Pauls Essen 2015 18-Oct-2015

Despite evidence to the contrary, I've make it to Essen every year since the last Essen Blog in 2012. It's a bit late in the day to be writing up anything about the two missing years so I'm going to skip them. Here, instead, are my ramblings about Essen 2015.

Letís get the usual disclaimer out of the way. We may well have misread, misheard or misunderstood rules in any or all of the games we played. Weíve very likely been mis-taught at least one game. Whilst a wrong rule is unlikely to convert a good game into a great one, it may well turn a good game to a poor one. So bear this in mind whenever I describe a game in less than glowing terms. Also, most of my opinions are from a single playing of a game. This might be an outlier, and the game may usually play better or worse.

Two of us went along for the trip this time Ė Oggie and myself. After the fun and games with trains last year, due to a strike and an unexploded World War 2 bomb, we were hoping for an easier train journey this time. Sadly this hope was shattered on the rock of a nearby control centre going up in flames. One positive thing did come out of this though. We've now added the word for cancelled to our German vocabulary and so are one word closer to being able to translate game rules.

The Foreign King

We kicked off proceedings with the game formerly known as Belgium 1831. I'm not sure why the name was changed. Given that the game is set in Belgium in 1831 it pretty much said what it did in the tin.

The game itself proved to be a very thinly themed abstract based on action selection and area majorities.We played two player which lent the game something of a chess-like planning feel, thinking a few moves ahead. I quite enjoyed it but it did suffer from a couple of issues. First, two players wasn't the optimal number and to counter that a semi-dummy third player is used. I say semi-dummy as its limited actions are controlled by one player each time the other scores. This made the game a bit swingy. Second, and more importantly, the game felt like a meaty filler but played quite long, even with two. I can imagine it outstaying it's welcome with larger player counts. On the plus side it comes in a very shelf friendly box.


Our usual approach to Thursday's is just to wander around and sit down at a table if we see anything that looks interesting. I noticed a free table for a game with an indecipherable Russian title from the publishers of last year's Viceroy so we sat down to investigate.

After about 20 minutes of working through the rulebook, a demo chap came over to explain it to us. And took away about half of the components, which we would not be using in our introductory game. The game itself proved to be based on a tower defence. Cards, representing monsters, are gradually drawn and placed around the walls. Players spend action points scurrying around the castle, picking up mana cubes and blasting the monsters into the discard pile.

This all felt a bit mechanical, and the introductory game looked like it would be very hard to lose so not much of a challenge. The full game would probably be much better. I could see this being very popular with a certain type of gaming group, but not this one. Not my sort of thing at all.

Star Realms

This wasn't a new game to either of us, having both played the mobile version, though I'd not played in a while. However, a new expansion - Colony Wars - has recently been introduced so we thought we'd have a play with the new cards. I'm not actually clear whether the version we played was only the expansion or a mix of the original and the new. Some cards certainly looked familiar.

As far as I could see, the game played much like the original. The only new mechanic I noticed was a one off bonus on some of the cards, actioned at the point that the card is acquired. So basically it's a new deck of cards to spice things up a little if you're bored of all of the old ones.

King Chocolate

Looking at the initial setup I thought this would be a little filler. I was wrong.

This is another largely abstract game themed loosely on chocolate production. Its a tile laying game, each hex tile representing a unit for processing one of seven stages of chocolate. The purpose of the game is to progress units through these stages, moving them from a group of tiles representing one processing stage to another representing the next.

It turned out to be a surprisingly deep, thinky game. It also turned out not to be on sale. We played a prototype in lieu of the final version, which hadn't quite made it out of the printers in time. A shame, as this was one of the best I tried at this year's Spiel. One of those where you stare at the board for an hour, and ignore your opponents at your peril. It was a gem with two and I can't see why it wouldn't work well with more.


We were co-opted into a game of this on the basis that we spoke English. That was because the demo chap already had another group keen to play and explained that it was more fun with more players. In a nod to the growing internationalisation of Spiel it turned out that the other group were also English.

This game seems to be quite well known already, but for anyone who hasn't already encountered it it's basically another of those thinly themed abstracts we'd been encountering all day. It's a word based party game with a stick on theme around spy masters. It's quick, cheap, small, works with fairly large numbers and will work with non-gamers. And it's also fun to play.

Code of Nine

This is a worker placement game which I'm reliably informed originated in Japan. The basic scoring is obfuscated by a number of cards which are given out to the players at the start of the game. These range from boosting the value of certain tiles to adding new loss conditions. Fortunately some of the actions allow opponents cards to be peaked at or this would be a crap shoot. Instead, it's just mildly uninteresting.


This is one of those use cards in different ways games. It's based around ancient Japan and has nice artwork and a couple of interesting ideas. Cards allow goods to be produced, which can be used to build other cards. Each can be sold for a varying value, according to the number of resources already used.

Unfortunately it didn't work all that well with two players. The starting tableau didn't introduce enough resources to allow other cards to be easily bootstrapped. However, I can see more players introducing different problems as the need to check all of the small icons on all of the cards would make this a bit slow and awkward with larger numbers. The biggest problem though was that the game just wasn't very interesting.

Steam rollers

Steam rollers is a fairly simple dice based pick up and deliver crayon rail game. Each player draws on his own pad, so routes are not shared between players. Dice rolls can be used to draw track, move goods, power up your locomotive or claim a card giving a temporary bonus.

It played well enough, but was a bit simplistic. And it was really crying out for laminated player boards rather than one-shot pads which have to be discarded after use. Though to be fair the game does come with hundreds of pads, and more can be downloaded from the publishers site.

Push a Monster

Now this isn't our normal sort of game. In fact, it says ages 3+ on the box. But we figured that it might be a laugh for 5 minutes so we sat down to have a go. The idea is to push wooden monsters onto a platform, hopefully without pushing off the others on there. Anything that drops off contributes to your opponents score. And ... that's pretty much the full rule set. Actually, we found a few loopholes in the rules which unscrupulous gamers could exploit. But given the advertised game range we were probably over-thinking it. It provided the 5 minutes of entertainment we were looking for though.

7 Wonders Duel

This was one of the hot items of this Spiel. A two player version of 7 Wonders. Gone is the rotating hand method of drafting of cards. This is replaced with a fixed layout of cards which is set up at the start of each age and from which players take turns to draft. Otherwise all of the familiar elements from the game's big brother make an appearance. The designers have done a very good job of replicating the feel of the full game in a two player format. However, I didn't enjoy this as much as I'd expected. I didn't think the rules for resource costs quite worked. Being beaten to a much needed double resource card can be financially crippling.


This is largely a pick up and deliver game with additional ways of scoring. It's sort of a prequel to Fresco. Players sail boats around a circuit of islands and ports, picking up dyes on the way. These can be used to fulfil contracts, which are picked up from a draft. Other tiles can be drafted to boost ship range and capacity, to gain bonus VPs, and so forth. This one was pleasant enough but I wasnít convinced by the balancing of scoring tiles. The bonus VP tiles seemed overly powerful, scoring broadly the same as the contracts but without any need to sail around collecting the right combination of dyes.


Thereís thinly themed abstracts and then thereís thinly themed abstracts. This one is in the very, very, very thinly themed camp. Players build units which are moved around the variable board. These can capture other units, build and upgrade buildings, and capture opponents buildings. This continues until somebody gets enough buildings on the board, and captures enough of the opponents Emperor pieces, to win the game. Very thinky and will appeal to those who like their abstracts but not my cup of tea.

Monster Tower

This is a very simple game. It consists of a cardboard tower with windows in the walls and holes in the floors, and a set of wooden pieces for each player. The bits are all poured into a hole in the roof and a sand timer turned over. And then chaos ensues as players frantically poke their fingers into the windows trying to push their pieces through the holes in the floor. Rinse and repeat until the scoring tiles run out. And surprisingly ... itís a hoot when you play it with a bunch of friends. Playing this was one of my highlights of Essen 2015.

Last Spike

We'd had a tip to investigate this, so broke our usual routine of grazing the halls to seek out a demo. The game can be described as a merger of Acquire and a train game. A network is displayed on the board, each position having a letter and number. Players take turns to play tiles into their matched positions on this grid, and may then purchase a share in the cities which form nodes in the network. The completion of parts of the net trigger dividend payments. This continues until a route from one side of the board to the other is complete.

The game was okay, but nothing special and a bit expensive for what it was.

Octo Dice

This is set in the same universe as Aqua Sphere but a very different game. Payers take turns rolling dice until they have selected three pairs of dice. These are then used to cross off scoring combinations. Think Yahtzee with octopi and you wonít be too far wrong.

The Prodigals Club

This is a worker placement game in the style of Last Will. The aim is to lose as many resources and friends as possible before the end of the game. In a novel twist, the game has three communal boards from which actions are chosen but only two will be chosen for each game. This should add a welcome dollop of variability and replayability. Actually, all three boards may be used but at the cost of significantly extending playing time. This would have been an easy purchase in earlier years, with a smaller games collection. Now it's the sort of game which Iíd be happy to play but felt no need to buy.


Vaults is a card game based around picking vaults in outer space. The theme didnít make a huge amount of sense but then we missed the start of the rules explanation so maybe that would have made sense of it. Each player has a number of action points which they can use to draft and play crew members on virtual vessels. Each member of crew has a value in one of three attributes, and a special ability. These abilities inject a dollop of take-that into the game. A second deck of cards are used for the vaults. Each needs a minimal value across the three attributes to allow them to be cracked. The player then claims the card, which may or may not be worth an amount of money. This continues until somebody collects enough money.

I'm sure this sort of game will appeal to some groups, but not my sort of thing. We sneaked away whilst the designer was busy elsewhere so we wouldn't have to explain why we wouldn't be buying a copy.

Zena 1814

This is a clever worker placement game with a bit of area majority thrown into the mix. Players move their dobbers amongst the six buildings on the board. They can also play cards against locations which they have a presence in, which they - and others in the same location - can then pay to add a marker on for additional benefits. These benefits are usually in the form of more cards, cash or VPs. The card mechanism gives a fresh feel to the familiar worker placement mechanism. The only downside is that the advanced version of the game adds more luck in the form of a location which uses cards which have an outcome determined by a dice roll. This can be somewhat mitigated, but seems an odd choice for an addition to the advanced mode of a game which appears aimed more towards the gamer than the family market. Still, this was one of the best games I played this Spiel.

Now this is precisely the sort of game I go to Essen for. A good game, at a good price, which will not be easy to find in the UK as the designers currently don't have any British distribution channels. Shame that the luggage handlers conspired to manhandle my luggage so badly that a hole was punched right through the box lid.

 Comment by Tel   19-Oct-2015
Thanks for the write up. An interesting mix of games that you seemed to enjoy, a party word based game, a dexterity tower game, and the more traditional fayre of a worker placement game (not sure about the addded dice) and deep thinky game about chocolate.

Sounds like an interesting Essen if nothing too spectacular. I hope you enjoyed it.

Pauls Essen 2012 28-Oct-2012

I failed to do an Essen write-up last year due to various things, but here we are in 2012 and no excuse this time.

Letís get the usual disclaimer out of the way. We may well have misread, misheard or misunderstood rules in any or all of the games we played. Weíve very likely been mis-taught at least one game. Whilst a wrong rule is unlikely to convert a good game into a great one, it may well turn a good game to a poor one. So bear this in mind whenever I describe a game in less than glowing terms. Also, most of my opinions are from a single playing of a game. This might be an outlier, and the game may usually play better or worse.

Three of us went along for the trip this time Ė Oggie, Tel and myself.

In a fit of even worse than usual organisation, we managed to bring exactly one game with us. Why would we bring a game to Essen you might ask? Well, what else are we going to play on the Wednesday before it opens? As it turned out, one game was precisely one more than we needed. Given a choice of Mystery Rummy or beer and big slabs of meet, the latter won.

This year, the show coincided with school holidays so we were expecting a fair crowd when we arrived. As it turned out it was fairly quiet when we got to the ticket booths. Sadly it was somewhat less quiet when we got inside. Good job we werenít in a rush to get to a table for a particular game as weíd likely have been disappointed. Instead we did what we normally do on the first day. Have a bit of a wander round, and sit down if we see a free table for something which looks interesting. Telís eye was drawn to a table for Kingdom Builder as we passed one of the Queen stalls so we decided to make that our first game of the show.

Kingdom Builder

As this is an award winning game, and from last year to boot, Iíll not dwell on a description. English rules were available but we managed to grab a demo person straight away so were saved the effort of reading them. Hurrah. Itís quite a light game and the various combinations of boards and VP conditions should give it a lot of replayability. It was right up Telís street so he bagged a copy before the day was out.

Dr Who

After a bit more wandering we found ourselves in one of the indy halls. As if by magic an empty table appeared so one of the Frogs (hi Tim!) offered to teach us one of Martin Wallacesí new games, Dr Who.

Thereíve been a few Who games over the years but this is the first card game I recall. A look at some of the cards suggested there wouldnít be a great deal of meat but what the heck, only one way to find out.

The basic idea is to lay out location cards in front of you, and score at the end of the game for those which youíve defended or are attacking. Other cards represent various bad guys, for attacking, and the Doctor and various companions for defending. Sadly everything is based around the current Doctor, so the best Doctor ever doesnít make an appearance.

