Rundown of Essen & Lucca (with Mini Reviews)
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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Two friends and I made the journey from Montreal, Quebec over to Venice to visit a friend and from there the four of us were off to Essen (which I am sure everyone is familiar with) and Lucca (a Comics and Game fair in a town of the same name located in the Tuscany region of Italy).

This is a rundown of our trip and how things went, including some reviews of the games we played. In all, I alone played about 70 different games over the 16 days, so I will not include all the games, but just some notable ones (good and bad). Also to note, that these are first impressions as I played most games just once and that not all of these games are new. Although most are 2009 releases, some were older games that I had just wanted to try out. Enjoy!
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1. Board Game: Wings of War: Famous Aces [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:553] [Average Rating:6.89 Unranked]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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We flew from Montreal to Zurich with Swiss and then from Zurich to Venice. In all, it took about 13 hours (9.5 hours of flight and 3.5 hours of wait), this includes the initial wait from arriving early in Montreal as we were bringing our friend in Venice a Crokinole board as a gift, a Canadian game, and wanted to make sure we could check it safely.
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2. Board Game: Walk the Plank [Average Rating:5.19 Overall Rank:9917]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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After taking the bus from the airport to Venice, our Venetian host gave us three options: Take a Vaporeto (Water Taxi) most of the way for €6.50 each or walk. Being gamers and wanting to save our hard earned cash for games and wanting to walk through the city, we chose to walk. It took about 30 minutes and 11 bridges to get to his house (including one large bridge). As the picture may show, we had a lot of luggage, but worst part was, one of my friends wheels broke on one bag about a third of the way, so we took turns carrying it.
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3. Board Game: Venice Connection [Average Rating:5.41 Overall Rank:9688]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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We stayed in Venice till Wednesday the 21st of October. Then we flew Air Berlin to Dusseldorf and then took a taxi from there to Essen as you cannot fly directly to Essen. The taxi, for five of us (three from Montreal and 2 Venice) was €56 and took about 20 minutes not too bad as the sky train would have cost €12 each. Our hotel in Essen was cheap, €75 a night for two people and the place was packed with gamers, especially as of Friday, so we would all meet and game in the evenings in the hotel's smoking room (where almost on one smoked).
 
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4. Board Game: Chronicle [Average Rating:6.88 Overall Rank:1099]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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Since we bought our tickets the day before in downtown Essen, we did not have to wait in the long lines to buy tickets, but went right into the fair and by 10:10am, we were gaming. My friends had some specific games they wanted to try, while I was just going to play anything that interested me. So I followed them for a little.

