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Flashback Convention Report - Spiel 2005

Scott Alden
United States
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Aldie's Full of Love!
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 & 2004.

Essen 2005 Report: Monday, October 10, 2005 (Travel Day) By Rick Thornquist

After the months of anticipation, Essen time is upon us once again! The biggest board game convention in the world is just a few days away and I'm already in Germany and giddy with excitement at seeing all the new games that are in store for us.

My trip here went well. I actually flew from Vancouver this time, eschewing the long drive to Seattle that I made the last two times I went to Essen. I left on Sunday at around noon. The first leg of my flight was to London and that was very nice - the plane was half empty and I got to stretch out, get a little sleep, and watch a few episodes of House on my laptop.

After I got to London I went through some security and then waited for my connecting flight to Düsseldorf. Heathrow is a funny airport - they don't give you a gate number for your connecting flight on your boarding pass - you are supposed to wait and check some monitors which will tell you which gate your flight is. The problem is, they don't list this information until just before the flight leaves! (it's still like this in 2014)

This all leads to a very silly situation. The monitor says that the gates will be listed 30 to 40 minutes before the flight leaves. Beside the monitor it shows the walking times to the various gates, which can range from 5 to 20 minutes. Another sign says that you have to be at your gate 20 minutes before the flight leaves or you'll be denied boarding. I'm no genius, but some of that math just doesn't add up.

The flight to Düsseldorf was slightly delayed, and far more crowded, but it was only a short flight so I didn't mind so much. I cleared customs very quickly, grabbed my mostly empty bags, and caught a cab.

The cab ride from the airport to Essen was an event (and I'm not talking about the exorbitant fare). Once we got onto the Autobahn, my driver just floored it - we were practically rocketing along the highway. I've never gone so fast in a car. He was passing the other cars on the highway like they were standing still - and they were going pretty fast as well! I just closed my eyes and held on - fortunately we arrived at the hotel in one piece.

After checking in I thought I'd head to downtown Essen to check out the game stores. I was on a mission - I wanted to get hold of new of some new games so I could play them on the days before the fair started. On my hit list where some games where I had the English rules - Elasund from Kosmos and Angkor from Schmidt (and maybe Fettnapf from Amigo).

I actually did have another motive - it was now Monday morning around noon here and I actually wanted to keep myself awake for the rest of the day in order to get in sync. This meant going quite a while without sleep, but I knew it would be worth it in the end if I could get synced up.

I headed for the subway, which was right outside the hotel. I checked out the ticket machine in the station and ran into a problem - perhaps unsurprisingly, the machine was only in German. You'd think that playing so many German games I'd have some rudimentary German that would help me here. Unfortunately, there wasn't a button labeled 'Start Spieler' so I was screwed. I pushed a bunch of buttons until I got a selection that sounded reasonable and bought a ticket. I figured if I had the wrong ticket and somebody caught me I'd just plead ignorance and beg for forgiveness.

Fortunately, the short subway ride went off without a hitch and I was downtown. It was a beautiful day in Essen - sunny and warm - it was great to walk around the shopping district. There were lots of people walking around, shopping, and eating from various scattered food stands. The district is closed to cars so there's lots of room for people to roam around. It's very nice and feels very European.

I actually had checked out some game stores while in this district last year so I took the opportunity to revisit them. Surprisingly, I was able to find all of them except one (which I think is now another store).

The game stores here are quite a sight to behold - stacks and stacks of the games we all know and love. There are still quite a few mainstream games though - you still see stacks of various Monopoly permutations. The prices are quite reasonable too - it took quite a bit of willpower to hold off buying (gotta save room in my suitcase for the new ones!).

Disappointingly, though the stores had piles of games, they didn't have any of the ones I wanted. As a matter of fact, the only new game I spotted was Carcassonne - Neues Land, the German version of Carcassonne - The Discovery. I might have picked it up, it was only 12.99 Euros, but I didn't have any English rules for it so I left it (for now).

I did visit the Toys 'R' Us in downtown Essen. I'd never been there before and I can see why - it's off the beaten path downtown and is actually quite cleverly hidden. I searched for it for quite a white and was about to give up when I actually found it almost by accident. They had piles of games, but as with the other stores, none of the new ones were there except the new Carcassonne. Along with the piles of games in the boardgame section they had a display at the front of the store piled high with the Spiel des Jahres winner Niagara.

After wandering around a bit I decided it was time to head back. I went to the subway, bought another ticket of dubious usefulness, and headed back to the hotel.

I had made plans for tonight to meet up with David Fair (he of the 'newspapers on the head' picture from the Gathering), Tom McCorry, and Scott Fisher. They showed up at the hotel and we headed out to a very nice Italian restaurant that is close to the hotel.

After dinner, even though we were all pretty tired, we pushed aside our exhaustion to play some games. Now the idea was I was supposed to have some of the new ones for us to play, but as mentioned, that didn't pan out. We ended up playing two games that the guys had bought in Amsterdam - the Knizia Marco Polo game and a Ravensburger game from a few years ago called Time is Money.

I'd actually never heard of Time is Money until now. It’s a very light, real-time type game where you are trying to accumulate the most money. On your turn, another player starts an electronic timer and you roll dice which tell you which denominations of money you can grab. If you roll two or more of the same denomination, you can't grab that one. You are given 10 seconds to keep rolling and grabbing money. The thing is, you are not told when your time is up - you have to declare when you want to stop rolling. If you are under or over the time limit you lose money as a penalty - the more you are over or under, the more you lose.

I actually liked it as it is fairly unique. You have to concentrate on rolling, grabbing the money, and counting the seconds in your head at the same time. Not easy! I was particularly bad at it - in one round I had forty seconds to pick up the money and stopped when I was over a minute! The penalty money I had to give up was brutal.

Though not a new game, I thought it was a nice light game and I might just pick it up if I find a good deal on it.

And that was it for the night. I bade good night to the boys and headed to bed. Tomorrow I'll be heading over to one of the other hotels for some games and maybe even to the Messe to check out the construction (though that is uncertain). Stay tuned!

Essen 2005 Report: Tuesday, October 11, 2005 (Setup Day) By Rick Thornquist

Today was an interesting day. I took a stroll around the convention centre, met up with some friends, and actually got a couple of new games in. Here's how it went…

I got up really early this morning, still not quite accustomed to the time change. After typing up yesterday's report and doing some other work, I headed downstairs for breakfast.

One of my habits when going to these conventions is to have a really big breakfast. I do this so I don't have to stop for lunch during the day. This solves the problem of trying to figure out where and what to eat at lunchtime. It also frees up valuable time so I can play more games! I usually drag around a few Power Bars so I have something to munch on when I get peckish during the day.

After breakfast I went for a walk around the neighborhood. Before I came to Essen for the first time, I had been told that the city wasn't a very interesting place - good for the convention, but otherwise just your basic industrial town. When I got here, though, I did a bit of exploring and found it to be not bad at all. There are lots of nice, quiet, tree-lined streets and little shopping areas. I walked for about an hour - it was a beautiful autumn morning and I enjoyed the fresh air and quiet streets.

After walking for a while I decided to check out the Messe (the convention center). I did the same thing on Tuesday last year - there really wasn't much to see then and I didn't expect to see much now, but I thought what the heck - let’s see what kind of trouble I can get into.

There was only one problem - I actually wasn't supposed to be in there today. Tomorrow I'll be allowed in for the press conference, but today it's supposed to be exhibitors only so they can set up. In years past the security was a bit more lax and you could get in fairly easily on Tuesday, but last year they started to clamp down on miscreants like me who wanted to poke around. When I was there last year I was approached by the security people a few times - they weren't happy that I was there. The did let me stay but were giving me the stink-eye the whole time. This year I vowed to avoid the security people if at all possible.

I strode in through the front door like I owned the place. No problem - I went through a few doors and finally got to a door that led into the exhibit halls. I went into the first big hall and saw the booths in the early stages of construction. There were a few people around and they were mostly working on constructing the bigger booths. Kosmos already had portions of their booth up, as did Amigo. Queen's booth looked almost finished and Hans im Gluck's looked pretty much finished as well. Other larger booths were in various stages of construction. The smaller booths had their walls up, but most of them were otherwise empty - their setup work will mostly be done tomorrow.

The Days of Wonder booth had a huge lighting rig hoisted above it with banners advertising their games. It's interesting how the Days of Wonder booth has increased in size over the years - two years ago they had an amount of space befitting a smaller publisher. Last year their space expanded. This year it looks like they are giving Kosmos a run for their money. It'll be interesting to see what the booth looks like when it's complete.

I went from the main halls to the smaller ones and found these mostly deserted save for a few early birds unloading their stock. The only real action was in the used games section where there a number of the vendors were busy setting up their wares.

I continued my circuit around the halls, making sure to avoid any security people who came within range. After wandering around for a while I decided that I was pushing my luck and thought I'd better leave. I headed back to the main hall where I entered and went to the door where I came in. I tried to open it, but curse my luck, it wouldn't open! I kept at it for a while, but it just wouldn't open.