Sadly also first impressions bore out and thereís not a huge amount going on. This makes it more of a family than a gamers game. The most interesting decisions come from the need to pass three cards each turn to the player to your right. This gives quite a bit of control over which cards that person gets to play with, so I quickly hit on the idea of always attacking that player and never giving him any defensive cards. It wasnít quite a winning strategy, but I think it did result in making the game quite miserable for Tel.

Crude Ė The Oil Game

This is a reprint of a grail game from the 70ís, which is known as either Crude or McMulti, depending on whether youíre German or not. As the name suggests, this is a game about the oil business. Players drill for oil, convert it to petrol, and trade both commodities across a number of markets. The game comes with a ton of plastic bits and a very garish box. Whoever decided to use the cover picture should be shot. The plastic bits represent various oil extraction, conversion and selling equipment. Each player has a 6 by 6 grid in which to place their bits, and these are triggered by the roll of a pair of dice each turn. So no auctions, workers or shuffling of wooden cubes.

We only played enough of the game to get a flavour for it. Its age does show, with its dependency on dice and lack of more modern Euro mechanisms. This made me a little wary, especially after a conversation the next day with Derek Carver, who had played the game quite a bit in the past and was able to offer insights into its gameplay compared to todayís designs. However, it looked like an interesting economics game which a few of the group would probably enjoy so I took a punt and grabbed a copy later in the week when I saw the pile for sale was declining.

We played a full copy back at the hotel with somebody who knew the original. He pointed out a number of places where the originalís warts had been improved, such as a change in the way that nodding donkeys enter the game and the addition of another market. There does seem to be an issue with triggering of new economic conditions though as it appears quite difficult for a severe downturn to occur. This reduces opportunities for trying to make money by buying and selling assets so the game seems more focused now on making profits though oil and petrol.

We missed one vital rule which would have had a big impact, not realising that assets are unlimited. I didnít find that out until the next day when I had to get a replacement for a misshapen oil derrick from the Stronghold stall. The chap who gave me the replacement said ďof course, we provide more of each type of asset than youíll ever need Ė and the bits in the box arenít meant to be a hard limit, anyway.Ē We ran out of derricks quite early in the game, with most of us choosing to erect as many as we could fit in our grid. Maybe that was poor play but it certainly seemed the logical thing to do. Other prospective buyers may want to be aware of this.


This turned out to be our last game of the day at the show. The theme here is of renovating a city. The board is a grid which is filled in randomly with buildings in need of renovation. The back of the tiles show the renovated building. Our friendly demo person told us it was easier to see the wood for the trees if we just removed them from the board instead so I suppose we played a demolition variant instead.

Points are scored each turn by renovating building or having control of specialists, one for each colour of building. End game points are scored by bonus cards, of which only three can be in play per player. You can pick up as many as you like, but only three will be scored.

Players take turns taking two actions. These can be used to take cards, hire specialists, renovate buildings or play a bonus card. Turns donít take very long so the game moves on fairly snappily.

It probably falls on the light side of medium weight but does allow for different approaches. Weíve now played it twice and each time a significant number of points have come from the end game bonus points. Ignore them at your peril. These are played face down, unknown to everyone else, so those who dislike games with this sort of mechanism should probably stay clear. Itís a nice enough game otherwise though, and convinced Oggie to open his wallet.

Love Letter

We had a few minutes spare in the hotel before we headed out for more slabs of meet and our personal barrel of beer. This proved long enough for a few games of Love Letter.

This is a very small game, consisting of about 16 cards. Each card has a role, most of which are used to target another player. The idea is to either be the last man standing, or have the highest role at the end.

Weíre not usually fond of elimination games but with this one youíre only out for a couple of minutes before a new game kicks off. Not that youíll necessarily survive long enough to actually have a go in the next game. Oggie managed to get eliminated in the first two games without having a single turn. And he was start player in one of the games.

Nobody will mistake this for a deep strategy game, but it serves its purpose as quick filler. And itís entertaining to watch people getting knocked out. I think everyone rather enjoyed this one. Except Oggie.

Again, we failed to play any games back at the hotel. And again, it was due to the brew pub. This time we upped the ante a little with our own barrel at the end of the table and it would have been rude to leave before it was empty.

And so to Friday, which came around a few hours too early for some of the intrepid group after The Night of the Barrel.

We werent particularly surprised to see that it was busier than the day before. It turned out to be the busiest day of the lot, which unfortunately made it a bit tricky to find a free table for much of the day.


We were a bit undecided about where to head when we first got in. In previous years weíd tended to head to the Rio Grande stall to try a couple of games but these days itís just a sales desk.Eventually we figured weíd head for hall 5 and see what caught our fancy. Iíd earlier read the rules for Homesteaders and suggested it would be worth a play.

So for the second morning on the trot we kicked off with a game from last year.

This is an auction and resource management game. Like many games, there are various buildings which give benefits to the person who builds them. These are indirectly obtained by auction. What actually happens is the winner gets the right to build one, and needs to pony up a bunch of resources as a build cost. Benefits are largely in the form of additional resources, paid out each turn. The better the building, the higher the cost and reward. So essentially itís a build up an economic engine and then crank out VPs sort of game.

All in all, a nice medium weight game which combines mainly familiar mechanisms well. Tel was enamoured enough to declare his intention to snag a copy about a pico-second after weíd scored up.


By now the halls were full and free tables were rather thin on the ground. Eventually we had the bright idea of heading to the Queen stall, figuring that there should be fast turnover on the Escape tables. After all, itís only a 10 minute game.

This is a cooperative game, a theme we were to encounter in a number of games this year. Itís nominally about exploring a temple, or ruin, or who knows what. In reality itís an excuse for frantically rolling dice while wandering from tile to tile trying to collect gems. The gameís accompanied by a soundtrack which plays various bonging sounds from time to time. Collectively, you need to collect enough gems to allow everyone to escape before the final bong.

Sadly we messed it up by playing with the wrong tiles, making it impossible to complete the game. So we were all trapped, crushed, or eaten by beavers - whatever the final fate is for people failing to escape.

Tel was a little temped by this, for a fun occasional filler. Ä35 was a bit much for a 10 minute filler though so he ended up passing on the deal.


After a break for sausage and a chat, we spent some more time fruitlessly looking for another table. Well, thatís not quite true. The place was awash with tables. Just not tables with empty chairs. In the end we decided to split up and stake out a couple of tables.

Oggie was quite keen to give Seasons a shot but found out that all the English copies had already gone. So he came to join me and Tel just as a table for Qin emptied.

This is a thinly veiled abstract by the good Dr Knizia with a very loose Chinese theme. Everyone gets a series of pagoda shaped bits and some tiles. Tiles are played on a board, which is just a grid with some squares filled in. Each tile covers two squares, and each half is in one of three colours.

If you place a tile so as to connect at least two squares on the board with the same colour, and nobody else has a pagoda in it already, you get to stick one of yours in. You can add a second if the area covers at least five squares. Some of the pre-printed areas on the board represent villages, and you get to add a pagoda if you control most of the squares in regions surrounding it. This seemed to be source for much of the strategy in our game. In a nod to E&T itís also possible to merge with a smaller region and take over it, though I donít think that happened in our game.

It ended up more of a brain burner than weíd expected going in. A few years ago weíd probably have bought a copy but now itís not good enough to make the cut.


One of the guys at the hotel had tried this and thought it pretty good. Weíd watched a group playing earlier in the day and decided to wander back over to see if we could get a game. Fortunately for us, a table freed up pretty quickly.

This oneís themed around the space race. Players hire scientists to increase their abilities in various areas. Then they perform a mission to earn VPs. At the start of the game you are only able to take on simple missions, but once youíve got enough scientists you can start to be a bit more ambitious. The big VPs are to be earned on a mission to the moon - and, hopefully, back.

To mix things up a little, you can also recruit spies. These basically become one of your scientists but take up a slot on another players board - effectively preventing them from using that slot yourself.

Ironically, for a game about firing rockets up into space, it felt a bit flat. It really didnít give much of a feeling of the space race. The theme could really have been about anything. Itís essentially a worker placement game where you canít move your workers, with a series of small races. Thereís a lot of luck in rolling dice to move up the VP tracks, and in taking cards to help or hinder this progression. So thereís not enough meat to make this the gamers game that the theme would suggest that it aspires to be.

Little Devil

I got this for 2 Euros as a combined deal with Crude. The good things about it were it only cost 2 Euros, it comes in a nice tin, and the deck of cards are numbered 1 to 54. Thereís surely another game we can play with such cards. We played it with 3 players, a number which it says it supports, but it was pretty awful. Maybe it works better with more players.

The gameís a sort of mash up of 6 Nimmt and a trick taking game. The aim is to avoid collecting devil heads which are printed on the cards. The twist with this game is that the second player decides the winning condition for the trick (highest or lowest card played).

Not one which weíll be rushing to play again.

Tricks of the Rails

This is another mash-up, this time between a trick taking and a railway game. Cards played in a trick either become part of a railway line operated by one of five companies, or shares in these companies. Players are trying to gain shares in the most valuable companies, and increase the value of companies they have shares in. Each company will end up with a train assigned to it which will determine how much of a railway line will contribute to a companyís value.

Weíve played a couple of times now and the game seems best with fewer players. With five players thereís not enough tricks to make the game anything buy an exercise in luck. It probably takes a couple of games to get your head around which tricks to try to win and which to lose. Overall, a decent little game in a small package. Just donít think youíll be getting anything approaching the depth of an 18XX in card form.

After a quick break for sleep, we found ourselves back in the breakfast room plotting another day in the halls. And, in my case, shaking my head in incredulity at both Oggie and Tel munching their way through scrambled egg sandwiches. Madness. Anyway, the plan for the morning had slightly more substance than the previous days in that we at least had a stall in mind to aim for.


Yet again, our first game of the day was from last year. This is a worker placement game based in, believe it or not, a village. The twist on the classical worked placement genre is that time is a currency and your workers can die.

You start with a set of first generation workers which can be sent to various parts of the board for various actions. Some provide immediate benefits such as crafting or selling at a market. Others are longer term investments such as sending a worker out on a journey for end game VPs. Well, I say immediate benefits. Many of the actions have a cost in time and thus use up some of the lifespan of a worker.

We only played a shortened version of the game and thus didnít really see the full impact of the aging mechanism. It also biased the scoring towards short term gains as the game didnít run long enough to accrue full end game benefits. I suspect we therefore didnít see the game at its best. We ended up collecting a lot of resources which didnít get used because of this so the game felt a lot looser than it is probably supposed to. As a consequence of this, we didnít really see anything which lifted it above the morass of worker placement games now on the market. However, we could see potential for a better game in there so Tel snagged a copy.

Vampire Empire

Expecting table space to be at a premium again we sat down at the stall next door when we saw one of theirs was unoccupied. This turned out to be a two player card game. Three into two doesnít normally go but Oggie and I teamed up against Tel.

This is an asymmetrical game where one player is human and the other vampire. The human player wins if he kills the three vampires. The vampire player wins if he either gets the vampires into play and reveals them, or kills the 9 humans.

Each turn, each side can take a couple of actions. Mostly this involves trying to identify the vampires or setting up a fight between two characters Ė the loser being removed from the game. It involves a bit of bluffing by the vampire player to try to hide the identity of the vampires, which is not ideal when two people are playing the vampire side and trying to decide on a course of action.

Overall this didnít do a great deal for us. There didnít seem to be as much scope for bluffing or clever play as the demo person suggested. Also, it looked like the vampire player would be very lucky to get all of his vampires in play without the human player slaying one of them once their identities started to become known. Hence it would in all likelihood become a war of attrition.

Viva Java

Cunningly, weíd expected it to be tricky to get a table and so booked a game of this in advance.

This is another semi-cooperative game, this time themed around blending coffee. Players first choose a location to place their dobber, each location giving a coffee bean and also a small benefit or disadvantage. Locations form regions, and players in the same region team up for the rest of the round and decide to produce a blend of coffee or to engage in research on a small technology tree. The purpose of blending coffee is to try to get onto a leader board of blends, thus gaining VPs. Researching is done to improve abilities Ė such as gaining additional beans when going to a location Ė and to get end game VPs.

Two things became obvious fairly quickly. The luck of the draw when creating blends means this is not a heavyweight game. And it doesnít work all that well with three players. This should have been enough to put this straight into the no-buy category.

However, it accommodates eight players and looked like it would work well with upwards of five. Thus it should work nicely when looking for a game for a lot of players which isnít a card or party game, but is still light enough to be a bit of fun. So itís not a game that will come out a lot but it fills a gap and has quite a fresh feel to it. Into the buy category it went.

Uruk 2

Just as I wandered over to have a closer look at this, the people playing it finished off and departed the table. Perfect timing!

This is a card base civilisation building game, and is a follow up to a similarly themed game from a few years back. Cards represent locations, and are played to a limited number of slots before each player. Placement involves a San-Juan like payment for each card. Once placed they confer resources or other benefits. The game is played over four ages, each separated by a disaster which must be taken into account and hopefully mitigated by each player.

In a turn, you may draw or place cards or take the benefit from those already played. Alternatively, you may build a town or city at a location. These increase the value of each location. VPs at the end of the game are scored according to the worth of each of the playersí locations.

A big pile of cards, and a set of different disasters each turn, should lead to a reasonable amount of replayability. And it all comes wrapped up in a small box which is a definite advantage.

One of the joys of Essen is discovering good games which appear out of nowhere. We all enjoyed this and would surely have picked up a couple of copies between us. Sadly though the game was not available for sale due to all of the wooden bits not being available from the supplier in time. One for next year then.