One of the first great games I played was Chronicle. Our groups plays a lot of trick taking games (Mu being a favorite) and this was on the radar. Basically, each card in the deck, which are numbered from 1 to 10 has a special power. These include making people take back cards, ending the trick early, making the lowest card win, etc. Each time you win a trick, these become your allies (used for scoring). You cannot have Evil cards in your allies at the end or you lose. Otherwise, the person who best met the specific objective for that turn, such as get the most green cards, wins. But since your allies are always face up and any cards left in your hand at the end of the round (which occurs when one player is out of cards) also count as allies, it is not easy to meet the objective. Others can steal your cards from your hand or from your won tricks or discard their own using the cards powers. We played this a few times, it's quick and a lot of fun.
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5. Board Game: Logan Stones [Average Rating:5.74 Overall Rank:7296]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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I had never played Logan Stones, although I am a huge Hive fan and this is the next game from the same designer. The reason Hive is so great is due to the fact that everything is visible to everyone. In Logan Stones, there is a large memory aspect. You play a stone with a rock, paper or scissor on it. When you play it, it must touch at least two other stones and causes any stone that it would beat to flip (paper beats rock, rock beats scissor, etc). When you play a stone, you must remember what is on the back side and your opponent has no idea what is there. So there is a lot of memory. When you make four in a row you win. It was cute, simple to learn, but you tend to lose because you forget what is on the back side of the stone, which is maddening.
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6. Board Game: Peloponnes [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:454]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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I had never heard of this game, but there game seemed nice. It was in a tiny booth, so we figured, why not try it. It was a pleasant surprise. It is a light Euro where you build up your city with buildings and farms. You bid on available buildings in turn order, but others can bump you off the building you chose, so you must chose your bid knowing this and not simply bid the minimum. Each building or farm either gives you a benefit or a resource, which you use to buy more but each place has an upkeep and three times in the game you must also feed all your people. The only issue we had was that if you made a mistake early, it was hard to catch up, but otherwise, the game is definitely worth playing.
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7. Board Game: Albion [Average Rating:6.12 Overall Rank:3534]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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One of the first known games that I tried. Albion is a family friendly Euro in which you race to grow your buildings in different locations on the map. The reason it is a race is that you must pay the opponents if you are building something in a location that they have a better building in. The mechanics are simple, you have a certain amount of moves to displace your meeples, who always start the turn at a specific location and you either take resources or build up your buildings (upgrade existing ones or build new ones). The buildings can help you get more resources, needed to build, or let you move you meeple further or defend against attacks (from the board). We sadly had to leave before the end, but the game is fun and likely good for the family or light gamer crowd while still having a fair amount of strategy.
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8. Board Game: The Climbers [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:1147]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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This game I really enjoyed. They were already sold out on the first day, so none of us bought it, plus it was quite heavy (see later for why this was an issue). The game consists of blocks of different sizes with six different colors on each face. You must end up on the top at the end. Play by moving a cube and then moving your character, who can only step on your color or gray. So you can work with others by having the gray side up or block by placing your color face up. Once there are no more moves available (since all the cubes are under player pieces), you want to be on the top. Fun, strategic and simple to learn.
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9. Board Game: 7 [Average Rating:5.23 Overall Rank:10479]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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This game was also from a smaller publisher, but looked cool, so we booked a time, which you often need to do for longer games and sat down with three others to play. There is a lot going on here, as you need to complete quests by collecting cards but can also hire people, steal from others, use sin cards, etc. At the end, it is very chaotic, especially since others can steal from you and move your tokens around to steal benefits. Too much going on for me, as it is hard to plan ahead since so many things change on a constant basis. The main problem is that we were not told how scoring works at the end of the round before hand, thus we were just doing actions and at the end figured out why we would chose each action. We only played one round, but it did not really leave us wanting to play more.
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10. Board Game: Greed Incorporated [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:1097]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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Here's a game that many of you may have already heard of. We also had to reserve to play this as they only have 4 demos per day. You do not get to play a whole game, as that can take up to three hours with explanation, but you get to play several rounds and see all the aspects of the game. That said, the game is quite good. As the title implies, it is a game of greed. You build up companies by buying resources or processes (that produce better resources) and must negotiate with others to build up your company. The money you make in one round, will only become free cash flow (and thus available to your company) two turns late. And if your company makes less then it did last year, someone has to be blamed. When someone is blamed and thus fired, they leave with their bonus check! If you were the CEO you take 40%, while the CFO and COO take 20% and now the remaining people are promoted and someone else will likely have control of the company, so the companies do not close and keep their resources and processes. But the winner at the end is the one with the most personal goods, so you need to get fired and take money out, you just need to time it right and if you have no company at the end of the round, there is an action for new ones. The interaction is great and timing is crucial. This game is definitely worth checking out.
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11. Board Game: Atlantis [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:1298]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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So on day three I started to go to some bigger developers. The thing is that these would come to Canada, so even if I missed a lot of them, I would play them when they arrived in Montreal. But still, I wanted to try some. Atlantis is a light Euro, one of those family friendly games, but is also quite fun. The rules are simple, each turn you play a card of a color and move your meeple to the next space of that color and then take the tile behind you. This causes holes in the path to Atlantis and since you have three meeples to bring across, it also causes holes for you. If you are going to pass a hole, you must pay based on the lower of the two tiles on the ends of the hole. You pay either with cards (worth 1) or with tiles you picked up. Once everyone gets all three meeples to Atlantis, the game ends and most points (cards + tiles) wins.