Just I was starting to formulate another exit strategy, a surprised German gentleman opened the door from the other side. I tried to get past him, but he would have none of that. He didn’t look like a security guy, but he started talking to me - in German, of course. I had no idea what he was saying and he couldn't understand me either. He wouldn't let me through the door and turned me around and started leading me in another direction. I thought I was in trouble, but at a certain point all he did was to point me in another direction - unfortunately, away from any exits. I'm not sure what he thought I was looking for - perhaps the bathroom - but I went in the direction indicated (if only to escape the situation). While I was walking I found a few doors, one of which opened and eventually led me outside. Whew!

I was thinking of taking some pictures while I was inside, but decided that doing that would have called too much attention to myself. You aren't really missing anything as there wasn't much to see anyway. Tomorrow I'll be there for the press conference and I'll get lots of pictures of the booths.

I headed back to the hotel to relax for a while. Before long I was joined by my roommate Ward Batty who had arrived fresh from Amsterdam. We whiled away some time catching up and talking about games.

The afternoon was starting to give way to evening and we were getting peckish. We decided to head over to the Jung Hotel, which is the home away from home for the Warfrog contingent, and also the after hours gathering place for most of the English speaking contingent here in Essen. Sure enough, when we got there we ran into a gaggle of familiar faces - Derk Solko of BoardGameGeek, Anye Sellers of Dancing Eggplant Games, Warfrog designer Martin Wallace, blogger and now Sunriver publisher Chris Brooks, Sagacity Games designer Don Bone, designer Maureen Hiron, and many others. After socializing for a while, we all headed out for dinner.

After a typical German dinner (with lots of meat) we went back to the common room at the Jung Hotel and brought out some games. I spotted a few new ones and was able to finagle my way into a couple of them.

Hey! That's My Fish! - My first game was the new Phalanx offeringHey! That's My Fish!. German gamer Henning Kropke is working for Phalanx at the show and was able to scam a copy of the game for us to play.

This game is actually a new version of Pingvinas, which was originally published by Bambus Spieleverlag in 2003. You set up a board made of small hexagonal tiles representing ice floes. Each one shows one, two or three fish (see the pictures below). Each player has a number of penguin tokens (two in a four player game) and players take turns placing their penguins on the board. That completes the setup.

The gameplay is simplicity itself. Move one of your penguins and pick up the tile it moved from. That's it! Penguins can move in a straight line from the hexagon they are on but have to stop when the board ends or they hit another penguin (they can stop before that if you want).

As the tiles get picked up the board gets smaller and smaller. When no one can move anymore the game ends. Each tile you had picked up is worth points equal to the number of fish on it. Whoever has the most points at the end wins.

The strategy in the game involves maneuvering your penguins to grab the juiciest tiles, the two and three fish tiles, while also blocking other players from getting them. With clever movement you can close off sections of the board for yourself - if you do that you get all the tiles in that section.

We played one complete game. It’s a short game, about ten or twenty minutes, is very easy to learn, and is nicely strategic without being a mindbender. It plays from two to four players and I understand the two player version is quite strategic. I liked it quite a bit and will be picking up a copy.

A note for you Brettspielwelt fans. This game is now online at the site and from what I understand, it's getting quite a bit of play.

PÜNCT - Along with Hey! That's My Fish!, Henning had with him a copy of the newest (and last) game Kris Burm game in the GIPF series - PÜNCT. I listened to the rules and watched a game.

PÜNCT is two player an abstract game. The board is a six sided playing field with rows of round spaces (again, see the picture below). Each player gets a set of pieces which are all flat and are of three different shapes.

The idea is that players take turns placing their pieces on the board with the goal of making an unbroken line of their pieces from any one side of the board to the opposite side.

On a player's turn, he can place a new piece or move a piece. Pieces can only be moved along rows, though they can pivot as well. This all sounds like a fairly standard connection game, but it’s different in that the pieces can actually stack on top of each other (with some restrictions). This ups the strategy factor quite a bit - you can make some very neat blocking moves using this ability, or use it to bridge a blocked section of the board. Having three different types of pieces ups the strategy factor as well.

On first blush, the game seems like a regular connection game, but there is much more to it and I admired the fairly clean design that fosters a strategic game. I'm normally not a fan of abstracts, but this one is neat.

Oh, here's a special note for GIPF fans. The rulebook for PÜNCT has an ad for GIPF Set 3, a new set of potentials. This set will include 6 white and 6 black pieces for YINSH as well as 6 white and 6 black pieces for PÜNCT.

Freya's Folly - Sagacity Games designer Don Bone had his new game Freya's Folly already set up in the Jung's common room and it was calling to me throughout the evening. As soon as the PÜNCT finished up a group of us grabbed Don to teach us and play his new game.

Freya's Folly combines two main gaming mechanisms - it's a pick up and deliver game combined with a set collecting game. Players have a team of dwarves (we had four with five players) that they use to move through a mine grabbing gems (which are represented by wooden cubes). Once a dwarf had grabbed some gems he can leave the mine. Gems that are taken out of the mine can be used to fulfill Setting cards (in theme terms, using the gems to make necklaces). Each Setting card requires a certain set of gems and if fulfilled, is with a number of victory points. There are also Brisingamen cards which require gems and once fulfilled, yield tokens that can give you extra actions or victory points.

On a player's turn, he gets two actions. One type of action is moving one a dwarf into the mine or though it. The board has spaces throughout the mine, depicted by lanterns, and with one action a dwarf can move one space. You can jump over other dwarves, up to a maximum of two (sort like Cartegena) to move faster.

Other actions consist of taking a Setting card, fulfilling a Setting or Brisingamen card, taking an ability card (which allows a dwarf to do something special), or trading some of your jewels (with the stock or another player).

There are two game ending conditions - when either one player has fulfilled four Jewel cards of all players combined have fulfilled four Brisingamen cards.

This is quite a strategic game with quite a bit of interaction. You have to plan both strategically and tactically to maximize your moves and you also have to keep an eye on the other players.

I actually quite liked the game but I have two caveats. First of all, this is an action point game and even though you only get two actions there are a lot of choices. You might be wary of playing this with players who are prone to analysis paralysis.

There also is a bit of a 'take that' aspect to one of the ability cards - the 'Thief' card. With this one, you can grab gems from another player. I think this was meant as a way to hold back the leader, but it is certainly possible that one of the trailing players may get their gems stolen if they have what the stealing player needs. This part of the game that bothered me a bit - all the other cards work for me, but I may be tempted to play without the Thief (or change it somehow).

All in all, a very nice game. It’s not too long, not too short, has some good strategy, some nice interaction, and I thought was fun to play. I'll be picking up a copy.

By the time the game finished it was getting late and it was time for Ward and I to head back to the hotel. Tomorrow is the day before the show officially opens but I'll be there, press pass in hand, to take in the display of games that the companies put on for the press. I'll be taking lots of pictures of games and I'll also get pictures of the booths before the mobs descend on Thursday.

Stay tuned!

P.S. By the way, I'm not the only one here doing reports. One other person that has started posting already is Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, who is posting his reports on his website Check out his The SPIEL 05 page for all his reports.

Essen 2005 Report: Wednesday, October 12, 2005 - Part 1 (Setup Day) By Rick Thornquist

It's Wednesday, the day before the fair starts. My day started early - I finished off yesterday's report and posted it, showered, had breakfast, and then headed to the Messe.

For the exhibitors, today is the day to finish off the construction of their booths and get everything ready for the onslaught tomorrow. For press people like me, this is a chance to wander the convention floor and see the booths while it's still relatively quiet. I took the opportunity to take some pictures while I was wandering. There were many publishers who were still scrambling to get their booths together, but there was also a fair number who were finished and ready to rock. Check out the following pictures of the publisher's booths.

Essen 2005 Report: Wednesday, October 12, 2005 - Part 2 (Setup Day) By Rick Thornquist

After my walkthrough of the publisher's booths, I headed upstairs to the press area. This morning there was a press conference for all the press people. There was only one slight problem for me - the presentations are in German and my German is, shall we say, almost non-existent.

Fortunately for me, there was something else very interesting the press area that didn't require knowledge of German. For the benefit of the press, the fair has set aside an area where many of the publishers have laid out their games for all to see (and take pictures of). Some of the publishers were there talking about their games and there were some designers as well. I wandered through and got some pictures of some of the more interesting games. Here they are:

Essen 2005 Report: Wednesday, October 12, 2005 - (Setup Day) By Rick Thornquist

For the exhibitors, the main concern today was to get their booths ready for the onslaught tomorrow. For the press, our main action items were going to the press conference and checking out the booths as they are being finished.

Even though the fair doesn't officially open until tomorrow, some business is still being done. Games were being bought or traded, with both exhibitors and the press taking part. I saw people walking around with stacks of games under their arms. Almost everyone I saw had a copy of the Fragor game Shear Panic with them - I later learned that they were pretty much sold out already.

