Essen 2012 Releases
This week, at the Sasquatch Boardgame Festival I had the great opportunity to play several of the newly available 2012 Essen releases. It was a is a great event hosted by Jennifer Geske (jgeske on BGG).
Every year, Jennifer and others bring a giant stash of Essen games to learn and play. This year the festival had 80 attendees. I will definitely be making additional trips to the event in the future! Thanks to Jennifer and everyone involved with putting the event together!
Sadly, I was only able to attend two and a half days out of the five total days of the event. I didn’t get to play as many games as I would have liked. But, it was a blast. If given the choice, I would glady forgo Gen Con over this event. It’s great fun to crank through mostly quality games and banter about with friends and new folks alike.
Now, onto the games!
The event got off to a fast start! We crunched through the rules and played a four player game of The Great Zimbabwe. I also stayed close by to help teach a second game for a new set of folks.
My impressions of the game are very positive. There is a lot to initially take in, but the game plays very quickly at first. One of the things I really like about the game, is the ability to try and corner a market on a particular resource. It works a bit like Brass, where you can put up craftsmen of various type, and others are forced to use your craftsman to provide goods for building up their monuments (the main way you score victory points).
Another important aspect of the game is real estate. Location is extremely important. Where do you locate your craftsman and your monuments? Some of the available abilities allow you to change up the landscape as well. I didn’t see these really explored to its fullest, but I expect “location” to become more of a focus in further plays.
Finally, the last aspect of the game that I quite enjoy, but is not without controversy with members of my game group is the various special ability cards. Some of them are definitely better than others, at least on the first few plays. I believe that most of them have solid counters, but some in my group seemed to think there are a couple that are overpowered. One of the cool things about the various powers, is that when you choose one for your side, it actually increases the amount of victory points you need to win the game. Very slick mechanic!
I am very glad I pre-ordered this. Can’t wait for my copy to arrive.
Next game was Snowdonia. Another hit. I actually got a chance to play this twice during the event. It feels very much like a liter Agricola. It has your standard Worker Placement feel, but there is a good amount of brinkmanship as players are developing the train system around Snowdonia, excavating, laying track, and building the various train stations.
There are several variable power cards, known as contract cards, that give the player’s a one time ability and also double as an end of game scoring bonus. There are also six train cards to choose from that give player’s a little bonus when taking one of the basic worker placement actions.
Two of the more unique mechanics are the weather system, which affects the players’ ability to perform some of the construction on the mountain… and the event system where the game itself will possibly hurry along the game development. This forces the players to act quickly or have stuff built out from underneath them, depriving them of valuable victory point opportunities. Again, it feels very much like Agricola, but my brain isn’t fried afterwards.
Will definitely be picking this one up I think!
Tzolk’in may very well be the hit of the event. I only had a chance to play it once, but several people went back to the game multiple times. I had some doubts about the game, thinking it might just be a gimmicky, cube-pushing Euro with the moving gears etc…
It is definitely not!
The gear system itself is a very innovation take on the worker placement mechanic. Your timing will always need to be highly considered. When I review this (when not if), it will be easier to present in a video format, but it’s awesome! In addition to the gears, there is a very soid system of buildings, a tech tree, and a “god” tree (think favor track of Caylus) to contend with. There are trappings of your basic cube-pusher, but it is executed smartly. Possibly my favorite of the show… along with The Great Zimbabwe and one other listed later.
A quick break in the heavier action… “Boom Boom Balloon”!
This is basically Jenga with balloons. From the pictures below, you can get the basic idea. Blow up a balloon. Put it in the contraption. Push some plastic sticks in. Each player rolls a die that will return a result of 1, 2, or 3. The player must then push a stick (or sticks) in that many clicks. They can push the same stick in, or split their moves between sticks. The player who pops the balloon, loses.
Just plain fun
Staying with lighter fare. I got a chance to play Goblins Inc. only once, but it’s a game I would like to give another go. It’s basically Galaxy Trucker with Player vs. Player instead of Player vs. Game. We played it with four, where you play in teams of two, but you are constantly changing your teammate. Each team builds up their robots over a couple of rounds of drafting and placing tiles onto a grid. You play shields, weapons, engines, etc…
After building your robot, players face off in direct combat, rotating their vehicles, firing missiles, and playing special power cards. You have to do all of this without verbally communicating with your teammate! On top of that, you have each played special scoring cards from your own personal deck of cards that might be at cross purposes with each other.
Chaos and fun ensues…. at least it should. We got a bit bogged down in analysis and learning the rules. The game took about an hour and a half to play. It really feels like it should take less than an hour. We discussed adding a one minute timer to each phase, and I think that would work great after a first play.
This is the third candidate for my favorite game of the event.
Al Rashid has a fantastic blend of mechanics that fit nicely with the theme. I could really go on and on about the various mechanics, but it wouldn’t really do it justice without a proper review. It has many characteristics that I seek out in games. You can be sneaky. There is some degree of uncertainty, but it is not chaotic in the slightest. The screwage available is logical. There are lots of variable powers and virtual tech trees that player’s can explore and adapt to the game situation. Etc…
The game’s components are fantastic except for one glaring issue. The font used throughout the game is extremely hard to read! There are a couple of rules ambiguities, but nothing too extreme, and the publisher has been quick to respond to all of the holes that I at least found on the BGG game forum. This game will be receiving the review treatment in short order. Can’t wait to receive my copy.
Fallen City of Karez was probably my biggest disappointment of the event. The game is a veritable kludge of themes and mechanics. It’s half an economic game and half a sort of dungeon management/dungeon crawl.
