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Flashback Convention Report - Spiel 2004

Scott Alden
United States
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Continuing with our Spiel flashbacks - Rick Thornquist has graciously allowed us to repost his report in its entirety from 2004. Thank you Rick for allowing everyone to share in the history of Spiel. In case you missed it, here's the report from 2003.

Essen 2004 Report: Tuesday, October 19, 2004 (Setup Day) By Rick Thornquist

I'm back in Essen! I arrived yesterday in the late afternoon, after an uneventful (thank goodness) journey. This year my traveling companions are Jeremy Young of Uberplay, as well as Patrick Korner - my gaming buddy from Vancouver. Patrick is an Essen newbie and we are very glad to have him along. He can speak and read German and will prove to be a great help in not only translating the locals for us, but, most importantly, translating German game rules. Good to have you along Patrick!

Our first night was quiet as Jeremy and I grabbed some dinner and opted to turn in early. Patrick is staying at another hotel a bit away from the convention center and he went right from the airport to his hotel in order to get in as much sleep as possible in preparation for the busy days ahead.

This morning we got together and headed for the Messe, as the convention center is called. After a few minutes of trying to find a door that was going to let us in, we were able to sneak into the hall and check things out. Today is a setup day and the booths were all very much under construction. A lot of them were still empty, especially the smaller ones, but the booths of the big boys - Kosmos, Ravensburger, Amigo, etc, were very much underway with a few of them actually almost done. Tomorrow (Wednesday) is a setup day as well and that is when the rubber hits the road as companies sprint to finish their booths before the opening of the fair on Thursday.

We wandered around a little and it wasn't long before we ran into some people that we knew. We ran into designer Alan Moon, who was wandering the halls with some of his compatriots including Ben Baldanza and Ray Mulford. We joined them to case the rest of the fair but truth be told, there wasn't much to see - some of the companies weren't even there yet. Tomorrow we expect the hall will be much, much busier.

After casing the Messe, Jeremy, Patrick and I opted to hop the subway and check out downtown Essen. I didn't get a chance to check out the city the last time I was here and welcomed the opportunity. It was a quick ride and before we knew it we were wandering the downtown shopping district on a beautiful sunny day. The downtown is quite a nice area - lots of different stores with stands on the street selling a variety of things to eat. There were lots of people (don't any of these people work on Monday afternoon?). One nice thing about the area is that there are no cars there, it's set up purely for pedestrians. Very nice.

Being gamers, we couldn't help ourselves - we just had to check out some of the stores to see what kind of games they had. We had heard the even department stores carry our types of games and we just had to see it for ourselves. Our first stop was at a department store and sure enough, they had a wall with a decent selection of games including many from Ravensburger, Hans im Gluck, Queen, Schmidt, and more. They had a copy of the new Carcassonne game, Carcassonne: Die Stadt (The City), which Jeremy was quick to grab. They also had discounted a number of Queen games and Patrick just had to buy a copy of Dschunke for 10 Euro (about 10 American Dollars).

Our next stop was a book store, which had a slightly smaller selection, but still with many choice games. They had a copy of the new Wolfgang Kramer game Tanz der Hornochsen and though I was very tempted, I thought I'd wait to play the game before I invested my precious Euros on it.

Next up was a toy store. These guys had a much bigger selection than the other stores. There were a few new ones, including the new Ravensburger game ¥€$ as well as some kids games from Selecta, but nothing worth splurging on.

It was at our next stop, another department store, that we really hit the jackpot. They had a great games section with piles and piles of the games we all know and love. Right away I spied copies of the new Kosmos games In 80 Tagen um die Welt and Candamir. I grabbed these right away - hey, I just couldn't resist and we need some games to play tonight anyway. They also had copies of the new Kosmos two player game Jambo but there's a lot of German text on that one so we let that one be (Rio Grande is supposed to have English copies at the fair anyway). I also picked up the Amigo version of Wizard for a friend back home. There ya go, Wes, I got your game! This store was just great - lots of copies of many, many games.

After a quick lunch, we headed back to our hotel with our booty. It was great to see our types of games so easily found and so prominently displayed at the local stores. They all had piles of German games with nary a copy of Monopoly to be found (well, they might have been there, but I didn't see any).

After some recuperation at our hotel, we headed to the Savoy Hotel to meet up with Alan Moon's gang for some dinner and gaming.

Board Game: Around the World in 80 Days

In 80 Tagen um die Welt - It didn't take long after we got to the Savoy to start up our first game. We chose In 80 Tagen um die Welt (Around the World in 80 Days). The theme of the game is based, obviously, on the Jules Verne story. Players are attempting to move around the world, starting at London and heading east. The first player to move around the world and make it back to London in the least amount of days wins the game.

The board is pretty simple, just a set of ten spaces representing your stops along the way. You start and London and then progress to Paris, then Brindisi (?) and so on. Between each stop there are one or more symbols, which are either trains or ships. You have in your hand some numbered train and ship cards. To move to the next stop, you have to play one card for each symbol - for example, if there is one train and one ship symbol between London and Paris, you have to play one train and one ship card to move to Paris. The numbers on cards represent how many days it too you to take the trip. You keep track of the days you have taken for your trips on a track around the board. You are trying to play as low cards as possible, to make your trips in the least amount of time. You can also play certain combinations of cards to lessen the trip time.

Most of the game consist of dealing out a number of train and ship cards face up, and then one player at a time grabbing a card and then perhaps moving to the next stop. Each card taken has a special power that allows you to do various other things to help you on your trip. The main strategy in the game is grabbing the card that you need that will best move you along, while taking into consideration the special powers. Very often you don't want the lowest numbered card, if another card gives you a power you really want to use.

The game ends when a number of players have come back to London and whoever made it back having used the least days wins.

The game is in the mid-level difficultly wise. It is a '10 and up' game. It's not the deepest game in the world, but it's not easy either. I'd think of it as a small step up from Ticket to Ride.

So what was our verdict? Well, everybody really liked it. There are enough strategic decisions to make things interesting and the game moves quickly. There can be some luck in the draw of the cards - Jeremy Young smoked us on one move by picking up the exact right card, but there is not much more of this here than in many other games.

I do have to make one comment about the packaging of the game - it's way too big. The game is basically a board with a few cards and tokens and it comes in one of the big square Kosmos boxes. This is way too big for the components and there is way too much air in a box . In my opinion, they really should have used the La Strada sized box (of course, I'm mainly complaining about this because it's going to take up a lot of my precious luggage space). That's a small quibble, though, we all had good fun with the game. I think this one is a keeper.

Oh, and a comment about the German language stuff in the game - there are German rules and German on some Event cards, but none of this is onerous. Mik Svellov has already created a rules translation and a cheat sheet with translations of the Event cards. Rio Grande is coming out with an English version but if you get the German version you should get along fine.

Board Game: Candamir: The First Settlers

Candamir - Next up was the new Settlers of Catan prequel - Candamir. This is a new Klaus Teuber game that is set in the Settlers universe, but uses an entirely new system. Patrick Korner was kind enough to read the somewhat lengthy rules of the game and teach us non-German speakers.

The game can be summed up in a couple of ways. First of all, the concept is really like Settlers of Catan meets an RPG boardgame like Talisman or Runebound. Each player takes a character with a some numbered abilities (Strength, Charisma, etc) and sets out into the countryside to find and trade resources, vanquish monsters, finish adventures, and improve their abilities.

In practice it plays like Settlers of Catan meets Anno 1503. There are resources that you will acquire, like wood and ore, and there is a trading phase in each person's turn that is exactly like trading in Settlers. Also in your turn, you can move your token around the countryside - a gridded board - which is covered with face down tokens. You start from a village in the center and move space by space to the token that you want. You then reveal it and take whatever it gives you - things like resources, improvements in abilities, etc. After you have revealed a token you get teleported back to the village. This part of the game is very reminiscent of Anno 1503.

Also reminiscent of Anno 1503 is the way to win. Basically, the first player to fulfill 10 victory conditions wins. Each of these is fulfilled by getting combinations of resources, finding them on tokens, etc.

The main innovation in the game is what are called the Path Cards. Every time you want to move your guy, you turn over a card. The card shows the four directions you can move and what happens if you were to move in a direction.. Either nothing can happen (basically you just move) or you can come across animals to fight or adventures to complete.

Complexity-wise, there's definitely more to this game than there is to Settlers. There are a lots of things to think about and many ways to go after victory.

We played the game for about an hour but didn't come anywhere near to completing it. The box says 60 - 120 minutes, what it really means is 30 minutes per player and I can see it going on longer than that. After an hour Jeremy Young had 3 victory condition, and the rest of us had none or only 1 and rather than go on for a few more hours we decided to call it. We all felt we had the gist of the game by that point.

