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woodnoggin's Second Essen
Rich P
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It hurts to type this since my hands are red raw from hauling five large bags of games back from Germany. I had a great time at Essen Spiel but it's always over so quickly. This year, Phil and I made the trip through the Channel Tunnel to meet up with our friend Ruben in Dusseldorf. We were at the fair on Thursday and Friday. Here's what I brought back with me:



I'm glad we took the Eurostar: I'd have never got all that back home by plane.
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26. Board Game: PitchCar: Stunt Race [Average Rating:7.15 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.15 Unranked]
Rich P
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Even though it doesn't get played very often, it's nice to have a Pitch Car set. This stunt race expansion was a must-buy for me, but I left it until later in the day as I expected it to be large and heavy. The Ferti booth had a big Pitch Car track set up, but bizarrely it had a "do not touch" sign on it.
 
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27. Board Game: The Club [Average Rating:4.67 Overall Rank:10876]
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We were actually hoping to try out Nice Weather, but there was a game in progress, so we sat down at the next game along, which turned out to be this one.

It has the funny premise of trying to get couples together on the dance floor of a club. I think you're supposed to be barstaff pushing clubbers onto the dance floor. When they meet in the middle, you can remove a pair of clubbers with at least two matching attributes and score them depending on how compatible they are. The club is represented by a grid and you draw three new clubber tiles randomly from a bag on your turn before sending them into the club.

There are four attributes to consider when matching clubbers up: gender, mood, music taste and size. The more matches a pair have, the more points they are worth. 2 matches = 1 point for a one-night stand; 3 matches = 4 points for a relationship; 4 matches = 5 points for marriage. So you can work out which two clubbers you want to try and get together for maximum points.

Unfortunately, you don't have much of a choice of where the clubbers will go as you can only push them on from your side of the board. We also had problems determining between medium-sized and large clubbers (small ones all wear glasses). But the main problem with the game is the secret attributes each clubber has on the reverse of the tile. When two clubbers get together, you turn them over to see what their secret attribute is. Maybe they are already in a relationship, very religious, shy or still live with their mum. There is a chart you can use to look up the combinations of the two attributes and find out the modifier to your score. The trouble is, this just makes the scoring entirely unpredictable. You may as well get any two clubbers together whenever you can, rather than spending time on getting a pair with 4 matches together, because the random attributes will often mess up your plans.

These attributes are where the humourous element of the game comes in. Some male characters can have a large rocket symbol on them, representing a "large personality". There is a red ribbon symbol to show the clubber has a disease, which is obviously bad for scoring. Female clubbers could have a sexy roommate for even more fun. And so on.

This is not a deep, strategic game, but neither do the mechanics lend themselves to a quick, light filler. Consequently, I'm not sure who this will appeal to. Maybe the Munchkin crowd? Someone must think this will sell, as FRED Distribution have picked it up. Not my sort of thing.
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28. Board Game: Strozzi [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:1200]
Rich P
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There are no pictures of this game in the database yet, so just look at the right half of the Medici vs Strozzi box for the time being.

We sat down at the Rio Grande booth with a nice German couple to learn how to play this game. It turned out that one of them would be demonstrating games for Rio Grande the next couple of days and this was the only game he hadn't learned already. So between us, we made our way through the German and English rulebooks.

If you've played Medici, you'll be familiar with how this works. The scoring system is almost identical, the main difference being in the auctions. Each turn a player will reveal a ship card which will have a speed indicated and a number of goods (gold, cloth, vases and scrolls). Some ships also allow you to take bonus tiles. Each player has three bidding flags: a "pirate" flag, a "wares +1" flag and a "ship speed +1" flag. If you bid using your pirate flag, you get the ship. If you bid using one of your other two flags, any player who bids their pirate flag gets the ship, with the bidding option going clockwise round the table.

The winner of the ship gets to place it at one of three ports, and moves up on the goods track there by the amount of that type of goods shown on the ship. If you won the ship with a "wares" flag, you get to move your marker one space further up the track. If you used your "speed" flag, the ship's speed is increased by one, for the purpose of scoring at the end of the round.

Since you have only three flags, you can only win three ships each round. You can also only place one ship in each port per round. There is a fourth location, not a port, on which your markers can be moved up by winning ships with scrolls on them. This is a sort of tie-breaker track, but also scores as the others do.

At the end of the round you score each goods track and ship speeds in each port (15-10-5-0 points for each). As in Medici, there are additional bonuses for players whose markers have reached the top three spaces on each track.

Bonus tiles obtained from some ships come in three categories: art, science and architecture. Value 1 tiles have a bonus good on them, which just moves you up one space on the corresponding goods track when you take them. Value 2 tiles have no goods. At the end of the game, you count up how many points of art tiles you have and award points in order, 30-20-10-0. Repeat for science and architecture tiles.

I have Medici and I enjoy it, therefore I feel no need to own this game too. It is not sufficiently different enough from its predecessor to warrant a place in my collection. Having said that, I would not turn down a game of Strozzi; it was fairly good and had a nice auction system with each player only having three things to bid with. I can see how the wide range of bid possibilities in Medici can be too much for some players, so this slimmed-down version might be more to their taste.
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29. Board Game: A Castle for All Seasons [Average Rating:6.79 Overall Rank:740]
Rich P
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This was getting good reviews across the fair, appearing highly in the Fairplay chart and seeing lots of play everywhere. I saw lots of people carrying the game around, so it seemed to be selling well too. So we stayed at the table after Strozzi and played half a game of this. We ran out of time before having to rush off and make a few more game purchases before the Spiel closed.