Karez is basically split into two halves each turn. Players will place workers from a common pool into various buildings on the board to generate resources, gather heroes, gather monsters, build equipment, and also buy equipment. A lot of this seems really neat on first blush, as each player has a starting building associated with their chosen guild to give them an approach at the start of the game. I was the blacksmith and was generating lots of equipment (drawing cards from an equipment deck) for other players to purchase. I could use this money to finance my own adventures or even create my own dungeon for other players to send their heroes to. So… I could sell equipment to heroes to then enter my dungeon… where they could die and give me the equipment back? Sounds awesome. It doesn’t work out.
The adventure system is very much the key to succeeding in the game. And, you can get really shafted by the strength of monsters, items, and heroes in the game. The combat system is very hokey. It’s neat for one round of combat, but then it becomes an extremely exploitable system full of several holes.
It feels like there is the kernel of a possibly excellent game here, but it needs another year of development or so. It’s too easy for someone to run away with the adventuring system, or get brutally crushed by it, and then the rest of the players have to sit through a brain-burning Euro while we wait for another giant dice fest.
I will say that I personally liked the artwork on the board and the rest of the components, but the other players found it very busy and hard to discern.
Next up was The Cave. I only had the opportunity to play this once, but I did get a chance to teach it to another group who seemed to enjoy it as well.
This is a game that I definitely want to pick up to play with the family. If you’ve played Lost Valley, it is very reminiscent of that game. Players will be exploring (or spelunking) through a cave, collecting various token for their exploits. Each turn you get five action points to spend uncovering and traversing caverns of different difficulty levels. If you are not at the base camp, you must consume one food token before beginning your turn. If you are out of food, you basically lose turns until you can crawl back to base camp!
The game is very much about managing your personal player board which depicts your backpack and tent inventory. You will need to pack food of course, but also rope, water tanks, inflatable boats, and even a camera to document your exploits. It’s a tactically rich and lite game that fits the theme perfectly. It even has the concept of various depth. If you uncover a tile with a rope icon, it will drop 25 feet in depth. It’s possible to get down to 150+ feet in depth.
As you move through the caverns, you will collect various token for exploring water tiles, special tile (to photograph), and even for going deeper and deeper. Each game will play out a bit differently and players will have to make sound decisions about what to pack in their backpack as well as keep in mind how far they are getting from base camp so they can get back and restock their inventory.
Two player Ora et Labora! Wait. What?
This is a Le Havre branded game, but feels more like Ora et Labora in a lot of ways than the original Le Havre. It still retrains many of the “Le Havre” trappings, but the resource dials, the focus on a fixed set of buildings coming out every turn, and paying each other to use each other’s buildings are very reminiscent of Ora.
But Inland Port has an extremely unique resource management system that I won’t even begin to explain here. It’s very much at the crux of the system here.
I have very much enjoyed my plays of Agricola, Le Havre, and Ora et Labora. I have also enjoyed the two player only Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small. After playing Inland Port, I feel like I may like it a bit better than Creatures. We will see with more plays.
Ginkgopolis is one that I can’t quite put my finger on. I’ve only had one play of this one so far. It is very unique.
Mash up deckbuilding/tableau building and card drafting with city building/destruction, variable powers, engine/synergy building, area control, and a very whacky theme and you’ve got Ginkgopolis.
Ginkgopolis is a game very much steeped in it’s Euro mechanics, and I’m not going to go into much detail here, except to say that it was enjoyable and easy enough to digest. I would not put this in the family game arena. It’s a bit too obtuse (and nasty) for that, but it fits that elusive genre of “gamer filler” nicely. I played this with four players and that actually felt like a bit much for this game. I am thinking this is game that is probably best with two or three but won’t know until I actually try it. I also want to try it with the pre-game draft. I expect it will add a fair amount of strategy to the game.
Another game I am not sold on, but I’m not sure I will try this one again. I do not think it’s a bad game. It’s actually very interesting mechanically, but it’s comes across very stale and gamey at times.
Players will control three druid meeples in their color to try and stem the tide of monsters erupting from a pit in the center of the board. It’s part worker placement and part tech tree. Interestingly, the action places where players will place their cubes (their workers) are shuffled up each round so the order of operations will change every up turn. This can wreak havoc on any exact plans you may think you can execute on upcoming turns. But, it’s definitely not as chaotic as it might sound. You will try to maneuver your druids in ideal locations for capturing creatures approaching the edges of the board, and also for laying down protective barriers to hopefully seal off the pit by the end of the game.
You will also need to manage your mana resource and a tech tree of “knowledge” to give you bonuses during your actions. There are also cards that will allow you slight benefits as well. This is a good example of “cards done right”. The bonuses are small but significant and will not really swing the game drastically. But, smart card management and hand building can lead to effective turns.
The game is good, and it may have been from the struggle of learning the rules as we played that the game came across a bit stiff. We also played with five players and were constantly in each other’s way. That’s really the point of the game, but I could see it becoming very frustrating as players become more experienced and really start screwing each other over when they have nothing optimal do for themselves on a turn. I would like to give this a go again with experienced players and a lower player count.
Finally, of the games I played, was Qin.
I got a chance to teach this quickly to two other players. This is a very lite tile laying game that I did video already for the iPad app, and have played… *checks iPad*…um over 50 times on my iPad….geez.
I enjoy the game well enough and wanted to see if I liked it enough to pick up a copy to play with the family. I think I am done with the “easy” side of the board. It’s just super obvious and driven entirely by who draws the double-color tiles of the same color. I will continue to play the “hard” side of the board, and if I can get a cheap copy I will get it and play it lightly with the family for an alternative to Carcassonne.