Pauls Essen 2007 - Part 2 14-Nov-2007
 
Paul

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.

Lascaux

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.



Oregon

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 one’s 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.

Summary

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

Tribune
Brass
Ming Dynastie
Seiao
Oregon

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.