My impression of the game? During the reading of the rules we all thought it sounded quite interesting but in practice, a lot of how you do comes down to the luck of the tokens as well as the Path Card draw. Jeremy Young was playing and he zoomed into the lead by getting lots of resources from his Path Card draws while the rest of us got very little. Another aspect of the game was the downtime - each person's turn can take a little while and besides trading, you have really nothing to do until it comes back to your turn and that can take a while.

In the end, my impression was mixed. The game looks beautiful and has some interesting aspects to it, but I wasn't wild about the luck and the downtime. I hope to give the game another try in the next few days, perhaps a two player game, and we'll see how it goes.

I currently know of no plans to do this game in English, but I hope to find out in the next few days if these plans may have changed. The German in the game is fairly easy to work around - we were able to play the game fine. There is a fair amount of German on the cards that have the adventures, but this is mostly flavor text and not necessary to play the game. Of course, you'll need a translation of the rules (which I don't think has been done yet) or your own personal Patrick Korner to translate them for you.

Board Game: Carcassonne: The City

Carcassonne: Die Stadt - Our last game of the night was the newest in the never-ending series of Carcassonne games - Carcassonne: Die Stadt (Carcassonne: The City). This one has all of the Carcassonne mainstays - the tiles, the meeples, etc, but comes with some new concepts, It also comes with a deluxe package - a nice wooden box with a metal latch. There are no language issues with this one (except the rules) and Rio Grade is doing an English version.

Before we get started on the gameplay, a about the art on the tiles. In my opinion, the art was a bit drab, and it was very cluttered. Actually, pretty much everybody though the same thing. The rest of the components are very nice but we all thought the art was a step down from previous Carcassonne games.

The gameplay is familiar territory with a number of twists. The roads are the same as usual with one wrinkle - for roads from one to three tiles you score one point each, but for roads with four or more tiles, you score two points each. Make your roads long and you will make a killing in points.

The Village Greens are like the cities in Carcassonne. These areas have Markets of different colors and your score is the number of tiles in the Green multiplied by the number of different colored markets. That means if you have a Meeple on a Green, try to expand it with Greens with differently colored Markets to maximize your score.

There are also Residential areas that score like farms, with points for each Market in the Greens surrounding the residential area with your farmer, uh, follower.

After a number of tiles have been placed, the walls and towers come into play. These are chunky wooden bits that go along tiles around the edge of the city. You can place meeples on the walls, and these score at the end of the game. Each player gets a certain number of towers, and these can be placed between wall segments, scoring more points.

In the end, it's very much a Carcassonne game with some unique twists. I found the game a bit more involved than its predecessors - the placement of your tiles usually requires some careful thought as there are many scoring methods. I thought it worked well, though. If you are looking for a step up from the existing Carcassonne games - something a little deeper, this may be the game you're looking for.

And with the completion of that game, we called it a night. There are no pictures today but tomorrow I'll be back at the Messe, taking pictures and playing more games. Stay tuned!

Essen 2004 Report: Wednesday, October 20, 2004 (Setup Day - Part One) By Rick Thornquist

It's the day before the fair officially begins, but there are already things happening. This morning there were a number of events, mainly for the benefit of the press. There was a press conference which I wouldn't have minded attending, but as my German comprehension pretty much starts and ends at “Spiel” I decided to skip it. Beside the conference hall there was another area set up for the game companies to display their new games. I spent some time wandering around this area and grabbed some pictures of a few interesting games. Check out the pictures below.

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Essen 2004 Report: Wednesday, October 20, 2004 (Setup Day - Part Two) By Rick Thornquist

After checking out the press area, I wandered down to see how the booths were coming together. The exhibitors have only until tomorrow morning to get everything together for the opening and they are pushing to get everything done in time. Some of the booths were complete and ready to go - Queen, for example, and some others had barely started putting their booth together

I also got a chance to chat with some of the designers and publishers who were biting their nails hoping their games were going to make it in time for the show. Some others were relieved to see their games arrive at the show. I ran into Michail Antonow, the designer of Karibik, who was proudly holding a package of his games that he had just received, hot off the press. Richard Breese had received his shipment of Reef Encounter and was busily stacking hundreds of copies of the game in his booth.

Below are some pictures of some of the booths in various stages of construction.

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Essen 2004 Report: Wednesday, October 20, 2004 (Setup Day - Part Three) By Rick Thornquist

Most of today I spent casing the fair and taking pictures as it was being set up. Things are coming together quite nicely and it looks like most of the companies will be ready for the big onslaught tomorrow. I did spy a few booths that seemed to be in disarry – it'll be interesting to see if they get it together in time!

Though the fair doesn't officially start until tomorrow, there was one part of it that was already doing big business. The used games dealers usually set up a bit earlier than everyone else and do sales even as early as Tuesday. They are selling mostly to those of us who are able to get into the show early - mostly other exhibitors and the press. Like last year there were piles and piles of games to choose from. There were a few deals to be had, and I spied a few people carrying around piles of used games that they had scored.

My list of used games to buy was quite short, and I found one of my victims fairly quicky – a copy of Visionary. As a matter of fact, I think I started a run on the game because everyone I showed it to headed to the used game dealers to try to score a copy for themselves.

At around 5:30 a group of us got together to head out to one of the hotels for dinner and games. Patrick and I were able to score a ride with Martin Leathwood, a British gamer that I knew from the Gathering. With us was the inimitable Stuart Dagger, of Counter magazine fame. We formed a convoy of three cars along with Alan How in one car and Greg Schloesser leading the way. Unfortuntely for us, Greg got completely lost and were drove around Essen for what seemed like forever. I'll tell you one thing, I saw a lot of the city during that drive. We finally arrived at the hotel only to find out that we were at the wrong one! More disarray followed as we finally found our way to the right hotel. I tell ya, Greg is a great gamer, but don't let him ever be your tour guide!

Dinner was with a pile of well known gamers. These occasions are always great fun and this one was no exception. After dinner we retired to a conference room in the hotel to play some games.

Board Game: Frantic Frankfurt

Frantic Frankfurt - My first game was Frantic Frankfurt, a new game from Kronberger. Kronberger has established their reputation with the very nice two player game Tom Tube and their big exploration game Lost Valley. Both of those games are thinking games but Frantic Frankfurt is a bit of a change of pace – it's a much lighter game.

This is a real-time game where the object is to get rid of all your cards before your opponents do. Each player has four piles of face down cards in front of him, with the top card of each pile face up. Four cards are placed face-up in the middle of the table. After that happens, the mayhem begins as all players simultaneously try to get rid of their cards.

The cards in the game are numbered and are in three different colors. To get rid of a card, you can play a card on a lower numbered card in the middle of the table if they are different colors. For example, if there is a yellow 4 in the middle of the table, you can play a red 8 on top of it to get rid of that card. You can't play a red 8 on a red 1 – that's not allowed!

You can also play an odd numbered card on an even numbered card if they are the same color. For example, you could play a blue 3 on a blue 8 (it doesn't have to be higher, just an odd on an even).

And that's the game. During the game everyone is madly trying to put their cards in the middle piles at the same time. Lots of times someone will steal the spot that you wanted to use and you have to try something else. The first player to get rid of all his cards wins the round. A number of rounds are played before the winner is determined.

This is a really quick game - about ten minutes. It's really light, but you do have to think a bit when placing your cards. We kept saying to ourselves “odd on even, same color – higher different color”. It does work well enough, though it is very similar to other real-time get rid of all your cards games. If you are looking for a fast-paced game that is short and hectic, Frantic Frankfurt may be the game for you. If you do get it, keep an eye on the Kronberger website are they are to be posting an advanced variant for the game.

Board Game: No Thanks!

Geschenkt - My last game of the night was the new Amigo card game Geschenkt. I've been looking forward to this game since Garry Lloyd reviewed the game on his website Trickylight.

The game is ridiculously simple. There are 33 cards numbered 3 to 35 as well as a pile of plastic chips. At the beginning of the game, the cards are shuffled and a number of them (nine in our game) tossed out of the game without being looked at. The deck is placed face down in the middle of the table. Each player then gets an equal number of chips.

In each round, a card is turned up. The start player decides whether he wants the card or not. If he does, he takes it and puts it in front of him. If he doesn't, he puts a chip in the middle of the table. If he didn't take it, play goes to the next player - he either takes the card or puts in a chip. It keeps going around in the same way until someone grabs the card. When they do, they also gets all the chips in the middle.

Now, why are you doing this? Well, at the end of the round, each card scores its face value against you. Each chip is worth one point for you.

There is one additional scoring rule to spice things up. If you have taken a number of cards that form a run, say the 16, 17 and 18 cards, only the LOWEST card scores against you. The other cards in the run score nothing.

The game is simplicity itself and is one of those “why didn't I think of that?” games. It's quite light and plays like Coloretto or 6 Nimmt!. There are plenty of opportunities for good play, pushing your luck, and screwing your neighbor. We all liked the game a great deal. Considering how cheap it is - I think I saw it for 9 Euro - I will be getting this one for sure.

