Essen SPIEL 2018

Ce billet a été publié en français ici : Essen SPIEL 2018 (en français)

We went, for the fourth time, to Essen in Germany for the SPIEL fair (and that was the 36th SPIEL fair, if I’m not mistaken). SPIEL (or, as we tend to call it, Essen, although Essen conference center hosts a lot more things than that… I hear they have a car fair as well :P) is THE fair for all board game players in Europe – 4 full days and, this year, 190 000 visitors – that’s quite a few people.

We’re getting pretty used to the whole thing; the first year there was a fair amount of stress of the unknown, but this year things went very smoothly. And so, for four days, we walked a lot in the halls, we played a lot, and we came back with a fair amount of loot, despite the fact that we thought we had been reasonable… oops 😉 And, as every year, we saw a lot of things. I got the impression we saw more prototypes/future kickstarters/and the like than the previous years. We also noted that board game manufacturers (people molding plastic and printing cards) were somewhat more prominent than the previous years – as Pierre says, being a shovel seller during the gold rush is not necessarily a bad idea 😉

So, here comes an account of (almost?) everything we saw on the fair 🙂

Space Marines Adventures, Games Workshop – only saw a small demo, a cooperative Space Hulk-like with Space Marines and Necrons. It’s the very first thing we saw, and I don’t think the person from Games Workshop was quite warm yet, so I have only little memory of the demo and of the concept. We came back to GW a bit later to get a rulebook for Kill Team and a copy of Warhammer Underworlds Nightvault, a 1v1 strategy game – we had seen a demo of Shadespire last year and we had looked for a copy in all game shops where we set foot this year; Nightvault is “same rules” (ish) + new armies. Since then, we assembled the minis and played a couple of games: I like it a lot.

Star Realms, White Wizard – this one came out a few years ago, but we hadn’t had the opportunity to play it yet; since it’s a game with a lot of expansions, the opportunity to play the base game arises as well. It’s Dominion meets Magic the Gathering: the goal of the game is to build your deck so that you can lower your adversary’s life points to 0, it’s pretty well done, and the cards are pretty. It didn’t entirely click for us, I think, especially compared to Dominion that scratches a similar itch.

Knister, NSV – still in the “older stuff” category, we got lured to a table of “we play a giant game of this every day at 11”, a mix of bingo, yatzee, and grid placement; it was honestly more fun than what we feared.

Patchwork Express, Lookout Games – Patchwork is a game where players want to fill in a square grid with polyominos that represent fabric and that contain buttons that are both a currency to get more fabric and victory points. And Patchwork Express, well, it’s a version of Patchwork on a smaller grid, aimed at younger kids (it’s faster, the numbers are smaller, and the pieces of fabric are easier to place). The tables were, incidentally, very cute.

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Monolith Arena, Portal Games, one of the two big events of Portal this year. Monolith Arena re-implements Neuroshima Hex! in a fantasy world. Players place tiles (warriors, miscellaneous bonuses) on an hex grid, and the tiles fight at semi-regular intervals (but not at each round, which makes for a fair amount of the interest of the game). I had played Neuroshima Hex! a bit on Android, and I had had difficulty with how tiles interacted, especially with the initiative order. I love the concept, but I don’t think I’m able to play this game well enough so that I can enjoy it. Which I’m a bit sad about.

The Estates, Capstone Games – that one had a fairly original set of mechanics. Players bid on cubes that make piles that represent buildings. The player who owns the highest cube in the building gets the points of the building in question. But beware: buildings are placed on three lines, and at most two of these three lines yield positive scoring (the last one is negative). So you probably want to cooperate a bit so that the lines that are of interest to you also are interesting for your adversaries, and have more chances to score. I liked it, Pierre somewhat less (because of the uncertainty on the end scoring) and, as far as bidding games go (for people who don’t necessarily like bidding games) it was a very nice surprise.

Ronin of the Reach, Nerd Tank Games – that one is a Kickstarter that is planned for next year. It’s an utterly stupid game (in a good way :D): it’s a flicking space combat game where the things you flick are… the cards. It plays in 10 minutes, it’s advertised as “the game you play while waiting for the people who are late at game night”, and it’s at least a fun concept. And you probably need a large table.

