Essen '06 Trip Report w/ Games Grabbed
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
California
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This was my second trip to Essen (I went last year for the first time), and I was much more prepared this time. I was bringing a large number of Age of Steam expansion maps with me, as well as 200 copies of an Age of Steam giveaway, and a bunch of prototypes to show to publishers during the show. I packed two of the BIG roller suitcases to weight capacity (50 pounds, how very irritating), and my roller carryon to almost 60 pounds (they don’t check the weight of carry-ons, and no one saw me struggling to pull it behind me…or they just didn’t care). I also brought a luggage scale with me – something I picked up at a travel store that proved to be well worth its $10 price tag (it’s tiny, you use it to pick up your luggage, and the scale shows the weight).

I arrived in Frankfurt (direct flight from SFO) at around 10am on Tuesday morning, and drove the 2+ hours to Essen (it’s a pretty easy drive, A3-A52-B224) in a shiny brand new Volvo station wagon. It’s a great time to drive in Germany, as the leaves are all changing. Except for a 30+ minute stop-and-go on A3 near Koln (which also happened on the way back to Frankfurt), it was nice and fast. I did take the Volvo up to 200 km/h (about 125 mph) on the way back, but that was a little scary, and most of the time I drove at about 160 km/h (right under 100 mph) where there was no speed limit posted. Love that autobahn.

I arrived at the hotel in the early afternoon, and spent the afternoon napping. Then I went off to the city center for shopping and dinner, before collapsing just before 9pm. Against my better judgment, I purchased those “jet-lag” herbal pills at the travel store, and took them as directed. They did absolutely nothing for me, and I woke up around 1am, wide awake. It took several hours to get back to sleep, and then I ended up getting up around 10am and headed down to the Messe to unload my AoS maps at the Winsome booth. I didn’t have an exhibitor badge, but that doesn’t appear to be an issue…I paid 50 euros as a deposit for an hour of unloading time right at the Hall 5 entrance, and unloaded my maps and a few signs. After getting my 50 euros back, I parked in the press area (p1, right by the front entrance), and went back in. I wandered around and found two older games that were high on my list to get: McMulti and Traumfabrik, both in great condition at less-than-market prices. At noon or so I headed up to the press area, and spent the next hour or two checking out the press display upstairs (vendors set up their new games on small tables and are on hand to give you demos, but you don’t really play the games there). I got a nice demo of Space Dealer (which I purchased and eventually played), and a few other games I was interested in seeing. Afterwards I headed back downstairs to the show floor and picked up copies of a few other games and spent some time talking with various folks.

Thursday, the first “real” day of the spiel, was exhausting. I arrived at the Messe at about 8:45, and used the language barrier to get past the security guy at the door (apparently press people aren’t allowed in before 9am). I headed off to the Winsome booth…John Bohrer was kind enough to allow me to sell my Age of Steam expansions there on Thursday until 2pm. I also had the aforementioned 200 copies of the AoS giveaway with me. I handed out almost 50 copies of the freebie before 10am to exhibitors and press who asked for them, and then the mad rush happened…they actually open the messe show floor to people BEFORE 10:00am (this is the only trade show I’ve ever been to that does this consistently), so by 9:55 there was a stream of folks heading to the Winsome booth for three reasons:

1) To pick up one of 80 pre-ordered Winsome sets of AoS Eastern US/Canada+NY Central+Wooden shoes and Iron Monsters set for 75 euros.

2) To pick up a pre-ordered AoS expansion (or to purchase a non-pre-ordered one) from Bezier Games (yay!!!)

3) But the majority of people were there for one thing: the Age of Steam color player mats I was giving away (you can download a PDF of it on my website at http://games.bezier.com).

By 10:10 ALL the player mats were gone and a giant mob of people were still converging on the Winsome booth. I should have expected they would go quickly, but it really surprised me. Next time I have a giveaway I will preprint a “sold out” or “no more left” sign as I spent quite a bit of time explaining that they were gone 10 minutes into the show. At 2pm, all the extra maps I had brought with me were gone, and the one lone mapset that was preordered and not picked up had been sold as well. I was absolutely famished at that point and grabbed a bunch of questionable Messe food (ice cream, pretzels, pizza, hot dogs all were edible but not great…the best thing is the “cone of donuts”…mmmmm).

The rest of the show was a blur, as I played games during the show and at night in various hotel lobbies, and met with a whole bunch of publishers and other folks (I had 14 meetings over 4 days) to show prototypes and talk about future plans for Board 2 Pieces and Bezier Games. More than likely Bezier Games will have a booth at Essen next year...which is exciting yet also somewhat overwhelming. My friend Hank flew down from London for a few days during that time, and with the exception of not finding a place for pancakes or anything decent for breakfast, and me almost killing us several times by turning down the wrong way on one way streets, we had a lot of fun (and as a bonus I got Hank hooked on Tichu) devil

I was determined to only buy games that I absolutely wanted ahead of time because of some special aspect, and that anything else that looked interesting I would HAVE to play before purchasing. That was the goal, and it lasted until about 2pm on Wednesday, when I impulse-bought Astoria, because the box and bits were SO cool (and it was only 20 euros). After that it was a downward slide of "I better get that in case it's sold out and I play it too late." So I ended up playing most games AFTER I bought them. In some cases that was okay, in others (Tara, Astoria), it wasn't.