And with that, I headed back to my hotel for some shut-eye. There were still lots of games going on, but I wanted to get some good sleep in anticipation of the official start of the fair tomorrow.

By the way, I didn't get any pictures of the games we played tonight because I left my camera's compact flash card in my laptop back at my hotel! D'oh! I had this great camera with me with no memory card. That's not going to happen again!

The past two days I've played a few new games but tomorrow is when the rubber hits the road - I expect to play a pile of new games. I can't wait!

Essen 2004 Report: Thursday, October 21, 2004 (Day One) By Rick Thornquist

Today is the big day - the first official day of the fair. I got lots of new games in, including many that were on my list.

My morning consisted of getting up, finishing off yesterday's report, wolfing down breakfast, and then running to the Messe to get there before they let the teeming hordes in. I had about an hour before the fair opened and I took the time to hang out at the Warfrog booth which has become the home away from home for English speaking attendees. Froggie Geoff Brown regaled me with a few choice stories about designer Martin Wallace's antics at previous conventions - I've been advised by my lawyers not to relate any of them here. I picked up Struggle of Empires plus the two new Age of Steam maps. I'm really looking forward to Struggle of Empires and I hope to get a game in while I'm at Essen.

Board Game: Antiquity

I wandered over the Splotter booth where they were selling their new game Antiquity. True to Splotter form, this game comes in a huge box with tons and tons of pieces. It also has a pretty high price. I may pick this one up, but only if it gets good word of mouth. While I was there I did spy their classic game Roads & Boats and just couldn't help myself - I bought it along with the game's expansion. Yes, it's expensive, huge and heavy, but I've always wanted it and this was a good opportunity to get it.

Board Game: Louis XIV

Louis XIV - After wandering through a few more booths, Patrick Korner and I met up and headed for the Alea booth. We met up with Alea head honcho Stefan Bruck shortly before the fair was about to open and begged to be let into a game of Louis XIV. Lucky for us, Stefan had a table free. We were joined by Matt Horn and Pat O'Brien.

Louis XIV is a new game designed by Rüdiger Dorn. We played a prototype that had near-final art.

Interestingly enough, this one will be neither a small nor a large box game. Alea will be releasing the game in a new box format that is a medium size - a size between the current large and small box games. This box is to be a bit smaller than the box for the Hans im Gluck game Saint Petersburg.

This is an influence game. Describing the mechanics would take a while, but suffice to say you use cards to play influence tokens on various historical characters that were active during the period of Louis XIV. Each character is represented by a tile and the tiles are laid out in a grid with one space between each character (see the pictures below). The method for allocating influence will be familiar to those who have played another Dorn game - The Traders of Genoa. A card is played representing one of the characters and you may play influence tokens on that character as well as the card's neighbors. Influence gives you tokens that may be used to fulfill mission cards. Fulfilled mission cards give you special powers. Influence can also give you money, which may also be used to acquire tokens.

The game plays in four rounds and though we thought it would go quite quickly, we soon realized how much strategy there was and took a bit more time on our turns. According to Stefan, the game usually lasts 90 minutes.

There is a fair amount to this game - it's just not possible to describe it in a few sentences. In the end, I think we have a fairly strategic gamer game. I quite liked it, as did the others - balancing all the mechanisms to maximize your return is very neat. There is lots of interaction in this game - you can make a plan as to who to influence, but other players can put a wrench into your plan and you have to adjust your strategy accordingly. I was quite impressed and should be picking this one up once it comes out.

So when will it come out? According to Stefan, the game is due to come out in January. Rio Grande usually publishes Alea games in English, and it's likely they'll do the same with this one.

After Louis XIV, Patrick went on a buying spree so I took the time to take more pictures of the fair and to buy a few more games. I also ran into some gaming personalities and took some pictures of them as well. The Rio Grande booth was up and running so I took the opportunity to snap up English copies of the two player Kosmos game Jambo along with Mall World, which has been getting very good buzz. Along with my purchases I finally got a copy of the Puerto Rico Expansion. Woo Hoo!

Board Game: Jambo

Jambo - I met back up with Patrick and we headed to the hotel to drop off our booty (my arm was beginning to fall off after carrying around Roads & Boats for an hour). While at the hotel we took advantage of the peace and quiet (and free tables) to try one of my new purchases - Jambo. This is a new game in the much-loved Kosmos two player series of games. The game was designed by Rudiger Dorn (wow, two Dorn games in a row!).

This is a card game that mainly deals with the buying and selling of goods for gold. The game comes with a deck of cards along with pieces that represent types of goods – cloth, spices, the usual things, along with pieces for the gold. Once one player has reached a certain threshold of gold, the other player gets one more turn and the game ends. Whoever has the most gold wins.

You start with a hand of cards. During your turn you have five actions that you can use to pick up cards and/or play them.

The game is mainly driven by one type of card that allows you to buy the three goods listed on the card for a certain number of gold. The same card also allows you to sell the three goods listed for a certain number of gold (much higher than the buying price). You can use it either to buy or sell, not both. The idea is that you will accumulate some goods using different cards and at one point use another card to sell some of them and make a profit.

Most of the cards in the game are action-type cards which allow you to do many things – steal goods from the other player, discard and pick up more cards, and many other things. These cards have a lot of text on them so don't bother getting the German version unless you can read German! Because there is so much text on the cards it makes the first game a bit daunting as you are learning what all of the cards do.

The game does have quite a bit of a ‘take that!' aspect to it where you can rob the other player's goods, steal his cards, etc, and generally throw a wrench into his plans.

In the end, the game worked quite well. Patrick liked it and thought the game would get better as he learned the functions of all of the cards. I am not predisposed to action card games or ‘take that!' games, so I thought it just okay.

Board Game: Cellar des Triplettes 醉佳拍檔

Die Weinhändler - After wandering back to the fair, we snagged a table at the Amigo booth where there was a copy of Die Weinhändler. Pat O'Brien was walking by so we roped him into joining us for a game.

Die Weinhändler is a game of wine connoisseurs – well, that's the theme anyway! It's a card game where each card has a color, a number, and a type of wine bottle on it. The players start out with some cards in their hands and then four new cards are turned up to be auctioned off. Auctioning uses the numbers on the cards and the bidding is a la High Society where you put down your cards and can only add to them for a higher bid – you cannot take them back. The highest bid gets the four new cards. Interestingly, the second highest bid gets the cards bid by the first highest bidder and so on. The cards bid by the last bidder get put into the middle of the table and will be part of the group of cards bid on next round.

This bidding system is quite interesting as you may not want to bid for the four new cards – you can try to bid stragically to get to come in second to get the cards the first player bid with – their cards may be more useful to you than the four new ones. This makes the bidding fairly strategic.

After acquiring cards, they can be played. Players created a pyramid of cards in front of them, similar to the Kosmos / Uberplay small box game Oh, Pharaoh!. Each card you play is worth a certain number of points and if you play cards next to other cards of the same color, you can get bonuses.

The game continues with another round of bidding and playing cards. The game ends when the deck is gone.

This is a interesting little game. It's fairly light, but there is a decent amount of strategy in bidding and trying to acquire the best cards to get the most points. We all liked it and put it into the Good category. It is a small game and fairly inexpensive – I think I'll be picking this one up.

Board Game: Tanz der Hornochsen!

Tanz der Hornochsen - Patrick and I were looking to play another Amigo game, but it was pretty noisy at the Amigo booth (curse those Halli Galli bells!). We opted to go upstairs into the Amigo press area which is quite a bit quieter. One of the Amigo press people was kind enough to show us a game that I have been quite looking forward to – the 6 Nimmt! board game Tanz der Hornochsen.

Describing the game is easy – it's basically a board game version of 6 Nimmt! (what a shock!). It takes the 6 Nimmt! system and expands on it. You are now using chips with numbers on this instead of cards and your chips are hidden behind screens. There are the usual rows on the board where you play your chips.

The general gameplay is similar to its processor – everyone chooses a chip and reveals simultaneously, and then they are placed in the rows from lowest to highest. If you play the last card in a row, you get some points – not that you want them, though, points are bad.

This game adds a few new wrinkles that mix things up. At a certain point in the game, people will have to start playing two chips instead of one. This lasts for a certain period and they you go back to playing one chip. Also, at certain points in the game, whatever points that are score are now subtracted from your score (a good thing) instead of adding to it. Very neat.

In the end, both Patrick and I liked it. 6 Nimmt! fans are sure to like it. We played with three players and there is some control, but not a ton. The game plays up to 8 and, like 6 Nimmt!, I can see it being a chaos-fest with that many people. I liked it, though, and will be picking it up.

Board Game: Piranha Pedro

Piranha Pedro - Next up was the new Goldsieber game Piranha Pedro. This game is by Jens-Peter Schliemann, who co-designed the Winning Moves game Karibik.

