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Essen 2009: 100 Plays Later
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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I've played Essen releases just over 100 times (in total) now, a month after Essen. So this is a recap of sorts, sorted by the games I played the least to the games I played the most (so the excitement builds...oooh). And for the nitpicking peeps out there, the total plays is actually 114, not 100, though if you take out Beer & Pretzels it's 103. Regardless, it's not exactly 100, I know that, But I liked the title as 100 instead of 114...

This list doesn't include Essen games I did not play even though I might have purchased them, or take into account the number of times I've taught certain games without playing them. It also doesn't include non-Essen games or prototypes I played during the time from Essen until now, even though there were quite a few new Non-Essen games I played. 'Cause I know you really don't care about those. I'm surprised you care about these, but you probably do.

A note about my comments: Of course my opinions of games are subjective and they're only my opinions, but I am pretty much totally right all the time and my opinions are less opinions than they are facts devil. Many of the negative things I have to say are about games I've only played once, and I know that doesn't sit well with some folks who think that isn't fair. But there are too many games that are good the first time I play them that I want to play again to make myself suffer through repeated plays of a game I wasn't fond of the first time.

That said, I would encourage anyone who thinks I've gone totally off the rails with my negative comments about certain games that I've only played a few times (or once) to tell me what I was missing, and based on the games I *did* like, why I might grow to like them.

For reference, the non-Essen games I played from Essen-till-now followed by the number of plays (with * to indicate new-to-me) were:
Tripoley 1
Time's Up! Title Recall! 1
Die Sieben Siegel 1
*Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm 1
Race for the Galaxy 1
Hare & Tortoise 1
*Dog 1
Big Points 1
Agricola 1
*Unpublished Prototype 2
Ultimate Werewolf: Ultimate Edition 2
*Times Square 2
Steam 2
Hop Hop Hooray! 2
*Zoff in Buffalo 3
*Dutch Blitz 3
Loopin' Louie 4
*Chicago Poker 4
Wizard 6
Tichu 14
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1. Board Game: Tulipmania 1637 [Average Rating:6.20 Overall Rank:2519]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
California
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My Rating after 1 Play: 6.85

I likes me the bidding games. Tulipmania has a great valuation board with two paths: a speculation path and a regular path. Neat neat neat. Except that when we played, it wasn't so neat. There's some group think there, and the game turns into a timing thing (something's that often a lot of fun, not as much here). I wish I wish I liked it more, as it's such a neat stock valuation idea. It's just not the game I was hoping for.

Best Part of the Game: The Pac-man-like tulip wood tokens, though a little small, are very nice and work with the theme obviously.
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2. Board Game: Thunderstone [Average Rating:7.09 Overall Rank:333] [Average Rating:7.09 Unranked]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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My Rating after 1 play: 5.35

Here it is: the first major Dominion rip off, without the balance or quick play Dominion is known for. Thunderstone has a very nicely embedded theme and is definitely less abstract than Dominion with really nice artwork. But... Thunderstone felt incredibly tedious to play. "I can't do anything except buy something I don't really need so I'll do that," is the phrase you hear again and again. and again. To be fair, you can also dump something from your hand instead of buying/fighting each turn, but since that's then your entire turn, it feels like even more of a waste. On a non-gameplay note, the box organizer is absolutely horrible, with no separate sections for each card type. Graphically (see image to the left), the cards have multiple numbers on them, and with the exception of the "coinage" number, they're difficult to figure out the first time.

Best part of the game: The art is rich and moody and consistent, unlike Dominion. So if you buy your games based on cool art, you'll want to take a look at this.
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3. Board Game: Steam Barons [Average Rating:7.43 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.43 Unranked]
Ted Alspach
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My Rating after 1 play: 6.2

Steam Barons is simply an overly complex version of Steel Driver/Chicago Express. It tries to do too much by combining Steam with stock market controls, and the result is messy and convoluted. Add to that the random turn order for the companies (you'd think the same designer that gave us THREE turn orders for Wensleydale would realize that this would piss us gamers off) and the artificial stock increase/reduction that pushes everything to the middle, and the possibility that you'll have nothing worthwhile to do on the last turn (and the worthwhile things are glaringly obvious), and the result is something I just didn't care for at all. A big disappointment. I played this using the stock rules. I haven't played either map as a plain Steam expansion yet (but I will, certainly).

