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Essen 2010 Helicopter (and Games) fair, tons of pictures and impressions
Ben Kirman
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Hello and welcome to my annual summary of our Essen experiences!

I'm keeping to the style of our previous year's list which is here:Essen 09 Impressions. Here's bunch of games we played with a focus on our personal impressions (rather than rules explanations). I took more pictures this year, so this list guarantees more pictures of people looking thoughtfully at cards than any other Essen list! oh, and also pictures of beer. lots of beer.

Here's (most) of us, the gang from last year - visiting the coal mining museum on the Wednesday before the fair.



That's Leo (Social Scientist), George (Actuary), Mal (Statistician) and your host (Computer Scientist). We were joined by Philip (Astrophysicist/Photographer/Translator) and Chooi (Radiologist). Boy, with that range of occupations you can be damn sure this is going to be one hell of a party!



First thing first, get the preparations out of the way:


And here's the money-shot for people with no time to dilly-dally:



Yeah, I know that isn't all new stuff, but there were too many bargains to resist.
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1. Board Game: Innovation [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:202]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Tuesday
Yeah, Tuesday - that's just how we roll.

So, some of these games technically aren't Essen releases, but are new enough that we consider them so.

Which is good for Innovation, because it gets to be one of the best games we played at Essen 2010. A shame that it didn't seem to be on sale anywhere in the fair - there would have been at least 4 definite sales. We all loved this one, simple(ish) rules, quick play time, depth, strategy. It got played a lot and became the standard filler throughout the fair. Thanks to Chooi for bringing it along for us to try!



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2. Board Game: Parade [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:634]
Ben Kirman
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Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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George and his Sticheln deck made a repeated appearance throughout the fair, we played a bunch of games, none of which was actually Sticheln. This was a good game we played a couple of times. A nice quick card game that doesn't require much thought and feels tense.

We went looking for a copy at Z-man but no dice (err... no cards?).
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3. Board Game: The Resistance [Average Rating:7.52 Overall Rank:84]
Ben Kirman
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Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Resistance is an awesome little game of secret roles, deduction and betrayal. People are pretty much exactly right when they describe it as non-elimination Werewolf.

It takes a couple of games for people to get some of the logical plays, but once up and running it goes really well. Lots of backstabbing and false pleas of innocence from dirty spies. George had played over 88 games so had a great advantage in that he knew all the tricks in the book, so whenever he didn't say anything we assumed he was the spy. I'm not sure he ever was.



A great beer and pretzels game, that can easily last an hour if you end up with a tense situation and stubborn players.
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4. Board Game: Factory Fun [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:556]
Ben Kirman
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Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Wednesday
Some of us were helping various publishers set up stands and thankfully managed to pick up some games to play on the wednesday night. The rest of us went to the coal mining museum.

Here is G re-enacting a famous board gaming scene.


So during the day we had Fun in a Factory (mine) and in the evening we got to play Factory Fun.



This is a re-release, but a deserved one that has been hard to get hold of for years. This version is well produced, clear and comes in a big ol' box. I think we all loved this one, even when we had trouble placing pieces. Your failure is entirely down to your own stupidity of picking that crappy machine that has all the inputs the wrong bloody way around.

Excellent, and the game came out a few times to be played during other days.
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5. Board Game: K2 [Average Rating:7.19 Overall Rank:316]
Ben Kirman
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Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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We also had a copy of K2 to try out. K2 comes with an easy or hard board, and an easy or hard weather track. Well, we wouldn't let a board game call us pansies, so on our first game we went HARD/HARD.

Can you guess what happened? several mountaintop deaths and a winner who chickened out of going to the top at all. Fortune does not favour the brave, at least when climbing a mountain at night in winter...

This was a nice little climbing game, that actually is quite themeful with all the acclimatisation and semi-predictable weather. It's a shame there isn't a bonus for actually getting to the top (rather than going from 9 to 10 points on the track) but it was quite a tense game filled with hairy moments.

Unfortunately the photo didn't come out for this one, my camera obviously isn't very good at altitude.
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6. Board Game: Dominant Species [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:25]
Ben Kirman
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Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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We also played a 6 player game of Dominant Species, which Chooi bought.

It is a great theme for a game with very euro-y mechanics, but there is so little space the competition is extremely vicious. There is basically no option but to screw someone over on your first turn. In our game we were very aggressive and the map expanded only a couple of times, which in turn led to more aggression. Not for the faint hearted, but thematic and rewarding to play. I personally would prefer American Megafauna, just because in Dominant Species it is very difficult to meaningfully co-exist with other players.

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7. Board Game: Magnum Sal [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:759]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Time for a quick game of Magnum Sal before bed.



