It had been three years: last time we were in Essen was in October 2019. 2020 was a fully virtual edition; 2021 still felt too unsafe to go. This year, it felt OK enough, especially since there was a full mask mandate on the fair – we’ll see in the next few days if indeed it was! But in the meantime, it was SO GOOD to be back in Essen for SPIEL. We played a lot, we were ALMOST reasonable on our loot, we’re exhausted – but super happy to have gone 🙂
Now we’re back home… time for a few quick notes of all the games we saw! In order of play, because that’s approximately as arbitrary as I could make it anyway. I’ve been too lazy to add publishers/authors – but I’ve provided BGG links on the titles where available. Also, credit where credit’s due: many of these pictures are my husband’s 🙂 I kept these notes very short because it’s already a very long post; but I’m happy to give more details if you have specific questions!
A pick-up and delivery game with a theme of trams in Lisbon, with very clean mechanics and a very competent implementation. An almost-buy, but it finally lacked the “wow” factor.
A competitive tile laying game where players try to build houses and larger buildings along the roads to Rome. Somewhat comparable to Carcassonne, but with less long-term decisions (… and regrets), and much shorter. (Still, you should totes put that tile here, I tell you.) Bought a copy.
A party game based on languages: you have a card with a secret language that gives you a few words, and you need to communicate a shape and a color to the other players (who don’t know the language). My auditive processing makes this game daunting a priori, but still, I’m curious about how it works in “real” circumstances (we didn’t play this one properly, just tried to get a sense for it).
A 2-player version of Splendor, with a few new mechanics, even if the core game stays quite similar. Very competent, as expected, but not enough of a novelty to not play a 2-player game of the original instead.
Heat: Pedal to the Metal
A car race game: manage your hand of cards to go faster than the other players. It has a strong Flamme Rouge feel, maybe a bit more streamlined. A very competent implementation as well; we both felt we might like it better than Flamme Rouge, but not enough to get a copy since we do own Flame Rouge.
Dinner in Paris
A very fun theme – you’re a chain of restaurants, and you’re trying to establish terraces on a large Parisian square. Fantastic theme, pretty cool area control mechanics, but it felt a bit fiddly/player-mistake-prone.
Welcome to The Moon
A roll-an-write-like in the Welcome To series. It’s actually something like 8 roll&write in one box, plus a campaign mode – sounds pretty neat! The mission we played (the first one) was very straightforward – maybe more so than the other Welcome To we had already played. Had we been on the market for a roll&write, this would probably have been a strong candidate.
A 2-player tile-laying game where players score points depending on their majorities on areas they control at the end of three scorings. It was the end of the day, we might have appreciated/understood it better in different circumstances.
That one was a quick demo 10 minutes before the end of the day. You have to collect four pieces of the crown in the corners of a board; you do that by building a small engine that enables you to move faster, have more pawns, interact more with other players. Pretty neat mechanics, but needs more polishing.
The Book of Dragon
A game where you collect dragon cards with partial bid mechanics that we both found interesting: you bid with dice on dragon cards, you can get a dragon if you have dice on the card, and you remove dice from your opponent when you outbid them. Values of the dice get updated when you lose or win a bid. That leads to interesting game theory that gets enhanced by additional actions. Also it was inexpensive, so we picked a box.
A game where you have to fill in a brand new shelf with various items, and try to fulfil various constraints to score points. The vertical play is pretty gimicky but very cute, but the tile setup felt too finicky. Probably a good candidate for BGA, though.
A game where you lay towels on a beach to create lines that score points. Very tight mechanics and very pleasant to play – we picked a copy.
A game where you place tiles to build an engine that enables you to build temples, create orichalcum and attract the favors of the titans. Pretty cool, but not “love at first sight” from my side.
A game where you develop air mail networks and use them to deliver packages. There’s interesting “colored domino” mechanics that constrain the places where you can execute actions, and it felt overall pretty solid, despite maybe benefiting from a house rule or two.
A streamlined, shorter, simpler version of Terra Mystica. That’s a fantastic reimplementation, and everything does feel significantly tighter – at the risk of removing the “puzzle” aspect of Terra Mystica (“I’m missing one gold here, is there ANY WAY I can make that happen?”). Terra Nova was definitely an almost-buy – but, at the end of the day, we didn’t see scenarios where we’d play it instead of Terra Mystica.
The Great Split
You play as collectors who need to exchange riches with other collectors. The way you do this is by splitting a hand of cards in two; you then pass both halves to your neighbor, they choose one half, they hand you back the rest. Loved the mechanics and the scoring felt interesting too – very enthused by that one, we picked a copy.
A pick-up and delivery and engine building game, where players first have to build their metro network thanks to transparent tiles that can be stacked on top of each other. Lovely game, maybe a tad long and heavier than we bought otherwise this year, but I did really really like it, so we picked a box.
A tableau-building game that kind of reminded me of Tides of Time. At each round, you choose a card for the tableau, and pass one to each of your neighbors for their next round’s hand. We hesitated a lot… but then it DOES play 7 with simultaneous play, and there are a few smart details 🙂
A tile-laying game using tri-hex tiles (like Taluva), with straightforward rules and scoring (different from Taluva). Also the game I lost the hardest during this SPIEL – but it was still fun, and we got a copy.
Spiel des Jahres this year, and a good one. You build an ecosystem of places and animals according to animal group scoring rules. It’s very tight and pretty fast; I was afraid of the scoring but it was actually straightforward. Great game (and we got a copy.)
So You’ve Been Eaten
An asymetric 2-player game where one player is the monster and the other wants to mine crystals in its stomach. Cool mechanics, great theme and implementation – but we really don’t play 2-player games often enough to justify the buy.
A pretty cute game where you need to serve food to your forest friends before they get impatient; but gathering ingredients takes time! Cute and well-done, but not a favorite.
Ecosystem: Coral Reef
Another tableau building game, aiming at teaching the importance of the ecosystem variety of the sea. A quick drafting game that’s also very pretty, and from a publisher that tries to do cool stuff (“let’s make cool game with science without compromising science”).
The Agony of Wizardry
You’re a wizard in a maze and you’re trying to get spells/scrolls – for that, you get one action per round. There are also ghosts in this maze, and you can control them too to annoy your fellow wizards – you can move them one square each per round, or change the one you control. There was some really good stuff in this, but we did run into a situation where Pierre couldn’t really do any action anymore, so that was sad.
This year “heavy” Uwe Rosenberg worker placement game (there might be more, haven’t checked much this year 🙂 ) – feels like a Rosenberg, plays like one. We found it very pleasant to play, well streamlined and the theme is very cool – I NEED MORE BATS HOW CAN I GET MORE BATS 😛
The one game that made me go “oh putain !” loudly during the explanations. You’re trying to guess a number before your opponents; for that, you have a set of punch cards that you can combine to create a number which represents a query to various instruction cards – the only hole in the punch card combination gives you a yes/no answer. This was fascinating – but it sold out way before we could test it. May be a future buy, though.
And, for the last game of this SPIEL, we found a table of Kingdomino Origins. It’s a variant of Kingdomino (which we know and love) with a few modes in the box. The basic mode is mandatory: you have volcanoes that throw fireballs on other tiles, and those replace the crowns in the original version – I like that, it gives me the impression of having a bit more control. The other modes introduce resources and people, and that was also a neat addition – with the drawback that it makes it more fiddly than the original’s beautiful simplicity.