Silk Road, Lautapelit – another prototype, planned for next year, and whose name is probably going to change because other games are already called that way. We were going to play something else, and we got lured by someone at the booth – “don’t you want to test our next prototype instead?” so we did that instead. It’s a neat drafting and set collection game, we liked it. (Admittedly, we may have a slight bias in favor of Lautapelit in general.)

Magnificent Flying Machines, Medusa Games – a racing game with planes at the beginning of the 20th century. Thematically pretty close from L’Aéropostale, but simpler mechanics, and a fair amount of dice luck (but a fair amount of compensation mechanics as well). We left with a copy… and a surprise dedication from the illustrator who happened to be at the booth at that time (and finishing his day since it was 19h!).

Railroad Ink, Horrible Games – a very fun little game whose booth, although pretty large, was full during the whole fair. All players have an erasable grid and a pen; at every round, someone rolls four dice that indicate which elements (road, railroad, mix of both, straight lines, curves, stations) must be integrated to every player’s network. The player who draws the best network (with some optimization criteria) wins the game. We liked it a lot, so we took two copies 😛 (More precisely: there’s a “blue” version with water and a “red” version with lava, and the number of players who can play scales with the number of copies, so…)

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Concordia Venus, PD-Verlag – Concordia is a game that was published a few years ago but that we hadn’t tried yet – so that’s fixed. This year, they published the base Concordia game along with a Venus expansion that adds a “six players in teams of two” mode that can be fun. Concordia is a game that can be best qualified as “very, very Euro”: players try to expand their empire on a map by playing role cards that allow them to take actions. New role cards can be bought to play more powerful actions… and to score victory points – let’s not forget about these. We left with a copy after 2-3 rounds of demo.

Detective, Portal Games – the other big event of Portal Games. It’s a detective game (as the name would suggest) that is very immersive and where players cooperate to solve cases. The clues are partly given in the scenario cards, partly given on the website that Portal created for the game, and partly “real life” clues (for instance, go fetch the “publicly known” name of some chemical compound to have an idea of its use). The base box provides 5 scenarios that are more or less linked by an overarching story. Portal Games had organized an event to play an extra “made for demo” scenario; I had bought tickets, and so we did that. It was a lot of fun, very immersive, the mechanics are very lightweight and a priori quite reasonable, and kudos to Portal for a flawless organization of the event 🙂 (And yeah, we left with a copy, ‘cuz I’m weak.)

The River, Days of Wonder – this year’s Days of Wonder. A worker placement game that kind of reminds of Stone Age (maybe more because of the resource handling and tile payment than anything else), where the players colonize a place along a river. The fun thing is that, usually, for worker placement games, you gain workers during the game, and there, you lose them. Quite nice, very nice publishing quality (Days of Wonder is great on that point), but it didn’t really click (except for the turkey-shaped meeples).

Cryptid, Osprey Games – my favorite game of the fair. A globally abstract deduction game: players each get a clue whose combination defines a unique hexagon on the map; the aim of the game is to find the hex before the other players. It makes your neurons heat in a particularly pleasant way. At the end of the game, we went “WELL WE’LL NEED TO BUY THAT ONE”, but they were out of stock (on the second evening), but then they told us they would still have a few dozen copies the next day and that if we hurried we had a chance. The next morning we were in front of the door before the opening, we hurried (slowly) to their booth, we queued, and we got a copy \o/

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Railroad Rivals, Forbidden Games – I guess this one is in the “train game” category: players create a train network (by placing tiles) and buy shares in the train companies they want, depending on the companies on which they foresee rail traffic. Pretty neat, but I wasn’t necessarily convinced by how hard it could be to distinguish between train line names, sometimes very close from each other, on pretty small tiles that can be quite far away.