A few games were even being played, though this was mostly to teach the booth monkeys.

I was chatting with folks at the Rio Grande booth when Jay Tummelson decided it was time to play Dragonriders with his booth monkeys Alfonzo Smith Jr. and Scott Tepper. He invited me to play, but I had an appointment to keep so I had to reluctantly decline.

After I got back from my appointment, they were just finishing up Dragonriders and were keen to start up a game of Oltre Mare. I couldn't resist that, so we unwrapped the box, punched out the pieces, and got down to business.

Oltre Mare - As you may know, this is a new version of Oltre Mare - the original version by Mind the Move came out at last year's Essen. That version of the game got great buzz and soon sold out. Mind the Move kept reprinting the game to satiate the demand and it seems that Amigo got wind of the buzz - they picked up the game and have produced a new, professionally produced version of the game (that is also being published in English by Rio Grande).

The new version of the game has a nice big board and is very nicely illustrated. There are also some very nice player aids.

I won't go over the gameplay, as the previous version is fairly well known. There were a few minor changes that I could see from the previous version (this list may not be exhaustive, it's just what I noticed). First of all, I understand there are some more sailing routes on the board to prevent players from hitting dead ends.

From a rules point of view, the interim scoring has changed a bit. You still score prestige points, but you also score your cargo stack - all except the top cards of the same type. The scored cards scored are thrown out of the game and you start the second half of the game with the top cards you didn't score.

There's one more change - the game doesn't end instantly when the draw pile is exhausted, it continues until everyone gets the same number of turns.

I liked the previous version of the game and I still like it. It has a very nice mix of strategy and trading. The bigger board, pieces, and player aid make the game more attractive and easier to play than the previous version. Do you need this new one if you have the previous one? Well, you can retrofit the new rules (and perhaps draw the new routes on your old board), but I think this is more of a matter of whether you want a nice big professionally produced version of the game.

Dragonriders - After Oltre Mare, I got my chance to try Dragonriders. Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande was kind enough to teach the game to a group of us.

This is a race game. Each player gets a dragon, a nice miniature, and they set it up on the starting line on the board. The board is made up of modular squares, each with portions of the race course - straights, curves, etc. This means you have a great deal of flexibility in setting up the course. The rules provide some standards courses you can use if you want.

Each player has a little wheelie thingy that they use to set their speed. This is all done simultaneously and secretly. The idea is that you can only adjust your speed up or down a certain amount from your previous turn. You just can't speed up to 100 miles an hour from the start or stop on a dime.

When everyone has set their speed, it's time to move. Starting with the player in front of the pack, he takes one of a number of rulers - there is a ruler for each speed setting, the faster the speed, the longer the ruler. You put the ruler in front of your mini, and then move your mini to the end of the ruler (sort of link Wings of War). The next player goes, etc. The first player to the finish line wins.

There are extra rules for crashing into walls and other players, as well as magic cards that can give you special abilities like throwing fireballs at opponents, etc.

The game is fairly light, though things get a bit more complex when using the magic cards. I thought it was all right - there's not a tremendous amount of strategy and I did find using the rulers a bit fiddly. If you like racing games where you get to crash into each other game screw the other player, this may just be your game. For me, though, it was just okay.

After finishing up Dragonriders, I headed back to my hotel to take care of some business, and then headed back to the fair. It was approaching 5:30 and a number of us had planned to get together for dinner with the Counter magazine crowd. We all jumped in a bunch of cars and convoyed to Counter's hotel to eat. After dinner, we retired to a small conference room in the hotel and broke out the games.

Angkor - My first game was Angkor, the new game from Schmidt. The first thing you notice when opening the box is the production - each player gets a very nice plastic board that is overlaid with a cardboard board. A player's board depicts a jungle area that is divided into spaces. The plastic board has a slot where you can insert a cardboard screen.

There's also a set of tiles that fit into the board spaces. These tiles are of different types - water, various types of ruins, and jungle.

Each player starts with a set of tiles and you can play two tiles on your turn. The idea is to play the ruins tiles on your board - these tiles are worth points. At the same time you can play jungle tiles on other player's boards - you can actually place them on top of other player's ruins, reducing their points. The rules of placement are fairly specific, and you can use the various types of tiles for blocking, etc.

Each player also has three wooden tokens. Instead of playing a tile, you can play one of these tokens on your board. These tokens add an additional bonus scoring if a certain token is adjacent to a group of a certain type of tiles.

The game is reasonably short, about half an hour, and fairly straightforward. There is some strategy here, and more of a little 'take that!' while players try to screw other players by placing jungles on their board.

In the end, I found the game to be pretty good. It's medium weight, is fairly easy to learn, and plays fast, while having some decent strategy. The 'take that!' aspect turns me off a little, but I know there are many who like that type of direct conflict in game. This one could very well make it onto my buy list.

Trading Routes - My next game was Trading Routes from Van der Veer Games. This publisher is from Singapore and they publish their games in English. I was curious to see what their games were like and here was a golden opportunity.

Trading Routes is a card game. The cards depict routes running from one side of the card to the other and on each side of the card there is a different symbol. The idea is that player play cards one at a time on the table, either creating a new row of cards or adding to a row. If you add to a row, the card you placed must match the symbol of the card beside it. If the second symbol of your card matches the symbol at the other end of the row, you get to take the cards and score them (this is easier to show than explain - it's actually pretty straightforward). There are also a few special cards to mix things up.

The game works, but there is very little strategy. If you have the right card to score a row you get it. If you don't get the right card you don't score. It all basically comes down to luck.

I can see this game appealing to the crowd that wants a game to pass the time without taxing their brains too much. For me, it just had too much luck and wasn't that interesting. Too bad.

Giza - My last game of the night was Giza from Fun Factory Games. In this one, each player gets a player board where they will build their pyramids, which consist of stacked numbered tiles - some positive, some negative. You have a set of tiles in your hand and play one tile a turn. This tile can be played on your own or an opponent's board.

There are restrictions as to which tiles can be played on top of others, but mostly you are playing negative tiles on others and positive tiles on yourself. At the end of the game you add up all the tiles on your board (both positive and negative) and whoever has the most points wins.

Like, Angkor this game has a fairly large 'take that!' aspect and like Trading Routes your good fortune really depends on the luck of the tile draw. I found it far too lucky and really couldn't see much strategy to it - if you got the right tiles and players for the most part left you alone, you’d win.

Sorry to say, this one didn't float my boat but, like Trading Routes, if you are looking for a very light family game without much thinking, and a fair amount of 'take that!' type interaction, Giza may be what you are looking for.

After Giza, it was getting late and time to head back to the hotel from some much needed sleep. Tomorrow is the first official day of the fair and I expect to be playing lots of new games. Stay tuned!

Essen 2005 Report: Thursday, October 13, 2005 - Part 1 (Day 1) By Rick Thornquist

Today is Thursday, the first official day of the fair. As you could probably tell by the size of yesterday's report, I was up very early, around 5:30am, to get the whole thing done before I need to head off to the fair. I wanted to be at the Messe at 9:30am, a half an hour before the fair officially opened. Amazingly enough, I finished up minutes before my deadline so I was able to wolf down a quick breakfast before running to the Messe.

With the fair just a few minutes away from opening, the Messe was buzzing with everybody making the final adjustments to their booths. I spent some time walking around and getting some more pictures of the booths before the mobs descended. Later in the day I was also able to take another walk to get some more pictures of the booths.

Here are the pictures:

Essen 2005 Report: Thursday, October 13, 2005 - Part 2 (Day 1) By Rick Thornquist

After my picture taking excursion, I headed to the Alea booth just a few minutes before the fair opened. I had an appointment to be in the first group to play the newest Alea game - Um Ru(h)m und Ehre. I think this is becoming a bit of a tradition for me as I did the same thing last year being in the first group to play Louis XIV. Sounds like a good tradition to me!

Um Ru(h)m und Ehre - Right off the bat - Um Ru(h)m und Ehre is a family game. If you are looking for the next big gamer game from Alea, you won't find it here. What you will find with Um Ru(h)m und Ehre is a set collecting game, in sort of a Ra vein, but without auctions and with a fair amount of dice rolling.

Um Ru(h)m und Ehre is a pirate game. Players play pirates that roam the alleyways of a pirate town descending on the bars, getting into fights, picking up barrels of rum etc. The board depicts the town dotted with destination spaces all connected by alleys.

The main pirate figure starts in the middle of the board. On a player's turn, he can choose an alley for the main pirate to move and places his own pirates in a line down the alley. The destination space at the end determines what you do - go into a bar, have a fight, etc. The object of each type of destination is to get chits that will give you victory points.

Each type of destination give you chits in a different way. Some you just pick up, some you have to roll dice for, some you have to deliver to another location to get the points, some you have to pick up a number of similar ones to score.

Five rounds are played with players taking turns moving the main pirate to different locations and getting chits. At the end of the game the players adds up their victory points from their chits and whoever has the most wins.