Weíd listened to a group being taught this and decided to take a punt on buying a copy as it sounded quite different. We gave it a go back at the hotel.

In essence itís a city building game. You play cards, possibly combined with tiles, to gain resources and VPs. So far, so standard. However, itís quite a clever game and didnít really feel like anything else Iíd played. In fact, it took us a few turns to really get our heads around it. The iconography in the back of the player screen doesnít really help to clarify things either Ė if anything it just adds to the confusion.

Once weíd figured out what we were doing, it turned out to be fairly straightforward. In a turn you must take one of four possible actions. These will give a combination of resources, tiles and VPs. All of these are hidden behind a player screen. Most VPs are scored at the end of the game, in the form of bonus points on cards played and on ownership of tiles played to the city. This is not a game for those who dislike games where itís difficult to track scores. While VPs are all trackable it would take a considerable effort to do so.

This game packs quiet a lot into a short timeframe and definitely has a bit of a learning curve so it should stay fresh for a while. During our first game I donít think any of us were keeping much of an eye on end game VPs, being too busy trying to figure out how to keep a resource/tile engine going. Weíve since played again though and made a much better job of that second time around.

For me, this was one of the best games of the show. It was the only big box game that we bought more than one copy between us. Iím not convinced by the end game though. Once all tiles have been taken, players can sell some back for a VP each. The game ends once those have been used up. In both of our games this has happened in the very next turn, due to the engines in place by then. It may have been better just to end the game once all the tiles were used up the first time, and to have those not used by each player worth a VP. As it stands, players may as well just sell back all but one or two tiles as theyíll likely not have a chance to play more than that. It does seem a bit of a clunky ending on an otherwise elegant game.

After that, sleep called so we made this the last game of the night.

We always take Sundays quite lightly. Do some packing, find out what space we have left, wander into the fair and maybe play a game or two or make a last purchase. This time we mainly mooched, playing only one turn of a game.


Desperados is yet another semi-cooperative game. The fair seemed to be awash with them this year. In this one, there is one sheriff and lots of desperados. Just like Colditz, none of us wanted to play the Germans, erm sheriff, but I found myself nominated to take the role. Lucky me.

Game play is a bit like Scotland Yard. The criminals move around the board, robbing banks and stagecoaches, and the sheriff tries to catch them before they steal too much. The location of a criminal is only known when they take an action at a location, and the sheriffís location is only known at the start of a round. So itís largely a matter of wandering around hoping to bump into, or avoid, each other Ė depending on which side of the fence youíre on.

Not a game which appealed to any of us so we made our excuses and left after the first round and went to mooching and buying instead.

And so the curtains came down on another Essen. As ever, we had a great time, played a fair number of games, and got to meet up with people we donít see very often. And ate plenty of meat and drank plenty of beer. Again, nothing we played is likely to become our favourite game ever but we gave up expecting that to happen regularly a long time ago. So all in all, a good year.

Next year should be interesting as this year is the last time that Spiel is held in the familiar halls. Theyíre all scheduled to be demolished and replaced with new ones over the next few years. Itís going to be like being a newbie all over again as we try to figure out where the heck stalls are located now. Still, bring it on!

 Comment by Tel   29-Oct-2012
My first Essen for a few years. And whilst I thoroughly enjoyed it and really wish I could still make it every year, there was nothing spectacular this year that made it stand out from other years I have attended. We played some good games (though I'm not sure any were great games) and we played some poor games. Circumstances meant I didn't go into this years fair with as much preparation as I would have liked, so there may have been a couple of games that missed the radar. But in general I'm happy with the games that I managed to pick up, and the couple of games that I didn't pick up that I liked, made it into Paul or Oggies purchases.

The biggest surprise to me this year was the number of stalls we passed where there was a "camera crew" interviewing or taping a demo of a game. I'd seen a few videos floating around before the show, so was expecting to see the BGGeek crew around somewhere, but wasn't expecting to see so many others.

I agree with Paul that from the one game of Uruk 2 we had, it looks to be a stonking game and one to certainly keep an eye on for next year. This has to be a contender for my favourite game of the show along with Ginkgopolis, Kingdom Builder, Viva Java and Crude. Though I am looking forward to trying Snowdonia and Tzolkin, neither of which we managed to try, but both found there way heading back to Brighton.

Paul said "nothing we played is likely to become our favourite game ever but we gave up expecting that to happen regularly a long time ago", whilst I agree I have given up expecting it to happen, I still hope.
 Comment by Frank   29-Oct-2012
Interested to hear Ginkopolis being rated highly, being by the bloke who did Troyes. As for Snowdonia, I had planned on playing it solo tonight,but may not get it finished, because it is 8.30pm and I haven't set up the board yet. I also loved the idea of Love Letter and look forward to my first play with Chrissy.

No mention of CO2 here, so assuming you didn't get to play this over the weekend. Clearly beer is more important than pollution. :D
 Comment by crorkz linkz   15-Jan-2015
hUmaW6 I have fun with, cause I found just what I used to be looking for. You have ended my four day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye
 Comment by crorkz jremy   23-Nov-2014
hJ3KZI Wow, wonderful weblog structure! How long have you been running a blog for? you make running a blog look easy. The overall look of your web site is fantastic, as neatly as the content material!

Pauls Essen 2010 28-Oct-2010

As usual, let's start with the standard disclaimer. We may well have misread, misheard or misunderstood rules in any or all of the games we played. Whilst a wrong rule is unlikely to convert a good game into a great one, it may well turn a good game to a poor one. So bear this in mind whenever I describe a game in less than glowing terms. Also, most of my opinions are from a single playing of a game. This might be an outlier, and the game may usually play better or worse.

This time we had three intrepid gamers along for the trip. So your hosts for this Essen report are Paul, Andy and Oggie.


This year, Easyjet had decided to fly to Dusseldorf. Which was very handy for us because it meant we got a lie-in and only a 45 minute train ride at the other end. The French air traffic controllers made a valiant effort to disrupt our journey but the best they could do was to slow us down for a bit.

As we flew out of what is a nominally London airport, it seemed appropriate that our first game was London. As this was Wednesday night and the doors of the Messe were still to open, we got to use one of the playtest copies of the game. We also got to be guinea pigs for one of the Treefrog rules meisters who would get to spend the whole weekend teaching the game to others. Lucky man.

As you have probably gathered, the gameís about London. I think itís mainly about rebuilding bits of London after the Great Fire made rather a mess of it. We did this the wrong way around really as we got the chance to do the burny bit later in the week. This is a Martin Wallace game so obviously you get to take out loans. Fortunately you get to do other stuff too. Mainly, pick up and play cards to form your very own little city. I presume itís really your little bit of the larger city or weíd have been building four different Londons. That would have been a little odd.

The game has a superficial similarity with games like San Juan, where cards can be spent to play other cards. But once again, the designer has managed to create something a bit different for you to take loans out for. The twist here is that you (usually) only get to use the cards once. And because Martin obviously hates us all, you get to take some anti-VP tokens too.

The game turned out to be lighter than Iíd expected, though thatís not necessarily a bad thing. Obviously nobody else thought it a bad thing as it proceeded to sell like hot cakes. Fortunately Iíd got my order in weeks earlier. Which means the nice Treefrog people are going to post it to me so I didnít have to heft it back home.

We turned up on Thursday morning to see the biggest queues weíve encountered yet. We must have joined the lucky queue because it only took us 40 minutes to get through the doors. Other people who joined at the same time were complaining of being stuck in the queue for up to two hours. Very strange.

20th Century

After an obligatory bit of wandering round we found ourselves at the Rio Grande stall. There were a few free tables so we grabbed one for 20th Century. The Rio stall seems to be a bit of a Brit magnet as we had four separate ďso, whatís it likeĒ visits from other Brits while we were playing.

Iíd read through quite a few rule sets before heading out to Essen, to try to weed out the duffs. This out had sounded okay but hadnít jumped out as a must buy. Obviously Iíd managed to forget all but the basic idea by this time so we needed to hit the rules again.

This is the game youíd get if you got a big bag, chucked in Carcassone, Alhambra, Mull & Money and Amun Re, and then gave the bag a good old shake. It has two auctions per round, each of which uses a different currency. The first auction gets you nice things. The second gets you bad things. The trick of course is to maximise the former and minimise the latter.

I thought it played better than this description suggests and was nice enough to buy. When we tried it later in the week with a full complement of five players it seemed to play a bit long so this may be better when pulled out with fewer players.


It was time for one of the highlights of Essen. Something weíd been looking forward to for weeks. No, not Navigator Ė Frikadellen! For anyone whoís missed out on them, theyíre basically little fat burgers in rolls. In earlier years theyíd been in all of the food stands but last year weíd not seen many, so weíd mainly munched Bratwursts. This year we were determined to make a better effort. The people who run Essen seemed equally keen to hide them from us so we ended up on The Great Frikadellen Hunt of 2010. After three stalls we tracked them down. Obviously we later realised that the first stall we looked at also had some. For less money. Oh well.

After that, and a bit more exploration, we headed back to the Rio stall suitably girded for gaming. The tables were full by now but we didnít have long to wait for one to free up. We grabbed a copy of Navigator to play on it.

Navigator is a rondel game. You know the form by now. Trot round the wheel; select an action; do stuff on the board. This time the gameís about exploring the seas and coasts near Portugal. So itís all about building boats and sailing them across the board. Buildings can be bought which boost production and give end game VPs. These are funded by setting up colonies and selling goods to market.

Itís a perfectly decent game but didnít seem to add anything new. If you like rondel games youíll probably like it. If you donít, itís not going to convince you. Question is, does the world need another one? In my case, only if itís as good as Imperial 2030. And itís not.

This is the first of many games I played that Iíd have happily bought a few years ago. But ďperfectly decentĒ doesnít cut the mustard any more. Iíve enough of those already.

7 Wonders

We finished up Navigator with about 15 minutes before the show closed, leaving just about enough time to grab a couple of games to play in the evening.

But before more games, we needed more food. As this is Germany, that largely meant meat. Quite a lot of meat. And beer, in the form of our own personal barrel. As I was sitting next to it, that meant I got to be Dwarven Barman for the night. The barrel was a tad lively at the start but by the time the food arrived I was managing to serve up brews with some actual beer nestling under the clouds of froth.

That meant we were reasonably well lubricated by the time we got back to the hotel. As regular readers of out Essen reports may remember, that has been known to transform us from Mild Mannered Janitor to Gaming God. 7 Wonders would seem the ideal opportunity for us to show our prowess to four other players. Sadly the rest of the hotel must have been aware of our elevated state of gaming and found other things to do.

Not to worry. It plays with three so we gave it a go anyway.

Itís a drafting game, building up an engine to crank out VPs. Well, strictly speaking to store VPs until the end, which are then spat out in the form of a final score. I went into this one expecting a nice, short, scalable game, which had a little bit of meat on its bones. And thatís exactly what it delivered. Certainly not the best game Iíve ever played. But it fills a gap in my collection for an end of evening game to pull out for seven players which isnít bordering on a party game.

Three players probably isnít the ideal number for this one. We played again later in the week with five, and that was more fun. More people mean more banter around the table so I think Iíll be keeping this one back for when weíve got a bigger bunch of players.


After the huge queue yesterday, we arrived today to see no queue at all. Stranger and stranger.

Frescoís not a new release, and has already won a couple of awards. It was new to us though.

The game shares some similarities with Keythedral. Place workers to get cubes, and dob in the cubes to get tiles for VPs. This oneís themed around restoring a fresco so the cubes represent paints. The base gameís more suitable for families so we added in a couple of the expansions to up the gamer factor. The only expansion we didnít use was the one requiring more complex paints to claim tiles. Our box only had German rules for the expansions Ė despite having English rules for the core game. We flagged down a demo guy to teach us the expansion rules and he explained two of them but told us not to bother with the third as weíd already set all of the tiles up against the basic rules.

It doesnít add anything weíve not seen before, except perhaps the use of mood as a resource, but plays nicely. We grabbed a couple of copies between us so weíll find out what difference the other expansion makes. Queen had an additional mini expansion available for a couple of Euros, though their big box of additional expansions hadnít made the fair.


Nice try Queen but it takes more than a handful of camels to fool us.

This is themed around families trading in the Middle East. In reality it's a train game. Players marry into families (buy shares in companies). They may then place camels (trains) belonging to these families (companies). Points are scored at the end of the game according to how many camels (trains) have been placed into cities on cards you accumulate through the game. Ironically, even the name of the designer has been has been changed from the original.

It's an okay game. Not as good as Chicago Express from the same designer though. I don't think any of us will be disappointed if we don't play it again.


If you're going to play your first 18XX game, you may as well do it on a heady cocktail of beer and not enough sleep. At least then you have an excuse when the two 18XX sharks at the table beat you. Fortunately for us this is a gentle introduction to the genre so we didn't go bankrupt at the merest hint of a dodgy move.

Oddly enough, this was our second train game pretending to be otherwise on the trot. The excuse this time was setting the game before trains had been invented. Okay, Iíll concede them that one. Fortunately boats had been invented. So this time we got to invest in Kingdoms (companies) and place trading posts (rails) in various sea areas.

The game seems to achieve its aims quite well. Its 18XX lite with a playing time of about two hours. It even has one or two innovations. One of the better games from this Essen for me. And made all the sweeter for seeing one of the sharks coming in last place.

