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Pauls Essen 2007 - Part 1
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.
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.
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
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!!
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.
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 :).
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