As mentioned, this is definitely a family game. There's some strategy, but there's a lot of dice rolling - it's meant so you can have fun and say "Arrr!" a lot. I thought it was pretty good - fun, but perhaps a little long for a family game.

Fettnapf - My next stop was the Amigo booth to try one of their new card games - Fettnapf, designed Reinhard Staupe.

This is a simple card game, not as simple as Geschenkt, but still pretty easy. Each player gets a hand of numbered cards along with some island cards which are also numbered. Players get a glimpse of all the other player's island cards before play starts.

The number cards are played out one at a time into a pile. In turn order, the cards are played and the values added as they are played - 2, 10, 23, etc. Once the total goes over 30 the values go down - 32, 28, 20 until they go down to 10 and then it goes back up. If someone goes over 30 or under 10, the next player picks up an island card and give everyone a glimpse of it.

When someone plays a card, if another player holds an island card that matches the total, the player that played the card gets a penalty card. When one players gets four penalty cards the game is over and whoever has the least penalty cards win.

This a light card game, but it does have a memory element to it that makes it not that easy. You really have to remember the other player's island cards so you can avoid your total hitting them and getting a penalty card. I'm not big on memory games, but the game was pretty fun and I'll be picking up a copy.

Ark - Ark is the newest game from Doris & Frank. This one is a card game and it actually is a variation of an area control game.

Players get cards representing animals that are being loaded onto an Ark. When you play an animal card, you get to place a marker on one of a number of scoring cards (depending on which type of animal it is). The idea is that at the end of the game if you have the most markers on a scoring card you get ten points, if you have the second most you get six, and all the other players on the scoring card get two points. You add up all your points from all your scoring cards and whoever has the most wins.

On your turn you can either draft some cards or play them. If you play a card, you play it into one cabin on the ark. You can't just play your card into any cabin, though, there are restrictions. Carnivores can't be in the same cabin with certain other animals or they'll eat them, hot weather animals must bunk together, some shy animals won't be in cabins adjacent to others. You have to play your cards correctly and play the ones that will get your scoring markers where you want them.

One of the tough things about the game is remembering all the card playing restrictions. There's no player aid card and it would have been nice to have one. In this, our first game, we were a bit confused for a while, but we eventually got the hang of it. The game look interesting, but I really didn't get enough of a feel for it to really judge it. I'll have to get in another playing to see (hopefully with some player aid cards).

After playing Ark, I decided to buy a copy. I was playing the game at the Rio Grande booth and they only had two copies left, so I decided to spring for it (it also was fairly inexpensive).

I actually haven't bought many games so far. In the last few years I had a pile of games even after the first few hours of the fair, but this time I'm taking more of a wait and see attitude. My thought is I already have lots of average games, I'll just buy the ones that better than that.

I'm going to try all that I can and if they are good then I'll spring for them. If I hear some good buzz on others that I haven’t played yet, I'll probably spring for those as well.

The only problem with waiting and seeing is that some good ones from smaller publishers can sell out. I'm not a happy camper when I miss these games. However, games that do sell out quickly are often reprinted so it isn't that much of a problem.

All that being said, I decided to break my own rules and pick up two games - Indonesia and Antike. I just couldn't help myself!

Mesopotamia - After doing a bit of game shopping, a group of us headed to the Phalanx booth to play Mesopotamia, their new big box game. The tables were full but one game was close to finishing, so we played a quick game of Hey! That's My Fish!. Perfect filler.

We finally got a table and sat down to learn the game. The board is a set of hex tiles - sort of like Settlers, but these tiles interlock. Each tile is one of a number of different types of terrain - plains (where you can build houses), woods that produce wood, quarries which produce stone, and volcanoes which cannot be moved into.

The idea of the game is that players control people who gather the wood and stone resources and use them to build houses (to get more people) and temples (to get magic points). Every time you build a house you get a marker - each player has four of these markers. The first player to have his people pick up and deliver all of his markers to a central temple space is the winner.

On a player's turn he has five movement points to move his people and pick up resources. He can then do one additional action - build a house, build a temple, get a special card, etc. Though this is sort of an action point game, I didn't find much analysis paralysis - you can plan your move while others are playing and execute your move fairly quickly.

Thought the game has a decent amount of rules, I was very impressed by how clean the game system was. The designer obviously went to great lengths to make things consistent and the game is much the better for it.

So what's the verdict? I though the game was very, very good. There's lots of strategy here, the game moves fairly quickly, it looks great, and is fun to play. Here's a testament to how good the game - both of my opponents instantly got up and bought copies of the game. I will be getting a copy of this one for sure.

After Mesopotamia, I headed back to the hotel for a bit of a break. I'd been running on adrenaline over the past two days and I was beginning to get a little worn down. An hour nap and a quick shower reinvigorated me. I then headed back to the Messe for the last hour of the show. Most of the time I spent taking pictures, but I also took the opportunity to visit with a few friends.

After the show closed I headed to the Arosa Hotel where I had been invited to have dinner with the group from Mayfair Games plus their guests from daVinci Games. We all had drinks and then sat down for an amazing dinner - tons of really good food. German food normally doesn't do much for me, but this place was really good! I had a very enjoyable time chatting with the Mayfair people.

Palatinus - After we ate dinner it was getting late, but I was keen to play Palatinus, one of the new daVinci games. The daVinci boys had brought along a copy to play and we gave it a go.

Palatinus is a tile placing game. There's a modular board made up of seven tiles - each one with a hill on it that's worth a number of victory points. Players take turns placing their pieces - farmers, merchants and soldiers - on the spaces that surround these hills (this part reminded me slightly of Knizia's Samurai). Once all the pieces have been placed, the game is scored. Whoever has the most influence on a particular hill get its victory points. You add up all your victory points and whoever has the most wins.

Each type of piece has its own special ability. Soldiers can eliminate other pieces, farmers can get more influence from nearby water sources, etc. Some pieces can also be played face down.

The game plays quickly, about 20 minutes and is very nicely fits in the middle weight category. It is strategic, yet plays quite quickly. I thought it was a nice game and I'll be picking up a copy.

It was now quite late and time for me to head back to the hotel for some shut-eye. I had a very nice evening with the Mayfair folks - thanks to Will Niebling of Mayfair for inviting me!

Tomorrow, more games!

Essen 2005 Report: Friday, October 14, 2005 (Day 2) By Rick Thornquist

It's now Friday, the second day of the fair. Fortunately, as the days go by I seem to be able to sleep more and more - a good thing because I really need it!

I was up at around 6:30am to start putting together yesterday's report. I got all the pictures together and it typed it all up just in time to upload it before heading to the fair. I logged onto Gamefest to upload it and… I couldn't get it uploaded! Gamefest seemed to be down and as much as I tried, I couldn't get it to work. Because it was the middle of the night back at Gamefest H.Q. I couldn't get anyone there to fix it.

I sent off an email and later in the day got a response that there was some maintenance being done and the site was now back up. I then posted the report. My apologies for the delay.

My plan this morning was to get to the fair before it opened to get a seat at the Hans im Glück booth to play some of their new games. I headed for the fair and met up with a group outside the booth. We were actually a bit on the early side and the Hans im Glück people weren't yet prepared start things. Fortunately, one of the group had brought along the new BeWitched-Spiele game Wordwild so we sat down and gave it a try.

Wordwild - Wordwild is a light word game that comes with cards in both English and German. Each of the main cards shows both a letter or letters that begin a word, say "th…" and a letter or letters that end a word, say "…s". Each player gets a number of these cards dealt face up in front of them.

Each round another card is turned over in the middle of the table. All the players simultaneously have to think of a word that either begins with the middle card's letters and ends with one of theirs, or vice versa. For example, if the above mentioned card was the middle card and I had a card that had "…ose" I could say "those".

Once that's happened, all the other players try to get another word, but this time they have to guess one that fits in one of three categories. The categories are things like nature, technology, at the circus, etc. This part of the game is timed and there's a neat way this is done. The player who got the first word doesn't guess in this part of the round - he actually is the timer. He takes a bunch of cards and has to sort them in alphabetical order. Once he's finished, he calls stop and the round is over. I thought that was very original.

We only played a few turns but I was pretty much able to get the idea. It's basically a fun, light word game. I liked it.

We finished up our game of Wordwild when the convention started to open. It's interesting being in the hall when fair opens. You hear a rumble in the distance as the mob starts to rush into the halls. You then feel the air rushing past you soon to be followed by a few rabid gamers running to play various games. They are followed by more and more people. The booths fill up very quickly and the games begin!

Hazienda - Hazienda was our first Hans im Glück game and this one I've been itching to play (it will be published in English as Hacienda from Rio Grande). A new big box game from Wolfgang Kramer and Hans im Glück is big news. Here's how it went.

Hazienda is a placement game. The board (which is double sided) depicts a mostly empty countryside which is made up of grasslands surrounded by mountains and other types of terrain. The board is divided into hexagons. Dotting the board are a few markets.

There are two types of cards - a card that depicts the different types of terrain and cards that show different types of animals.