The Great Fire of London

The Messe were obviously expecting bumper crowds today as they'd brought a temporary ticket booth online. We were expecting it to be a tad busy too. Saturday always are. So I guess we were all a little surprised to turn up to the sight of tumble weed. It was quite busy once we got into the lobby though.

Speaking of surprises, The Great Fire of London had made it to Essen. This wasn't entirely expected given the problems that JKLM have had recently getting anything printed. Hopefully that bodes well for their transformation into Prime Games.

We were joined at the table by a couple of gamers of unknown origin. Our rules explanation was somewhat interrupted when one of their chairs demanded a blood sacrifice and savaged the poor guys finger. Loss of blood got the better of him so he left us to it.

This is quite a clever game. You play wind cards to fan the flames in one of the cardinal directions. If it gets into a new district it burns down all of the houses in it. That's bad news for the owners as it'll cost them VPs at the end of the game. I expect the owners of the houses which were actually burned in the fire were similarly irked.

We had a jolly time burning each others houses and scoring points for putting out flames. It was pointed out to us that we weren't playing quite like the other demo tables. That's not the first time weíve been told that. I expect it'll not be the last either. Occasionally the designer would wander over to answer a question or impart a little historical nugget. He always looked a little disappointed that we hadn't turned the board into a raging inferno yet. I think he likes fires.

I liked this one. It had some nice ideas and felt quite fresh. I didnít like it enough to buy a copy though.

Rio de la Plata

Another game, another couple of strangers. We got a nationality this time though. Actually, more than one. Poland, with a bit of the US and Ireland thrown in for good measure. Observant readers will note that that's three countries between two people. Some people just like to move around a lot.

Over the years we've had some great people teach us games. Sure, some have managed to mangle the odd rule. I'm sure were still using some accidental Essen variants today. This was our first introduction to the "here's a handful of rules to get you going, figure the rest out yourself" school of thought. To be fair, it's a fairly complex game to teach by Euro standards and we did have a copy of the rules to hand. But it didn't help.

The game is about settling Buenos Aires. It came across as a sort of over complex Puerto Rico with occasional combat but without the roles or most of the fun. We played as far as the first battle then aborted by mutual agreement.

Not a terrible game but not a particularly good one either. It looked like it would have taken hours (and hours) to finish and didn't have the feel of something that would work with the group.


Only one stranger this time. Though he managed to progress from Stranger to Stalker on the way home, after randomly appearing right next to us on the tube back to Essen station and than shadowing us for most of the journey home. He claimed to be heading to London, so he gets to enter the Piddinghoe Hall of Fame as ďCockney StalkerĒ.

Every time Friedemann Friese releases a new game, we start crossing fingers hoping itís another Powergrid. Iíll put you out of your misery. This one isnít. Itís a game about brewing beer to earn enough money to build palaces. Nice idea if nothing else. You spend the first chunk of the game building up an economics engine to generate cash, and the rest ripping it down to make way for palaces. The obvious flaw with this plan is once youíve built all of your palaces you canít make any more beer. Perhaps weíll see an expansion next year to remedy that sad state of affairs.

Itís a clever little game that primarily comes down to deciding when to start ripping down your infrastructure. We played the basic game. Thereís a slightly more advanced version once youíve got to grips with that. A single gameís probably going to be quite enough grip getting for most players. I quite liked it but itís definitely not one of his best. Come on Friedemann. Give us a meaty one next year.


After a trip down to the local Irish pub, we cracked Troyes out. This heavily revolves around the use of dice, which will be enough to get at least one member of the group running for the hills. It uses them in very clever ways though so that low numbers can be just as good as high ones. Or can be transformed into high ones. Or sold to other players.

Over the course of five turns, you get to roll a fist full of dice and then spend them as wisely as possible to generate stuff. Stuff is largely either money or VPs but could be other dice too. This is mainly done by allocating them to cards which do various things. As the game goes on, more and more cards become available. For the last three turns there will be over a dozen cards to choose from. Only a subset of cards is used in each game so there should be a ton of replayability.

This is another game which sold out at the show, and is being heralded as one of the best released this year. Itís very clever. I think I need another few plays to figure out how to play this one well.

So, onto Sunday and a last chance for gaming before heading home. Our second last game is one we get to play each year. Itís the ďhow do I get all of these boxes into this bagĒ game. My trusty bag of earlier years had suicided so this year I was armed with a new one. Iíd cunningly done a test pack before even leaving home to figure out how many games I could safely buy. But like most plans, this one had gone to pot within hours of getting to Essen. My whole packing algorithm was predicated on rectangular boxes. So I was a bit stuffed when I picked up a pre-order for 7 Wonders and found myself the proud owner of a square box. Bugger. I optimistically popped it into the bag on one edge but the bag stubbornly refused to play ball. Fortunately I managed to cram everything in with a few inches to spare.

Era of Inventions

The last game of the show was Era of Inventions. Oggie has been trying to get a game of this in all weekend so was rather pleased to spot a free table as we strolled through the halls. He was rather less pleased when we made him find a way through the razor thin gaps between the tables to get to his seat.

You would be right in thinking that this game is about inventions. You place workers to build factories to generate resources, and use these (and more workers) to invent and use inventions. Inventing and using give you VPs; collect enough of them and you get to win the game. So itís a worker placement economic engine game. Nothing particularly new there then.

I liked the theme of this one but Iím not at all convinced that it was fully developed. It felt like it had been rushed for Essen. Another few months in the melting pot would have done it a world of good.

As ever, Essen was thoroughly enjoyable. I played a number of decent games and a few good ones. Met a lot of people I don't see very often, and a few new ones. And ate a lot of meat. I wouldn't say any games were outstanding this year, but that's probably something to be hoped for rather than expected. And now I get to play another annual game - the "how do I fit these new games onto the shelves" game. Somehow that one gets tougher every year.
 Comment by Frank   02-Nov-2010
Great report, Paul. Thanks for sharing.

I am intrigued by Troyes.

Did you say it sold out before any of you could buy a copy or did someone manage to bring it back?
 Comment by Paul   03-Nov-2010
Andy bought a copy before they ran out.
 Comment by WDdvOBUXCGgI   14-Jan-2011

Pauls Essen 2009 31-Oct-2009

Let's start with the standard disclaimer. We may well have misread, misheard or misunderstood rules in any or all of the games we played. Whilst a wrong rule is unlikely to convert a good game into a great one, it may well turn a good game to a poor one. So bear this in mind whenever I describe a game in less than glowing terms. Also, most of my opinions are from a single playing of a game. This might be an outlier, and the game may usually play better or worse.

This year only myself and Oggie went. So we played a few games with just two players, but in most cases joined with other people. We also decided to fly for the first time in a few years. This limited what we could bring back, which concentrated the mind on trying to find good games.


This is a worker placement game based in Egypt. Workers are placed in spaces along the Nile. About half of the spaces have a fixed purpose on each of the 5 turns, the other half being made up from a deck of cards. The cards laid in later turns tend to be more powerful than earlier ones. You have eight workers but usually won't have the opportunity to play them all. The innovation in this game is the river placement mechanism. Each worker you place must be downstream of all of your others. This results in players pretty much leapfrogging over each other when placing their workers.

The basic idea is to try to build up a balance between the two primary resources in the game, which are men and stone. Then use these to generate VPs. Most victory points are earned throughout the game, though a not insignificant amount come from bonus cards which may be collected each turn.
Men come in four colours and you may have up to nine of each. You can only use the men of each colour once per turn, and each man uses one brick. These are primarily used to take bonus cards and to build monuments.

We played it twice. Once as a two player in the halls with a couple of obligatory rule misteachings and the other time back at the hotel as a foursome. Nothing revolutionary here, except perhaps the restriction of only taking actions downstream of earlier ones. Nicely done though, and we both thought it was one of the better games we played this year. Thereís some German on the cards Ė particularly the bonus cards, which all have text Ė but a cheat sheet will sort that out. Thereís an English version due out, but I believe itís fairly far down Rioís priority list.


This one has been out for a few months now, but was new to us.

The board is split into two areas. One area is a rondel. This has around a dozen spaces, each showing a fruit symbol. Players move around this picking up donkeys and bits of fruit. Your movement around the rondel is determined by how many men share the same space as you. The number of fruit bits you get depends on how many men share the space you end up on.

The other part of the board has a number of demand tiles. These show demand for between one and six fruits. Some are for particular fruits whilst others show wildcards. Any type of fruit may be substituted for a wildcard, though the same fruit must be used for multiple wildcards.

In a turn you do one of two things. Move a man on the rondel or satisfy a demand. You do the former to collect fruit and donkeys. You do the latter to score VPs. You may only do the latter if you have both a donkey and have collected the required fruits. Each tile is worth a VP for each fruit on it. It may also contribute to bonus VPs.

We thought it would be a light little game when we saw all of the colourful pieces but it turned out to need a bit of thought and planning. It played well with two players. In fact, I could imagine this to be the optimum number of players. A nice game, though neither of us felt the need to buy it.


This is played on a board which represents two rivers and the area around them. Well, more accurately it has two wavey blue lines going across the board. The board is broken down into hexes, each of which has a food symbol in it.

Each turn, a number of cards are revealed. These each have one or more of the food symbols on them. Players each take a pair of cards and then place wooden huts on the board. Huts must be placed next to one of the players other pieces on the board. The huts must then be supplied with food. This is done by playing cards with symbols matching those in the same hexes as your huts. Any not supplied are removed from the board.

Pieces on the board then earn VPs and action points. Action points are primarily used to earn more VPs.

I wasn't hugely impressed with this one. It was okay, though Iíve already pretty much forgotten about it. I wouldnít be too concerned if I didnít play it again. This was played four player with a couple of Belgian guys.


We played this back at the hotel. Myself and Oggie were just about to crack open my copy when we noticed a couple at the next table were reading the rules for it. Theyíd already finished punching out a mountain of tiles so we invited ourselves to join them.

As the name suggests, the game is based around a shipyard. Actually, each player is running their own shipyard. They will create and supply various ships which will then be sent out for a shakedown cruise.

Most of the action is based around a rondel which players use to choose actions. In a development from the standard rondel, actions are represented on tiles which move around the rondel. You take one free action from this rondel, and may purchase another. Your free action cannot be one which another player has taken this turn.

Actions allow you to obtain sections of ships, people and equipment to put on ships, cash, and canal tiles. Canal tiles are required to sail completed ships around. This is the primary scoring mechanism in the game. A ship will score a number of points when it is completed. It will get more by moving over symbols on the canals, usually depending on what the ship has been equipped with.

Bonus points are scored at the end of the game. You are given six bonus cards at the start of the game. Four of these must be discarded half way through the game. The remaining ones get you VPs at the end. These can be worth quite a lot of points so are worth pursuing. This allows you to tailor your strategy through the game, and should avoid people following a pre-canned plan each time.

Thereís a lot going on so it took us a few turns to get a grip on what we were doing. And we spent a little while figuring out exactly how to calculate ship speed and points. We had heard claims of fiddliness before playing and I can see to some extent where these claims come in there. But once we got that down pat it was plain sailing. It turned out to be a long game, clocking in at three hours. But the box claims 30 minutes per player and Iíd believe that to be accurate after youíve got the mechanics all straight in your mind.

Thereís not much you can be doing between turns so three people might be the sweet spot in this game to shave off half an hour. Anyway, we all enjoyed it. Which was just aswell given Iíd already bought a copy.

Fabrik Manager

The idea behind this one is to purchase tiles to place in your factory. This is done across a number of turns. Each turn has a number of phases.
Some of these will be familiar to players of Powergrid - auction and bureaucracy - and some of which are particular to this game. The basic flow is to auction turn order, make machines available for purchase, buy the machines, install them in your factory, and then earn profits.

You are juggling six resources Ė money, factory space, workers, manufacturing, packing, and energy. Workers are used to man machines, bid for turn order, and to determine how many tiles will be available for purchase. Money is used to purchase the tiles, which fit into a player board with a limited number of factory spaces. And the other three resources are used to determine income. The key resource is your workers. You donít have many so they must be used wisely.

We joined three other people so played as a table of five. One of the demo guys told us they usually recommend only playing with four for people learning the game. A fifth player introduces additional turn order tiles into the game, and some of these give (larger) discounts for purchases.
These can be used to grab a lot of tiles cheaply if the other players arenít careful. He decided that weíd be fine as we were all Powergrid veterans.

Itís a decent game which moved along quickly, though I could see youíd want to avoid people prone to analysis paralysis. Itís not as good as Powergrid, but then I wasnít really expecting it to be - itís a while since we had a really top drawer game from Friedemann so I set my expectations accordingly these days. Oggie thought it was good enough to buy though.


A friend had mentioned this one to us so we stopped to have a look when we saw the stand. The designer started explaining it, and then a table freed up so he played it with us.

Itís a cooperative game, but which only one person can win. Players explore an island made up from tiles. Each turn they may move, use a spell card, use a curse card, or rest. Some of the tiles have monsters on them which players may fight. Fighting uses energy, which resting replenishes. Itís not a standard dungeon bash as players are free to wander off on their own.

The cooperative bit comes in clubbing together to fight monsters, and to try to finish the game within a slightly variable turn limit. If time runs out, everyone loses. But at the same time, curse cards can be obtained and used to hinder your fellows. Actually, it's difficult to avoid using your curse cards as each one you hold limits the actions you can take in future turns.