In Piranha Pedro, players are using cards to move the Pedro character on a gridded board. He starts on an small island, but is soon moving into the water that takes up most of the board. In a few of the spaces are dangerous piranhas.

The way the game works is each player plays a card face down and then reveals it. The cards show a direction – up, down, left or right and a number of spaces, one, two or three. In turn order, players move Pedro according to their card – a number of spaces in a particular direction. If Pedro moves into a water space, the player moving him placed a small stone on the spot – a stepping stone that Pedro can use the keep from falling into the water.

Each player only has a certain number of stones, so you have to be careful! If you use up all your stones and Pedro moves onto a water space, you lose the round. You also lose if you guide Pedro off the board or into a piranha.

Another round is played and the game ends when a player loses two rounds (at least in our two player game, the game plays up to 6).

This is a quite a light game that is fairly chaotic and unpredictable. You really have no idea where Pedro is going to be when it comes to your turn (unless you are going first), so which card you pick to move him is a bit of a crapshoot. Patrick liked the game, I didn't so much – it was a bit too chaotic for me, and we were only playing two player! I can see it being a real chaos-fest with more. Nevertheless, the game worked well and was easy to learn. If you don't mind games with a bit of chaos in them, check this game out.

Oh, and one more note about the game. The board has something I have never seen in a German game before – an ‘American Valley', the fold in the middle of the board that many American games have. Very strange!

Board Game: Caribbean

Karibik - After Pedro, Patrick and I wandered by the Winning Moves booth. We had tried a few times to get in a game there during the day, but the booth was always jammed. This time, fortunately, we spied designer Michail Antonow who was keen to play his new game Karibik with us. We grabbed a table upstairs in the restaurant area and started to play.

Now I played a prototype of this game at the Gathering of Friends and really liked it. The game has changed only slightly since I played it and the one change is very nice and makes the game even better.

In the game, players are guiding pirate ships around the Carribean, pillaging ports, grabbing booty, and moving it back to their safe havens. There are a number of cool little pirate ships in the game and they sit on a board that is a map of the Carribean, which has been divided into spaces. There are a number of ports that can be pillaged for doubloons, and each player has three safe havens where they can deliver the doubloons. There are six ships on the board, lettered A to F, in various places around the board. Each player has some movement chits, numbered zero to five as well as a -1 chip.

During each turn, the players plan their moves in secret, allocating one movement chip to each boat. This is the hard part, you have to try to outguess the other players as to which ships they are going to put their big chits on, as the player with the biggest chip on each ship gets the privilege of moving that ship. After everyone is done planning their moves, the chips for the first ship (ship A) are revealed and the player with the highest one gets to move the ship. They can pillage ports for doubloons and they can actually move adjacent to other ships and grab that ship's doubloons! They can then, if the have the movement points left, get back to their safe haven, and deliver the doubloons. After ship A has been moved, ship B is moved, etc, etc. The first player to get a certain number of doubloons wins.

Michail says the game is a bit more strategic with two players, a balance between strategy and goofy fun with three, and more goofy fun with four. In my experience so far, he looks to be right. The game that I played at the Gathering was with four and we had great fun and laughed a lot. This one I laughed as well, but there were times I did have to give careful thought to my move.

The gameplay is simplicity itself and evokes the theme very well. There's lots of bluffing and second guessing. You can play fairly strategically by using boats that move first to grab booty off of other boats that won't move until later.

I really enjoyed the game, as did Patrick. I think it's a great game. Fortunately for us North Americans, Rio Grande is going to be coming out with an English version to be titled Carribean (in the German version, the only thing with German on it is the rules – oh, and the box).

Mik Svellov made his big prediction that In 80 Tagen um die Welt is going to be next year's Spiel des Jahres winner. I wouldn't be so bold as to make a prediction like that, but in my opinion, Karibik is a definitely a Spiel des Jahres contender.

After Karibik, the fair was closing up. Patrick and I joined a group of gamers who were heading to Mario and Regina's place, who live close to Essen, for some pizza and games. When we got there, the walls were a sight to behold – Mario has a huge game collection – in the thousands – with shelves and shelves of many, many games I've only just heard about and never seen in the flesh. Perhaps someday I can housesit for him, for maybe a year of so, and get to play some of those games.

Board Game: The Downfall of Pompeii

Pompeji - While at Mario's, we got a group together to play the new Amigo game Pompeji. I've been looking forward to this one – the game looks neat, the theme is interesting, and it was designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede of Carcassonne fame.

The game consists of a gridded board with a number of differently colored and numbered buildings in the city of Pompeji. During the first phase of the game, player take turns playing a numbered card to place their guys on the correspondingly numbered building. At one point in the game you can play bonus guys if you play into buildings that already are occupied.

At a certain point, all heck breaks loose and the volcano erupts! At this point the cards are thrown away and players take turns moving their guys on the board to try to escape the city. While this is happening, players are placing lava flow tiles that engulf parts of the city, blocking routes out and devouring guys who aren't fast enough to outrun them. The player who rescues the most guys wins.

This all sounds like it would be great fun, but for me, it wasn't. The placement round is fairly dull as you can only place guys into the spaces where you have the cards, and the best place to play is fairly obvious. After the volcano erupts, there is a tiny bit of strategy with which to move your guys, but the lava flow tiles are random and fairly unpredictable, so you can just as easily get your guys devoured without any chance of getting them to safety.

Unfortunately, with all this, the game just fell flat. There just aren't enough decisions to make the game interesting at all. It's too bad – I had high hopes for this game.

And with that, Patrick and I headed back to our hotels for some sleep. Tomorrow promises lots more games. Stay tuned!

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Essen 2004 Report: Friday, October 22, 2004 (Day Two) By Rick Thornquist

More games today – the second day of the fair. Today was dominated by playing two of the bigger games - Im Schatten des Kaisers / The Shadow of the Emperor and Große Geschäfte / Mall World.

Board Game: In the Shadow of the Emperor

Im Schatten des Kaisers / The Shadow of the Emperor - This is the big Hans im Glück game that is going to be released in English by Rio Grande Games as Shadow of the Emperor. The game was designed by Ralf Burkert. This one is a gamer game through and through. Those looking for a lighter game need not apply.

In this game, players control nobles that are vying to be barons of their regions in anticipation of ascending to the throne and becoming Kaiser. In this respect, the game has a vague similarity to the classic game Kremlin where people start at the bottom of the political ladder and try move up. In that game, all players control the candidates – in this game player control their own nobles.

The game has many mechanics and subsystems. There are a number of regions that have spaces for nobles and knights from various players. One player's noble heads each region as that region's baron. Also, one player's noble starts the game as Kaiser, but don't expect him to stay Kaiser for long! More than likely there will be a coup and someone else will install their own noble into the position (or perhaps the Kaiser will just die of old age).

The main part of the game is an action phase where players take turns doing various things. The actions range from placing knights in regions, adding castles to regions, moving your nobles between regions, activating special powers, etc. There is a great variety of actions that can be taken.

Before and after the action phase there are various other phases that do many things, among them, believe it or not, is a phase where you have to marry off a noble (if he's a guy) or to try to find a husband (if she's a girl). I've never actually proposed to anyone before, but in this game I actually had to do it a few times. Married nobles are stronger and can provide victory points.

More victory points can be provided by certain actions like becoming the baron of a region, being Kaiser, and certain other actions. Whoever has the most victory points at the end wins.

In our game, we were a bit overwhelmed after the rules explanation. There is a lot to this game – there are may phases and lots of different actions. During the first two rounds we were all a bit baffled but then things started to become clear and the strategies started to reveal themselves. There are many mechanics at work here but they all fit together quite nicely and allow for many different strategies.

In the end, I found the game to be quite engrossing. This is definitely a gamer game and it seemed to me to be one of those games that will reveals more and more strategies after multiple playings. After my first game I have declared this one a keeper, and I think it's the one to keep your eye on if you like the heavier games.

Board Game: Mall World

Große Geschäfte / Mall World - Große Geschäfte is the new Andrea Meyer game this is being published by her own label BeWitched. The game is also being released in English as Mall World. I've been looking forward to playing this one as it has gotten good buzz. I ended up buying the English version yesterday, even though I knew I was going to play it for the first time today (I'm a slave to buzz).

In this game, players are building up stores in the local mall. The mall starts out almost empty, but then starts to fill up with various types of stores. The main way of getting money, which are the victory points in this game, is to fulfill orders that require various types of stores to be on the board or to be adjacent to certain other stores. During the game, four of these orders are laid out face up and can be bought (the mechanism for doing this is the same as Showmanager). The first order cards out of the deck are fairly easy to fulfill but they get more difficult. You also start the game with a very difficult order that you work towards fulfilling during the game. The harder the order is to fulfill, the more it's worth.

