For me, Friday at Essen means more time chatting and playing games and less time shopping. This post includes overall convention thoughts so far, plus an analysis of what’s hot, and mini-reviews of several games I’ve been playing.
The Convention So Far
This is my fourth year at Essen, and so far, Essen ’18 feels bigger than ever. The most notable changes include (a) the additional floor space, and (b) the growing international side of the fair. The halls get slightly rearranged each year, but this year they opened up thousands of additional feet in floor space, seemingly over by Hall 6. The result is that while Hall 3 (which is next to the rail station and which features many of the large German publishers) is still exceptionally crowded, the other halls have some breathing room.
I’ve also noticed more and more international publishers attending, especially from Asia. Indonesia reportedly has a notable contingent of designers/publishers for the first year.
In terms of games, I’ve noticed a heavy emphasis on roll ‘n writes this year, with about a dozen being released by my count. I’ve also noticed a sort of surge in worker placement or worker placement-like games, after what seems to have been a couple of years where they weren’t the focus. Cooperative games are also growing in popularity, a fact observed by convention organizers at the press conference. (In fact, 3/4 games I review below are cooperative, but I didn’t set out for that to be the case.)
There are several medium to medium-heavy games that are making a splash, which is typical for Essen. Titles along those lines include (in no particular order) Teotihuacan, Magnastorm, Underwater Cities, Coimbra, Newton, and Futuropia.
But what I don’t see a lot of are solid family-weight games, the type of games that could win the Spiel des Jahres. The publishing calendar has often put those closer to Nuremberg, but in recent years there have at least been some at Essen, and I don’t count that many this year.
Here’s the Fairplay list of this evening, in the same order they appear on the list:
- City of Rome
- Carpe Diem
- Meeple Circus
- Crown of Emara
- Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra
- Spring Meadow
- Adventure Island
The Fairplay list is baffling, and I kind of scratched my head when I saw it. Normally it is decently reliable, but I haven’t seen much presence in the halls for some of these games, and a couple of them I hadn’t even heard of. It turns out that to make the list you only need 6 votes with an average rating of 3.7 (out of 5.0) or higher. Hopefully as more and more scouts turn in their sheets it will more closely resemble reality. (It isn’t my fault! I turned in my Fairplay scout sheet early this morning!)
Here are the top 20 on the BGG buzz list:
- Azul Stained Glass of Sintra
- Teotihuacan: City of Gods
- Blackout: Hong Kong
- Railroad Ink: Deep Blue Edition
- Chronicles of Crime
- Railroad Ink: Blazing Red Edition
- 7 Wonders Armada
- Dice Settlers
- Underwater Cities
- Terraforming Mars: Colonies
- Detective: A Modern Crime Story
- Cerebria: The Inside World
- Brass: Birmingham
- Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig
I generally say that if a game is on both lists, it is having a good convention. But so far that would only apply to Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, whereas normally we have at least 3-4 games on both lists at this point.
As I said yesterday, I think the games with the best showing are Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra and Teotihuacan.
I will add a few games to the list of what I see as hot: Carpe Diem, Magnastorm, Pandoria, Reykholt, The River, and The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr.
So who’s having a really good convention? The eggertspiele/Plan B/Next Move group seems to be having a great convention. Not only are Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, Blackout: Hong Kong, and Coimbra all doing well, but so are Reef and Century: Eastern Wonders.
Friedemann Friese is also doing really well. Futuropia is getting the most buzz of his games, but Fine Sand and Fortune are also getting positive thoughts from us reviewers.
After Essen closes, however, I suspect it is Wolfgang Warsh who will show up as the outstanding designer of 2018. Not only did he take the game world by storm earlier this year with Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg (the KsdJ winner), The Mind (a SdJ nominee), Ganz schön clever (a KsdJ winner), and Illusion, but here at the show, Fuji (his new cooperative game) and Brikks (his new roll ‘n write) seem to both be generating positive buzz. I had the good fortune of chatting with him today, and it was one of the more fun moments of my Friday at Essen.
What I Played
Here are snap reviews of what I played. Keep in mind that some of these are based on one play, and also forgive any typos, as I write these posts quickly at night!
I was intrigued by Belratti from the moment I read the BGG description. I enjoyed it when I played it, and I’ve been recommending it to friends around the halls as a hidden gem. I was pleasantly surprised when it popped onto the Fairplay list today.
Designed by Michael Loth and published by Mogel-Verlag, Belratti is a game in which players are cooperatively buying artwork for their museum. But Belratti, a sort of scam artist, is trying to cheat and get his fake paintings in the collection!
Each round, some players will be “museum managers” and some players will be “painters.” The role cards rotate each round, so players will play both roles at different points in the game. The museum managers start the round by drawing two art cards, placing them face up on the table. Each of these represents a “theme” for the paintings this round. The managers then demand 2-7 paintings to match these themes.