We hindered a bit too much and lost. The designer explained that weíd played only the basic game, which players usually won. Oops. There was also a trickier advanced version. I think the designer wondered whether it was worth even explaining that one to us as we'd failed to beat the basic version.

It was quite a quirky game, with slightly disturbing artwork. They had two versions of the game for sale, one of which was only 19 Euros. I was very tempted to buy one, despite being convinced my group would never get a win, but just didnít have the space for it in the end.


I donít think Oggieís forgiven me for this one yet.

We got too close to a stand and a demo person caught our eye. I agreed to a five minute explanation of what turned out to be a two player game about gangsters. It was clear after the first minute that we werenít going to be interested. But we let the guy finish his pitch. And then he smoothly moved one of the bits on the board and informed Oggie it was his turn. And so the poor lad found himself trapped into playing a game he had no desire to play.

It has a gangster theme thinly painted onto a fairly abstract game about moving tiles around a board. Some of the tile edges have gun symbols and you can kill opponents tiles by abutting them with enough symbols. The goal of the game is to either claim the centre of the board or to get a tile to the end into your opponentís ďbaseĒ. You might also be able to win by eliminating all of your opponents bits. I stopped paying much attention to the explanation once I'd figured out I wasn't interested in it. Demo guy was obviously a bit competitive as heíd have won in about six turns if I hadnít pointed the threat out to Oggie. He won anyway, and seemed very disappointed when we told him we rarely played two player games. He was obviously a born salesman as he responded to that by trying to sell us two copies so that we could ďhave a tournamentĒ with four players!


Oggie was keen to try this one, so we patrolled the Rio stand until a table came free.

This is a treasure hunting game played on an island made up of various terrain types. It has a clever mechanism for narrowing down the locations of treasure, melded with a largely pointless mechanism for driving a little vehicle around the island to pick the treasure up. We didnít have time to finish this in the end, but played for long enough to get a feel for it.

The island is made from sections which can be put together in different ways. Thus the board should be different each game. It is made of hexes, each of a particular terrain tiles. The core mechanism is to play cards which narrow down the possible location of a treasure. A card may say that the treasure is in the largest forest, or within two spaces of a statue. Once a location is narrowed down to a single hex, players may drive their car to that spot to obtain he treasure.

Treasure is made up of a number of gold cards. Each player may get one or more of these, according to how many cards they played to narrow down its location. The player who retrieved the treasure will normally get an additional gold card. Most gold at the end of the game wins.

The people who freed up the table told us they wouldnít be buying it but that it was certainly worth a play. I think that was a fair assessment.

Imperial 2030

Quite by coincidence, after borrowing this, we found two of the players from our game of Fabrik Manager sitting a couple of tables away from us also with a copy. So we joined them to make a foursome.

As most people already know, this is an update of Imperial, from a couple of years ago. I've not played the original so can't really comment about how similarly or differently this plays.

This version is played across a map of the whole world instead of the original's map of Europe. The chap who explained this to us did mention a couple of rule tweaks from the original. One is that players with no country may invest each time there is an investment action. The other involves action selection. This is a rondel game, with the standard move three spaces and pay for additional moves mechanism. The rule change is to combat a problem in the original where a player may just alternate between the taxation and investment actions on the rondel. That used to be a very cheap way to build up money, which count as VP at game end. Now additional movements on the rondel become more expensive for each country over time.

Whilst a casual look at the board would suggest that the game is a Risk variant, in actual fact it's more of an economic game. Players vie for what are effectively shares in various countries. A country use ships and tanks to take control of seas and land areas. Taxation allows a country to generate income according to the areas they control. And this eventually makes it into the hands of players via dividends from their country holdings. This can then be used to buy further shares. A country is controlled by whoever holds the share majority and so can change hands throughout the game.

Turns are fast so there is very little downtime. What will take time is figuring out how best to play this game. It took us all a while before we started to see where we were trying to go. All in all, I thought this was a really nice game. I can see it getting a lot of plays.

Priests of Ra

This was again played with our foursome.

Youíre surely familiar with Ra. Well, this game has the same framework but a different set of scoring tiles. The big twist is that many of the tiles are double sided. You may decide which side to use when drawing the tile. One of the types of tiles Ė priests - allows you to flip another to the other side, but only if you have at least three of them. I think the only other difference is that there is no equivalent of god tiles, so player options are restricted to drawing a tile or starting an auction.

Iím not Raís biggest fan, but I quite enjoyed this version. Not enough to buy it though.


This was the last of our games with our newly found gaming colleagues, so another foursome.

This is a play cards to get resources to convert into VPs game. Each player has a set of identical cards. Each card has a role and a number from zero to 10. Each player secretly chooses two cards for the first round. The numbers on the cards are used to determine player order, which can be quite important. This is done by combining the numbers to make a two digit number. For example the 5 and the 2 would be combined to make 25, which would go before someone placing the 2 and 6 cards. In subsequent turns, you choose one of the cards to be discarded and it is replaced with another. So you may use the same card for several rounds.

VPs come in the form of tiles which need certain resources to be claimed. So you may use your cards to get, say, a blue and a yellow cube and then use those cubes to get a tile worth a couple of VPs. The game ends when somebody gets a certain VP total.

The gameís fairly chaotic and had the feel of something which Bruno Faidutti might have designed. In fact it reminded me a little of Citadels. More a filler than a game really, as you can play it in about 20 minutes. It was so short that we played a couple of times. None of us felt compelled to buy it though.

Basketball Boss

This game is themed around building up a basketball team.

It's played over around six turns, each of which has a number of phases. The core of the game is the purchase of players via auction. Each player begins with a mediocre set of players. Better ones need to be bought. A set of players will be revealed, each with a number of attributes. The most important ones are their ability. This will usually differ each turn. A player may also generate income each turn. He will also have a height, which is used mainly as a tie break. These players are auctioned one by one in a normal round and round the table auction. Once this has been done, the teams with the greatest abilities will win trophies.

Trophies are worth VPs. Additional VPs are earned according to the teams ability at game end. Highest score wins.

We were joined by a German couple for this one so played with four. None of us liked it enough to make a purchase. In fact I think Oggie was close to falling asleep at one point.

Strada Romana

One of the Belgians who we played Assyria with recommended this one to me. Itís one of those games which pack a decent amount of game play into around 45 minutes.

Itís played on a small board showing a path between Rome and Ö somewhere else, I forget where. The path is basically formed from a network showing connections between spaces. Players move carts over this network picking up wooden cubes and flat squares. These generate cash and are paired to create VPs. One nice touch is that you can use cash to buy special moves, but may only hold onto 4. Once you get to 5 cash, it must be converted into 1 VP. This can be a little awkward when you realise that the cube you have picked up has suddenly emptied your treasury.

There is a further way of earning VPs and that is to gamble on which carts will arrive first. Correct guesses earn VPs, bad ones lose them. Each player can only do this three times each game, and each cart may only be selected once.

It turned out to be a nice little game which felt a bit different to the norm. Not great rules though Ė we had at least three questions which werenít covered by the rules and needed clarification from someone on the stall. We only played with two, but I think it would scale well to more players.

Islas Canarias

I didnít have high hopes for this one as Clementoni arenít exactly a top rank publisher. But we needed a sit down and this was the first free table we saw. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

Itís an abstract game with a thin theme of settling an island. It came across as sitting somewhere between a game and a puzzle. Each player has a hand of cards which are used to place buildings. They also have a player board, representing an island, on which the buildings are placed. The islands each have a set of attributes, which differ slightly on each island. For example, one might have a road which is adjacent to three spaces whilst on another island it may be adjacent to four.

Cards show a building, then a set of priorities. So it might show a red house which should be built next to a road if possible, then beside a green building if not, then beside a sea area if not, etc. One is chosen to play to your island each turn, and one played to a communal pot. Cards in the communal plot are used against whichever island best meets the criteria. So if road is the first priority, it will go to the island with the most road spaces currently free. If thatís a tie then you work down the chain of priorities.

The trick is to place in such a way as to maximise future options. The more buildings you have, the less spaces are available for further building. Fortunately, sets of houses may be upgraded to palaces or cities. For example, three red houses may be converted into a single red city. Aswell as netting additional VPs, this frees up some spaces on your island.

I liked this, and it didnít really remind me of anything else. Again we played this just with two, which played slightly oddly as players alternate having two turns each. It should play nicely with three or four in under 45 minutes
 Comment by buy strattera   12-Dec-2009
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Best Game of 2008? 01-Oct-2009

Yes, you read right. I am wondering what your favourite game was last year. Can't do this year yet as it hasn't finished or at least Essen 2009 hasn't happened yet...

I reckon Pandemic was my favourite last year. And yeah, I know I can have a look at Stats but this may have changed.

 Comment by Tel   04-Oct-2009
Since I've had to seriously reduce my game playing time, it is a lot harder to choose a game of the year. I haven't managed to play too many games from last year and those I have played only got limited plays.
The obvious contender was Dominion. Now I only managed play this the once and I suspect it needs a few games to be able to see how the cards work together. Given how well its been received (ranked 7 on the geek), it seems churlish to criticize it. But I felt I was forced to spend too much time shuffling and not enough time following what others were doing.
Le Havre is another possible contender. I think the game works well and I've enjoyed both games I've played of it. But I think it just plays too long for me, on the whole I tend to prefer games that play in 45-90 minutes. I dont know what you lose playing the shorter version, but it may be worth giving that a go at some point.
A couple of Treefrog games also in the running, the first being Tinners Trail. After my 1 game of this I was expecting it to be a regular visitor to the table and am very surprised to see it has only been played once. Going to have to rectify this.
Steel Driver is the other Treefrog contender and that has had a couple of games. I've found both games interesting and entertaining but that last round can be prone to be a tad slow.
Finally the Fragor offering for 2008 was Snow Tails. A race game with nice movement mechanism.

Gievn that I've only played each game once or twice its a tough call, but I'd probably give the nod to Tinners Trail.

Essen Buys 2008 16-Dec-2008

The Guys very kindly brought me back:

Sushizock im Gockelwok
The Princes of Machu Picchu
Space Alert

I loved Wasabi and it has played quite differently the few times I have played it, which bodes well.

Sushizock I think I prefer to HeckMeck but I think that is because it is a quicker game and doesn't outstay its welcome and offers more opportunities to steal dominoes.

I have still yet to play the other two but suspect Machu will be played next as I have read the rules and it doesn't seem as foreboding as trying to play Space Alert despite my excitement of a co-op game.

We shall See

 Comment by Paul   22-Dec-2008
Don't worry Steve. Princes and Space Alert aren't as daunting as they look.

You're clearly mad though. The Sushi game better than the Wormy game? Heresy!

Is THIS the card that Oggie always has in his hand? 16-Dec-2008

Found this on BGG tonight. I am assuming you guys have seen this before...


 Comment by Boog   20-Jan-2009
That would indeed explain a lot. Of course, Oggie would have it on a permanent basis so it would break the game...

Pauls Essen 2008 01-Nov-2008

Let's start with the standard disclaimer. We may well have misread, misheard or misunderstood rules in any or all of the games we played. Whilst a wrong rule is unlikely to convert a good game into a great one, it may well turn a good game to a poor one. So bear this in mind whenever I describe a game in less than glowing terms. Also, most of my opinions are from a single playing of a game. This might be an outlier, and the game may usually play better or worse.


After a bit of wandering, exploring, and balking at the queue for the Lookout Games stall, we sat down to play our first game of the show.

There had been a lot of hype about this game prior to its release. This had made me wary of shilling, but curious to try it. Early descriptions suggested that its basic mechanic was a bit different to anything out there. In these days of seeing the same mechanism spreading from game to game like a cardboard based life form Iím always on the lookout for something different.

I guess anybody reading this is unlikely to have avoided the hype and so will probably be familiar with the basic idea. So Iíll forgo a detailed description. The basic idea is to use cards in your hand to obtain more cards. These all go to your discard deck, which is reshuffled to form a new draw deck when your current deck runs out. The ultimate aim is to add as many victory point cards into your deck as possible by the end of the game. But those cards are useless until the end. In fact theyíre worse than useless as they get in the way of the useful cards which you need to get hold of more victory point cards.

The obvious question is does it live up to the hype? In my opinion, no. What ever does? But I certainly thought it a good game and the deck building mechanism is fresh and clever. It was considered by many to be the best game of the show. I know I didnít play any better.

I do have a couple of reservations though.

First, there is very little interaction between players. I believe that only three of the twenty five card sets impact other players. We used two of them in the two games we played; neither was a big deal. I donít really care that you canít easily influence anybody else. The issue is more that everybody elseís turn is pretty much just something which stops you from getting on with your next one. The main thing youíre interested in during an opponents turn is whether theyíre picking up VP cards. That doesnít take a great deal of attention. Iíd probably prefer everybody taking their turns simultaneously, which may actually be a possibility with most of the cards.

Second, I donít know how much long term appeal there will be in this game. It strikes me as the sort which will get a lot of play in the short term, then people will burn out on it. Extra expansions will no doubt be produced but I donít think thatís really the point. Still, itís not as if we play any game hundreds of times so thatís unlikely to be much of a loss.


First we had Medici. Then came Medici vs Strozzi. Here comes the game to complete the set. Iíve not played Medici vs Strozzi so I canít compare it with that. Fortunately weíve a number of games of Medici under our belts though.