Raccoon Tycoon, Forbidden Games – while we were at the booth 🙂 A bidding, set collection and resource market management game (with market mechanics somewhat close to Schaffausa). The illustrations are very neat, but maybe divisive (Pierre was not a fan, I quite liked them). I think both Forbidden Games games were “almost buy”s, and it’s possible we bought neither because we didn’t want to decide between both, and we couldn’t decide to buy both either 😛

Magnate – The First City, Naylor Games – a future Kickstarter which mostly came to our attention because of their banner “The game Monopoly should be”, which amused us greatly because we had discussed the night before during dinner how to re-implement Monopoly. Players develop a city with green residential building, blue office buildings, yellow industrial building and red commercial building (any resemblance to… etc etc) and can try to get tenants in their buildings. Getting tenants allows to get income… and to re-sell buildings for more money later. Which you probably want to do… before the real estate market bubble collapses. It was a very interesting game – we’ll probably have a look at the Kickstarter when it starts. (And we got little green 3D-printed building, so there’s that.)

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5 minute Chase, Board&Dice – a real-time game in which one of the players tries to escape the others who chase him. The chased players places tiles and tries to fetches objects; the other players do pattern matching to add tokens that must be correctly placed to be able to catch the thief. Not uninteresting, but not very convincing either.

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, Next Move Games – Azul was a wall tile placement game. Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra is a glass window tile placement game. The tile selection mechanics stay the same (several set of tiles chosen randomly, a player picks a color and puts the rest in the middle; players can also pick tiles from the middle when there is some), but the placement mechanics are different. They also clearly considered players who have a hard time distinguishing colors: all the pieces are marked in a different pattern, and the circles containing the sets can be placed in a configuration that makes things clearer. I don’t know if it actually works, but I hope so 🙂 The game is very pretty; we probably wouldn’t have bought it if we had owned the first Azul game, but as it was we left with a copy.

Spring Meadow, Spielwiese – Uwe Rosenberg is back with yet another polyomino placement game (after Patchwork, Cottage Garden and Indian Summer): all of them have very, very similar material, but very different game feeling. In Spring Meadow, you have to build horizontal lines starting from the bottom of the player mat; at scoring times (which are partly predictable), the player who went the furthest gets a token; the first player getting two tokens wins the game. Very nice (and we also got a copy.)

Claim / Claim II, White Goblin Games – the booth next to Spielwiese, to which we went on the recommendation from the person presenting Spring Meadow. Claim (and Claim 2) is a trick-taking game whose main interesting characteristic is to be a 2-player trick-taking game. It’s a two-round game: in the first round, you try to get cards that will get used in the second round (and to the final scoring, which is essentially “the player with most suit majorities wins the game”). Very cute – we left with a copy of each so that we can combine them and play with more players.

Astro Drive, Lautapelit – a small racing and obstacle avoidance game in space, with planets that you have to avoid, nebulae that you have to avoid, and cards that allow you to move forward or laterally. Why not 🙂

Molecule, Ion et Covalence, Genius Games – Pierre had heard of Molecule, which was out of stock when we went to the booth, but for which we still got a small demo (although I’ll admit I don’t remember it), and then we talked about the other games with the person at the booth. Covalence is a cooperative game where one of the players tries to make the other guess molecules, giving clues (“there’s 2 carbons” or “there’s 7 hydrogens”), and the players try to guess the molecules with tiles. Ion is a game that could probably be best described as “ever played Sushi Go? Well, same thing, but with ions instead of sushi” – a drafting game where players try to build valid compounds with the cards they get in their hands. We left with Covalence and Ion because they were pretty cheap and we quite liked the “educative” concept behind them (the molecules you create are real-world molecules, there’s a bit of explanatory fluff, it’s generally well done).

Cuzco, Super Meeple – a re-implementation of an older game called Java, in which players try to control cities that get built during the game (and of the associated temples). A bit of a Taluva feeling, mostly because of the way you place tiles on several levels, both less aggressive (because you can’t blow volcanoes up on your adversaries’ villages) and more aggressive (because of the way you control territories). I think I liked it, but it might be a bit too aggressive for me? I’m not sure. And it’s the last game we played on that day, and we couldn’t decide either way. I’d like to play it again.

Flamme Rouge, Lautapelit – the attentive reader will have noticed that we went at Lautapelit booth several times, and it’s partly because of Flamme rouge: it’s a bicycle race that was published two years ago (I think) and that was quite successful, and we were curious. Our curiosity has finally been rewarded, and we finally found a spot at a table. So, it’s a bicycle race game – a theme that a priori is not one we’d be fond of – but the mechanics are really very nice, using decks of cards whose cards you play don’t come back – so you need to be careful not wasting your “good” cards. There’s also an incentive to be “in front, but not too much in front” – because you risk taking wind effects (and get bad cards in your deck), but also not too much behind, because otherwise you get out of the grouping, and you get the same bad cards in your deck. We were enthusiastic enough to get a copy (as well as one of each expansion, including the one that allows to play up to 6 players).