To place businesses, you need approval cards. These allow you to place various types of stores on the board. Auctioning and playing of these cards is really the heart of the game – you need the right cards to get the stores that you want on the board. Maneuvering yourself to get the right cards and playing them at the right time is crucial.

During your turn, you can either use the approval cards to build stores or you can put an order face-up in front of you so it can score – a la Union Pacific (later in the game you can do both in one turn). The orders only count if they are face-up in front of you – orders in your hand count zero. It's tough to decide when to reveal your orders, revealing them early gets you bonuses but then others know what you are doing and will try to work against you. Revealing them later keeps them secret but can also incur penalties.

As all of the player are building in the same area, there is much jockeying for position as the board starts to fill up. You have to watch what other players are doing to make sure they don't shut you out, but at the same time you could try to ride their coattails if they are building some stores that you want.

In the end I found the game quite interesting. I liked it. This is a bit of a heavier game, though not as heavy as Im Schatten des Kaisers. I'm very interested in playing it again to explore the various strategies.

IGA Awards

After Mall World, I had a little time to wander the halls before heading to the took some time to wander the halls before heading to the Hans im Glück booth for the presentation of the International Gamers Awards.

Board Game: Saint Petersburg

The awards were presided over by the dapper Greg Schloesser, who had changed into a suit for the occasion. Greg did a speech in German and then introduced the first recipient. In the multiplayer category the winner was Bernd Brunnhofer of Hans im Glück for his game Saint Petersburg. Those who own the game may know that even though the game is credited to “Michael Tummelhofer”, this is a pseudonym for Bernd. Bernd was actually wearing two name tags, one with his real name and one with his pseudonym!

Bernd accepted the award and was kind enough to thank some others that help in the production of the game, including his partner as well as designer Karl-Heinz Schmiel, who had helped with the game.

Board Game: Memoir '44

The next award was for the two player category and the winner was Memoir ‘44 by Richard Borg. The game was published by Days of Wonder. Richard accepted the award also thanking all those to do with the game, including all of the Days of Wonder guys.

Many familiar faces in the gaming community were there for the awards, and it was great to see some familiar faces and to meet some face-to-face for the first time. I got a chance to chat with Guillaume Lemery, who had brought me some games from France in exchange for some Blue Moon expansions I had brought with me. There are many games from France that we never really hear much about, and I was keen to check some of them out. I got two games from him - Dungeon Twister and Drôles de Zèbres. I hope to play these games shortly after I get back.

After the awards, Greg and I wandered over to Hall 9 and 9.1 to check out some of the smaller publishers. There are lots and lots of these guys with lots of interesting games. I I hope to play a few, but I'll probably just end up buying up some that people recommend and bringing them back home to play.

After the fair closed up I headed back to the hotel for a quick change before heading to dinner and to play a prototype with Alan Moon, Bruno Faidutti and Bruno Cathala. Of course, I can't really talk about prototypes, but this one I did quite like. I then headed to the infamous Jung hotel – infamous because it's the home of Warfrog, who basically takes over the hotel every year and makes it their own. There were lots of gamers there and lots of games going on, but I was pretty tired and decided to head back to my place for some shut-eye in preparation for tomorrow.

Tomorrow – more games!

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Essen 2004 Report: Saturday, October 23, 2004 (Day Three) By Rick Thornquist

This is the third day of the fair. Lots more games were played today, including Niagara, Hispaniola, Submarine, Im Auftrag des Konigs, Die Garten von Alhambra and Oltremare. I was able to catch demos of Dicke Damonen and Block It!. I also have a few interesting stories from around the fair.

Niagara - Earlier in the fair, I had walked by the Zoch booth and seen Niagara. The game looks great and as I knew Rio Grande was going to do an English version of the game, it was a ripe candidate for playing. We have tried to get a table in the past few days, but the Zoch booth was always swamped. Patrick Korner, Eric Martin and I made a plan the day before to get to the fair early this morning to snag a table and play the game. We met, sat down, and started to play.

The first thing to say about Niagara is that it is a very good looking game. The board depicts a river that is heading towards a waterfall. Each player has two boats that move down the river to collect gems from mines along the river. The board is actually overlaid on top of the box front and box back, which are pushed together (check the picture below, it's tough to explain this one in words). The river runs across the tops of the boxes with the waterfall falling off one edge. The boats are little wooden canoes and the gems are very nice little plastic gems.

Basically, each player chooses a chip that is numbered 1 to 6. These are chosen secretly. In turn, a player's chip is revealed and he moves both of his boats the number on the chip. There are spaces in the river which are plastic disks that sit on top of the river. You can pick up a gem from an adjacent mine for two of your movement points if you begin or end your turn beside a mine.

Each player moves his boats and then it's time for the river to move. The river moves a number of spaces equal to the lowest numbered chip played. This is done by taking one of the spare plastic disks and pushing it into the river from the start. This moves all the other river disks down the river. One of the disks at the end will go over the waterfall and woe be the player who has a boat that goes over! That boat would loses it's gem, if it has one, and starts from the beginning with a penalty.

The object is to use your canoes to get a gem back to the start, drop it off, and go get more. Once a player has a certain number of gems, they win.

The game is very simple, looks great, and works well. It is very much a family game, though there is a little bit of strategy, it is mostly very chaotic - what you do can be completely undone by the other players. It's still fun, though – I can see this game being quite popular with the families and the kiddies, or gamers who are looking for something light and fun.

Board Game: Hispaniola

Hispaniola - I'd been itching to play Pro Ludo's Hispaniola for days. This is a trick-taking game by Michael Schacht and that intrigues me – I was curious to see Mr. Schacht's take on the trick-taking genre. Patrick, Eric and I wandered over to the Pro Ludo booth, only to find all the tables occupied, mostly by games of Keythedral. No matter – we found a piece of floor in the booth, grabbed the game, and started taking tricks.

A couple of words about the production of the game. The numbers on the cards are all in one direction so you have to orient all of your cards one way. It was have been better to have the numbers on the bottom upside-down, like almost every other deck of cards. Not a huge deal, but it would have been nice. More annoying is the fact that the 6s and 9s aren't underlined – more than once one of us mistook one for the other. This is all obvious stuff and just shouldn't happen in professionally produced games.

The box may annoy some people. The game is a pack of cards, some markers and a small board. The game could have easily been in a box half the size. You are getting a lot of air in this one.

All right, enough of the production issues. How does the game play?

On one level, this is a very standard trick-taking game. The cards are numbered 1 to 9 (in our three player game) and are in five different colors. The cards are dealt and trump is decided with the players choosing a card secretly and revealing them simultaneously – the color of the highest numbered card is trump. Those cards are then discarded.

The play is very much like every other trick-taking game. A player leads, you have to follow color if you can, otherwise you can play anything. Top color of the suit led wins the trick except if there is a trump, then the high trump wins.

That's all pretty standard. Where it gets tricky is the scoring. For each color there is a ship on the board with three scoring spaces in a row below it. The middle space is worth five points and the two spaces on either side of it are worth one. When you win a trick you place one of your tokens on the middle space of the ship of the trick's led color. If there is another pawn on the middle space (usually of another player's), it gets bumped to one of the lesser scoring side spaces. Pawns on the side spaces will then get bumped to the islands in the middle of the board, which score negative points. Any pawns on that track may also be bumped farther down the track.

At the end of the round, where your pawns are on the scoring spaces and the track determine the points that you get. You play a few rounds and whoever has the most points at the end wins.

It's funny, this game – just reading the rules makes you think it's nothing special, but the scoring mechanism makes for some very clever gameplay. You have to watch you cards carefully and who is currently scoring where to figure out the best card to play. There are some very subtle strategies in this one. All of us quite liked it. I will be picking this one up.

Board Game: Dicke Dämonen

Dicke Dämonen - Next up was a demo of Dicke Dämonen at the Edition Erlkönig booth. This is an abstract game that uses loops of string on a table as a board. The game involves placing pawns of different colors in the circles made by the string loops. Each may place any color pawn. Also during the game, each player will use one pawn to predict which color will win the game. At the end of the game, each loop scores with a particular color getting points. Whichever player predicted the color that had the most points, wins the game.

I like the use of the loops of strings as a part of the game – I've never seen that before. The game is abstract, and a bit of a thinker. I'm not normally a fan of these types of games, but this one is easy to learn and looks interesting to play.

Board Game: Block It!

Block It! - Next up was a demo of Block It! from the new Dutch game company The Game Master BV. This is another abstract game, but this time the board is made up of tiles subdivided into four colored squares. On each of the tiles, there is a stick that you use to pick up the square and either move or rotate it. Each player will move by rolling a die and doing the rolled action. These involve rotating tiles, exchanging tiles, etc. The object is to move and rotate the tiles to make a square of your color (at the nexus of the four adjacent tiles). After you do this, you place one of your blocks on it to lock it. Who every places a certain number of blocks wins.

