Mark’s Bundle of 2022 Essen Game Thoughts

Unless otherwise noted, these are FIRST impressions… I only had the opportunity to play most of these games a single time with a physical copy and four of my Opinionated Gamer friends. I’ve left out the older (read: non-2022) games we played to keep this Essen- and Tokyo Game Market-focused and noted where I was able to play a game more than once.

If you’re interested in my Essen (well, post-Essen) impressions from 2018, 2019, and 2020, you can find them at the following links. (I’m not sure why I didn’t do one of these in 2021.)

For those of you who haven’t read a lot of my reviews, they may give you a better insight into my board game tastes and what I’m likely to enjoy. (Which, of course, may or may not line up with your choices. Your mileage may vary.) I’m also linking to OG articles about the games when they are available.

After Playing 51 Different Games in 4.5 Days…

…I have some thoughts. Well, rules, I guess.

  • 1. Publishers should have their rulebook and components blind playtested before approving for print. 
  • 2. Good iconography and clean presentation are more important than being artsy… not everyone has perfect eyesight and/or hi-tech lighting around their state of the art gaming table.
  • 3. If your game is going to take 2+ hours of my life, it needs to tell a story and/or help me tell a story. I do not want to do mechanical stuff over and over to harvest points for that long.
  • 4. If you’re not going to tell me a story, at the very least make sure your game has an arc to the game progression… rather than a flatline.
  • 5. Stupid and fun is still worth playing. 
  • 6. Don’t be creepy. (I’m looking at you, Girl Glasses Collection.)
  • 7. I will excuse a lot of weird design choices and even unclear rules if I’m having fun. If I’m not having fun, I don’t feel particularly charitable.
  • 8. More people should take the chance to play with folks like Dale, John, Ryan, and James. It was a great weekend.

My Three Favorites

  • Challengers!
    • Played 3 times over 4.5 days
    • I’ll be the first to admit that reading the rulebook of Challengers! left me cold – on paper, it reads like “War!: The Deck-Building Game”. (Credits for that humorous title go to one of my fellow OG writers.) On the table, however, it was a lot of fun each time we played… and it’s been the game I’ve talked the most about to my two sons (both gamers). We were pleasantly surprised how well the bot deck worked (since we always played with an odd number of players) and all of us agreed this would be a great game to play with a large group (it will play up to 8 players).
  • Eleven: Football Manager Board Game
    • Played 3 times over 4.5 days
    • While there are still some rules questions to be resolved, the underlying game system works like a charm and is fun to play, especially if you are (like myself) a fan of Premier League soccer. Match play is important – but the game is much bigger than winning matches… it’s actually an economic/management game. After two 2-player games and a solo game this weekend, I’m waiting impatiently for my my blinged-out copy of Eleven to arrive by the end of 2022.
  • Heat: Pedal to the Metal
    • Heat is what happens when you partner the designers of Flamme Rouge with the production quality of Days of Wonder – an auto racing game that zips along and was very enjoyable to play. We only did one race with the base game rules, but there are advanced rules that add a number of elements including road & weather conditions, customizing your car, bots to race against, and linking multiple races together. The box includes 2 double-sided boards… so you start with four different raceways available to you.