On a players turn, they get three actions. You can buy more cards, play cards, or do some other actions. You can play terrain cards to claim a hex on the board of the same terrain but putting a hex of your color on the claimed space. You can play an animal card and place an animal token of your color beside one of your claimed spaces or beside an animal of yours of the same type.

If you are able to connect to a market on the board with your pieces, you get some cash (and later, you'll get victory points). There are also a number of other actions you can use to get cash or score victory points.

The animal cards are divided into two draw stacks and when one draw stack is exhausted there is an interim scoring. You get victory points for any markets you've connected to, any groups of three or more spaces of claimed land, as well as a few other things. When the second draw stack is exhausted a final scoring is held that is basically the same. Whoever has the most points wins.

The game does have a passing resemblance to Through the Desert. It’s more complicated than that game, though, there are many more options and scoring opportunities.

In the end I liked it, but was slightly disappointed - it just didn't feel that original. I definitely think it’s a good game and if you're new to German games I think that you may like it a lot. For those of us who already have many games it just may not be original enough to add to our collections. I think I'll buy it, though, as it is good - I'll get a few plays out of it at least. I'd say it's good, but not great.

Euphrat & Tigris - Das Kartenspiel - Here's another one I've been itching to play - Euphrat & Tigris - Das Kartenspiel (in English it will be published as the Euphrates & Tigris Card Game from Rio Grande) . I know that many others have been waiting to hear about this one, so here you go!

I can sum up this one quickly and easily: it's basically Euphrat & Tigris as a card game. Makes sense, eh?

Of course, there are some changes to adapt to the card game format - instead of tiles you use cards which are played in columns. You place your leaders on cards in the columns. Like leaders in a column cause internal conflicts. A column can be attached to a neighboring column with leaders in both columns suffering external conflicts.

When you place a card in a column and you have the same colored leader (or perhaps you king) you can place another card face down of the same color in your scoring pile. Monuments can also be built that yield scoring cards if you have a leader of the same color in the column of the monument. When you win battles you also get scoring cards.

One change Tigris fanatics may have a tough time adjusting to is that the scoring cards are placed face down in front of you and you're not allowed to look at them! Not only you have to try to remember what others are scoring, you have to remember what you are scoring as well (though I see many Tigris fanatics either ignoring this rule or playing with their cards open).

The scoring is basically the same as Tigris, whoever has the most of their weakest color of scoring cards wins.

I think Knizia has done an excellent job of translating the board game to a card game format. It's so close that you might wonder why you’d play the card game? Good question. It is smaller and cheaper, but I think that it will be mainly thought of as a good variant for Tigris if you want to play something slightly different. There may just be enough strategic difference to make it worth having both.

I you don't have Tigris yet and don't want to spring for the boardgame, this would be a great way to get into the system. Tigris is a great game and this one, on first blush, seems to have captured the great gameplay of its predecessor. I will be picking up a copy.

A note about Hazienda and Euphrat & Tigris - Das Kartenspiel. Rio Grande was actually supposed to have English versions here but they missed the show by, believe it or not, just one week. That's disappointing for both Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande and for us gamers, but they are being produced and should be available in North America relatively soon.

Carcassonne - Neues Land - Next up was yet another new Carcassonne game - Carcassonne - Neues Land (known in English as Carcassonne - The Discovery. Hold the groaning, people - yes this is yet another in the seemingly endless line of Carcassonne games, but people do like them and as long as they bought be assured that they will continue being produced!

In Carcassonne - The Discovery, the tiles depict plains, mountains and water. On the plains and mountain tiles there can be villages. Different terrain have different scoring methods, some score for tiles, for villages and some for both. The scoring is a little more complicated than most other Carcassonne game, fortunately there is a handy player aid explaining the scoring.

The game plays like regular Carcassonne with one major exception - on your turn you can place a meeple or score one, but not both! You can also score a meeple in an area that isn't complete, but you'd get less points for it. There are unique rules for scoring each type of area, but besides that the rules of the game are vintage Carcassonne.

I found the game a little easier than regular Carcassonne - perhaps a good game for beginners. The idea of either placing or scoring but not both is interesting but for me, it's just not that different enough to make the game worth getting. The game works very well, however . It also may appeal to those who want yet another variation on the theme. I might get it - I'll have to think about it (and see the price).

One of the toughest things about Essen is trying to figure out which games are worth playing and worth buying. There are literally hundreds of games and it's impossible to try even a small fraction of them. To try to separate the wheat from the chaff, most people here use what we call 'the buzz'.

What's the buzz? Well, every time you see someone you know, or perhaps even someone you don't know, you ask what games they've liked and what they didn't like. After talking to a number of people, a pattern usually begins to form and you can take note of which games that probably should be tried along with which games should be avoided. This isn't a foolproof system, though, and you have to follow your own taste but I've found the buzz to be a pretty good barometer as to what's good and what's not so good.

Techno Witches - My next stop was the Rio Grande booth for a game of Techno Witches (otherwise know by the German name Zauberstauber, from Kosmos).

This is a sort of a race game. Player have a guy on a souped up magic broom that you use to race around the table. This is not strictly a race game, though, the game comes with various scenarios that vary the goal of the game. I played the first scenario which is the easiest. A number of round obstacle markers are placed on the table (there is no board) and the racers start on one side of the obstacles. On the other side of the obstacles is a cat token - the ultimate goal.

By the way, my apologies that I don’t have a picture of the game. The table we played on had another game's board printed on it and the game wouldn't have been easy to pick out. I'll try to get a picture of it tomorrow.

The game has elements of both Wings of War and RoboRally. On a player's turn he can actually choose a piece and add it to his flight plan or execute his flight plan. The pieces are short and long straights and curves, though even the straights aren't very straight, just to make things more interesting.

You can keep adding pieces to your flight plan but when you are ready to go, you can spend your turn executing your flight plan. This works like Wings of War where you put the piece in front of your guy and then move your guy in front of your piece. You then do that for all the pieces you have in your flight plan.

Funny enough, the game is actually fairly similar to another new Rio Grande release, Dragonriders (that one done in German by Amigo). The mechanisms are a bit different but they are both basically race games that use the Wings of War type of movement. I wasn't wild about Dragonriders but this one I found better. It's less fiddly than Dragonriders and the scenarios make it something other than a race game every time. I liked it and am on the cusp of buying it.

Beetlez - Next up was a quick game of Beetlez, a new game from daVinci Games of Italy.

Here’s how the game plays. To start a round, a number of tiles representing various food items are spread face-down on the table. Each player is dealt a card showing what score they will get for the different food items they collect - mostly positive, but some negative. Each player's card is different.

This is a speed game. When a round starts, all players simultaneously (and quickly) turn over tiles and look at them. They can take them if they want them or put them back face down. You are trying to collect the items that you want, without collecting your negative point items (there's also a big penalty for collecting too many items so you just can't grab everything).

At some point if a special tile is turned over that marks the end of the round - at that point every player has to find a certain tile and when all but one have found it (there is one less than the number of players) the round ends. The player who didn't find the tile gets a penalty.

Three rounds are played and whoever has collected the tiles yielding the most points wins.

This is a very quick and light game. There's practically no strategy, it’s just supposed to be goofy fun and it fills that niche pretty well. If you are looking for a quick filler that is fun and fast, Beetlez might just fit the bill.

In addition to getting the buzz, another way of figuring out what's good at the fair is by checking out the poll results at the Fairplay booth. During the fair, people fill out forms rating the games they've played and submit them to the Fairplay folks. The results are collated and the current results are put on a tote board (see the picture below). The results are constantly changing and not tremendously accurate (for various reasons), but it can be a indicator of good games that you might otherwise miss.

Big Kini - After finishing up Beetlez, my gaming partner Greg Schloesser needed to head off to keep an appointment to play Big Kini, a new game from Edition PlayMe. He invited me along as he thought there may be another seat a the table. We passed by the Fairplay booth on the way and checked it out - by coincidence Big Kini was at the top of the list. Perfect timing!

We were joined at the busy booth and sat down to play the game.

The idea of the game is that there's a series of hex tiles, a la Settlers, that are set up as a board. A few on the outside are turned face up and the rest face down. Players start their guys on these outside tiles.

Each tiles has a set of small islands, each having a different purpose. Some islands can make money, some can birth more guys, some can give you scoring chits, etc. Each of these islands has space for the manager of the island - whoever manages that island can do the island's action. There are some spaces that bridge islands - players on those can do either island's actions. There is also one space in the middle of each tile for the big boss - if you're there you can do any of the island's actions.

Each turn, there are a set of actions that can be done and each player can do two of them. The actions consist of birthing more guys, making money, getting scoring chits, becoming the big boss an island, etc. You can also explore new tiles - this is when they get turned over and the board begins to take shape.

The action mechanism is neat - there are only a few of each one and when one is used, a player's marker is put on it. The first player to do an action gets to do it twice, next player to do the same action can do it once and if one more player wants to do it it costs them. This all means you have to choose your actions carefully. I quite liked this mechanism.