Packing up to come back was again more of an issue of weight than space, and my first attempt to pack a large suitcase resulted in a 65 lb. bag (thanks, luggage scale!) which I had to redistribute among my other bags. The games survived the trip back fairly well, however, with very little visible damage.

The following list contains all the games I came back with from Essen 2006. Some weren’t for me, and I haven’t included any prototypes that were shown to publishers (nor did I include copies of the games that my company, Bezier Games, published this year…check out http://games.bezier.com for a list of those games). They are ordered by how I’ve rated them (if they’ve been rated), followed by the games which I have high expectations for, followed by games that I bought that are going to other folks. Note that some of the games are older and I’ve picked up various copies of them (like Tichu or Wizard) and many of the games I haven’t rated because I haven’t played them. For the new games in the list, the rating is based on just a play or two. Here's an image of the games after being unpacked and restored to their original packaging:

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1. Board Game: Age of Steam Expansion: Eastern US & Canada [Average Rating:7.14 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.14 Unranked]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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Okay, now we get into the games I didn't play at all yet. I was lucky enough to get on the Winsome list, and John gave me the very cool #80 of 80 for this. That means that for the next year, I will have the very last Winsome AoS map ever made. You had to buy the whole set for this, and I suppose i'll get around to playing the other two games in the set, but I really bought the set for this. 75 euros (for the set of three games), purchased on Thursday.
 
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2. Board Game: Anasazi [Average Rating:4.99 Overall Rank:10984]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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A dexterity spacial area majority collection game. The dexterity is minor, but it adds a bit of tension to the game as you try to perfectly position your tiny bridges between plateaus to collect cubes (I have no idea what the cubes represent, and that's okay). You can also build camps, and connecting a bridge to your camp allows you to steal a cube from an opponent (our rules explainer couldn't explain why that was the case, but again, it's okay). Each player has a secret color goal, with that color being worth twice as much to him/her. 25 Euros at the Mayfair booth, Purchased on Sunday morning after playing at the Phalanx booth.
 
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3. Board Game: Arbos [Average Rating:6.33 Overall Rank:2981]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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I've wanted this for a while, and can't find it online anywhere. 20 euros, purchased on Thursday.
 
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4. Board Game: Astoria [Average Rating:5.98 Overall Rank:6356]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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This has awesome bits. A thick thick wood engraved box, great hard plastic huge gems, and four glass flasks. The board isn't so good, and the game just so so. Purchased on sight (almost) on Wednesday for only 20 euros. Played Wednesday night.
 
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5. Board Game: Dancing Eggs [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:1281]
Ted Alspach
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A gaming buddy showed me this a few months ago, and I had to have it. But instead of stealing his, I bought this one for 12 euros on Saturday.
 
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6. Board Game: Dream Factory [Average Rating:7.11 Overall Rank:382]
Ted Alspach
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17.50 euros in shrinkwrap. Very much under market cost. I've wanted this for a while. Purchased on Wednesday.
 
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7. Board Game: Experiment [Average Rating:6.18 Overall Rank:4122]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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I had preordered this, and then when I found out they had a lot of extra copies on Saturday (I think only 400 of the 1000 were sold), I was less excited. I am a victim of hype, I suppose. Anyway, after a demo I still wanted the game, purchased on Saturday for 18 euros.
 
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8. Board Game: Factory Fun [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:566]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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This is the first game on the list that I actually played before I bought it. Factory fun is a neat spacial building game, with a kinda-sorta bidding thing going on. 34 Euros, purchased Thursday (after playing it at the booth).
 
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9. Board Game: Fiji [Average Rating:5.85 Overall Rank:3730]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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I really wanted to like this more than I think I did (especailly since, again, I had already purchased it when I sat down to play it). It's a good blind bidding game, held back by really hard-to-decipher cards. And there are shrunken heads. 20 Euros, purchased Thursday, played on Saturday.
 
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10. Board Game: Fowl Play [Average Rating:4.90 Overall Rank:9840]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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I preorded this and picked it up on Wednesday. 40 euros. Cute looking foxes.
 
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11. Board Game: Graenaland [Average Rating:6.78 Overall Rank:1597]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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After the explanation from the Czech games guys, I wasn't impressed. Again, everyone kept saying this was that good, so I succumbed to peer pressure and got it. 24 euros, purchased Sunday.
 