Detective Club, IGAMES – a Dixit-like game where all players except one share a common secret word and provide two cards relating to that word (the player who does not know the word must… do their best), and explain later the relationship between their cards and the word in question. The aim of the game is to find the player who does not know the word. Pretty nice concept, but hard to justify a buy compared to playing the same game with a deck of Dixit.

Blue Lagoon, Blue Orange – we lurked around Blue Orange a few times because I wanted to test Planet, that looked neat, but we ended up playing Blue Lagoon, and it was neat too. It’s a two-phase games: the first one where you place tokens starting from the water to create territories and place cities in strategic places; the second where you do the same thing, but starting from your cities. The scoring is a point salad between “I’m on all the islands”, “I have the majority on X islands”, “I got object sets when placing my guys”, etc. I’m not entirely sure why we didn’t get a copy of that one, because it’s fast and I think it’s interesting. (I think, mostly, we were short on cash, and we didn’t make the decision.) Oh, and the scoring pad is not great, it may have had an indirect impact.

Fertility, Catch Up Games – a game with an Egyptian theme; you place tiles, you get and manage resources, you collect ancient Gods like Pokemons, and at the end you realized you played too many rounds because we were two players and we should have removed tiles before starting. I liked it, but the wooden components for the resources were a bit too small to my taste (although they were to scale with the game and the places to put them), and Pierre liked it less.

Cerberus, Catch Up Games – a game where players must cooperate enough to escape the eponymous Hell dog, but must also betray each other to ensure they get a spot on the boat that allows them to escape. I didn’t like that one at all, really not my kind of game 🙂 For me, it’s worse than games with a traitor (including “late traitor” games like Battlestar Galactica), because at least on traitor games, the mechanics make you betray your co-players, it’s not your decision. And I’m too much of a carebear for that 😉

Fog of Love, Hush Hush Projects – I’ll admit it, for that one I was the one wanting to sit at a table because I was really curious. It was published last year, and that’s the second year that they have a pretty large and quite intriguing booth at Essen, so I got lured by the marketing siren song. It’s a game where two players play a romantic comedy scenario: they start with half-predetermined characters, known and secret characteristics, and they’re trying to make the story move in a way that the relationship works out without abandoning their identity. It was a pretty pleasant surprise; probably not enough to buy it, but I would have liked to finish the game. But it was time to go back to the airport to go home…

And for the other buys…

  • A copy of Whistle Stop (and of its Rocky Mountains expansion), published by Bézier Games last year but that we hadn’t bought because they didn’t have it in demo (which was pretty flabbergasting to us at the time); we still haven’t had a demo, but we still bought the game. A train network creation and pick up and delivery game. Pleasant, seems fast to play.
  • Still at Bézier Games, a copy of the 5 Stars expansion for Suburbia, that allows to add a fifth player.
  • A copy of Terraforming Mars (FryxGames), for which I may have nagged Pierre a bit. It’s a game that we have already played quite a bit, that I like a lot, and that I got from the shelf the other day to play a couple of solo games. The goal of the game is to maximize your number of victory points by playing cards that help terraforming Mars. It’s mostly an engine building and opportunity management game, and the solo game is an interesting puzzle (and by “interesting”, I mean “I tried it twice, I lost twice”).
  • A copy of The Cthulhu Hack (Just Crunch Games), an investigation role-playing game on the Cthulhu side of things. There seems to be a fair amount of interesting content about scenario writing.
  • A copy of 18Lilliput, a SMALL train game that is advertised as “it feels like a 18xx game, but it plays in an hour” (we played 1830 once, it was more like 6 hours). I’m curious 🙂
  • And some paraphernalia – erasable cards and tokens, wooden cubes just in case, a few t-shirts because we lacked gamer t-shirts.

There – that was Essen 2018 – now looking forward to Essen 2019!

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