The production of the game is very nice. The game can be a bit on the chaotic side, with some ‘take that' in it, but it did seem to work well.

Before our next game, I headed up to the Australian Design Group booth to have a chat will ADG head honcho Harry Rowland. There was a story going around that Harry had a pile of his games confiscated by the German government – the story turned out to be true. It turns out one of Harry's wargames has a picture of Hitler on the front and another one has a counter with a picture of an airplane with a swastika on the tail (a very tiny swastika). The Germans don't take kindly to any sort of Nazi symbolism and these games were confiscated along some other games of his. This is serious stuff in Germany and some of the gaming community have gotten together to help Harry straighten the situation out. Unfortunately, that means the show is a big loss for Harry and ADG. Hopefully, this situation will be resolved quickly and amicably.

Board Game: Submarine

Submarine - For my next game, I met up with Patrick Korner and Ward Batty at the Schmidt booth. Rio Grande shares the booth with Schmidt and Jay Tummelson had made it known that he had some upcoming games of his with English rules we could play. One of these was Submarine, the new Leo Colovini game from Winning Moves. We grabbed the game and started to play.

We didn't get far though, as the booth was incredibly crowded and noisy. I knew the fair got quite crowded on Saturday but the crowds and the noise were beyond ridiculous. Ward and I ended up taking the game into the much quieter press lounge to play.

An aside about the crowds. I was talking to Jeremy Young about this later and we both agreed that the fair needs to be larger – believe it or not, at least twice the size. The crowds are just massive on Saturday and Sunday and you have to be really lucky to get a table at one of the booths. At the Kosmos booth, not only all the tables were occupied, but practically the whole floor in the booth was covered with games and gamers. You could barely even see the floor! The crowds make it quite hard to get around as well. The fair really needs more space to spread out and for larger booths.

Oh, and don't get me started on the smoking. It's bad enough with the crowds making the place warm, adding the smokers makes it way too uncomfortable. There are not a ton of people smoking, but it doesn't take much, and it really fouls up the place.

I don't want to give the impression that it's terrible all the time - the other days were fine and the early morning and late afternoon today were pretty good. Crowded, but not overly so. The middle of the day was just nuts, though.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the game. In Submarine each player has a ship he guides along the top of the board that is divided into squares. The squares below the ships hold the players submarines, along with treasures. The object is to use your submarines to get the treasures. The first player to get one of each type of treasure wins.

During your turn, you move your ship forward any number of spaces. You can then activate the subs that are in the column directly below the ship. These subs can then move or grab treasures, but not both. To grab a treasure, you have to pay a card of the color of the treasure. You may have to pay additional cards if there are opponents subs in the same square as yours, or above you (between your sub and your ship).

This is a very typical Colovini game – an essentially abstract game with a very thin veneer of theme. This is a bit of a thinking game – you have to maneuver your ship and subs to get the right treasures without blowing too many cards and at the same time make things tough for your opponent. Both Ward and I though the game interesting and gave it a qualified thumbs up for people who don't mind the abstractness. I would pick up the game but I understand that only a few demo copies made it to the show. I'll pick it up back home when Rio Grande releases it.

Board Game: Im Auftrag des Königs

Im Auftrag des Königs - Ward and I wanted another game that we could play in the press room. I scanned my list of potentials and settled on the Adlung game Im Auftrag des Königs. I ran to the Adlung booth and grabbed a copy. The Adlung guy told me the game worked very well with two, so that was a bonus. By the time I got back to the lounge, Patrick Korner was there so we played a three player game.

The game turned out to be a very nice surprise. This is a card game and like some other Adlung Games such as Verrater, it plays like a board game. The theme is the Arthurian legends and players take on the roles of knights. I was Galahad (the chaste), Ward was Lancelot (the game store owner) and Patrick was Parsifal (was he in the Holy Grail?).

There are location cards for Camelot plus some areas in the countryside. These are laid out in a circle. The knights start in Camelot. In each round, players take turns choosing action cards which will determine what they will be able to do. The action cards involve moving to other locations, picking up cards representing swords, lances, dragons and books, getting quest cards, completing quests, entering a tournament, etc. Some of the actions can only be used while in Camelot and others only in the countryside. Once players have chosen their actions, each player in turn does all of his actions.

You usually score points by picking up a quest and fulfilling it by collecting the required sword, lance, dragon or book cards. You can get points other ways too, for example, by entering a tournament and winning.

There are lots of neat things in the game. Big kudos to Adlung for making the game very easy to learn – the graphic design is outstanding and the rules are pretty much unnecessary after the first read-through. We all enjoyed the game a lot – I thought it was very good. It reminds me of Verrater in the very good gameplay with good strategy that comes out of a deck of cards. I'm giving Im Auftrag des Königs a big thumbs up. For 6 euros, it's a steal.

After Im Auftrag des Königs, I dropped by the Fairplay booth to see Brian Walker, who was giving out copies of his magazine Games International. He resurrected the magazine after a hiatus of a few years, and the new issue looks very nice with reviews of many new games and a number of feature articles.

The Fairplay booth keeps does a poll every year where people rate the games they have played at the fair. They keep a running a total during the days of the fair and show the top games on a tote board. The top game can change frequently but the Alea prototype Louis XIV was the top dog during this visit to the booth. One game that was high up was Mind the Move's Oltremare, which I decided to grab before they sold out (lucky I did, because I heard they did actually sell out).

I headed back to the hotel to drop off my booty. Besides Oltremare and Im Auftrag des Königs, I had picked up the two Phalanx games Revolution and Heart of Africa. Revolution was a no-brainer – a new Francis Tresham game – hey, I've got to have that. I don't know how often I'll be able to play a game that lasts 4-8 hours, but I have a feeling even if I only play it once it will be worth it. I heard a few good comments about Heart of Africa, so I decided to spring for it as well.

I headed back to the fair to meet up with Jeremy Young and Chris Mewes. Chris is one of the jury members of the Spiel des Jahres. He had been in my hometown of Vancouver earlier this year with his family, and my girlfriend and I enjoyed a very nice evening with them. Chris was kind enough to invite me to the Spiel des Jahres reception, which was taking place tonight. He drove Jeremy and I to a hotel downtown, and we joined the reception.

The SdJ reception is a place for the jury members, the designers, the publishers, and the press to get together, chat, and play games. It is a fair sized gathering – about 60 people – and all the big names are there – Kramer, Knizia, Moon, Schacht, Friese, Meyer, and many more. After a few speeches, the games were broken out and everyone started playing.

Board Game: The Gardens of the Alhambra

Die Gärten der Alhambra - Jeremy and I joined in a game of Die Gärten der Alhambra, the new standalone Alhambra game from Queen. This is a redo of Carat, an older Dirk Henn game.

The game is very simple and can be explained quickly. There are a bunch of squares on the board each with a number 1 to 5. Between the squares are empty spaces for octagon shaped tiles. Each player will draw a tile and place it on the board in one of these spaces. The tiles have trees on them in various colors – the colors of the players. When a square has been completely surrounded by hexagons, it scores for the player that has the most trees surrounding it. The score for that player is the number on the square times the number of different colors of trees surrounding it (the scoring player's color plus any other colors).

This is a very simple and quick tile placement game. I liked it and will probably pick it up. It is a bit funny that it is being marketed as an Alhambra game - it has absolutely nothing to do with it's predecessor. Of course, the Alhambra name is gold since the game won the Spiel des Jahres, so perhaps the name is not so surprising.

After the game I got a chance to chat with some of the people. There were lots of interesting people there and I could have easily stayed all night. I did have to leave earlier than I wanted to, though, I had a ton of work to do and didn't want to be up until 5 in the morning. Big thanks to Chris Mewes for inviting me – it was a great pleasure to be there.

Board Game: Oltre Mare

Oltremare - Jeremy and I grabbed the subway back to the hotel. On the way, I decided to get off a stop early to drop by the Jung hotel to say goodbye to some that were leaving tomorrow morning. While there I ran into Henning Kropke and his lovely wife (I think they are married, anyway) along with Bruno Faidutti and Bruno Cathala who were just about to start a game of Oltremare. I wanted to play the game but my work beckoned me. After getting assurances that it wasn't too long, I joined in.

Oltremare is mainly a card game, where players are collecting goods and storing them in the hold of their ship. The hold is represented by a stack of goods cards that you have in front of you. The idea is to have groups of similar cards in your stack, the more cards in a group, the more they are worth. During your turn there is a trading phase where you can negotiate with other players to trade cards and / or money (which are victory points). After you are finished trading, you play cards into your hold. You then may move your ship which is a cube on a small map. The ship moves from port to port and may pick up a port marker which gives you a special bonus.