Magnum Sal is a worker placement game based around salt mining, and optimally using the resources available (workers/money) to maximise your ability to score.

It plays pretty quickly, and is a very streamlined worker placement game. Opinions divert after this - I missed the breadth of options in other worker placement games (even Caylus) and so the game felt very dry to me. However, for others this was a strength and so they had a much better impression.
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8. Board Game: High Frontier [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:471]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Thursday

Wow, the first day of the fair and we've already played a bunch of games. We didn't have a huge rush to pick up any "must get" games, so we had a lie in. Surely the big queue would have died down by 11:30, right? Wrong.



It took us approximately 45 minutes to get in, and only that quickly because of tactical use of the worker placement mechanic to hold positions in several queues at once. We will definitely remember to buy tickets in advance next year (that's what we said last year).

Mal and I went to meet Phil Eklund at his stand and get a demo of High Frontier. We played about 1/3 of a game before picking it up. A superbly rich, cruchy and malty flavour with undertones of kerosene, rounded off with a 40 ton bag of water.

This is really a great game. The design on the player mats might cause night terrors, but underneath the science the game is very simple, and actually even funny. Except when your crew of brave taikonauts end their mission in a ball of flames when the parachute disintegrates during the final approach to Mars. Oh, I mean "when my rocket got decommissioned by a hazard".

The game rules are a little dense (but intuitive), and there is an extremely good step-by-step tutorial available online here: http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/HighFrontier/files/HF%20...

(you might need to join the Yahoo group to see that, but I promise that it is worth it)
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9. Board Game: Hau La [Average Rating:6.37 Overall Rank:6122]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Next up, off to Japon brand to see what demented inventions they have brought with them this year.



Hau La is a bizarre 3D abstract where players add to the tower with foamy pieces in the attempt to end the game at the highest point. Sounds odd, is odder. You can bend and twist the pieces to pull the "board"/sculpture in strange and unusual ways. We played with the designer, and he kicked our collective arses by pulling off an impossible double-twist-and-pull in the final turn. Battering your potential customers is not a great sales strategy but it worked for us. This is a superb, simple but mind-bending game that exploits the material of the pieces to create engaging gameplay. Oh, and the box is also a beautiful work of art.
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10. Board Game: Zombie in my Pocket [Average Rating:5.90 Overall Rank:3998]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Next, off to Cambridge Games' stand for a demo of the boxed version of Zombie in My Pocket.



I already own the PnP version of this game so knew the solo experience quite well (it has a permanent home in my travel bag). However the multiplayer experience was a different beast. Players must decide whether to stick and fight, or flee at every turn - this means that there is loads of opportunities to screw each other over and sacrifice your friends to the zombie horde. However, each person that dies means victory is a little harder. We played a 6 player with two kindly chappies, who we managed to kill off (sorry!). We won the game in the end, by a hair, and as the player with the most health I was the "best winner". That counts as victory in my book. The other survivors were just second losers.

The printing is good quality generally, and the tiles have the great art we are used to. The event and action cards are garish and the box is awful - in true Cambridge Games spirit (cf Glory of Rome!) - and the art of the zombies doesn't quite match the art on the tiles, but that's secondary. I'm happy this game got printed to allow for more people to experience it. Everyone was impressed enough to pick up a copy.
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11. Board Game: Crows [Average Rating:6.53 Overall Rank:2090]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Stopping by the Valley Games booth, there were a few seats at a game of Crows, so a few of us played. It is a quick, simply tile placement game where crows move to "shiny objects" owned by players who then score points. Straightforward and fun enough. The real beauty is the way crows scatter after scoring - this really added the nice thematic touch to the game.



The game was nicely constructed with "creeples" and good Poe-inspired theme work. In the background of the picture you can see the ongoing demonstration video. I think we were forced to listen to it loop 480 times during the game so if you need me to recite it word-by-word I can probably do it.
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12. Board Game: Famiglia [Average Rating:6.62 Overall Rank:977]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Me n' the G-dog swung by the Rio Grande booth for a quick game of Famiglia. It's a 2 player pyramid game where you use low ranked gang members to recruit higher ones, and once the deck runs out we see who is the best.



If you have a particular need for 2 player specific pyramid games (it is zero sum), then it might be a good one, but the theme was pretty shaky and the rules weren't great for us.
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13. Board Game: Perpetual-Motion Machine [Average Rating:6.07 Overall Rank:4666]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Patrick from Bezier games gave us a quick overview of Perpetual Motion. George and myself both put in €5 and decided the winner could keep the game.

It's a rummy game disguised as a poker game- you build up hands of cards by picking up and discarding until you make a certain poker hand, which you can cash in for future advantage (drawing more cards, larger hand size...).