Best part of the game: The enclosed wooden trains that replace six of the player color tokens if used as regular Steam. That said, two of the colors are natural and white, which are very very very similar to the point of us never having them in the same game if at all possible.
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4. Board Game: Skyline 3000 [Average Rating:6.43 Overall Rank:2442]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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My Rating after 1 play: 5.5

I never played the original game, and liked the build-a-city theme. The gameplay is simplistic and would seem to hit sweet spots with me: city building with area majority and auctioning. Mmmm. But it fell flat and somewhat tedious. Note that I played my single game without the correct billboard rule (I didn't realize you could replace billboards with your own buildings).

Best part of the game: It plays really fast, 45 minutes.
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5. Board Game: Priests of Ra [Average Rating:6.94 Overall Rank:1081]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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My Rating after 1 play: 8

I didn't pick this up at Essen, since it was described to me as "ra with double-sided tiles," which is an incredibly apt description. However, now that I've played it, I realize that I *like* "ra with double-sided tiles." Using the exact same mechanism for bringing out and bidding on tiles as Ra, the tiles are totally different, and they bring a unique freshness to the game. I've added this to my wishlist, and after a bazillion plays of regular ra, I would much rather play this. It kind of feels like an expansion to Ra, rather than a whole new game. In summary, if you like Ra, you'll probably like this too, and if you're bored of Ra this could inject some new interest in it.

Best part of the game: The new scoring mechanics, which are totally different than Ra but still have a feeling of familiarity.
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6. Board Game: Pocket Rockets [Average Rating:6.42 Overall Rank:2078]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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My Rating after 1 play: 6.2

A simple card game where you try to obtain parts for rockets via set collection, with a few neat little bonuses available. This was certainly playable, but left me with a "done that, been there" feeling after my single play. I have no urge to play it again, but it wasn't entirely unpleasant.

Best part of the game: The rocket artwork is stellar (haha).
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7. Board Game: Peloponnes [Average Rating:7.20 Overall Rank:458]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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My Rating after 1 play: 3.65

Build up your city and avoid the somewhat random disasters. What a chore! The art is bland and the auction choices are limited. The auctioning system punishes outbid bidders unfairly. I did like that it was mercifully short.

Best part of the game: I played it at Essen and thus didn't buy it "just in case" as I do with so many other Essen games.
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8. Board Game: El Paso [Average Rating:6.23 Overall Rank:3561]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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My Rating after 1 play: 4.85

Here you get to roll dice and push your luck by rolling dice again. Bid low but not too low, and try to outguess your opponents. Some clever parts, but the theme is way tacked on (I wish European Euro designers would travel to american cities before using the city names in a game). Not sure I'll ever play it again.

Best part of the game: The themed dice are nice.
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9. Board Game: Letter [Average Rating:6.86 Unranked]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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My Rating after 1 play: 6.8

Kind of Bananagrams/scrabble with letter tiles that are different colors. The rules are not as clear as they could be...with a better set of rules (assuming they work), I could see this game rising a ratings point. You place a letter tile and then take turns naming words. The last person to name a word plays another tile. It's fast and makes really unique, interesting-looking boards.

Best part of the game: The different-sized letter tiles are functional and very visually engaging. This is a game that will have non-gamers stop by when you're playing to ask what it is.
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10. Board Game: Last Train to Wensleydale [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:786]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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My Rating after 1 play: 2.4

LTtW is a bizarre train "game" that takes place on what looks like a cadaver mid-autopsy. Three different tracks for turn order make this even more tedious than it would be otherwise. This was definitely not a game for me, that's for sure. I'm amazed at the high ratings it's getting from folks who are clearly bumping their ratings by a few points just because it was designed by Martin Wallace. Martin is a talented guy with some great games under his belt. This, alas, is not one of them. It's no Steam and it's no Steel Driver. It's just weird.

Best part of the game: Winning my first and only game by a significant margin, knowing that I will have a winning record on the game for all of eternity since I won't be playing it again. Ever.
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11. Board Game: Koplopers & Dwarsliggers [Average Rating:6.32 Overall Rank:5277]
Ted Alspach
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My Rating after 1 play: 4.5

Going into Essen I was excited about this passenger pickup and delivery game, so much that it was the first game I played at Essen, the day before the show. And that play saved me €45. Whew. Close one. We actually stopped about 2/3s of the way through when it was clear that the game didn't have much to offer. The artwork wasn't that great, and the mechanics weren't very interesting. Rats.