The game goes a certain number of rounds or ends when all the tiles have been explored. At the end the points are totaled up - you get points for tiles that you explored, chits collected, the positions on the board that you are on (the big boss spaces are worth more), money, etc. Whoever has the most wins.

I have to say, when we started the game it did not go well. The rules explanation was less than clear and we were all quite confused. Greg and I looked at each other at one point and I know we were both thinking this was not going well. Fortunately, with some help from the designer, it all became clear and by the middle of the game we all had it and were enjoying ourselves.

I think our first teacher tried to get through the rules too quickly and a bunch of important things were missed. Sometimes teachers think they have to burn through the rules quickly to get people into the game as quickly as possible - I think that may have been the case here. I’d rather they take the time to get things rights (but that's just me).

In the end I think we all thought the game was quite good - I could tell because we all bought a copy when we were finished. It’s a fun and interesting middle weight game with a fair amount of strategy and interesting choices. I liked it a lot and am looking forward to playing it again.

After Big Kini it was time to do a little wandering around, take a few pictures, and shop. I wandered by the used games area and spied a copy of Manhattan in terrific condition for only 12 Euros. I rarely buy used games at Essen as I have pretty much all the older games that I want, but I don't have Manhattan and couldn't resist the price.

It was then time for the International Gamers Awards presentation so I headed over to the Days of Wonder booth. Greg Schlosser had just started the presentation and he handed out awards to Days of Wonder for Ticket to Ride - Europe and to the designers and publishers of the two player award winner War of the Ring.

In a break from previous presentations, Greg did his speech in English as opposed to German. These days there are more and more games from countries other than Germany and as the audience is made up of people from all over the world, English, the common language among us, is becoming the universal language of choice.

Key Largo - After the presentation a number of us were milling about looking for a game. We were near the Tilsit booth and Bruno Faidutti was in the vicinity, so we grabbed him and a copy of his new game Key Largo to play.

This game was actually designed by Paul Randles, the designer of Pirate's Cover. Paul had a sequel of sorts in the works, which he called Treasure Island, but he sadly died of cancer before it was published. Designers Bruno Faidutti and Mike Selinker took it upon themselves to fine tune the game and get it published. Tilsit called it Key Largo and now it's available.

The game actually does feel like a Pirate's Cove sequel. The board consist of various areas where you can hire divers, get rope and weights for your diving expeditions, take tourists on a cruise for cash, etc. There are also piles of cards that surround the board - each of these is a diving site where you can find treasure (or monsters). The are three different depths of diving sites - shallow, medium and deep. The deeper waters yield better treasure, but they do have more monsters.

In a round, each player gets two actions which they plan in advance. Then each player in turn does their action - buy stuff, dive, etc. If players do the same action it can have consequences - for example, if you all go to the store to buy stuff, the prices will go up. If you all go to sell your treasures at the same time, the price can go down.

They game continues with players hiring their divers, diving for treasure, selling it, and doing other things. At the end the player with the most money wins.

In the same vein as Pirate's Cove, this is a fairly light to middle weight game where luck plays a big part. Those looking for deep strategy won't find it here - this is meant as a fun family game and I think it fills that niche fairly well. If you like Pirate's Cover but are looking for something not as rules-heavy, I think this game may be what you're looking for.

Note for buyers: There is French on some of the cards, but you can play without these cards (thought they do apparently make the game better). I understand an English version of the game is in the works.

Just as we finished our game it was 7:00pm and time for the fair to close. There actually was a get together planned for tonight but I just had so much work to do (as evidenced by the length of this report) I decided to bow out to work and hit the sack early.

Tomorrow, stay tuned for even more games!

Essen 2005 Report: Saturday, October 15, 2005 (Day 3) By Rick Thornquist

Today is Saturday, probably the busiest day of the fair. I got in a bunch of new games today including two new ones from Queen, the new version of Manitou, new games from Adlung and Cwali, and more.

Before we get started, I wanted to mention one more thing about Euphrat & Tigris - Das Kartenspiel. There is one more major thing that differentiates the card game from its board game progenitor - that's the playing time. The card game plays in only 30 to maybe 45 minutes. That's means if you need a Tigris fix but have a limited amount of time, you might want to check out the card game.

After getting up and doing yesterday's report, I headed to the Messe. A group of us had talked yesterday about making a plan for this morning. We knew this was going to be a busy day and table space was going to be hard to come by, so we planned to meet at the Queen booth early and grab a table. We did, and went onto play two of the new Queen Games Aqua Romana and Raub Ritter.

Aqua Romana - Aqua Romana marks Queen's return to their big box line, which includes Dschunke and many others. This one is about building canals in Rome.

The gameplay bears more than a passing resemblance to another Queen game - Metro. Each player starts with a few pawns at the edge of an empty gridded board. In turn, players play Metro-like path tiles with straights, crossovers and a couple of types of curves. You play a tile in front of one of your pawns and then, unlike Metro, move your pawn along the path right away.

You are restricted in which tile you can choose. A set of spaces circle the board and on them are markers, each one representing one type of tile. For each of your pawns, you look horizontally and vertically to the edges of the board - if there's a marker there, you can only use the represented tile to move that pawn. Whichever marker's tile you use, you then move that marker one space clockwise.

The idea is to make your paths as long as possible. When a path ends, or before if you want to, you score your pawn - you get points equal to the number of tiles in the path (or less, the scoring mechanic ensures that usually only one player can get a certain score).

In a nutshell, I thought of it as an advanced version of Metro.

I actually liked the game. It plays fairly well and while one could overanalyze your moves, the choices are limited enough to keep things moving while having enough choices for the game to be interesting. The production is quite nice with nice tiles and wooden markers. My only real concern is the box size - if I buy this baby it's going to take up a fair amount of space in my luggage!

Raub Ritter - Our next Queen game was Raub Ritter, designed by Rüdiger Dorn. This is the newest in Queen's small box series that debuted earlier this year.

This is a light to medium weight tile laying game. Each player has their own big stack of face down tiles. The tiles each are one of three different landscape types - plains, forest and mountains. The tiles are also one of three different building types - castles, villages and towns. Each player takes three tiles from his stack into his hand.

On a player's turn, he can play one to three tiles, replenishing as he plays. The tiles are played onto the table adjacent to each other and pretty soon a countryside starts to form.

If a player plays a castle tile, he's allowed to play up to five knights (round markers) on the tile. These knights may be walked to neighboring tiles in a straight line, with one or more knights being left behind (depending on the landscape type). This bit is similar to another Dorn game - Traders of Genoa. If you put a knight on a space where there is already one or more knights, yours goes on top.

The idea is that if you have the top knight on a space at the end of the game, you get to score the space - 1 for castles, 2 for villages and 3 for towns.

I'm not sure about this one. I could see a bit of strategy, but placing knights from the beginning to the middle of the game is mostly useless as they are going to get covered up anyway. That meant that the best strategy seemed to keep your knights back as much as possible and then jump them all in towards the end.

The game is also conducive to downtime as people take time to analyze their moves. In our game there was lots of downtime as people considered their moves.

I don't want to criticize the game too much - I may have missed something - but it really didn't wow me. I'd like to try it again sometime to see if it gets any better.

Between games I wandered past the Hans im Gluck booth and saw something that really made me laugh. The company was giving away packages of, believe it or not, gummi meeples! The package had the Carcassonne logo on it and in each package was a bunch meeple-shaped gummi candies. I just had to pick up a couple of them. Hmmm… I wonder how much one of these would fetch on eBay?

Big Manitou - After a break, it was time for another game. This time it was Big Manitou from What's Your Game?, the new version of Manitou, originally published by Goldsieber. I always like Manitou and was looking forward to see what What's Your Game? had done with it.

First things first - the rules do have some ridiculous typos in them, but in the end they do make sense. Someone really should have given the rules a once over before printing them. Making up for the rules is the production of the game. The production is very nice with very sturdy tiles and quite nice art.

I won't go into the gameplay, as it's very similar to Manitou. In this version you are trying to win tiles instead of cards and some additional tile types have been added to the mix that give you special abilities if you win them.

As mentioned, I always liked Manitou and I actually may even like this version of the game even better. The production is nice and the additional tiles make for even more strategic decisions on the game. I picked up a copy and am sure I'll be playing it a lot!

Daimyo - My next game was Daimyo from Tenki Games. This one is a fairly abstract simple wargame. Each player takes control of an army, represented by wooden disks, that wage war on a map made up of small hexagons. Each player has a leader, their Daimyo, which has special powers. The idea is to eliminate the other players' Daimyos - whoever is left standing is the winner. Editor's Note: This is not correct - as soon as one player defeats another player's Daimyo he wins the game (you also win by occupying your opponents home spaces with a certain amount of armies). Thanks to Johan Berglind for pointing this out and apologies for the error.

The game plays by way of cards. Each player gets two actions a turn which can be selected from his hand cards. The actions are things like creating new armies, moving your armies or your Daimyo and adding or moving board hexes. In an interesting twist, the two cards that you use in a turn are given to your opponents so they may use them in later turns.