The way the cards are constructed is very clever. The top card in your hold shows you your hand limit and how many cards you can play this round. When you play the cards, they allow you to get more cards, move your ship, get money and perhaps get penalty cards. You then arrange them in your hold but you have to arrange them carefully – remember that the top card controls your hand limit and the number of cards played in the next round.

There are lots of little things happening here and I was very impressed with the game, especially coming from a small company. The mechanics work well together and there is some good strategy. Negotiation is always fun for me and I liked that part of the game as well. I'm happy that I was able to get a copy of this one.

And with that, I headed back to my hotel to start writing up this report. Tomorrow is the last day and the plan is to start with a game of Flandern 1302 before moving onto other games. I'll also be picking up a bunch of games today (time to make another trip to the cash machine). Stay tuned!

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Essen 2004 Report: Sunday, October 24, 2004 (Day Four) By Rick Thornquist

Today is the last day of the fair. I got in just two games today – Queen's Flandern 1302 and Typo from Cwali. Most of the rest of the day was spent buying up games in anticipation of the trip back home.

Board Game: Flandern 1302

Flandern 1302 - Like yesterday, Patrick Korner and I made a plan to get to the fair early in order to grab a table. This time, we grabbed a table at the Queen both in order to try Flandern 1302.

This is an influence game. There are six cities, each made up of various puzzle-like pieces that fit together to complete the city. Each player has a number of these puzzle pieces in his color. There are also pieces for a dummy player and some for the church, which are like bonus pieces.

Each player has a set of cards – one card representing each city plus a few special cards. In each round, all players secretly select the card they want to use. All reveal and then each player takes his turn in turn order. It is possible to use some of the special cards in your hand to jump to the front of the turn order.

Usually the card that you play represents one of the cities. In this case, you place one of your puzzle pieces in the city. You can, instead, place one of the dummy player's or one of the church's pieces in the city. There are restrictions on placement – you can't place one next to your own, etc.

After all players have gone, you check to see if any cities are completed. If a city is complete, it is scored. The city scores one for each piece in the city for the player that has the most pieces. There are bonuses if there are church pieces in the city. The player with the second most scores half, and the third and fourth place players score 4 and 2 respectively.

Another round starts and the game continues until all the cities are complete. The player with the most points wins.

There are a few other wrinkles, but that's basically it. We've seen this type of game many times before - the mechanisms are nothing special. It does work pretty well, though, and there is some interesting gameplay to be had. Figuring out where and when to place your pieces can be a challenge. There is one mechanism I'm not so wild about – the start player of each round gets a special action card that they use once all other players are done their moves. I found this card can be either incredibly useful or completely useless – a bit too lucky for me. In the end I though the game was good and I ended up grabbing a copy later in the day.

Patrick and I then started going on a buying spree. Earlier in the fair I had picked up the two older games I had on my list - Visionary and Roads & Boats. Today I concentrated on all the new games that I wanted. I grabbed copies of many of the games that I had played and liked, including the Amigo games Tanz der Hornochsen and Die Weinhändler, the Queen games Die Gärten der Alhambra and Flandern 1302, Hispaniola, Im Schatten des Kaisers, and a few others. I also picked up a few games that I hadn't played but looked promising, including the new Mamma Mia! game Sole Mio!, Reiner Knizia's Razzia!, Klaus Teuber's Ozeanien and Richard Breese's Reef Encounter. I filled out my bag with a couple of review copies from smaller publishers, including Kablamo and YS, both of which I would have liked to play at the fair but for lack of time.

There were a number of other games that were possibilities, but due to lack of money and space I had to pass one. These were ones that I hadn't played but sounded good. These games included 7 Ages, Old Town, Neuland, City and Guilds, Im Schatten des Drachen, Naval Battles and perhaps the Tilsit games Skaal and Himalaya. I'll pick up Carcassonne: Die Stadt (Carcassonne: The City) when the English version come out back home.

Board Game: Typo

Typo - After our buying spree, Patrick and I headed up to the press lounge to relax and recharge for a few minutes. I had bought Corné van Moorsel's word game Typo, so we decided to give it a try.

This is a nice, simple word game that is like 6 Nimmt!, but with letters instead of numbers. The game is a deck of cards, each of which is a letter. Each card has a number on it – the number of cards of that letter in the deck.

The game starts with four letters on the table, each of which forms it's own row (like 6 Nimmt!). Each player chooses a card from his hand secretly and reveals simultaneously. Cards are then played in alphabetical order. A player places a card in any row, either before or after the cards that are already there. They then must say a word that begins with the letters in the row.

For example, if I had chosen a M, I could play it in the row that had an A. I would place the M before the A and say “MAD”. In the next round I might pick an I, place it before the MA and say “Imagine”.

If you can't get a word, you have to pick up the longest row of cards and they score against you (again, like 6 Nimmt!). You play through all the cards and add up the numbers on all the cards you took. Whoever has the least points wins.

I'm not predisposed to like word games, but this one is very nice. It's quite simple, plays quickly, and is engaging. I can see it being a fun game to play with non-gamers, and as a filler game with gamers. As it's a small deck of cards, this is also good game for travelling. I glad I got this one.

After Typo, on the recommendation of Karibik designer Michail Antonow, I checked out the booth of Gamin - a smaller publisher who makes very nice abstract games that use a small leather boards. The games are very attractive. One neat thing is that when you are finished with the game, you gather up the leather board with the pieces inside and tie it up, making for a nice portable package. They have some classic games like Nine Men's Morris and Backgammon along with some originals by designer Andreas Lenz. I missed this one in my Essen preview, but if you want more information on these games, check out their website at (it should be up in the next few weeks and there will be an English version of the site).

The fair had only an hour left to go, so made our final tour to see if there was anything left for us to pick up. Usually there are some good discounts before the end of the show as the publishers and retailers clear out their stock so they don't have to truck it all back home. The booths were mobbed in the early afternoon as people took advantage of the discounts. It was funny to see these booths towards the end of the fair, they looked like a cyclone had hit them.

Board Game: Doom: The Boardgame

I did run into designer Kevin Wilson at the Fantasy Flight Games booth – he had flown in on Thursday and was demoing some games. Earlier in the fair, I had spied an early production copy of Doom: The Boardgame that was being demoed. I learned from Kevin that at this moment there were only a few early production copies of the game in existence, and they had a couple at the fair. Half-jokingly, I told Kevin that I would a copy off his hands if he didn't want to truck it all the way back to the U.S. Well, Kevin chatted with one of his fellow Fantasy Flightians, who then handed me a brand-spanking new shrinkwrapped copy of the game – one of only nine in the world. Yup, I'm a lucky guy. Look forward to an in-depth preview of this game in the coming weeks.

And with that, Patrick and I gathered up our booty, said farewell to the fair, and headed back to my hotel. I had brought as much empty luggage as I could muster to transport everything back, and after seeing the pile of games that I had acquired it looked like I was going to need every inch.

I had intended on going to the Jung hotel tonight to do some gaming, but after I had packed everything it was just too late and I just needed to sleep. Tomorrow morning, Patrick and I are off to the airport for the long trip home.

I should be back home late Monday night and should be posting a wrap-up of the fair on Tuesday. See you then!

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Essen 2004 Report: Wrap-Up

After a very long trip, I'm back home. It looks like it's going to take a few days to recuperate from the experience, but I have lots of new games to help me through!

The show, as per usual, was amazing. The avalanche of games was even larger than last year - the number of new games is just astonishing. Last year was my first time at the fair and I was a bit unprepared, mainly due to lack of experience but also due to the enormity of the fair. This year I was much better prepared and got in most of the games that I wanted to try.

New Games Played

Here is a wrap-up of all the new games that I played. There was no hit of the show for me, but there were lots of notable games. I'll divide them into three categories - very good, good, and fair. Note that some of the very good games may move into the excellent category after a few more playings. None of the games that I played were poor. Most of them I bought and brought home with me.

Without further adieu, here is the list (in alphabetical order within categories):

Very Good

Geschenkt - Unbelievably simple card game with very good gameplay. I wish I would have thought of this one. I'm going to be playing this one a lot as a filler or perhaps as an opener or closer.

Im Auftrag des Königs - A wonderful surprise from Adlung. Another 'card game that plays like a board game'. Excellent graphic design - once you've heard the rules, you don't need to see them again. The graphic design tells you everything. Gameplay is very good as well.

Im Schatten des Kaisers / The Shadow of the Emperor - Very good gamer game. There is a bit of a learning curve on this one but once over the hump the game shows its depth. This one could move to the excellent category. To be released in English by Rio Grande.

In 80 Tagen um die Welt / Around the World in 80 Days- Very good middle weight game. I think this would be fun for gamers as well as families. Played well with six, and a good six player game is hard to find. To be released in English by Rio Grande.

Karibik / Caribbean - Very fun light to middle weight game. With more players it's lots of fun, with less it's more strategic. To be released in English by Rio Grande.