You can see where the game gets its name, because the game starts slowly then gets explosively fast as combinations become easier to achieve.



We really enjoyed the first few games, but then Mal (the Statistician) worked out all the odds at the various positions in the game, which kind of sucked the fun out of it. As long as you don't play with a poker-loving statistician it is a great filler game, although maybe too long with 4.
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14. Board Game: Merchants & Marauders [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:138]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Ok, it was a long day at the fair on the Thursday, we had a late night previously, and a long meal this evening. It's 12 midnight... anyone fancy a game of Merchants & Marauders?



Isn't the enthusiasm electrifying!

M&M is a hugely thematic and flexible pirate game, there are tons of options of piratey activities to engage in, as well as the trading bit. It takes the best things about pirate games and boils them down into one game, without compromise. This is the game Blackbeard should have been (and M&M is clearly inspired largely from BB). The "no compromise" bit means that the game is more of an experience than a strategic enterprise. It is a long game, but it is not necessary to play that far to get a flavour of it.

We only managed to learn the rules and play a handful of rounds before everyone agreed we were just too tired to finish the game in full.

So - at 3am, just before we went to bed, Mal and Leo set up a quick game of... Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage. George stayed up to watch ("I'll just sit here for 5 minutes, then go to bed")



Apparently his snoring added to the game, echoing the sounds of the mediterranean lapping against the Italian coast, and the trumpeting of elephants freezing to death in the alps.

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15. Board Game: Lords of Vegas [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:346]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Friday
Late start today - not exactly sure why...

We tried Lords of Vegas at the Mayfair booth. The less said the better.

Let's just say the game ended about 3 turns early, when all four players, including friendly Dutch stranger (Hi!), all made eye contact with each other, then simultaneously put down our cards and made our excuses.

Look though, pretty!




This picture is my impression of
Gary James
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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No brown tablecloth though
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16. Board Game: String Railway [Average Rating:6.52 Overall Rank:1398]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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So, the thing is about Japon brand games is that someone has to be "that guy". Someone has to buy a game and take one for the team, just to see if it is any good. String Railway was mine.

Yeah, you lay railway using strings. What about it?
It's easily the best non-stocks train game I've played in years. Strings just work - their physical properties match those of train tracks better than hex tiles. It is organic. The way the stations are designed means they encourage the emergence of certain patterns during play. The hubs end up looking like hubs, the transfers look like transfers and the countryside stations look like countryside stations. Simply genius.



I haven't enough praise for this game, insanely brilliant and brilliantly insane


My #2 pick from Essen 2010
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17. Board Game: Norenberc [Average Rating:6.88 Overall Rank:1076]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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After a tense round of a game made of strings, what better to play than a dry euro stock market game set in the middle ages where you try to impress the blah blah blah.



Actually, I am unfair - the game has a great economic engine behind it. It was tense, enjoyable and simple to play. The only weird thing was when we finished the game, every single player had less value of resources in front of them than they did when they started. As merchants we would have been more successful staying at home and drinking those beers and eating those cakes, wearing only our boots and hats.
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18. Board Game: Magical Athlete [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:1664]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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After that tense game of trading and selling, it was time to sit down for a serious game. Of Magical Athlete.



ok, no idea where to start on this one. All the players draft magical athletes, then have a series of races to decide which team is the best.

The race portion of the game is roll-and-move. You roll a d6, and then move that many spaces. First to finish wins.

Sounds boring right? That's what we thought too - however the combination of special powers of the athletes makes even a roll and move game into this insane mix of luck and strategy. I think this one is going to be impossible to make sound as good as it actually is - You have to try this thing. However more players is better...
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19. Board Game: Claustrophobia [Average Rating:7.68 Overall Rank:99]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Yeah, I know all these aren't 2010 releases, but they are new to us from Essen.



Mal picked up this 2 player asymmetric dungeon crawl game (in English) at a reasonable price. We played a couple of times and had a blast. It's very reminiscent of Space Hulk, but different. It has a strong theme and fantastic pieces, which together make a beautiful and compelling game.

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20. Board Game: Let's Catch the Lion! [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:2132]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Between games, George taught Leo to play Dobutsu Shogi. This is a cute mini version of Shogi (as Leo said - "It is all end game") with creatures trying to "catch a lion".



It looked really nice - a great, simple introduction to Shogi. Don't let the cute animals distract you, this game is mean.
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21. Board Game: Mousquetaires du Roy [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:1225]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Saturday

Saturday - early morning (this time) and straight to Rio Grande to see what they have brought this year. Even arriving at 10am we only just got the last available table. We were one of "those guys" that sits at a table all day and plays several games. Sorry. It's just impossible to find a seat at RG during the day and it's the only place to try the English new releases.