Best part of the game: Clearly the name. It's fun and while not easy to remember, does leave an impression.
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12. Board Game: Imperial 2030 [Average Rating:7.78 Overall Rank:101]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
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My Rating after 1 play: 8.6

I purchased the expansion to Imperial, not the full set. This is definitely an upgrade to Imperial, fixing a few issues (but not completely) and bringing the game into the 21st century. The cost to move your marker on the rondel increases by the value of the country, so it's less effective for the controller of the leading country, but it still wasn't enough of a cost to make the decision to get to Tax to end the game even remotely interesting. That said, I still like Imperial and will play this version of it instead (though I guess I could use that tax rule and the swiss bank with the old version well enough).

Best part of the game: That it was available as an expansion rather than just a new purchase.
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13. Board Game: Day & Night [Average Rating:6.61 Overall Rank:1735]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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My Rating after 1 play: 7.24

I still don't know quite what to think about this game, with it's really really well-embedded theme and consistently tough, interesting decisions restricted by the cards you draw. On one hand I think it's very clever and will offer lots of good gameplay, but on the other the drawing of cards and their dramatically varying power could make games frustrating. I will definitely be playing this more, and I'm sure my rating will evolve in one direction or the other. For now, I like it.

Best part of the game: The theme with 12 hours tied into the "hours" on each card is actually quite rich.
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14. Board Game: Climate-Poker [Average Rating:4.91 Overall Rank:9641]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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My Rating after 1 play: 7.6

Climate-Poker is an interesting environmentally-themed game. Not very poker-like, instead it's almost a trick taking game, where there are "suits" of three different environmental issues. Andrea is the expert here, of course, working in the industry, but it seems a big stretch to have a "deaths" issue that includes things like Hurricanes (which certainly aren't man-made, unless you're a Bond villain). If you're a crazy pro-Green liberal idealist, you aren't going to care anyway, you'll love the game because it makes everyone except dirt poor 3rd world countries look supremely evil (let's all move to Chad where they aren't wrecking the planet!). If you have a little common sense, you might appreciate the CO2 emissions data as an interesting factoid, and then might draw your own conclusions appropriately.

While I'd hate for this geeklist (hahaha, not really) to devolve into a "climate change Kool-aid drinkers" versus "rational human beings" debate, I find it interesting that this game and the few others out there (like Terra from Days of Wonder) tend to not sell well. Is it because of the games (I haven't played Terra but some people seem to enjoy it) themselves or because people don't like something they perceive as an issue to be a game? Or maybe game players are comprised of folks who just roll their eyes when they see a game like this?

Best part of the game: It cleverly pushes the climatology religion with "facts" like the aforementioned deaths resulting from climate change.
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15. Board Game: Cheese [Average Rating:4.44 Unranked]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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My Rating after 1 play: 2.43

I'm a great fan of dexterity games. Cheese seemed so out there, so unique, that I was prepared to buy it sight unseen. Fortunately one of my Essen buddies had a copy and we got to play it there one evening, and I saved both €10 and the humiliation of my local gaming group by forcing it on them. You flip the cheese and if it lands well you get points, which are removed from the cheese itself. Quite clever in theory, quite random in practice. However, I did easily win the single game I played, so there's obviously some skill involved.

Best part of the game: Flipping the cheese the first few times is indeed fun. But by flip 20 or so...
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16. Board Game: Alcazar [Average Rating:6.08 Overall Rank:4196]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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My Rating after 1 play: 7.26

Feels a little like Torres (I've never played Big Boss, so I don't have that frame of reference). Really nice pieces and by the end of the game you have a great-looking structure with flags and dudes and whatnot. But also at the end of the game you're buying tokens and then using them the next turn again and again, which gets a little stale. And it comes in a super-size box, which is scary and impressive and makes it very unlikely to travel to a local game group.

Best part of the game: the gray tower/bridge pieces are awesome.
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17. Board Game: Agricola: Farmers of the Moor [Average Rating:8.15 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.15 Unranked]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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My Rating after 1 play: 7.83

Agricola is kind of heavy. So this expansion serves to make it more heavy and a bit more fiddly. Which is bad. However, the thing that has me thinking about the expansion is the new action "cards" you can choose during your turn, which don't cost a family member but do cost opportunity on the main board. It's clever and game-lengthening at the same time. Agricolics will like this, I'm sure, and those who find Agricola already overwhelming need to stay far far away.

