Brandon Kempf – Three Games from Essen 2019

I have a lot of games. A lot of games that are on my shelves, or on my table being played, that I have told myself that I want to review at some point. For one reason or another, this doesn’t always happen. My goal here on The Opinionated Gamers is that I want to get about one review out per week, but I’d like to write about more games. So I’m taking a page out of Patrick Brennan’s playbook, and we’re going to start writing about games in threes, in snapshot form. This should be a good way for readers to get to know me and my gaming tastes a bit better, and also another way for me to talk about games that I maybe don’t really want to dedicate two thousand words to. Welcome to Three Games.

Nova Luna

I just recently discovered Habitats from Cwali, backed the Kickstarter that they recently ran for the expansion and have enjoyed a handful of rounds of it. What does that have to do with Nova Luna? Well, Nova Luna seems to be a spiritual successor to Habitats. There were things that Uwe Rosenberg liked about it, but wanted to change some things about it as well, and what he came up with is Nova Luna. I’m not going to pretend to understand the theme here, something about planning and the cycle of the moon. But really what the game is about is plotting out a puzzle. Figuring out a way to be the first person to get rid of all of your markers, as one large change between Habitats & Nova Luna is the fact that there are no points here, it’s a race. 

Uwe brings his own design past into play here as well. Nova Luna is at its heart a tile placement game, and the selection process for gaining tiles is really similar to that of Patchwork, with a pawn moving to where the tile was taken and then marking what can be taken the next turn, along with the passing of time based on what you select. That time mechanism leads to the turn order, which is reminiscent of Glen More in that the person furthest back on the track goes first. When placing the tiles you are placing them to try to fulfill the requirements of the other tiles already in your play area, and also for future tiles. Each tile will have requirements, like it will want to be next to blue tiles or yellow tiles, and if you fulfill it, you place a marker on it. Careful planning can reward you by allowing you to place multiple markers out on one single turn. It’s a wonderful game, and there is a full review of this one coming here on the OG (not from me), but in the meantime I just wanted to mention it, and how I absolutely missed it on my perusal through the Essen Preview. This is very much a game that should have been on my radar, but there are just so many games out there, you are bound to miss a gem or two. Edit: After seeing it in play with four players, I don’t think that’s really an enjoyable way to play it, far too chaotic, way too little planning can be done, this, like Patchwork, should probably only ever be played at two. 

Axio Rota

I completely failed when I added this one to my list of pickups from Essen. Not because I didn’t want it, or didn’t think it would be good, but in my head, it was simply an expansion to Axio, a game that we really enjoy around our house, almost more than Ingenious. Maybe I realized it wasn’t an expansion and after reading and looking through a thousand plus games on the Essen Spiel list it just got muddled. At any rate, Axio Rota is not an expansion for Axio, it is a smaller, stand alone off-shoot of Axio. 

Everything is smaller in scale here. Instead of the tiles with two pieces of info on it from Axio, we have a smaller tile with information on each of the four corners. When these tiles are placed next to other tiles already out on the board the start to form circles. You will score points for the color you place in a circle, so you place an Orange in a circle with two other oranges, you score two points in orange. Likewise with any other connections that pop up when you place that tile. Also, instead of filling a board, this time you have twelve tiles and the game ends when everyone has placed their twelve tiles onto the board. The maximum score in Rota is 12 per color, whereas in Axio it is 16, but if you score 12 in a color you gain an Axio which allows you to draw a tile from the leftover tiles and play it as well on your turn. The player who wins is the player with the highest, lowest color score. It’s light, it’s quick and I still think I prefer the bigger version, but this is completely adequate.


There is nothing small going on here though.

What is Maracaibo? Well, Maracaibo is the big box game from Alexander Pfister that seemingly draws inspiration from every other Pfister big box game, the travel of Great Western Trail, the influence marking of Mombasa, card play of Oh My Goods and bits of Blackout Hong Kong to boot. What it is, is fairly easy to describe, but what it isn’t, may not be. 

I think Maracaibo is a fantastic and fun game, but not a game for folks that just need to absolutely min/max everything in order to find the quickest route to victory. It’s a fantastic mix of mechanisms with numerous ways to score points, but ultimately, Maracaibo is a sandbox game in board game format. Many different paths exist within the base game alone, but add on top of that a complete story/campaign style mode and the game just keeps opening up. It’s good sandbox, not boring sandbox like Caverna, there are still some important restraints in place here. But there is just this nagging feeling that due to the nature of the game where you move up to seven spots on a turn and rush your opponents to the end of a round, getting a good set of cards at the beginning and rushing the game can be pretty powerful, and I think the person rushing will manage the win a good portion of the time, unless of course your opponents see it coming and plan ahead a bit, or just plain get lucky with card draws. Knowing that the game can be played like that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, we went from a 90 minute game to a 45 minute game, and it was unsatisfying to say the least. Sure, you could say it’s a challenge to best find a way to score points in the minimum number of turns, but it just made the game feel rushed and annoying. I want to play it again, I want to dig into that story mode, but I just know that thought will linger, can someone just limit my turns and rush the game effectively, each and every time? Also, we have seen very little of that influence in play, I tend to think some of the actions are far more important than others. 

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3 Responses to Brandon Kempf – Three Games from Essen 2019

  1. Pingback: Brandon Kempf – Three Games from Essen 2019 – Herman Watts

  2. Nova Luna is mechanically solid and completely soulless. I’d much rather play Habitats.

    • Brandon Kempf says:

      Hey now, it has theme just dripping off it. What that theme is though I have zero idea. I think I like Habitats more, but I will admit that the system of Nova Luna is much smoother and user friendly though, and it most instances, that makes it a game I will reach for.

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