Louis XIV - Still in the prototype phase, but a very good gamer game. A must buy when it comes out. This one could move up to the excellent citatory.


Carcassonne: Die Stadt / Carcassonne: The City - A game that I otherwise would have rated Very Good, if not for the fact that it's another derivative sequel. The gameplay is interesting with some nice modifications to the basic Carcassonne system. I didn't pick it up - it was a bit on the heavy side (wooden box, wooden pieces). I'll pick up the English version when Rio Grande releases it.

Die Gärten der Alhambra - Simple game that has nothing to do with Alhambra except for the name. Still good, though, and good for those looking for something strategic yet with few rules. Good for non-gamers.

Die Weinhändler - An interesting little card game. My opinion of this one may go a bit up or down with further playing.

Flandern 1302 - Yet another influence game, but with enough different to make it worth playing. Not to difficult, either.

Große Geschäfte / Mall World - On the gamer game side. This one really needs more playings to see where it finally places. I got the English Rio Grande version.

Hispaniola - I don't think we need any more trick-taking games, but this one looks pretty good (after one playing, at least). I have a feeling that this one will reveal some deeper gameplay with more games under my belt. This one is to be released in English.

Oltremare - Quite a good game from a smaller publisher. They sold out of the game - I'm glad I got a copy. It's very Bohnanza-like, but different enough to be worthwhile.

Submarine - Another basically abstract Colovini-fest. Like it's predecessors, the game gives some very strategic gameplay. I wasn't able to buy this one as there weren't copies for sale at the show. This is also to be released in English by Rio Grande,

Tanz der Hornochsen - We were promised a 6 Nimmt! board game and we got it. It's chaotic, but the added wrinkles to standard 6 Nimmt! made it fun for me.

Typo - Quite fun word game played with cards. Very good filler or for non-gamers. Good for a change of pace as well.


Candamir - I had high hopes for this one, but it just didn't win me over. The 'Settlers of Catan meets Anno 1503' gameplay felt too derivative to me and the game has too much downtime.

Frantic Frankfurt - This game works fine but to me just feels like a slightly-changed Speed. I have Speed already so I passed this one up.

Jambo - Another in a long line of 'buy goods and sell them for a profit' games. The game works well enough but is based on action cards with a 'take that' element that to me, just makes it too chaotic. I got the English Rio Grande version.

Niagara - Great bits and with a well designed game. A bit too light and chaotic for my taste, but should work well with families and kids. I didn't buy it as it's just not my style. Rio Grande is doing this one as well.

Piranha Pedro - Another family game that works fine but is just a bit to light and chaotic for me. Like Niagara, I didn't buy it because I'm not big on this type of game.

Pompeji - A disappointment, this one. In the first half of the game the gameplay is just obvious and dull. The second half improves things, but only slightly. Needless to say, I didn't pick this one up.

New Games Bought but Not Yet Played

There were a number of games that I bought or was given review copies of. I'm interested in all of these and hope to get playings in soon.

Age of Steam Expansion #2 (Western US and Germany) - I got this from Martin Wallace of Warfrog. I hope to try this in my next Age of Steam game.

Age of Steam Expansion #3 (Scandinavia and Korea) - Another one from Martin Wallace.

Carcassonne: Die Katharer - I picked up a copy of the Spielbox magazine with this expansion in it.

The Count of Carcassonne - I picked up a copy of the English version of this small Carcassonne expansion.

Clocktowers - This is the card game version of Capitol. I had played a prototype before and liked it, so I grabbed a copy.

Doom: The Boardgame - I was able to score an early production review copy of this game, that is to be released later in November. I hope to do an in-depth preview of this game.

Droles de Zebras - This is a Bruno Cathala design that Guillaume Lemery of France brought to the fair for me. This is a new game from Asmodee, who, strangely enough, I didn't see at the fair. Bruno sent me the English rules and I should be giving it a whirl soon.

Dungeon Twister - This is another new Asmodee game brought to me by Guillaume Lemery of France. I was able to get some English rules for this one as well.

Goldbräu - I actually got the English version of this one from Gamefest when I got back from Essen, but I count it as an Essen release. Patrick Korner and I had an appointment to play this game at Essen with designer Franz-Benno Delonge and Roland Goslar of Kronberger. We completely lost track of time playing another game and were late getting to the table and by the time we got there, they had started the game with some others. My humblest apologies to Benno for missing the game. I hope to get in a playing soon.

Heart of Africa - The newest of Phalanx's German-type games. I heard the buzz was good and the game was beautiful, so I pounced on a copy.

Kablamo - The Russian roulette game from Gigantoskop. It looks light and silly, but people seemed to have fun with it. Gigantoskop gave me a copy and I will be reviewing this one as well.

Mystery Train - I got an English version of this Ticket to Ride expansion.

Oceania - Teuber game that is a lighter version of Entdecker. I bought an English version of the game that was published by Mayfair. It wasn't too expensive so I figured what the heck. I bought the game from Francis Tresham who was at the Mayfair booth and had the great pleasure of chatting with him for a few minutes.

Razzia! - This is a card game version of Ra. It was relatively cheap so I grabbed it.

Revolution - A new Tresham game is an event and combined with beautiful production from Phalanx and graphics from Franz Vohwinkel, well, I just had to have it.

Reef Encounter - The newest Richard Breese game is a no-brainer - I just had to have it (though it was on the expensive side).

Sole Mio! - This Mamma Mia! sequel was another no-brainer. I should have bought the Rio Grande version though - the Amigo version that I bought only has only German rules even though it has multilingual text on the box.

Struggle of Empires - The newest Warfrog / Martin Wallace game. Martin gave me a copy of this and I am very much looking forward to playing and reviewing the game.

Star Fighter - This is a space battle card game that was being shown at the Warfrog booth. It was published by an English company - Lusio Games.

YS - The designer of the game, Cyril Demaegd, was sharing a booth at the show and had only one table which was always busy. I was able to get in a nice chat with him and got a copy of his game for review.

New Games Not Yet Played or Bought

There are also a number of games that I wasn't able to play or buy, though they looked interesting. I just didn't have the time to play them and didn't have the luggage space and / or cash to buy them. Of course, there were many, many other games at the fair, but these are the ones that would have been next on my list to try.

7 Ages - The big new game from Australian Design Group has been in the pipeline for years and was finally released at the fair. It tempted me, but it was expensive and my cash was running out. I'd love to play this one and if I like it, I'm getting it.

Antiquity - The new Splotter game that was big and beautiful, but expensive. It was too much to just buy the game on spec, and I hadn't heard of anyone who had played the game.

City and Guilds - A JKLM game that got some good buzz.

Das Zepter von Zavandor- This one looked very interesting, but had lots and lots of German in it. From Lookout Games.

Der Erste Weltkrieg / The First World War - This new WWI Ted Racier game was very tempting, but they only had the German version available. I'll grab the English version when it comes out.

Fairy Tale - This was the storytelling game from a Japanese company - Yuhodo Inc. I was looking for a copy towards the end of the fair but they had sold out. Patrick Korner grabbed their display copy after the fair closed - I hope to play his copy sometime.

Himalaya - A new Tilsit game that may be good, but I didn't hear any buzz on it and didn't want to take a chance.

Im Schatten des Drachen
The two player version of Rukkehr der Helden from Pegasus looked great, but lost out as I don't see myself playing a two player version of the game very much.

Neuland - Another one that looked interesting, but lost out due to lack of funds. This one was published by Eggert-Spiele, the company responsible for last year's sleeper hit Global Powers.

Old Town - This game from Clicker Spiele got some good buzz and it sounded different - a sort of deduction game.

Skaal - Another new Tilsit game that I didn't want to take a chance on. I was tempted, though - hey, a game designed by a guy named Dr. Mops has got to be good.

Older Games Bought

There were only a few older games that I was in the market for. I got all that I wanted, plus a Lord of the Rings game, which was a cheap impulse buy.

Ludoviel - This is really a game for gamers. I played it a few times at conventions and liked it a lot, but you can't really play it with anybody but hard-core gamers. I got a copy of this from BeWitched-Spiele.

Der Herr der Ringe: Die Zwei Türme - Das Kartenspiel - This is an older card game that I saw for 5 Euro. I've played it before and liked it so I grabbed a copy.

Roads & Boats- I've been wanting this classic game forever. I saw it at the Splotter booth and thought it was the right time to finally get a copy. I got the Etc expansion with it.

Visionary - An excellent party game where blindfolded players are guided by their team to build structures using wooden blocks. I've wanted this one for a long time and grabbed on from the used games area.

Final Thoughts

Though the games were the centerpiece of the Essen experience, it's really the people that make it all worthwhile (yes, it's corny, but it's true). I had the pleasure of speaking with and gaming with lots and lots of people - many well-known people in the gaming community as well as many others. It was always a great pleasure.

I'm already looking forward to next year! Until then…
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