticket to Ride Map Pack #6: France & Old West

I haven’t played the Old West map yet, but the France map alone is worth the money in my opinion.  Others agree: Map Pack #6 was one of the highest-rated expansions at my event.  It appears that Alan Moon has outdone himself again.

The France Map has a really cool twist: most of the rail spaces on the  board aren’t colored at the start, and when you take train cards, you place out a cardboard component coloring the track.  This means there’s an extra step before you can place your trains, and that extra step adds tension because you’re often telegraphing your next move.

The result is what is probably the most intense of the Ticket to Ride maps, and a unique twist on one of my favorite games.  

My Initial OG Rating: I love it!



This wouldn’t be The Opinionated Gamers if I didn’t toss out an obscure title!  Tagiron, sold by Japon Brand at Essen, is a pure deduction game.  There are 20 number tiles, ranging from 0-9 in red and blue, but both 5s in the set are green.  There are six questions you can ask (printed on cards) on the table, things like “What’s the total of your tiles?,” and you’re trying to either figure out your opponent’s tiles or the tiles in the middle of the table, depending on player count.  

It takes about 20 minutes to play, and you could learn it in a minute or two.  I have a lot of deduction games — I love them — and this is one of the faster and simpler ones I have.  I have to thank Lorna for alerting me to this hidden gem.

My Initial OG Rating: I like it.


Voodoo Prince

Reiner Knizia’s trick-taking game is my favorite of the Essen trick takers.  I’m not a fan of the art, which will probably be offensive to many people, but I do like the gameplay.  In short, every player except the final player will capture three tricks.  After you capture your third trick, you get as many points as the other tricks captured around the table, but if you’re the last person standing (i.e. you’re the person who doesn’t capture three tricks), you only get as many points as tricks you’ve captured.  That means you need to really time the tricks you win: you want to go out second-to-last.  It’s tense, and it’s clever.  I’ve repeatedly said that good trick takers avoid an “autopilot” feeling while also not coming across as chaotic, and Knizia’s latest design does both.  I’m looking forward to more plays.  

My Initial OG Rating: I like it.

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2 Responses to Chris Wray: Quick Thoughts on 10 Essen Games

  1. Ive played Majesty once and I enjoyed it – its a very breezy game (I mean this in a very positive way). Im worried about long-term replayablity though. What do you think? (As you played more games already)

  2. Pingback: Chris Wray: Quick Thoughts on 10 More Essen Games | The Opinionated Gamers

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