First up was this Mousekerhounds of Roy. I'm not sure who Roy is but the game was fun.



It plays a lot like a more confusing Lord of the Rings - mostly cooperative, but with one player being "the baddy" and making our lives hard. With lots of tracks around the board that can lose you the game unless you take immediate action, the entire game is spent by the musketeer players working together to most efficiently firefight. There was a billion rules with this one - quite fiddly, but it was extremely rich with thematic flavour.

Except for that Constance woman. She can go jump in front of a Renault, the needy whining hag.
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22. Board Game: Navegador [Average Rating:7.61 Overall Rank:97]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Navegador was next free at RG. I didn't play but got to understand the rules.

There is a track, along which players race. There is also a wheel, that goes around.

Basically it is a game about Portuguese racing.



I think people liked it, but I'm kind of glad I didn't play. Seems like a hundred games I've played before - place the guy, get a bonus, sell the goods, build resources, optimise position, not for me.
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23. Board Game: Black Friday [Average Rating:6.61 Overall Rank:1386]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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You remember when the stock market crashed, and thousands of people lost their jobs, homes and savings? Wasn't that AWESOME?! If only I could play a game that would simulate that same experience of losing everything I had worked hard for.

Luckily for me, such a game exists! You get to relive the heart-rending experiences of economic downturn in less than 1 hour!

Players invest in shares, that fluctuate in value. At some point, the game is engineered to screw you over and the market will go into freefall. You will lose everything. The player who sold their shares just before this random event happened will win.

The worse bit is that in our game, the crash happened about 1/3 of the way through the game. So we all got to spend 40 minutes simulating exactly how worthless all our shares were. In the last 3 or so turns, it was impossible for any player to buy any victory points at all.



So, I didn't like the game, but it was worth playing once. It is painful and definitely not fun, but the game itself was clever and the economic model is really neat. We especially liked the "interest marker" which goes in the bag to remind players to pay - A really great and humourous touch!
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24. Board Game: 7 Wonders [Average Rating:7.88 Overall Rank:19]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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7 Wonders. Everyone has written something about it. They are more or less right - this is a great, clever game that lasts about 30-45 minutes for between 3 and 7 players, scaling very well.



Very neat game. Although the publishers are basically idiots. Why print just 777 copies of a game, then pay for a huge stand right in the front entrance to the fair? When I spoke to them, seemed proud that they had to turn away customers who were waving money in their faces - not exactly good business, surely? I'm sure it will get a reprint anyway.

There was a waiting list and many people got copies of the game in the end. I liked the game, so bought a copy from a German store - it is language independent. I didn't get the bonus wonder, which is a shame I guess. My fault for only discovering the game when it was actually bloody released.
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25. Board Game: Rallyman [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:493]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Saturday evening. Another long day at the fair - we grabbed some dinner, and were thinking about what game to play when in walk Chooi and Phil.

Chooi has this rally game. Rally, eh? I used to do marshaling and work the finish line in one of the Welsh stages of the (then) RAC Rally. I say "work the finish line", when actually I cleaned licence plates (they had to drive legally on the roads to the next stage). Yes - I cleaned Colin McRae's licence plate. Bask in my glory.



So, this piqued my interest. We cracked it open and had a quick spin over a shortish stage. Oh my... this is good. Rally is a timed event, so players start in staggered fashion. (i.e. p1 goes, then p1 p2, then p1 p2 p3, etc). Neatly this means the game has a built in teaching period because the teacher takes the first position then gets two turns to demonstrate the concepts. Your success is measured based on time - after each turn you draw a time card based on which gear you ended on (5th gear = 10s, 4th = 20s, ...). Your actual movement is based on dice. You have several gear dice and two "gas" dice that are used to basically red-line a gear. For each dice you throw, you move just one space, but the decision of gears affects the time you can score. Each time you throw a dice, you push your luck since you might roll a "hazard". Three hazards and you lose control. At low gear this might just be a skid or a spin, at higher gears you could go careening off the road and into a cliff wall (ouch) or just a crowd of spectators (phew - a soft landing). There are jumps, short cuts to be taken on tight corners, and loads of other neat thematic touches (snow, mud, tire choices, you can even power slide around corners in high gears).

At the end of a stage, everyone adds up their time scores and the lowest time is the winner.

After one short play, we all had to think about how we could squeeze this game into our luggage.

This was my #1 pick from Essen - amazingly thematic and exciting driving game that does Rally justice

I can't wait to get into some virtual rallies on BGG and http://www.rallyman.fr
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