One of Kniziaís trademarks is a scoring system which makes your head hurt. He obviously decided that Medici wasnít causing nearly enough headaches. And decided to do something about it. So what we have here is basically Medici with a more complex scoring system.

We still have the ships and weíre still collecting goods. But this time weíre only working with one ship at a time. Probably the most significant difference is that we no longer have an auction game. Ships are instead claimed via a set of flags, each player having an identical set of three. Each ship comes with goods on it; some also bring the right to claim a tile.

Points are won according to the value of ships and goods collected. Get enough goods and you get the familiar 5 / 10 / 15 bonus points. And majorities of types of tiles bring further points at the end of the game.

All in all, itís a decent game. Quite good in fact. But not as good as Medici. The extra fiddliness of the scoring doesnít really add much to the game. If anything, it detracts from the elegance of the original game. I donít see any reason to pick this one up whilst Medici is still readily available.

Hopplido Hopplida

Itís always handy to have a little game or two that slips into the pocket and can be played down the pub. Especially if it caters for up to seven people. This game comprises of seven dice, so meets the criteria admirably. It also has a little cardboard tile to make it easier to remember past rolls but that can be left at home.

In essence this is a push your luck game. Each of the six sided dice have the same images on them. A rabbit, two rabbits in hutches, three, four and five hutches, and a carrot. You start by rolling all of the dice. You must roll, and bank, at least one rabbit (or, roll and bank all carrots). You may bank one hutch, starting with the double, then the three, etc, too. The hutches are multipliers, so a double hutch doubles your score; a triple hutch triples it, etc. You may then keep rolling the dice not yet banked, banking at least one rabbit, until you either fail to roll a rabbit or you decide to take the score. If youíve banked all of your dice, you get to take all of your rabbits bank into your hand and carry on rolling. Further rabbits add to those rolled before picking these up.

The reason this is a push your luck game is that if you fail to roll any rabbits, you donít score. This is what makes the game interesting

A novel twist to the game is that once a player decides to score, the next player has a choice. They may pick up all six dice and start again. Or they may take over the dice, and position, of the previous player and carry on from there. If the latter, they must roll the unused dice at least once Ė they may not take over the position and immediately stick to grab free points.

I wasnít sure about this when we started playing, but it turned out Iíd misread a rule. The addition of the correct rule, and some beer, turned it into a fun little game. Itís already spawned itís own catchphrase in the form of ďItís a 50/50 chanceĒ.

Sushizock im Gocklewok

Our game of choice for bringing down the pub over the last few years has probably been Heckmeck. So we were all interested to hear that this year there would be a follow up to it.

Like itís older brother, this game reveals itís pub credentials in the form of a set of dice, and a set of dominoes. Well. Strictly speaking, two sets of dominoes. The first set is in blue and these are worth positive points. The other set is in red and is worth negative points. Players take turns to roll the dice and take a domino. Dice can be rerolled up to three times (some must be banked each roll). Dominoes may come from the red or blue collection, or be stolen from another player.

Whilst those negative points are a bad thing, theyíre also essential. Colours are stacked together, so when you get a new blue tile it goes on to of your blue stack. All of your red, negative, tiles score. But blues only count if theyíre matched with a red one. So if you have two reds and a blue, only your bottom blue will be worth anything.

The game has a bit more meat than Heckmeck and gives you a bit more to think about. Most people seem to prefer it to Heckmeck. But weíre bigger fans of the original game than most groups, so I think our general consensus is that the original is still the best. For me, dominoes donít get stolen enough in the new game.

One thing weíre definitely in agreement about is that the rules arenít very good. Despite there only being three or four rules, everybody seemed to be mangling them. We played by four different sets before we finally figured it out. In particular, an example which contradicts the rules is not helpful.

Stone Age

This wasnít a new Essen release, but itís new this year and was certainly new to us. So Iím including it.

This proved to be just the first of the place a worker to get a thing to get VP games which we found ourselves playing. It didnít hurt though that it was probably the best.

Given the name, it takes no leap of the imagination to figure out that the game is set in the Stone Age. Each player has a set of Stone Age people which they take turns to allocate to different areas on the board. Some areas allow for harvesting of resources. Others allow these resources to be converted into Ė primarily - VPs. The three areas which saw most action in our game though are those to gain another person, reduce food costs, and improve the ability to adjust die rolls.

The die rolls come in when claiming resources. You roll a die for each worker you try to harvest a particular resource with. Add the numbers, divide by the cost of that particular resource, and thatís how many of that type you get. The ability to adjust comes in handy if youíre just short of being able to claim another resource of that type.

Iíd not seen the resource rolling mechanism before but pretty much everything else was familiar. Take the worker placement from any of a number of games, add gaining another piece from Leonardo, food management from Agricola, and gaining resources from too many games to count. So not much new then.

It was also a bit processional .The rush for the three limited areas each round Ė food, extra person, adjust die Ė was a bit predictable. And itís a shame the game only scaled to four players. But having said all that, it was a good example of the genre. Iíd be just as happy to play it as Pillars of the Earth or Leonardo, though it felt a little simpler than those two. I just donít need it in my collection, especially with the four player maximum.

Palais Royal

And here we have the second worker placement game of the day. The second of the morning in fact.

This one is themed around recruiting nobles in France. At least, I think thatís the theme. The playing area is made up of two things Ė a park, in which various nobles are standing around rooted to the spot, and the Palace of the title. The latter is made up of a 3x3 grid of tiles. Curiously, the entrance to the Palace is the central tile. Perhaps visitors have to parachute in.

Each noble has a certain cost to recruit. This is made up from money and favour from both the King and the Queen. Once recruited, nobles contribute VPs. Some also contribute a benefit, such as providing a sum of money each turn or generating favour. The amount of money necessary drops as adjacent nobles are bought up, leaving those remaining as Billy No Friends.

Actually, itís probably a little inaccurate to call this a worker placement game. Itís really a worker placement and movement game. Each player has a number of pieces. Some of these are brought into the Palace each turn and a limited number of movements can be made to put them into particular rooms. These rooms provide various benefits. The point of the exercise is to move the people into the combination of rooms which will allow you to obtain the desired nobles. Once used, the workers come back to your hand.

The game continues in this fashion until only a certain number of tiles are left. VPs are then summed. Additional VPs are granted by claiming a majority of nobles along edges of the park, so giving a bit of strategic flexibility when deciding what to claim.

Iíve already spoiled the surprise somewhat by describing Stone Age as the best of the worker placement. So this isnít as good as Stone Age then. At the risk of spoiling future surprises, Iíll say this was the second best worker placement game I played. I liked the fact that the noble placement is random, so there should be plenty of replayability. And the various rewards offered by nobles suggest different strategies to try out.

However, the game did feel rather dry. There was a definite abstract feel to the proceedings. Also, the amount of downtime felt a bit much, even for a four player game. Thereís not much you can do until your turn comes around again, though to be fair a player doesnít do a huge amount in a turn so itís not an enormous wait. As Iíve just mentioned, the game maxes out at four players. Not a positive point for us. And last but not least, balance. There are plenty of options to take nobles for abilities and try to gain majorities. But the winner in our game simply bought the most expensive noble he could afford each turn. Certainly a reasonable strategy, but it does ring a little alarm bell at the back of my mind.

Heads of State

This is a new game from Z-Man. Itís themed around nobility in Europe a few centuries ago. Players have a set of tiles representing various types of nobles which they are trying to place in different regions.

The game is driven by two decks of cards. One has various resources. This is used to produce nobles. The other has various methods of killing. This is used to remove nobles. Cards may be drafted, or drawn blindly, from one or both decks.

Each of the nobles needs a particular combination of resources. Achieve the right combination and you may create a noble. This must be immediately placed onto the board, which represents a map of Europe. Points are earned for being the first person into a particular region. Others are gained by placing a noble in each region in a country, by having majorities in a country, and by building complete sets of the different nobles.

The game is usually played over three turns. We only played the first one, where by and large we could place nobles as we wanted. By the time we had completed it, most areas of the board were filled. Further turns would have seen us resorting to the traditional historic method of promotion, namely murder and assassination. By and large we had no need of this in the turn we played so thatís not a side of the game we saw much of.

Which is a pity as the game would probably have started to get more interesting at that point. All we really saw was yet another majority placement game. None of us were enormously enthused by it. Those of us with reasonably large game collections just donít have a need foe another game like this.

Chicago Express

This is the new Queen version of last yearís Wabash Cannonball. As far as Iím aware, the only difference is the graphics. In other words, it has some.

Given the heritage, what we have here is fairly obviously a train game. Itís a short, less than an hour, game of network building and share auctioning based East of Chicago. Players take turns to either auction a share, extend a network, or develop a hex. Auctions put money into the companies which are used to fund the other two actions. Once enough actions have been taken, a dividend round is triggered which feeds money back to the players. Which is just as well as thatís the only way for a player to get more money. And more money is good as thatís how you win the game.

Iím not entirely sure what to make of this one. On the basis of a single game it seemed quite light. But I could see hints of a deeper game underneath. I can certainly see the potential for stitching up other players, always a popular sport around here. I wasnít convinced enough to buy it, but I can imagine myself making a purchase in a future year. What Iím not keen on is the size of the box. Whilst not of packing crate dimensions itís certainly a lot bigger than it needs to be.

A Castle for all Seasons

And here we have the third, and final, worker placement game. And reading between the lines, Iíve already told you that it was the worst of the three.

This one is themed around building a castle. The game board is double sided, each side showing an identical view of the castle in question. The only difference is the colour scheme. One side is white, representing winter. The other represents summer. A set of cards is sued when the board is in winter mode. We played the summer side on the advice of the local, friendly demo person. I have thus no idea what the winter cards do.

The board represents various parts of the castle being built. Much of it is made up from various buildings such as huts, blacksmiths, etc. Tiles are placed over these buildings showing the cost, and VPs, for building them.

Each player has an identical set of role cards. The various roles allow for collecting money and resources, building, and obviously for placing men on the board. Men are placed into the castle to claim VPs at the end of the game. They may only be placed in a building after it has been built. The different buildings grant various ways to gain end game VP bonuses, so there is certainly scope for different strategies.

Opinions varied upon how good or bad it was. I didnít think the game was dreadful, though others did. It did drag a bit though and just wasnít particularly exciting. Roles are selected simultaneously, so clearly there is an element of both tension and luck there. Neither seemed to be particularly prevalent though. Probably the biggest issue was the downtime. Like other games mentioned above it wasnít massive, but thereís not much to see or do during other players turns. If I was going to pick up a worker placement game at Essen this year, it wouldnít be this one.

The Princes of Macchu Picchu

This is the new game from Mr. Rondel. Itís loosely based around Aztecs hiding from the Spanish.

Players each control an Azten Prince, which they move around a city. The city is split into various districts, each of which allows a particular action to be taken. These actions include collecting resources Ė hmm, that sounds familiar Ė deploying farmers, and making sacrifices. In a small divergence from traditional historical teachings, priests and virgins band together to sacrifice llamas.

The purpose of all of this is to collect sacrifice cards, which are converted to VPs at the end of the game. VPs are earned primarily for collecting tiles representing various gods, and for placing farmers into particular resource growing areas. This is easier said than done as the cards are not easily earned. It will take the cumulate effect of a number of actions to gain one. Effort to collect new ones must be balanced again that needed to meet the criteria to earn VPs against those currently held.

And on top of this, thereís the two possible endings. The game can end in either a Spanish or an Aztec victory. This depends on what runs out first Ė cards, gods or time. In an Aztec victory, the person with the most VPs wins. In a Spanish victory, VPs are manipulated according to who has the most gold. Now, given that gold comes from sacrifice cards, Iím not sure at the moment if this actually makes much difference. After all, the more sacrifice cards gained, the more VPs are likely anyway. I also think a two player game is more likely to furnish a Spanish version and a five player an Azten version. So the variable endings may turn out to be a bit of a red herring rather than something to worry about.

All in all though, this adds up to a fairly meaty game. Probably one of the better games of the show if the Fairplay rankings are to be trusted, and certainly one of those we enjoyed the most. I can see a few ways to approach it, so weíll get a few games out of this one.

Beep! Beep!

If the name doesnít tell you that this is a light game, the components will. What your money gets you is a pack of cards and a squeaky toy car. Yes, you did read that correctly.

This is a speed pattern matching game. The cards each show a silhouette of an animal in one of five or six colours. Each player is given two cards which are placed face up in front of them. The rest of the deck is split into a number of piles. All of these piles are turned face up, and chaos immediately breaks out. Players try to grab cards from the top of those piles which match either the colour or animal on one of their cards. These are then dropped on top, with the effect that the two cards they start with build up into two piles. The game ends when a couple of draw piles run out. The winner is the person with the most cards in their smallest pile.

Astute readers will notice that I havenít mentioned the car yet. Thatís because it's largely superfluous. I expect the publisher had a job and decided to add them to a game. Somehow. Anyhow. The way they were added to this game is by adding an extra rule. If all of the piles are topped by the same colour, a player may punch the car to collect two free cards.

Apparently this can be played in a sedate, gentlemanly manner. We didnít.

Gloria Picktoria

If anybody has played Get the Goods, theyíll be familiar with this game. Itís the same game, with a fox.

This is a card game. There are four sorts of cards. Chickens, wildcards, doubles and score triggers. Players take turns to spend three actions, which are used to take a card, place a card, or move the fox. Cards are taken from a draft and added to your hand. Theyíre played against sets of the same colour. Once a double card is added to a set, you may no longer extend it. At the end of your turn, you always move the fox onto a set of the next players card. Unless you forget. Ahem.