Combat is a simple affair - whoever has the most pieces between the two warring armies wins. The defender loses all his pieces and the attacker loses the same number that the defender lost.

This kind of game has been seen a fair amount before, but I do like the way this one works. The way the game is driven by the cards is pretty neat. It is an elimination game, however, that is one strike against it. Editor's Note: As noted above, this is not correct - it isn't an elimination game. I only played one two player game (it plays to four) and it was just okay - I'd really have to play this a few times to see how it goes. We also played the basic rules - the advance rules add more cards and chrome. On first blush, though, it looks pretty good.

Rotundo - One of the nice surprises at last year's Essen was the Adlung card game Im Auftrag des Königs. I picked it up just as a lark and found inside a pretty good little game for my six euros. This year I decided to take a flyer on another Adlung game, Rotundo, and again I found quite a good little game in that small card box.

Rotundo is actually a fairly simple game, but, strangely enough, it's a bit hard to describe. It's a set collecting game where you are trying to collect sets of balls. Yes, I said balls. Not those kind of balls, but balls made up of various things - burlap, platinum, etc. I've seen a lot of game themes in my life, but never one about balls!

The game is actually simple, but I think the rules may be missing a sentence or two because they are a little hazy (though I may have missed something). This caused a bit of bafflement for a minute or two, but we eventually figured out how it was supposed to go.

Each player has a hand of cards and on their turn may turn over a card (if one hasn't been turned over already). The card then may be taken and a set melded onto the table, it may be auctioned and taken into a player's hand (bidding with your already melded cards), or you can pass. The next player then goes. If all players pass, the card goes into the discard pile.

The first few turns were a bit strange as we were figuring out what was what but we soon got into the swing of things and started really enjoying it. At the end of the game I actually wanted to play it again - that's the mark of a good game. It's an interesting little card game with some neat little strategies. I'm glad I picked this one up.

Aloha - After another break it was back into the fray with the newest game from Corné van Moorsel and Cwali - Aloha.

I'll just give a quick impression on this as I only played about half a game and I just played with two players (it plays up to five).

The game involves playing hex tiles that represent the coast of a tropical island (there actually seems to be a lot of tropical island games this year). On your turn, you place your guy on a hex and then turn over a new tile and place it. If you can place it, you can put a little beach chair marker of your color on it. You can then continue to turn over tiles and place beach chairs but beware - if you can't place a tile, you lose all the beach chairs you placed this turn! This part of the game is sort of Can't Stopish.

At the end of the game you score the beaches with the longer beaches worth more points than the shorter ones. Whoever has the most beach chairs on a beach gets the points for that beach. Whoever gets the most total points wins.

This is definitely a game that I'll have to play a time or two to get the hang of it. It seems simple, but there also seems to be more there than meets the eye. I'm looking forward to getting in a full game.

After Aloha, it was time to wander the halls and get my shopping list ready for tomorrow. I got a chance to chat with quite a few people and get the buzz on what games to buy that I haven't played yet. I'm going to be putting together my list later tonight or tomorrow morning. At the same time I'll have to compare my list with how much luggage space I actually have left!

The fair then closed for the day. I headed back to my room to do a little bit of work and then, after a quick bite, headed to the Jung hotel to play a game or two.

Skyline of the World - I was looking to play Skyline of the World for the last few days now, but every time I went past the publisher's booth the tables were always full. Just as I was about to leave the fair today I swung by the Rio Grande booth and saw that Jay Tummelson had a copy of the game - I begged him to lend it to me so I could play it tonight. Sure enough, I did.

Skyline of the World bears a bit of resemblance to Manhattan. You have a board that is divided into squares and each player has a set of plastic building pieces they use to build skyscrapers. You start with a couple of building pieces and on your turn can build them, with certain restrictions, on the board. One big restriction is that you can't build on top of one of your own pieces - you have to build on someone else's. When you do that, you pay the other player your building costs. After you've finished building you can buy more building pieces to use on your next turn.

The idea is that you are trying to build the penthouse, the top floor, on as many buildings as you can. The game ends when one player builds three penthouses. Each penthouse is worth a point (or maybe two if it's built on a special space) and you can also get bonus points. Whoever has the most points wins (and it may not actually be the player who built their third penthouse).

The game a fairly straightforward, medium weight, and interesting to play. In our game, one player looked like they were running away with the game but in the end only actually won by one point. There's some interesting strategy here and I liked the game. I hope to pick it up tomorrow.

With that, I headed back to the hotel for some much needed sleep. Tomorrow I'll get a few games in, Siena will be one of them, but much of the day I'll be shopping. I'm not sure when I'll be posting tomorrow's report - it'll depend on how busy I am on Sunday night - I may not be able to post it until I get back home.

Stay tuned!

Essen 2005 Report: Sunday, October 16, 2005 (Day 4) By Rick Thornquist

Today is Sunday, the last day of the fair. Today will be a quieter day, at least as far as my game playing is concerned (I still expect the fair to be crowded). Today I'll just play a couple of games, do some shopping, and say my goodbyes.

I arrived at the fair a hour before it opened which was a good plan - it enabled me to do my shopping without having to battle the crowds. I ran from booth to booth, picking up a number of games that I haven't had a chance to play yet. These games had gotten some good buzz, so I sprang for them. Among them were Das Ende des Triumvirates, Il Principe, Kaivai and a few others.

I my travels yesterday, I had come across designer Mario Papini at the ZuGames booth where he was showing his game Siena. We made a plan to get together and play the game this morning when the fair opened. I finished up my shopping and headed to the ZuGames booth to play the game.

Siena - All right, there's a lot I want to say about this game so fasten your seat belts!

First of all, what the game is about. The theme of Siena is based on a fresco painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti which shows the town of Siena and it's outlying areas. The fresco shows various buildings in the town, the town wall, and the fields outside the town. The fresco takes up most of the board and much of the action takes place there.

The players start as peasants, planting and selling crops, before becoming merchants, trading in cloth and spices. The final step is to become a banker where you visit the buildings of the town.

Each round is made up of two main phases. In the first phase, a set of cards are placed face-up on the table and players take turns drafting them (some cards are also auctioned). Then each player in turn may play his cards. The cards do many different things, and their function may depend on whether you are currently a peasant, merchant or banker.

There are a number of different ways to get victory points - by acquiring certain cards, by building sections of a tower in the city, and some other things. The game ends after a set number of turns or when another game ending condition is met. The victory points are totaled up and the player with the most wins.

That's a very superficial explanation - the game is actually fairly involved. Many of the cards have special powers and multiple uses. Also, the play is quite different when you are the banker as opposed to being a peasant or merchant. There is are a lot of different things at work here - this is very much a gamer game

Though the game was explained to me, I do have to say something about the English rules (which I had a copy of before the fair). I found them a really, really tough to read. This game is quite involved and the rules make the learning process much more difficult than it should be by being too terse and unclear. You can learn the game from the rules, but it'll be a tough row to hoe.

The theme of the game fits very well and the idea of basing it on the fresco is very innovative. The cards show sections of the people in the fresco and the card actions are appropriate to the people depicted. There is a lot of theme in this game.

Where the idea of using the fresco is great, my verdict on the execution of the idea is mixed. The fresco on the board shows certain locations, some of which are used to hold various pieces throughout the game. However, there isn't any delineation of the locations nor are there any graphics or text saying which area does what. I understand that the designer didn't want to mess up the fresco with other graphics or text, but the lack of delineation or any graphics or text makes the game much tougher to learn - you have to memorize, for example, what all of the buildings do. That makes for more of a learning curve then there should be.

Also problematic are the cards. Many cards have special functions and all of these cards have no explanation on them whatsoever as to what they do - all they have is a picture from the fresco and a name. This again forces you to memorize their functions, making the game even more difficult to learn (just imagine playing Puerto Rico for the first time with no text on all the buildings, just pictures).

Making things worse is the fact that there is no player aid included in the game that explains the buildings or the cards. Z-Man games has made available on the Internet a player aid that does explain the cards - this is absolutely a necessity unless you want to keep passing around the rulebook the whole game.

The game itself is a bit on the fiddly side. Each special card has some special power, with some having more than one. There are a fair number of little rules here and there. All these rules are meant to carry the theme, which they do well, but the lack of graphic design and player aids mean that learning them is a bit of an uphill battle.

With all that being said, how is the game itself? Actually, I think it's quite good. The integration of the fresco into the theme and gameplay is very neat and there looks to be a lot of interesting strategy. I can't say for sure, as my first game was more of a learning game than anything else, but I saw enough there to entice me to play it again. We may have a hidden gem here, but be aware that it may take you some time and effort to uncover it.

Kings Progress - After Siena, it was time for more shopping and a quick trip back to the hotel to drop off my booty. When I came back I headed to the JKLM Games booth to play one of their new games - Kings Progress. I played one round of what is normally a three round game.