Looking at the board, it looks a lot like The Pillars of the Earth and the gameplay is reminiscent of that earlier game. There's also a sense of Kreta about how the action cards play out: everyone has the same set of cards in their hand to choose from each round, but you only get back previously played cards if you use the Master Builder. So you play cards to collect resources, then you play cards to spend them on building parts of the castle. This gives you money and victory points. Money can be spent on putting some of your worker pieces on special spaces in the castle for extra points. snore

It played much faster than I was expecting, which was a bonus, but I couldn't help getting the feeling that I'd been here before. I didn't see why I needed to own this when I already have several similar resource-gathering, castle building games. Maybe it's a grower - I felt similarly about Kingsburg last year, but that grew on me with more plays. But since nobody I know has bought this one, I don't expect to be playing it much.
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30. Board Game: The Princes of Machu Picchu [Average Rating:6.99 Overall Rank:737]
Rich P
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Finally, I rushed around a few stalls picking up the last games I wanted before the fair closed. Rio Grande had a few I was interested in. I probably could have got them back home, but they were all conveniently here and I couldn't resist.

I just had to get The Princes of Machu Picchu - I've enjoyed the other games by the same designer and I visited Machu Picchu earlier this year. One small nitpick as a result of that visit is that I spotted that the Inca Trail is on the wrong side of the board.

Plus points for containing llama meeple.
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31. Board Game: The 3 Commandments [Average Rating:5.55 Overall Rank:8503]
Rich P
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Rio Grande were also selling the English language edition of this collaboration between Friedemann Friese and the Fragor brothers. It sounded like a more structured Zendo, with rules for determining a winner. I was willing to give it a go.
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32. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm [Average Rating:8.10 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.10 Unranked]
Rich P
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I only got the base game in July, so we probably haven't played it enough yet to merit bringing in the expansion. However, this box includes pieces for a fifth player, which will be very useful for our group. I'm sure this will see lots of play in time.
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33. Board Game: Saint Petersburg: New Society & Banquet Expansion [Average Rating:7.45 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.45 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.45 Unranked]
Rich P
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Another expansion I couldn't pass on, despite not having played Saint Petersburg for a while.
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34. Board Game: Carcassonne: Catapult [Average Rating:4.92 Unranked] [Average Rating:4.92 Unranked]
Rich P
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Yet another expansion. It sounds daft, but I'll give it a go.
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35. Board Game: Power Grid: Flux Generator [Average Rating:7.51 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.51 Unranked]
Rich P
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The final and smallest expansion I picked up from the Rio Grande booth. It consists of a single card. This one required a donation to charity.
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36. Board Game: Globalissimo [Average Rating:6.61 Overall Rank:4037]
Rich P
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This sounded interesting when I saw it in Spielbox magazine. I like geography-based games, especially when they involve complete maps of the world. I found it cheap at the Spiel and decided to buy it despite the language dependence. Hopefully I can get a translation of the rules somehow.
 
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37. Board Game: Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:1227]
Rich P
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The game that even the people selling it can't be bothered to say in full ("Sator Blah Blah Blah"). This sounded like a good idea and I watched a few people playing it who were having fun. Hopefully the use of action cards reduces the likelihood of being overwhelmed by options, otherwise the game could bog down. Nice bits.
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38. Board Game: Snow Tails [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:455]
Rich P
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I knew I wanted to buy this after reading the rules. Looks like a very entertaining game. Then I watched the Boardgames with Scott episode... shake I decided to buy it regardless. It was selling very well at the fair, no doubt helped by the Fragor Brothers being some of the nicest guys there.
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39. Board Game: Wasabi! [Average Rating:6.58 Overall Rank:873]
Rich P
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I have a couple of friends who are into all things Japanese and I thought they would enjoy playing this.

Sadly no sign of Cleopatra's Caboose at the Z-Man booth. Coming in 2009, apparently.
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40. Board Game: After the Flood [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:1112]
Rich P
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Finally, a stop at the Warfrog stand for two new Martin Wallace games. After the Flood looks to be a bit of a brain-burner, but hopefully with just three players it can keep its pace.
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41. Board Game: Steel Driver [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:605]
Rich P
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There was one copy of Age of Steam available at the Warfrog booth for the bargain price of 100 Euros. I think it belonged to one of the people working on the stall and there was some haggling going on over price when I bought my two games.

Steel Driver looks to be less complicated than After the Flood and plays up to 6, which is handy. I'll be skipping the next Treefrog game, Waterloo, as two-player wargames are of little interest to me. It's the game that should follow Waterloo which I'm looking forward to. I saw Martin Wallace walking round with a prototype box of 'Automobile'. I didn't get to see inside it, so it may have been full of cotton wool for all I know.
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42. Board Game: Redcoat [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Rich P
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So that was the end of our Essen Spiel. Or so we thought...

Ruben had forgotten to get his coat from the cloakroom on Thursday, so he sent us to get it for him on Friday. When they discovered it had been left overnight, the attendants were horrified. They told us to wait until the cloakroom queue had entirely cleared before they could get the coat for us. This took an hour.

After that, nobody seemed to be able to take us to where the coat was. We had to wait for a security guard to arrive. He was quite annoyed and showed me into a back office where I was introduced to an even angrier man who shouted at me in German. I didn't understand all of it, but it was something to the effect of "we are not your personal wardrobe!" I couldn't convince them that it wasn't actually my coat, but my friend's...

But after over an hour of waiting at least the U-Bahn was empty.

We stayed up far too late teaching Ruben how to play Agricola and then trekked back across Europe the next day, exhausted.

All in all, a good Essen Spiel.
 
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