Scoring happens three times during the game, when the fourth, seventh and tenth trigger cards turn up. Players gain points for being the only person to have a set of a colour and for having the longest and second longest sets. Those containing the double cards score double. The set with the fox on scores nothing. Thatís about it. None of us seemed particularly enamoured with it.


And here we are at the last game we played.

Flussfieber is a racing game, simulating lumberjacks racing down a river on logs. Like Mississippi Queen, the course is made up from a number of modular boards. Unlike Mississippi Queen, the board has a number of logs scattered around sa obstacles, each person has a team of two lumberjacks, and movement is card driven. And there is no coal. Or passengers. So not an exact clone then.

Players have a small hand of cards. Each specifies a team member and a number of movement points. In your turn, you play a card to move that team member up to that many hexes. Obstacles and other lumberjacks can be pushed ahead of you until either there are too many ahead or nowhere to move, or push, into. First person to get both team members across the finishing line wins.

Some of the boards have additional obstacles to progress. We played a fairly simple set with just two boards, one of which had some rapids which pushed players back. We used that a lot. One of our mantras is if in doubt, take the funny move. Pushing somebody else into the rapids and back down the board certainly met that rule. Fortunately somebody decided to win, else weíd probably still be shoving each other into the rapids.

Because we only used a couple of boards this came across as mainly a filler. Adding further boards would make for a longer game, but Iím not sure thereís enough thereto warrant playing for too long. An okay game for a quick play, but Iíd rather Mr. FF got back to his meatier fare.

Essen Purchases 2008 27-Oct-2008

Another year, another Essen!

Flussfieber - Missisippy Queen meets Ave Caesar
St Petersburg + expansion
Hick Hack in Gackelwack
Sushizock im Gockelwok
Dominion < reccomended!
Funkenschlag China/Korea maps
Catan Card Game - Barbarians & Traders
Carcassonne Catapault Expansion !!!

Here lies Anthony Pratt 03-Jun-2008

Anthony Pratt was the designer of Cluedo. He passed away in 1994.

One of the little snippets of information in the programme guide for the UK Expo was that his gravestone includes the phrase "Inventor of Cluedo". Had I been in his shoes, I don't think I'd have been able to resist "Killed by Miss Scarlet. In the library. With the lead piping."
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Expo 2008 02-Jun-2008

This weekend saw the second UK Games Expo. So, how is Britainís answer to Essen shaping up?

Rather well actually. Last year was a great start, well attended by companies and gamers alike. It was going to be interesting to see how they followed it up.

The event was again held in the same building. But this year they appeared to have dug out, or glued on, more space. Quite appropriate really given the Doctor Who theme and prominent positioning of a Tardis in one of the rooms. Itís a real warren of a building with halls and rooms leading off every which way. That gives quite a different, more intimate, feel than the enormous halls of Essen. I donít know if there is further expansion space. If there is, there canít be much.

And all of this space was very much needed as there was certainly more to see this year. Miniature wargamers seemed to be particularly well server. Iíd not realised how popular that particular hobby was in the UK. Boardgamers and role players also had plenty to see, and to buy. The number of publishers looked to be about the same but more of them had new games available to try and buy this year. And there were definitely more retailers this year. There was even a dungeon set up in the basement for the live (or would be live) role players to have a crack at.

The one thing I thought was on the light side last year was the amount of space given over to trying games. One of the big things about Essen is the opportunity to sit down at one of hundreds of tables and try out some games. We probably spend the majority of our time there doing just this. I believe that several people raised this issue, and this year it had certainly been addressed. There was a lot of table space made available both for playing demo games and for playing games youíd bought. We took advantage of this and played a couple of games.

These were Tinners Trail and Scanderoon. The former is the first of the Treefrog games from Martin Wallace and crew. It's a medium weight game about mining for tin, with a little bit of pastie selling thrown in for good measure. Lighter than the usual Warfrog offerings, but then that's rather the point of the new line. Nothing massively new in there, but the intertwining of action point costs and player turn order works very nicely. The auctions for the right to build mines, timing, and contention over limited resources, add some nice decisions. It also turned out to be a very tight game, only decided by the last in a series of tie breakers. If Martin can keep up this quality for the other 14 games proposed for this new line, we can look forward to some good games over the next five years.

I think Scanderoon may have been out in time for Essen. I remember seeing a demo copy of at the Expo last year, but can't recall whether it was at Essen or not. Anyway, it's a card game which looks like it will probably offer scope for clever play. Or at least I hope so. I couldn't quite decide if it was as clever as it seemed, as we found ourself ignoring most of the possible options provided. Perhaps that was just bad play on our behalf. Further plays will reveal all.

All in all I'd say the Expo team did a great job putting this together. Where it goes from here I don't know. Most of the British board games publishers were there, though I've really no idea how comprehensive the coverage was from the other sectors. I think the gauntlet has now been laid down though. The Expo has done it's bit; it's up to the British gaming industry to rise to the challenge now and grow.
 Comment by Andy   03-Jun-2008
This year's fair definitely represented a step up from 2007. It was good to see that board games were well represented along with other types of gaming. I say this not to marginalize the other types of games but just to emphasise that as board gamers there was enough there that we stayed for the majority of the day (unlike last years where we only stayed a couple of hours).

It's still not Essen, that's clear but there was a lot to be gained by just exploring the venue. Just be warned that if you take a dwarf along with you that they will be tempted to start digging for gold in all those tunnels, erm, corridors.

Game of the year, 2007 22-Apr-2008

For the last three years, the Piddinghoe Gamers have vote for their game of the year. Past winners have included Amun-Re, Oltremare and Canal Mania.

This year, the panel cast their votes for games released in 2007. That's any game. Expansions, re-releases, they all count. The only qualification is that we must have played them. And if a game is to have any chance of winning, most of us need to have played it. We're not particularly interested in fairness, so we don't wait until mid-year to give people a chance to play games released later in the year. Though we are a bit later in the year than usual. We don't need to be fair. Unlike the Spiel des Jahres award, the Piddinghoe Gamers game of the year is unlikely to increase sales by several hundred thousand boxes. Actually, we buy most of our games later in the year anyway, taking advantage of the hugely cheaper prices at Essen, so later games aren't really at much of a disadvantage.

So, 2006 is history. The votes are in. And onto the winners.

Like last year, it was a two horse race. In fact only one vote seperated the top two. The accolade of first place goes to Agricola, from Lookout Games. This is a game which has been gaining a lot of praise and attention, surprisngly so as it's currently only available in a German edition. With a ton of cards, densely packed with German text.

Second place went to Brass, Martin Wallaces latest and one of his finest.

In third place, and surprisingly close to the top two, was Caylus Magna Carta. Most of the fun in half of the time.

Also rather surprising was the fact that only seven games were put into the hat this year. Make of that what you will.

Last year, the top two places went to the Brits. This time, second place was claimed by a different Brit and it could so easily have been first. So another great showing by the local lads. Will 2008 make three in a row?
 Comment by Steve   22-Apr-2008
Agricola and Brass were my top two votes. I've enjoyed both games but in the end had to give the nod to Agricola as I have played it a few times now and have played Brass only once. However I hope this changes in the not too distant future.

Pauls Essen 2007 - Part 2 14-Nov-2007

This took longer than I'd planned, but I've finally finished the second and final part of this year's Essen report. This covers Friday and Saturday.

Chang Cheng

The idea of this game is to build sections of the Great Wall of China. This is built over a series of boards, representing spaces to build the wall over a number of territories. The demo games were only using half of the player boards so our game wasn't completely representative of a full one.

What we have here is basically an area majority game. Whoever builds the most pieces in a district scores the benefits of the distinct. Benefits are points, each district being worth a particular number. Of course the Wall was built to keep out barbarian hordes, and so the game has these too. The board on the "wrong" side of the wall is divided into a series of areas, each containing barbarians. Wall majorities on this side of the board are important too, as the majority holder - usually - scores negative points from the barbarians.

Each player has a set of wall pieces, along with a set of action tiles. A turn consists of two actions, an action being placing either a wall piece or an action tile. Action tiles mess with other action tiles and wall sections. Each district is scored as it competes, and the person with the most points at the end wins.

I don't think any of us were much impressed with this one. There's nothing particularly wrong with the game, it just feels a bit mundane and lacking in any real tension. Played with only half the boards it had the feeling of a filler, but I think the full game would take it out of that category. This might be for the better, but I suspect it would just prolong a dull game past its welcome.

Owner's Choice
This is a short and simple stock market game. Probably a bit too short actually. Players vie for control over four different companies. Control is a matter of owning the most stocks of a company.

Turns are simple. First decide if you wish to buy any stocks. Then move a dobber along the track of a board that looks a little like a Monopoly board at first glance. The track is made up of various symbols, mostly representing the four different companies. If one of the company symbols is landed on, the director of the company decides which of two dice to roll. One costs money but tends to improve the company, with the other doing more or less the opposite. Once the dobber hits the last space on the track, everyone sells off their stocks at the current price. Most cash wins the game.

Not a bad little game, and probably okay as a filler. Reasonably replayable too as the score track is made out of a number of double sided sections so can be constructed in a variety of ways. There was some scope for clever play, though the dice obviously injected a dose of luck into the game. The game was pretty much decided around the half way mark when I managed to bankrupt a company that Andy and Oggie had invested in.

In the Year of the Dragon

In previous years there would have been a buzz, positive or negative, about a new Alea game. We'd heard nothing about this game at all though, which didn't bode well.

This may or may not be the year of the dragon. It's certainly the year of the games about ancient China. This turned out to be the second of three games we'd play with this setting.

I would summarise this one as a combination of a role/action taking, resource management and special powers game. In each turn, an action will be selected. Actions cover such things as getting cash, building up your palace, and getting VPs. After this, each player chooses a person to select to their palace. Like actions, people grant benefits. In most cases, the result of the benefit will be to boost the power of the actions. For example, the more builders you have, the more you will be able to entend your palace if you take the build action.

Recruitment also has a secondary purpose. They grant movement along a secondary score track. Well, score's probably the wrong word. The only effect of the track is to determine player order during the action selection phase. This is important as actions are "grouped". Once an action in a particular group has been selected, other players may only select an action in the same group by spending a very limited supply of money.

Each turn represents a year, and a year is completed by actioning a disaster. Disasters are determined at random at the start of the game, so you will know when disasters will crop and can plan for them. The disasters usually drain resources or kill some of the people you have recruited into your palace.

Points are gained throughout the game, with bonuses granted at the end. Most points wins.

This turned out to be a reasonably interesting game to play, but not an outstanding one. It's the sort of game that we'd have snapped up three or four years ago, but none of us felt any need to buy it this year. The need to pay attention to the player order track, and prepare for disaster, sounds like it should be quite interesting. Sadly though the effect was to make the game feel rather restrictive to me, limiting the choices available.

League of Six

Back at the hotel again, we managed to grab a table, so time for more gaming.

League of Six is themed around tax collecting. Not an obviously attractive theme, but never mind. The game's played over a number of rounds each of which has a number of phases.

Firstly, players each claim a land. This is done by placing six land tiles into a circle, and having players bounce around them, displacing each other in a semi-Amun Re fashion. Then comes the tax collecting. Each tile has a number of different types of resources, but only a portion of them will be collectible. This is done in quite a clever way. A hex shaped tile is placed in the centre of each of the land tiles, with pointers on some of the edges. A player may orient this tile whichever way he sees fit. He will receive the items which the pointers indicate.

Items come in three forms. Soldiers are used in the land picking auction phase. Goods are used to score points or end game bonuses. And horses determine who gets first dibs at claiming points.

Goods are placed onto a row of two grids. Each give points when an item is places in it, and filling a row in one grid grants bonus points whilst doing so in the other grants cards which give an end game bonus. The person with the most horses places first. If they cannot fill it, the next person gets to contribute. And so on. Once a row in a grid is filled, the bonus goes to whoever started the row. The person with the second most horses then starts a row, and the process continues until no more items can be placed. And then the next round begins.

This continues until the end is triggered, which is when all of the item grids have been used, if I recall correctly. End game bonuses are then added, and the person with the most points wins.

Sadly the game didn't go over too well. We had a fair bit of fun in the auction phase, but the rest all felt a little bitty. One player commented that it felt like a bunch of mechanisms looking for a game. It seemed to lack a certain spark. However, we had just consumed most of a pig and a large quantity of beer between us so it may just have been us.


This cardgame comes across as advanced Geshenkte with a bit of Don thrown in.

A set of cards is revealed each turn. Each card has three attributes - two colours and a type. Players will be bidding for these cards. The bidding system is quite straightforward. Either you pay a token to stay in, or drop out and take all the tokens paid so far. If you drop out, you secretly play a tile showing a colour. Once everybody has dropped out, colour tiles are revealed. The last person to drop out takes all of the cards matching the colour tile they played. The second last then takes any remaining cards matching the colour they played, and so forth. As each card has two colours, pickings become increasingly slim as the pecking order is worked down.

Another round then starts, and the process continues until there are no cards left.

The point of all of this is to collect majorities of types of cards. Majorities are worth points, and points win the game.

I'd have probably liked this a lot more if I'd not already played Geshenkte. Instead, it just seemed more of the same. The components are a lot nicer, but not nice enough to make me want to buy a game so similar to one I already own.