Best part of the game: horse meeples!
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18. Board Game: Tobago [Average Rating:7.13 Overall Rank:302]
Ted Alspach
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San Jose
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My Rating after 2 plays: 8.11

Imagine if Tikal were fun, instead of brain burning. That's Tobago. The unique narrow-down-the-location mechanic is clever and fun and scales strategically to the group. The driving around in SUVs is a little cumbersome but works enough. A neat family game at the high end of complexity, clearly aiming for an SDJ nomination (but really, unless the field totally sucks next year, it won't win).

Best part of the game: The little easter island statues are chunky and fun to turn after a treasure has been found.
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19. Board Game: Take it Higher! [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:3894]
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My Rating after 2 plays: 6.8

If Take it Easy and Take it to the Limit are your kind of game, so Take it Higher will be too. It adds yet another scoring mechanism (or two more, I start getting fuzzy on what each entry in the series has to offer) to make your brain tingle more.

Best part of the game: The fact that no one seems to realize that this is solitaire while they're playing.
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20. Board Game: Savannah Tails [Average Rating:6.30 Overall Rank:2540]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
California
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My Rating after 2 plays: 6.33

To start, I admit I never got around to playing snow tails. Whoops. This is supposed to be a lighter version of that, and I guess it is, but in my two plays it really seemed like poor card draws doomed you. And it's really hard to catch the leader. It's a serviceable race game, I guess. I'm not a big race game person, so it didn't quite click for me.

Best part of the game: Racing Ostriches is a super-cool theme.
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21. Board Game: Nur die Ziege zählt [Average Rating:6.04 Overall Rank:4821]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
California
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My Rating after 2 plays: 6.76

Another Amigo Goat Game, this time you're bidding to say how many goat heads you'll take via trick taking. The best part of this is the bidding mechanism, which is a spatial thing that lets you pick a range of values...unless another player gets in your way. A larger range is less points than a smaller range. Clever and fine with 4, it's too tight at 5 and the dealer always loses at 6 players.

Best part of the game: The bidding board and ranged angular markers.
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22. Board Game: Carson City [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:232]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
California
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My Rating after 2 plays: 7.75

Let's say William Attia had a mean streak (well, meaner than he actually is). He would have come up with Carson City instead of Caylus. Worker placement with shooting each other would be a way to describe this. One unfortunate rule (where you can demand 1/2 income from another player's building by placing your cowboy meeple there) turns the game from fun to very very tense. Not necessarily in a good way. The theme is actually quite nicely integrated, especially the gunning down of other players.

Best part of the game: It's a unique, confrontational twist on worker placement.
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23. Board Game: Parade [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:633]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
California
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My Rating after 2 plays: 7.8

Put down cards to form a parade, then using somewhat arbitrary rules, pick up cards. Have the most in a set to get fewer points, otherwise you take the value of the cards you've taken. The theme is duct-taped on, and the end result is definitely a luck of the draw situation, but there are some interesting choices to be had. Not quite an R-Eco, more like a Fairy Tale in terms of Japon-brand card game equivalent goodness. A nice quick filler.

Best part of the game: The art on the cards is very very pretty in a pencilly hand drawn style.
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24. Board Game: Ligretto Dice [Average Rating:5.85 Overall Rank:5201]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
California
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My Rating after 3 plays: 6.64

I had never played ligretto until just before Essen, when I played a few games on bsw (I know, living under a rock in a cave has disadvantages). I then picked up Wurfel Ligretto in a little city west of Essen before the Spiel, and played it a few times (I think I've played it more than 3 times, but it goes so fast it's easy to forget). Each player rolls dice and places them on the next available spot on the board. Can't place anything? Roll again! It's fast and fun and not very deep.

Best part of the game: rolling the last die again and again is maddening in a good way.
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25. Board Game: Such a Thing? [Average Rating:6.15 Overall Rank:2898]
Ted Alspach
United States
San Jose
California
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My Rating after 3 plays: 8.5

A party game where you add descriptors to a thing you are tracking in your head. As more descriptors are added, you have to revise what you think this thing could be. Eventually, you say (at least, we do), "there is NO SUCH THING" and then the last player has to tell you what fits all the criteria. Some people seem to hate this, others (like me), think it's really super fun. Just like the gameplay, it's super subjective.

Best part of the game: Some of the card descriptors are really silly.
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