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12. Board Game: Assyria [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:849]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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I use to be a big fan of Ystari, but their last few games I did not like as much, Assyria has brought me back. I played a full game and loved it. You place huts in the play area, that bring you either action points for the next phase or victory points. Then suing the action points you must build new temples (witch score points), place influence on characters (also for points and benefits), add levels to your temples or take food cards. As each round starts, you must feed the huts or the are removed and feeding is based on card selection done each turn. Each space on the board has an icon indicating what is needed to feed the hut. But at the end of each era, all the huts on the river (which give you action points) are removed, so you must almost start over and as the game progresses, the temples take up a lot of the space and you cna block others since only one hut is allowed on eahc space. It appears to be quite balanced and there is the right amount of strategy and the game looks good.
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13. Board Game: Tammany Hall [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:405]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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This is an older game that a friend of mine bought and we played in the hotel one night. We all thought it was a Martin Wallace game at first, as it was sold at the same booth and has the same box size, but it is by Doug Eckhart, who I was not familiar with. The game is quite good though. One of those games where there are not many rules and at first it is quite simple, but then each decision becomes crucial. You fight for majority in districts to get elected mayor and score points. The mayor gets to place each other person into a city role, which gets a benefit, but being the mayor not only lets you chose who is in what role, which is a large advantage, but also gets you three points, which is a fair amount. The end turns may be too much for some, since if you think it out too much, there may be a lot of down time, but if you play with quick thinkers who do not necessarily need to ensure they play the best move at the cost of fun to others, then the game is quite enjoyable (my group does not have tis problem, so I quite enjoyed the game).
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14. Board Game: Carson City [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:229]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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We learnt this on the third day, but we had to leave since the day was over, so on the fourth (and last) day, we went back to play. This is a worker placement game, where you place your cowboys on the track and then the locations get activated, but unlike most, you can fight for the squares and your fighting ability is based on the number of guns you have, which you accumulate through the game and the number of cowboys you did not place on the board. So if you are in a battle, you must determine when to stop placing meeples in order to have more attack. Also, you build in the city, but the city is shared, so others can take away some locations form you in order to make your buildings more valuable. The theme works great and the game is fun, heavier then I had thought it would be also, but in a good way.
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15. Board Game: Endeavor [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:129]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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I'm sure many people have played this as it was already in stores in Montreal when we left for Essen, but one of the gamers in our hotel had bought it and we jumped on the chance to play. You buy buildings in order to do actions on the board and thus move up you tracks (a la Goa). However the board is not fully open at the start and you must place tokens to open areas and then buy cards from these areas, yet to get the better cards, which move your tracks up the most, you need to have a lot of tokens in the location. Also, if placing in the castles on the board, you can fight others by paying an extra token, this cna be costly as they are needed to perform actions, but can greatly pay off. A great Euro and one of the best of the year.
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16. Board Game: Rise of Empires [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:541]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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This was probably my favorite game at Essen. Surprisingly, the game is quite easy to explain, but as with many Martin Wallace games, the choices get more complex as the game progresses. You battle on the board for space, getting benefits and points for having the largest armies in an area and just points for being second. But you use your tiles to get men, but they also have an upkeep at the end of each era (each two rounds) and also half your men, rounded up, are lost at the end of each era. One of the best new games at Essen, a must!
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17. Board Game: Go/Stop [Average Rating:6.20 Overall Rank:6879]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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Ok, this game came free with a purchase at Japon Games, or was €2, so one of my friends bought it. It is as simple as a game can be. Flip a card with a number form 1 to 10, then each player decides to Stop (try and take the card) or Go (pass on it) in secret. After six number shave passed, all the card choices are revealed and the one who chose to Stop on the highest number wins. But be careful, if there are two Stops, no one gets it. Sounds really dull, but surprisingly fun and a real filler at two minutes a game.
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18. Board Game: Opera [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:1496]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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It was hard to get a seat at this game, I only found out that you had to reserve a spot on the last day, but as of 3:30pm on the last day there was free play and a firend and I got a spot. Sadly, it was not really worth the effort. Nothing new here, pick a role and then others can use the role as well, all in the attempt to build your opera and get artists to play there. It also seems that the character who choses the action, although gets first choice, has to pay more, so it is often better to stay in second in the order track and use others choices.
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19. Board Game: Mr. Jack in New York [Average Rating:7.39 Overall Rank:383]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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The game is basically the same as the original. Same play order, same goal, but with new characters each with a new ability. The board changes more as buildings can be built up and destroyed and the same for parks where characters can hide. Overall though, not much new, seems like is should have just been an expansion as most of the changes are aesthetic (boats at the exits, subways instead of manholes, etc).
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20. Board Game: 2 de Mayo [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:692]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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One of the fellow gamers in the hotel told us to try it and I am glad he did. Each player (the French or the Spanish) has specific movement rules. The French can only make two moves per turn, while the Spanish can make as many as they want. However, the French can split up, while the Spanish cannot. Select your movements in secret and try to either survive (Spanish) or capture all of the opponent while blocking the city exits. Well thought out and a lot of fun, plus the cards allow for some surprises from your opponent, subtle advantages, but if times right, can be a great help.
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21. Board Game: The End of the Triumvirate [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:867]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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So that was the end of the Essen Fair, but not the end of our trip as we had to return to Venice in two days (we stayed an extra day just in case) and then go to Lucca for the Games and Comics Fair. Above I just listed some of the games I played, in all I sat down for 83 games (about 70 different ones) so you can check out my profile for all the games I played with comments and ratings.