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12. Board Game: Hameln [Average Rating:5.87 Overall Rank:4563]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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Yes, I preordered this without really reading too much about it. And yes, I didn't play Shear Panic that much after getting it last year. But I was able to play Hameln on Thursday evening (again, after I picked it up), and I really liked it! You have boy and girl meeplels, each with a specific function (boy meeples harvest, girls make babies), and then you have baby meeples which you marry off...which all sounds silly until you add in the fact that each time you do anything you attract rats, and if they surround your house it's infested and you can't do anything. But then the pied piper comes and zaps the rats and takes away the children who can't pay him...okay, yes, it sounds even sillier, but it has really really cute rats and a cat and a piper. Actually, there IS a game there, amidst the well-integrated theme, and it's a gamer game, too, and quite fun. Lots of interaction (your meeples share homes with the meeple of another player) and a reasonable playing time. 35 Euros, purchased on Thursday afternoon (played it Thursday night).
 
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13. Board Game: Hermagor [Average Rating:6.95 Overall Rank:747]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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The guy(s) at the booth explained this to Hank and myself really really late on Friday, and we were tired and so were they, and it really didn't seem that good. But everyone else we talked to that played it liked it, so I picked it up. El Principe didn't really do it for me, so I hope I won't regret this... 25 euros, purchased on Saturday.
 
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14. Board Game: Imperial [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:81]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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This might indeed be my favorite game of the fair, but it is gonna go longer than I'd like. Also, while I played twice, with 2 and 3 players, I can imagine the potential for a bit of downtime with six players. However, nothing I played was as engaging as this. The Rondel continues to be a great mechanism to balance out player action choices. Each player invests in a country instead of "playing" as a country, which is a little strange to wrap your head around, but once you do, wowzers it's fun. I'm much more excited about this than I was about Antike last year. 40 Euros, purchased on Thursday without playing first. Met Mac (the designer) on Sunday, super nice guy.
 
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15. Board Game: Jumbo Grand Prix [Average Rating:5.81 Overall Rank:6973]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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Near mint copy for only 50 euros!!!! The box is a little worn, but the board and pieces are UNUSED! purchased on Wednesday.
 
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16. Board Game: Kaivai Expansion [Average Rating:7.70 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.70 Unranked]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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Picked up two copies for a gaming buddy. I still haven't played Kaivai (the box was too big to buy at last year's essen). 10 Euros each, purchased on Sunday.
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17. Board Game: Leonardo da Vinci [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:644]
Ted Alspach
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I'm a dork, and I picked up the italian version of this (thought it had English rules). fortunately, it is language independent, and I printed out the english rules for the box. 30 Euros, purchased on Thursday.
 
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18. Board Game: Medici vs Strozzi [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:1259]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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I played this mainly because I figured it would just be so-so, and then I would feel good knowing I didn't miss out on anything. Instead, I found out that this wasa really interesting 2 person bidding game, where one player determines the price and the other player may purchase it for that price, and if he doesn't, the player who set the price must buy it. At 30 minutes, it's a great 2 person filler. 2nd best knizia this year, after Blue Moon City. 17 Euros, purchased on Sunday (after playing Saturday night).
 
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19. Board Game: Megastar [Average Rating:5.49 Overall Rank:9147]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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Another FF game, this one is a card game about investing in bands and making them popular. Fun, but a bit too long. 5 euros. Purchased Thursday, played Friday.
 
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20. Board Game: Miscellaneous Game Accessory [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:2619]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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I purchased six bags of various wood game bits for 20 euros. A steal really. Last year I got two bags, and found good uses for them in prototyping. It will take me hours to organize them into baggies...I'm looking forward to it. Purchased on Thursday.
 
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21. Board Game: New York Central [Average Rating:6.42 Overall Rank:5816]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
California
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Part of the Winsome Games set. 75 euros for the set, purchased Thursday
 
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22. Board Game: No Thanks! [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:337]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
California
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Preorder One Night Ultimate Werewolf now from www.beziergames.com
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One Night Ultimate Werewolf
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My copy of Geschenkt is missing a red token. And the cards are getting old. So I bought two copies, just in case... 5 euros each, purchased on Thursday.
 
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23. Board Game: Null & Nichtig [Average Rating:6.04 Overall Rank:3766]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
California
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Preorder One Night Ultimate Werewolf now from www.beziergames.com
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One Night Ultimate Werewolf
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I'll need to play this again in order to really understand what I think about it. It was fun, but it seems it might be a bit too chaotic. You play any card you want, highest card takes all the cards and must play them in piles on top of other cards. Getting a zero of course, kills the points for a stack. 5 euros. I bought two copies just in case (in case what? who knows. But 5 euros...). Purchased on Sunday, after playing on Saturday.
 
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24. Board Game: On the Underground [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:653]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
California
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Preorder One Night Ultimate Werewolf now from www.beziergames.com
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One Night Ultimate Werewolf
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This is the best rail/connection game I've played in a long time, with a good deal of interesting choices and a really well-integrated theme. Hopefully we'll see an "on the Metro" for Paris or some other cities in the future. 20 Euros, purchased on Thursday prior to playing.
 
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25. Board Game: Perikles [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:671]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
California
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Preorder One Night Ultimate Werewolf now from www.beziergames.com
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One Night Ultimate Werewolf
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This was a guaranteed purchase. Closer to Struggle than anything else, it seems. Picked it up on Thursday
 
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