Kings Progress is a medium weight game that has shades of Union Pacific. To start, a number of different colored courtier pawns are place in their home castles on the board (the courtiers don't belong to any particular player). The castles are connected by roads and one of the castles is designated as the king's castle. The idea is that you try to gain influence over the courtiers and move them to the king's castle.

To gain control over the courtiers you have to pick up and play influence cards (the influence cards are the same colors as the courtiers). You can pick them up from an open display or three cards. The cards aren't active, though, until you play them in front of you - as many as you want of one type or two different ones (this is where the Union Pacific part comes in).

If you have the most influence cards of a courtier, you get a marker which gives you a special power. The player who has the second most also gets a marker, but no power. Once a courtier reaches a castle, some gift cards are given out - two to the player with the most influence and one to the player that is second.

Once a certain number of courtiers have made it to the castle, the round ends and points are scored.

The game struck me as not being extraordinarily innovative - we've seen mechanics like this before - but the gameplay came together nicely. I'll need a full game to form a solid opinion, but as of now I think it's a pretty good game.

Ca$h Trap - I did make a stop to see one more game - Ca$h Trap. This is a new game from a British game company - New Century Games. The designer Debbie Keigan took some time to explain to me how the game works.

This is very much a family game. The board shows a grid and each player has a set of money bag pawns that start on one side of the board. The objective is to get your money bags to the opposite side of the board and the first player to do that wins.

The game is played by means of cards. The cards allows you different actions, moving in different ways, putting in 'Cash Traps' which are blockers, and some other moves. Because all players are sharing the same board, you have to maneuvering around you opponents (and any blockers) to get to the opposite side to win.

This is strictly family game fare, but from the explanation, it sounded fun.

Over the past few days I had heard that there was a life-sized Foosball game that was being played in the kid's area. Now I normally stay as far away from children as possible, but everybody said it was hilarious and I had to check it out. I did finally see it and it was quite funny (see the picture below). I also took in the rest of the huge kids area which had lots of big things for the kiddies to do.

My last major stop was the Heidelberger booth. Anyone who's been to Essen knows about Heidelberger - they are a retailer that has a very small booth that is pile high with games with fabulous prices. The booth is always jammed and going through it is like going on a ride.

Seeing all the deals can be either exhilarating or heartbreaking depending on whether you have the games or not. San Marco for 7.50 Euros - arg, I already have it! I saw so many games I could have bought for a quarter of what I paid here. D'oh!

I did pick up a few deals - a couple of copies of the Kosmos two player game Avalon for 5 Euro each (a hard to find game in these parts and good prize table material) plus two copies of Schotten Totten for 5 Euro each. I also picked up a copy of The Nacho Incident, the new game from Eight Foot Llama.

With all my shopping done and the show closing, it was time to say goodbye. Just after the show closed I took a walk past the Fairplay booth to get a final picture of their tote board.

I headed back to the hotel and spent the evening relaxing and getting packed for the early flight the next morning.

And that's it! Later today or tomorrow I'll post a wrap-up of the festivities. Stay tuned!

Essen 2005 Report: Wrap-Up By Rick Thornquist

I'm back home, after an uneventful and relatively quick trip back.

One funny travel story before I get to the wrap-up. I was going through security at the Dusseldorf airport and was stopped after they x-rayed one of my carry-on bags. The guy opened my bag and went through it pretty thoroughly, finding mostly games and a few miscellaneous things. He seemed perplexed. He took the bag and ran it through the x-ray machine again. He then asked me, "Are you carrying any diamonds?". I was stunned for a moment and was like, "Diamonds? What are you talking about?". He showed me the x-ray and there was what looked like a bunch of little tiny stones. I thought for a moment and then laughed - they were the Ys gems that I had bought from the fair and stuck in the outside pocket of my bag. I took them out and when he saw them he laughed as well. It seems I don't look much like an international jewel thief.

Anyway, onto the fair. It was, as usual, great. Lots of great games, lots of great people, and lots of fun. I was very pleased with how the fair went for me - I was able to get everything I wanted out of it and am quite pleased with the reports that I posted. My experience in previous years went a long way to helping me get the most out of the fair. One day I'll have to write up some tricks and tips for people heading to the fair - I've got quite a few of them.

Before we continue with the wrap-up, I do have one correction to a report. I noted in my description of Daimyo that the idea was to eliminate the other players' Daimyos - whoever is left standing is the winner. This is not correct - as soon as one player defeats another player's Daimyo he wins the game (you also win by occupying your opponents home spaces with a certain amount of armies). Thanks to Johan Berglind for pointing this out and apologies for the error. I have added a note to the report noting the error.

Now on with the wrap-up. A few notable things about this Essen:

The crowds felt a little smaller than they were last year. Last year on Saturday, the crush of people was unbelievable - this year you could actually move around. I don't know if this was because there was less people or because they opened more hall space and spread the people out.

The weather was fantastic. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter so much when you are inside a convention hall all day. It was nice to see the sun and be warm when you went outside, though.

The number of Sudoku games was just ridiculous - over 10. Talk about bandwagon jumping. There were lots of soccer games as well. The other trend was games about tropical islands, there were at least three of them - Kaivai, Big Kini, and Aloha.

There were a number of incidents of misprints. Freya's Folly had one card where the graphic was switched with another and I understand HAVOC: The Hundred Years War had a problem with one of the cards. The promised 6 Nimmt! expansion didn’t materialize because it was misprinted. If you got any of these, you now have a collector's item!.

The Phalanx game Mesopotamia arrived at the fair with a box insert that didn't fit the components - they ended up selling the game at a reduced price (the rest of the print run should have the proper insert).

A number of games didn't even make it to the fair. Pro Ludo's Tempus and Ostia were both no-shows (except for playable prototypes) and the English versions of Euphrat & Tigris - Das Kartenspiel and Hazienda supposedly missed the show by a week. A display copy of Gloria Mundi was there, but I don't think it was played.

It seemed to be much easier this year to find English rules for the games. Of all the games I brought home, almost every one of them had English rules in the box or available for downloading. Last year I had a number of game without English rules. Most of the games were there were only German versions were from bigger companies and were coming out in English anyway, so I can wait for these. I have only two games without translations - Fettnapf (where I was able to cobble together a computer translation from the German rules) and ZwergeZocken (if anyone has an translation for this, I'd appreciate a copy!).

Part of the reason for more English rules may be the increasing international nature of the fair. We are seeing more and more publishers there from all over the world. As it's impractical to have rule sets in innumerable languages, it makes sense for publishers to include the rules in English, which is the first or second language for most of the attendees.

There was quite a bit contingent of Americans this year. More and more people from the U.S. seem to be going every year and there was quite a big group of newbies this year.

Fragor Games did spectacular business with their newest game Shear Panic actually selling out of the game before the fair even opened. Later in the show, copies of the game were spotted at dealers selling for much, much more than the original price.

And now onto the games…

In previous years my wrap-up was a long list of games with short comments about them. This year I thought I'd just list my top picks along with my least favorite games. Note that in this evaluation I'm including the thirty different games I played at the fair plus seven other Essen games that I played before the fair.

Here are my hits:

The obvious choice for best game was Caylus - a game I've been talking up for a while now. I'm pleased that almost everyone who'd played it at the fair was as excited about it as I am. It also topped the Fairplay poll. Though there were other games I liked a lot, no other game came close to this one.

A number of games fit into the very good category. Mesopotamia from Phalanx was a very nice pick up and deliver game, with very nice components. I found Elasund to be a very interesting city building game. Siena has a great deal of potential, if you can get over the learning curve hurdles. I'll need another game or two to make sure, but this one could very well settle into the very good category.

I had played the Martin Wallace games Byzantium and Tempus before the show and was impressed with both. Byzantium has a lot of rules but has some neat gameplay while Tempus is more medium weight but still engrossing.

Big Kini was a very nice surprise from a first time publisher. A bad rules explanation gave a bad first impression, but as the game went on it got more and more interesting. By the end of the game I was ready to buy it.

My 'Geschenkt' award for the best lighter game of the fair was Rotundo from Adlung. A very nice little game and at 6 Euro, a steal.

And my misses:

In one evening I played both Trading Routes from Van der Veer Games and Giza from Fun Factory Games. Both were basically luckfests with Giza throwing in a 'take that!' mechanic. The games do work, but there are much better games out there that actually give you something to think about.

My other miss was Dragonriders. There was really not much strategy in the game and the components were just too fiddly. I thought it was just okay, but the Fairplay voters obviously thought even less of it than I did - they sent it to the bottom of the poll, only to be saved from last place by Banana Republika, a game I didn't play.

Some that may be hits:

I did buy a number of games that I hadn't gotten a chance to play at the fair. These ones got some good buzz, to they may just become hits for me. These include Indonesia, Antike, Il Principe, Kaivai and The End of the Triumvirate. I hope to play these soon.

And that's it for my coverage of Essen 2005. I hope you enjoyed it - I know I enjoyed putting it together. See you next year!

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