Games I’d Be More Than Happy to Play Again

  • Akropolis
    • Played 2 times over 4.5 days
    • Nicely produced tile laying & stacking game… Akropolis is ostensibly a city-building game, but the the theme is pretty abstracted. Still, it’s an intriguing puzzle to draft and place pieces to maximize your score. (For those of you who’ve been in the hobby a while, the stacking strategy reminded me of the fun parts of Java without the overwhelming brain burn.)
  • Birdwatcher
    • My first thought when seeing the cover and the cards of Birdwatcher was “Welp, the Wingspan theme-leeching has begun…” – but I’m happy to be proven wrong. It’s a thematically solid drafting game where the order in which you take photographs (aka draft) of birds is a vital part of increasing your score.
  • Caldera Park
    • The slightly more gamer-y cousin to Savannah Park… and the game is richer for it. Rather than the Take It Easy/Bingo-style of drafting tiles found in Savannah Park, players choose a combination of location and animal type – a change that works really well. Caldera Park includes some forms of scoring and additional “badness” tiles to gum up your plans.
  • Hamlet: The Village Building Game
    • I had the opportunity to play Hamlet using the solo rules… now, this (unlike Akropolis) is a for-real city-building game. Both the odd-shaped village pieces and the “anyone can use resources or buildings” rules do some very interesting things to your typical game of this genre. I’d like to try it again, both solo and multiplayer. (I will note that I got to play using the KS edition, which was quite nice.)
  • Marrakesh
    • For me, most Stefan Feld games feel like a mish-mash of mini-games and too clever-by-half game mechanics that wear their purported theme like a Halloween costume. So Marrakesh was a extraordinarily welcome surprise for me… thematically coherent, interlocking mechanics, proper use of a cube tower for randomization, and, most importantly, the game builds to a satisfying ending. I didn’t list it as one of my favorites because (a) it’s pricey for (b) a game I’d struggle to get to the table with my groups. Otherwise, highly recommended.
  • Marvel Zombicide: Heroes’ Resistance
    • An extra credit entry, as I played this recently released title the day after I got home with my son… it’s Zombicide distilled down to its very playable essence. Looking forward to our next game!
  • Next Station: London
    • I like a good flip’n’write game… and this is the best of the bunch for Essen 2022. It comes as a shock to no one that Next Station: London was designed by Matthew Dunstan, who also designed/released the excellent Guild of Merchant Explorers earlier this year.
  • No Mercy
    • Blindingly simple press-your-luck combined with ways to steal stuff from your opponents in 15 or so minutes? Count me in. (No Mercy is similar to/related to Cheeky Monkey – but not identical and much more portable.)
  • Pathogen
    • Pathogen reminded me of the classic Kosmos 2-player games, only with nicer bits. It’s not something I’d get to the table very often, but it is a well-designed control battle with a unique movement system.
  • Precognition
    • The game itself is pretty straightforward – in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, you are aliens seeking to save humanity, so you need to rescue and heal humans, collect food to feed them, and fight off Banes who are hunting for them. It’s the method of how cards get played that reinforces the theme/name of the game and is unlike any other game I’ve played. (I will not attempt to explain how the card play works… it’s clever and well laid out in the rulebook.)
  • Revive
    • Another post-apocalyptic wasteland that needs to be revived – hence, the title. Revive is a game with a lot of moving parts – expanding the playable area of the main board, working the various tracks on your player board, cycling through cards to create playable combos… but it all works. The production is very nice for this table hog of a game.
  • Rise
    • Dale humorously named Rise “Tracks: The Game”… and while he’s not incorrect (there are a bunch of tracks on the table), it’s a lot more than that. I especially liked the drafting mechanic in which players who spend more get to partake in more events.

Games I’m Willing To Play

  • All Roads
    • Pretty standard “play a tile to create situations to place houses & other stuff”… but solidly designed and easy to teach.
  • Block and Key
    • Really gorgeous production (the 3D bits are chunky!) that covers the same ground as Pueblo without all the extra Eurogame stuff.
  • Circadians: Chaos Order
    • Imagine if the original AH Dune & Terra Mystica had a baby… it would be Chaos Order. VERY asymmetric factions, individual victory paths, and an interesting costing system for the various game phases. We played with four – curious how it will play with two players.
  • Die wandelnden Türme
    • A solid design – combines memory elements with manipulation of the towers… and does so without wearing out its welcome at the table.
  • Expedition
    • Korean design that utilizes deck-building combined with Goldland-like back’n’forth exploration. I’d like to try it again with 2 players.
  • Flamecraft
    • Gorgeous production (the art is delightful) combined with sturdy game design… I wanted Flamecraft to do more but what it does, it does well.
  • Mists over Carcassonne
    • Played 2 times over 4.5 days
    • Both a stand-alone cooperative game AND an expansion to the original game – I played 2 solo games (Levels 1 & 2) and would be willing to play again. Have some serious questions about playing as a multiplayer co-op as the alpha player problem could easily show up to haunt you. (yes, the punwas intentional.)
  • OPEN
    • You can win by winning the hand in this climbing game… or by betting on the person who will win. Very clever.
  • Perfect Shot
    • It’s pretty straightforward… drop one of your three “photo” cards onto the previous card to try and get pictures of the animals by lining up the holes in the card. Add in a set collecting mechanics (the photo book tiles) and you’ve got a game. I am taken aback at how willing I am to play it again.
  • Planet B
    • Interesting game systems (particularly voting) combined with a cynical theme… but I was not a fan of the rulebook’s attempt at humor, the occasional PG-13 rated card, and the absolutely idiotic “stuff paper money in your pocket” to turn it into VPs.
  • Starship Captains
    • I wanted to like Starship Captains a lot more than I did… but it’s an extremely well-put together game with nifty components. I wonder if I’d have appreciated it more with a stronger background in Star Trek (I pretty much gave up on ST after the first season of Next Generation… and yes, I know, it got better. No need to email me.) I’m willing to try again… the game, that is.
  • Terra Nova
    • My one play of Terra Mystica left me cold… but Terra Nova does a nice job of slimming down the original game while still keeping the interesting decisions in play. At one hour or so in game length, I’d be OK if this hit the table again.
  • The Green Fivura
    • The backs of all the cards are a Green Five… which means this trick-taking game lets you always have one more card in your hand. Wacky but fun.
  • Tidal Blades: Banner Festival
    • I haven’t played any other of the Tidal Blades series of games… but this one is a simultaneous action selection game that also determines what you get to do depending on where your card “lands” in the trick. But it’s not really a trick-taking game. Could be a little same-y from game to game but worth another play.
  • Wanted Wombat
    • Complete press-your-luck silliness… but remember rule #5 – stupid & fun is still worth playing. (And James Nathan was a savant at this game.)
  • World Splitters
    • There’s some UI issues with the spring-y board (it sits in the box so you can slot pieces into it), the compressed score track, and the conflict marker… but there’s also a really interesting game here. Getting every rule clearly understood messed up some end game strategies, so we definitely need to try it again.
  • Zombicide: Gear Up
    • I’m working on a review of this cooperative flip’n’write, which does a really good job of capturing the Zombicide feel in a much-compressed (read: shorter) game. Perfect for those who want to fend off hordes of zombies without bringing along your entire Zombicide collection. (My one play was a solo play, which worked well.)