So overall how was my experience? Amazing! I would say that if you are thinking of going, go. Sure there are a lot of people and it is costly, but it is an experience like no other and if you love gaming, you'l have a blast. There are people there of all ages and a surprising amount of women and children gamers, so it is not just for the hardcore crowd. Pretty much everyone speaks English, we never had a problem (and many speak French also) and games are extremely cheap, some major names for €3.

Some advise, try to stay together. We found that it was not that difficult to stay together, as opposed to some of the advise I read. If you are 2 or 3 it is much easier to get a game going, then to have to find other players to play with (here the English may delay you). If you have the same gaming taste, that helps of course. Make sure to check out the smaller distributors as those games you may not see in North America, bring a scale (more below) and buy your water and snacks outside, not simply because it is costly, but so that you do not have to stop playing (as I did).
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22. Board Game: The Lost Toys [Average Rating:5.00 Unranked] [Average Rating:5.00 Unranked]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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We spent the extra day packing and visiting the city. Essen is not the nicest place, but it has its charm. The city is very modern and the downtown is small, but it was nice to look around. The food isn't great either, but we did find some decent places and one excellent one (I cannot remember the name). We also visited some stores, many of which have games (Toys R us pictured at left), but they all have the same stuff and we were not really impressed, even though their Toys R Us is better then the ones in Montreal.
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23. Board Game: Tip the Scale [Average Rating:4.60 Unranked]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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the most important item of the trip, as we all agreed, was my friends scale. As we were returning to Venice on discount carrier, we were limited to one bag of 20kg, so we had to carefully distribute the weight and one friend from Venice actually shipped some items to another friend in Germany who was coming to Venice at a later time. Shipping is cheap within Europe, so many people shipped stuff, but as we were from North American, we had to take everything back. The scale ensured that our main luggage, which is weighed, did not got over by much and then we put all the heavy stuff in the carry ons, which they do not tend to check (they checked one persons and we had to redistribute the weight). Luckily, we made it through with no problems! Going back to Montreal from Venice was easier as we had two luggages each of 23kg plus two carry ons.
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24. Board Game: Lucca [Average Rating:4.94 Unranked]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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After a quick stop at Venice to drop off our stuff, we took the train to Lucca (in the Tuscany region) for the Games and Comic fair. Only our friend from Venice knew of the fair, none of us had heard of it and we were the only non-Italians there. But almost everyone spoke English or French, so we were ok and had our friend to translate the few that did not.

Let me first say that Lucca is a beautiful city. It is a small walled city and since the festival brings in so much money, the city is very well maintained. The fair is mostly for comic books, with tents all over the city and there is only one game tent. We played quite a bit (see games below) but not as much as in Essen as the selection was smaller and we wanted to see other things.
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25. Board Game: Maskenball der Käfer [Average Rating:6.73 Overall Rank:3450]
Michel Condoroussis
Canada
Montreal
Quebec
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One of the coolest things at Lucca is the costumes. Unlike Essen, Thursday and Friday are a little slow, but when the weekend starts there are a lot of people and many of the are dressed up (see Dead Space guy on left). It was really something to see as a lot of work seems to go into them.

More costumes here
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