The painters must collectively play this number of paintings from their hands, face down. The total must be met in aggregate, but no individual player need contribute a card. Afterwards, four face down cards are randomly drawn from the draw pile and shuffled with the cards from the painters.
The museum mangers must then try to separate the pictures played by the painters from the randomly-selected Belratti fakes. For each true picture assigned to its correct theme, the players earn one point. True pictures assigned to the wrong theme do not earn a point. If Belratti fakes are played to a theme, Belratti earns a point.
There are special cards that can help along the way. The game ends when Belratti earns six or more points, and at that point, the team gets a score (and rating) based on their score.
It’s fun, easy-to-learn, and it is surprisingly tense. If you like games like Dixit or Mysterium, I suspect you’ll enjoy Belratti. The game fits nicely in a small box, and it has art that is at times charming and at times perplexing.
The game placed first place at the Hippodice Game Competittion this year, and it is easy to see why: this game packs in some clever elements that make it simultaneously feel like a puzzle and laugh-out-loud fun.
Initial OG Rating: I love it!
Just One is a cooperative party game by Ludovic Roudy and Bruno Sautter for 3-7 players. Each player receives a white board (which is triangle shaped and thus stands up) and a dry erase marker. The lead player rotates around the table, and on their turn, they pick #1-5 from a card that everybody else (but not the lead player) can see. For example, the clue might be (and this is a real example from our game tonight) “snow.”
All of the other players then write down a one-word clue (just one word!) to try to get the lead player to guess the word “snow.” So players might write “winter” or “white” or “precipitation” or “sledding.” (One person tonight wrote “GoT” to refer to “Game of Thrones” but I suspect that’s technically cheating!)
The catch is that these players write their word secretly, and they compare them before showing the lead player. If two of the words match, those clues are removed from the game. The lead player makes a guess based on what is left. The goal is to score so many correct answers.
I played this back in April, and we had laugh-out-loud fun with it then. We played it again tonight with 7 players, and we once again found it to be a blast. We played through 14 cards, and the lead player made the guess in only 9 of the rounds, so we have some work to do.
It’s one of the easiest party games out there, and my favorite part is that you never have downtime here, because you’re either giving a clue or guessing. Its a game that requires subtlety that is surprisingly hard to achieve. The cooperative nature of it adds something fun: I suspect my group back home will want to play it again and again until we achieve a perfect score.
Initial OG Rating: I like it!
Fuji is the star of the day for me. Designed by Wolfgang Warsh, Fuji is a cooperative game in which players are trying to descend from a volcano before it erupts.
Each player has a special power and a number of dice. These dice are number 1-6 in three colors (yellow, red, blue) and players secretly roll them behind their screen. To move across the board, players must have a higher pip count for the dice qualities of the space they land on. For example, one space might show blue dice and dice showing a 6. If a player wants to move to that space, the some of the pips on his or her blue dice and 6s must be higher than that of the other players.
But the catch is that the players can’t directly state what they have: they have to infer it from other player’s actions, hope for the best on re-rolls, or use the in-game equipment cards. Further, it matters by how much you beat the other players for your dice goal: not beating it, or only beating it a little, means losing health/stamina points. The players all win if they all make it to the village before one of them dies.
In Fuji, Wolfgang Warsh continues his streak of innovative game design. This has a lot to love: not only is it a tight cooperative game, but it has some fun aspects of deduction and team planning. And because communication is limited, the so-called “alpha gamer” people complain about in cooperative games is reduced.
The art is also fantastic. Overall, I’m highly impressed. Fuji is one of the best cooperative games I’ve played this year.
Initial OG Rating: I love it!
Reykholt is a new farming-theme worker placement game from Uwe Rosenberg. Players are growing vegetables in Iceland, and whoever most efficiently grows the right vegetables and delivers them at the right time will win the game.
The game has five vegetables to grow — tomatoes, cabbages, mushrooms, cauliflower, and carrots — and first you need to deliver 1 of each in that order, then 2 of each in that order, then 3 of each in that order, and so on and so forth. The game is played over seven rounds, and you deliver as much as you can at the end of the round. But there’s a twist: for one space on the track per round, instead of being required to deliver it, you can take those vegetables!
The main mechanic is worker placement — some spaces give you goods, others let you convert them, and others still let you buy greenhouses to plant/harvest — but advancing along the track and timing deliveries is the game’s scoring.
I really enjoyed this game, and so did my fellow players. I think this is far better than Nusfjord, Rosenberg’s game last year. His recent titles have, in my opinion, lacked tension, but it was back here. In our four-player game, the spaces I wanted — the spaces I desperately needed! — were often blocked.
On the down side, this is a simple Euro-style efficiency puzzle, where you’re converting one resource for another. I suspect some people will think Reykholt is a bit dry, though I didn’t feel that way. But on the upside, the game also has a story mode that has me intrigued and looks promising.
Initial OG Rating: I like it! (But the story mode might ramp this up to “I love it!”.)