Essen 2019, Day 0: Initial Thoughts, and What I Played (Article by Chris Wray)

Photo Courtesy Simon Neale

Essen 2019 will officially start tomorrow, but Day Zero (or “setup day”) was today. Today starts my daily coverage of the fair, including mini-reviews of what I played.

The News of the Day

Today didn’t have much news, but then again, I didn’t attend the press conference, so maybe something awesome was announced. Ab durch die Mauer won the innoSPIEL award.

There are the usual rumors — of stock not arriving in time, of industry mergers — but nothing has risen beyond speculation as of yet.

Though there wasn’t much news, the day did have an interesting twist for those of us that attend the event each year. The fair has typically been wide open on Wednesday, even though it didn’t start until Thursday, with gamers often walking around the halls. This year, for the first time, they stopped people at the entrance to make sure they had an exhibitor badge or a press badge. It’s probably a better system in terms of security, but the end result was quite a bit of confusion this morning, as many people actually go inside to get their exhibitor badges.

The winner of the day — and probably a major winner of the convention — was probably the BGG preorder system. It was easy to use, and I was able to pick up every game I preordered except one today. It saves everybody time. (Picking up preorders in advance seems to be acceptable. But games are not typically sold on Wednesday.)

What’s going to be hot?

Judging from the preorders I saw being carried around, the buzz around the halls, where publishers are devoting their floorspace, and thumbs on the BGG preview (which are sometimes manipulated by publishers), I’d guess the following are the games with decent momentum heading into the fair. Keep in mind that I left off expansions, and games that got a Gen Con release.

  • Aftershock (Stronghold)
  • Azul: Summer Pavilion (Plan B / Next Move)
  • Barrage (Cranio Creations)
  • The Castles of Burgundy (New Edition) (alea)
  • Cooper Island (Capstone / Frosted)
  • Expedition to Newdale (Lookout)
  • Fast Sloths (2F / Stronghold)
  • Glen More II (Funtails)
  • It’s a Wonderful World (Blackrock)
  • The Magnificent (Aporta)
  • Maracaibo (Capstone)
  • Marco Polo II (HiG)
  • Masters of Renaissance (Cranio Creations)
  • Nova Luna (Edition Spielwiese)
  • The Offshore (Aporta)
  • On the Underground (LudiCreations)
  • Silver Bullet (Bezier)
  • Suburbia Collector’s Edition (Bezier)
  • Trismegistus: The Ultimate Formula (Board & Dice)

In the end, though, I only talked to a couple of dozen people, and my crowd is obviously centered on English speakers, so we’ll see what the Fairplay list and Geekbuzz list bear out. I’m sure I’m missing something. And a couple of games will inevitably be duds.

Mini Reviews

Anubixx, Designed by Steffen Benndorf, Florian Ortlepp, and Helmut Ortlepp, Published by NSV

Anubixx is a roll ‘n write for 2-5 players.  Players roll the dice — which show stones of various colors — and then must cross off stones on their player sheet to complete various structures.  On the floor mosaic, you must always cross off two adjacent stones, and you get points for the total number marked off.  On the pyramid, you must complete it from the ground up, and you get points for the stone at the highest level.  And on the arch of triumph (two columns with a common stone at the top) you must work you way up, with the final stone not being able to marked off, and you get points for the lower side of the column.  To help you along the way is your own personal quarry, but beware, you can only still use stones to the right of the ones you’ve marked off. You also get a couple of jokers.

It’s tense.  It’s clever.  This feels like Imhotep mixed with a roll and write, and specifically it feels like it draws the quarry part from Qwixx.  The sheets are asymmetric — there are seemingly six patterns — which is a nice touch. I bought a copy, and I’m looking to giving this a few plays in the coming weeks.

Initial Rating: I like it.

Chartae, Designed by Reiner Knizia, Published by XVGames

Chartae is a map-making game for 2 players consisting of just nine tiles. On your turn, you either place out a new tile, or rotate one of the existing tiles clockwise 90 degrees. (The rotate action can only be taken twice in a row.) You’re forming a 3×3 grid. One player earns points from the largest contiguous water mass, and the other player from the largest contiguous land mass. The game ends when all 9 tiles are on the table, and the player with the largest area wins.

I found this game oddly satisfying. It’s a tense little 10 minute duel. I probably shouldn’t like it as much as I do, but I’m just stunned by how much game Knizia created with 9 tiles. Is it going to be for everybody? Probably not: I could see this getting old after a few plays, though time will tell. But regardless, it is a cool game to try. And as a bonus, the production value is top-notch: the tiles are large sized with cool iconography, so kudos to XVGames.

Initial Rating: I like it.

Azul: Summer Pavilion, Designed by Michael Kiesling, Published by Next Move Games

It is time to return to Portugal to complete the summer pavilion!

Azul: Summer Pavilion has the tile drafting mechanic of the original, but with a few twists! The big twist during drafting is that there is a wild color — which changes over each of the 6 rounds — and you can’t take tiles of that color by themselves, but if you draw from a factory (or center) with a wild tile there, you also get exactly one of these wild tiles.

After the tiles have run out, it is time for placing them on player boards. Each color has a star shape of 6 connected tile spaces. Placing on them depends on having the right number of tiles: each color has a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 space. Wild tiles may be used. Only one tile gets placed, and the rest get put in the tower. The star in the middle of the player board is the multicolored star, and it takes tiles of any color.

Once you pass, you can keep four tiles, and you lose points for excess tiles that you put into the tower.

For scoring, you get points for connected spaces in the star. So if you placed the “6” tile, and you had previously placed the “1” and “2” tiles, you’d get 3 points.

You also can surround statues, windows, and pillars printed on your player board, and if you do, you get bonus tiles from a central scoring area.

At the end of the game, you get bonus points for completing stars, but also for completing all of a given number across all stars.

Summer Pavilion is the best part of Azul — the tile drafting — with an all new scoring mechanic and some really fun twists. It is quite smooth, like the original, and it is arguably even easier to teach and play than Stained Glass of Sintra. Throw in the beautiful component quality, and this is going to be a star of Essen 2019, and deservedly so.

Initial Rating: I love it.

P.S.: There’s a chance that Summer Pavilion is easier to learn than Azul? The scoring is probably more intuitive. I have too many plays of Azul to have a fair recollection at this point!

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