The board is a grid, with each element in the grid having six spaces. Players - usually - play a pair from a hand of four cards to play a card into the grid. Each row and column of the grid is marked with a symbol, as are the cards used to place them. The same symbols are used on the row and column, and the cards allow a piece to be placed into one of the empty spaces in the two slots - again usually - at the intersection of the symbols on row and column. Each player has a pair of tiles which allow for an extra turn, and for a card to be used as a wildcard. Once used they can be "recharged" for later re-use.

Most German games are thinly themed. Given that I've not referred to the theme at all so far, you can see that this one is even more so than normal. Actually, I'm not entirely sure what the theme is. I think it's about colonising Oregon in the days of the cowboy but it could just as easily be about colonising Mars.

You are attempting to place men and buildings next to each other. Doing so gives you points, and sometimes refreshes your special tiles. It's an okay game, which some scope for good play, but you're very much restricted in your options by the cards you have. Your hand size is only four cards, and picking up any duplicates really limits what you can do. In our game there was often a high scoring opportunity that you had no access to, having instead to watch somebody else snap up.

Portobello Market

This oneís been out for a few months now so again I'm not going to say much about it. It's another one we quite liked. It was quite short but with a bit to think about. There looked to be potential for kingmaking at the end though.

Ming Dynastie

And here we have the third of the Ancient China games we played.

At heart this is a majority scoring game, but well done. The game's played over half a dozen rounds, of which every other is a scoring round.

Each round has multiple phases. In the first phase, you place men in one of six holding areas. You then draft a hand of cards, with choices restricted by the holding areas you have played into. After that you move a Prince piece around the board transferring men from the holding areas to wherever the price is. Movement is via a system ripped out of Elfenland, playing cards to move over boundaries marked with symbols.

The point of all of this movement and placement is to achieve two things. One is to put your men into temples. The board is divided into provinces, each of which has three districts. Each district has one temple, with room for one man. Each man in a temple scores during a scoring round. They do, however, restrict your abilities to achieve the second thing. And this is to obtain first or second place majorities in areas, which again are a route to points.

In the scoring phases, temples are scored and the majority holders have men moved into the city. There is a city in each province, a third of the city in each of its districts. Getting a man into a city grants you a token in the colour of the corresponding province, and may score you some points. Sets of these tokens are traded in for points. A second set of cards is used in a blind bid to determine whether to leave men in the cities or move them back out. If they stay in, they will score some points. If they move out, they will contribute towards majority calculations in later scoring rounds.

This was one of the better games of the show. Plenty to think about, but it moved quickly so downtime was minimal. The different scoring methods encourage you to move around the board to grab tokens and cheap majorities. But at the same time you want to hang around to protect your existing majorities. Also, you would like to move men into temples, which reduce your chances of scoring majorities. Decisions, decisions.

We originally played with three, but have since played with four. Yup, we liked it enough to buy a copy. The four player game forces a lot more player interaction, not least due to the rule that your prince cannot end in the same district as somebody elses.


And that's about it. We popped briefly into the show on Sunday, but didn't try anything else. We did play a couple of games of R-Eco on the way home, but that's last years news. Well, almost. We played the new Z-man version, which is new this year. Not a bad little filler, with a couple of nasty twists.

As ever it was a very enjoyable few days. Worryingly, we purchased very few of the games we tried. None seemed to offer much different to games we already had. in fact I didn't buy any games after trying them. I think though that that reflects our growing game collections as much as anything else. We'd have happily bought many of these games a handful of years ago; now we can afford to be more choosy.

Usually I list my top five games fo the show at this point. This year, I have a top three with most of the other games milling around in a general pool below that so it's trickier than normal. Of course, this is from the pool of games which we played. We didn't try Agricola, Making of the President, or other games which seem to be garnering a lot of interest. Anyway, ignoring anything released prior to Essen, my top five were

Ming Dynastie

The order's probably about right too.

Like last year, there wasn't much evidence of rampant discounting. I'm taking that as a positive sign of the health of the industry. Also not in evidence were the huge crowds of last year. This, I think, was partly due to a rail strike in Germany. It certainly made wandering the halls a more pleasant affair.

Pauls Essen 2007 - Part 1 28-Oct-2007

Let's start with the standard disclaimer. We may well have misread, misheard or misunderstood rules in any or all of the games we played. Whilst a wrong rule is unlikely to convert a good game into a great one, it may well turn a good game to a poor one. So bear this in mind whenever I describe a game in less than glowing terms. Also, most of my opinions are from a single playing of a game. This might be an outlier, and the game may usually play better or worse.

As I'm way behind in writing this this year I'll not mess about with trivialities like how we got there and what we played on the ferry. Let's get straight onto the new games.


I'd decided to approach Essen a little differently this year. Usually I do copious research and turn up knowing quite a bit about the games we'd see. This time I decided not to do any, and just wing it. Brass was one of the few games I knew anything about so I was keen to give it a go.

It supports four people, which was a bit of a problem as we had four and a half. The half was one person who'd obviously had an early start and slept through much of the game. That was soon solved by Andy and Oggie teaming up, and the judicious use of a finger to wake the sleepy player from time to time.

Brass is all about the industrial revolution. It's set in Lancashire, with connections at the edges of the board to foreign places like Yorkshire. It's a game of two halves. The early game is largely about trying to build up infrastructure to generate some profits. This mainly involves building mills to produce cotton, canals to move it, and ports to ship it. As the game goes on it becomes necessary to build coal mines and foundries, especially in the second half where rails replace canals and - along with more advanced buildings - require materials for construction.

The rules are laid out well. The core rules get you up and running, with a separate section explaining things in more detail. This got us started without much rules reading, but did slow us down a bit when we needed to look things up. Swings and roundabouts really. It did contribute to the game running on the long side though, clocking in at the best part of three hours. That was too long, especially as you can't do anything during other people turns. I think we'd complete future games in nearer two hours, which is fine.

Overall we all liked it. After hearing the rules I though there might be a solitaire feel to it but that didn't turn out to be the case. Buildings can only be placed in a limited number of places which forces competition for them. Moreover anybody can use your buildings so you may - for example - see your cotton shipped off to somebody elses port. Not the end of the world as you still get points for it but likely not as lucrative as shipping it yourself.

For my money, this is Martin Wallace's best since Age of Steam. I'll happily play this one again. That seemed to be the general opinion of everyone else I spoke to about the game too.

1001 Karawane

This is by the guy who did the game about breeding garden gnomes a few years ago. We really enjoyed that one in Essen, but it seemed very average the only time we played it since. But 1001 Karawane looked rather pretty, and we were ready for a sit down. It turned out to be a lightweight exploration game with some (small) elements of memory and deduction.

Players put together caravans to explore the desert. These consist of various combinations of water, guards and trade goods cards. Water is used each turn and guards are needed to protect against bandits. Trade goods can be sold for cash should a city be located.

The board consists of tiles which are placed face down. Each turn you can move your caravan over three of these tiles, secretly looking at the underside as you do. Most of them are blank but some have cities, oases etc. The purpose is to find the three tiles which have magical items. The first person to find these and get them back to base wins.

The game looks attractive and plays quite quickly but there's not a great deal to it.


I know that a lot of people have been looking forward to this one so we were happy to see that one of the two demo tables was free when we wandered past.

The game is themed around old Rome. Victory goes to the first person to achieve a certain number out of six possible victory conditions. Most of these are obtained by building sets of cards to take control of seven different factions. Taking, and holding, control confers various rewards.

Each round, the board will be populated with cards. Players then take turns to place their pawns into various areas of the cards. Most placements will be to take cards, others will be to try to take control of factions or grab items to contribute toward victory.

Mechanically it's not a complex game but each area of the board plays a little differently so there's quite a bit to explain. I don't fancy typing out a ten page explanation so I'll leave the game summary at that.

Play is quite quick as players just take turns to place a pawn. The actions activated by this are almost all triggered after all placements have been made. This means that downtime is almost non-existent. The game took about an hour and a half with four players, which felt about right.

Though not complicated, this is a gamers game and not a family game. It reminded me a little of Pillars of the Earth, which is a good thing in my book. It was certainly one of the better games we played at Essen.

We have, however, played again since getting back. In the latter game we had five players. The goal cards told us that we needed to achieve three of the six victory conditions with five. Unfortunately though this didn't seem to work out so well. The game seemed to be over before it had started which was quite disappointing. We'd probably fix this by simply playing to four victory conditions next time we try with five.

Despite the second game not working out too well, this was certainly one of the better games we tried at Essen, and one of the few we tried and buyed.

Burg Appenzell

This is a kiddies game about moving mice around a castle in search of cheese. It's an action point game where players take turns to move mice, peek under roofs, and modify the board slightly by sliding tiles. Tiles depicting various types of cheese are scattered across the board. If you can get two of your mice onto the same cheese symbol, you take a token. The first player to get a certain number of tokens wins.

The main word that springs to mind to describe this game is fiddly. The board sits on top of the game box, which has holes to trap mice and slots to allow rows or columns of tiles to be pushed. The most interesting part of the game is sliding a row or column of tiles and it seemed quite difficult to do this without pushing against bits of the board you didn't want to be pushing. Moreover, should you wish to play a second game, getting captured mice out of their holes requires more or less demolishing the board.

The other word that springs to mind is luck. All of the cheese tokens are hidden under roof tiles. Thus you don't know where they are until you go peeking under them. If you find a pair in easy reach of your mice, you're quids in.

I shouldn't be too harsh about it, as after all it is a kiddies game. Not one I would have any desire to play again though.


While patrolling the halls we spotted an unusual looking game which was very much "about" Japan. Firstly it was played on a map of Japan. And secondly, all of the playing pieces sported characters of the Japanese alphabet. The designer told us it was a Civilisation based game so we decided we'd best have a go.

Each player has an "army" of tiles. The first one to get all of them onto the board wins. This can be done by building them in provinces of Japan whose names contain the characters, or by trading them with another player. So the first thing we did was to spread out across the board grabbing territory, then swapping bits with our neighbours. That worked fine for a bit until we ran out of space to "breed" in so we started to eye each other's territories up. This inevitably led us to combat, which is resolved simply by taking pairs of tiles, one each, off the board.

All well and good, but where does the Civilisation bit come in? In the shape of another set of tiles. You may spend your turn flipping one of these over. Hopefully you can then build it, as otherwise it becomes available for anybody else to build. Each of the tiles confers a benefit (ships, cannon, universities and so forth) but can only be built in particular provinces. If somebody else beats you to building it, you can either wait for another copy of that tile to be turned over or send your army over to attack it.

It was quite an interesting game, but did have a couple of issues. The main one was fiddliness. Did I say Burg Appenzell was fiddly? Not as fiddly as this one. Well, perhaps fiddly isn't the right word. Perhaps awkward is a better one. The problem was one of character recognition. At the start of the game you have to put all of your tiles onto the right spots on a player mat. That takes a while trying to match the correct characters. Then throughout the game you're faced with the issue of trying to match character on mat to character on map. The second issue was one of length. It's a four hour game. That's actually a pretty good length for a Civilisation game but I couldn't see any of our group sitting down to a four hour squiggle matching exercise. Which is a shame.


Back at the hotel, we were invited by a pair of Americans to join their game of Darjeeling.

The game is about tea growing. Each person has a little man which they move around a grid of tiles. These tiles represent parts of crates in four different colours. In your turn you move your man to a tile, take it, and then optionally "ship" a number of crates. To ship crates you must play (and then discard) a set of tiles which form complete crates. Doing this scores points and sets you up for further points in future turns.

The future points come from crates on ships on the main board, which sit around in the harbour until displaced by other ships. The longer the crates have been sitting around, the less - on average - they will be worth as time goes on.

Well, none of us were hugely impressed with this one. Options were limited and decisions seemed obvious. Teh game seemed overproduced for what it was too.

Part 2 to follow soon.....
 Comment by Andy   29-Oct-2007
Well as I am not going to write a report, Iíll add some comments Ö


What can I add Ė nice game & free frog with every purchase!!

1001 Karawane

Wasnít taken by this, as Paul says, minimal strategy, lightweight and luck driven with a memory element. A good game for younger folks though.


I liked it and was glad that Oggie bought a copy. Paul told me about the 5 player game not going so well but I recalled the demo guy saying something to the effect that the rules were a bit different for 5 players (our demo game was with 4). I hope that I am right about this otherwise best played with 4 by the sounds of it. There is also an English language edition due out in a few weeks time apparently.

Burg Appenzell

We only tried this because the Geek comments said that there were strategy elements for adults. Sadly, and unless we missed something, then this did not seem to be the case Ė cute mice though!


I donít want to be too harsh on this game because it was an interesting idea. Basically you had the Japanese alphabet superimposed upon a vague Civilization type theme. Unless you are really into the language, then itís more likely to frustrate as you try to match the squiggles.


This was an OK game, with a bit of strategy. The main reason to mention is that it should be noted that the three British tea drinkers beat the two American coffee drinkers. Goes to show that the Boston Tea Party was a big historical mistake :).


Essen Purchases 2007 22-Oct-2007

Another Essen has come and gone and this is what I came back with:

Portabello Market
Notre Dame
Funkenschlag + expansion cards
Caylus Magna Carta
Ticket to Ride - Switzerland
Tiket to Ride - Computer Game

and 2 card games for 1 euro each : Yoyo and Porca Miseria

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