Games I Wasn’t All That Excited About

  • Cradle to Grave
    • The idea is fun (trying to age your opponents out of the game) but there is very little control. 
  • Dice Conquest
    • Cooperative dice drafting/assignment dungeon crawl… worked fine as a solo but would slow way down with more players.
  • District Noir
    • New version released of an older two-player only drafting game with a mafia-esque theme. Made me wish I was playing 2F’s Famiglia instead.
  • FORK
    • Trick-taking game with interesting scoring mechanic (and gratuitous mention of kale)… felt like it needed a bit more development on how to deal with off-suit kale. 
  • Get on Board: New York & London
    • Very nice production of Let’s Make a Bus Route… but I found Next Station: London more interesting in the same route-building genre.
  • Nuts a GoGo
    • Stupid fun – grabbing wooden bits and filling your cup in real-time. Very short.
  • Piazza Rabazza
    • The idea is cute – delivering magnetic pizzas through a town shaking around due to an eccentric motor. In execution, it just goes on too long for the fun it delivers.
  • Powerline
    • Powerline is a dice puzzle game – nothing wrong with it (it works)… but not much to it.
  • Shake That City
    • Incredibly clever gizmo at the center of the game (shaker that lays down 3×3 grid of cubes each turn) paired with a mildly interesting city-building game. My solo play was OK.
  • Vegetable Stock
    • Felt like a stripped down version of Point Salad with a stock market edge – and since I don’t love Point Salad, you can guess I wasn’t blown away with Vegetable Stock, either.

The Island of Misfit Toys Games

  • 13 Words
    • It may be that I’ve entered a stage in life where I no longer like party games… but 13 Words tries to mine the same area as Just One (which I do like) and just fails to do anything particularly interesting.
  • Dragonquest: Fantasy Dice Game
    • Played 2 times in last week
    • Deeply saddened by the workmanlike effort here, in part because I’m a huge fan of the board game it’s based on – Dungeonquest. There’s a lot of dice rolling for very little reward – and the major interactive part of the game (drawing walls) is written so that you really can’t do much to slow another player down. (I’ll save my rant about Queen & KS for this game in the US market for another day.)
  • Fun Facts
    • Yet another cooperative party game… and no one thought out the potential problem with the first and last players gaming the system. (There’s a pretty simple solution – do not determine the starting player for each turn until all the answers are locked in.)
  • Glasses Girls Collection
    • So-so trick taking game coupled with incredibly creepy stalker-ish theme (taking pictures of cute anime girls with glasses) has gotta be a naw from me, dawg.
  • KuZOOkA
    • Some folks have been excited about this cooperative bidding game… but I’m not sure why. It lands with a thud when we played it.
  • Mikey Wonder Land
    • Trying not to mind-meld with other players is the prime game mechanic, which just isn’t enough for a full game. In addition, the weird little theme is keeping the magic alive for children about costumed amusement park characters.
  • Tiny Turbo Cars
    • Clever idea (slide puzzle real-time programming) saddled with too many exceptions and chrome rules.

Picture at the opening of the article:

  • Top row: Block & Key, Tidal Blades: Banner Festival, Caldera Park
  • Middle row: Marrakesh, Mists Over Carcassonne, Die wandelnden Türme
  • Bottom row: Starship Captains, Eleven, Revive

The majority of games in this article were sent/given to the Opinionated Gamers team as review copies.

About Mark "Fluff Daddy" Jackson

follower of Jesus, husband, father, pastor, boardgamer, writer, Legomaniac, Disneyphile, voted most likely to have the same Christmas wish list at age 57 as he did at age 7
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