Essen 2012 Games Played
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The games of Essen 2012 as I play them...

Apologies for the truncated nature of the updates, trying to update here and there between playing, shopping, lugging around huge bags of games (AEG!) and consuming processed meat and beer.
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1. Board Game: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar [Average Rating:7.92 Overall Rank:39]
Board Game: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar
Very enjoyable. More to follow.

Our game took around two and a half hours and we needed a break for dinner afterwards to massage our brains. You start with three 'workers' to place on any of five wheels which provide actions when you remove the workers. In a similar vein to The Manhattan Project you can either place or remove workers on your turn but not both. This creates the same ebb and flow feeling to you turns. Much more than in TMP however it is where your opponents have placed their workers which affects the timing of your choices.

Corn is the basic currency of the game, it is required when you want to place your workers on the more advance actions and four times during the game will need two feed each of your workers two corn or face a victory points penalty. When you are placing your workers on one of the action wheels you must place them in the cheapest position available. This creates an interesting position depending upon how corn rich you are. If you have plenty of corn then you may want to be in a situation to place after your opponents so that you are in the more expensive positions further around the board without having to wait for the wheels to turn to put you there. If you are low on corn then you want to time your placement for when the wheels are empty so that the cheaper positions are empty which gives you some choice in strategy. Taking the start player is an action but sometimes it is beneficial to hang back and play later in the turn depending upon whether you anticipate your opponents taking back workers or placing more.

The five action wheels all provide increasingly more powerful actions in the more expensive spaces but getting to those spaces is only possible via having the patience to leave a worker alone as they move around the wheel or paying through the nose to place in those high value spaces, only then if all the lower value spaces are full. The large wheel on the board is spun at least one turn space around after each turn, possibly two space if the start player action has been chosen. This interacts with the smaller wheels by moving them one space around which takes each worker left on these wheels into a more valuable action. These actions are then available to be triggered the next round if a player removes a worker from the corresponding space on the wheel.

The five wheels follow rough themes. The green wheel provides corn and some wood, the brown wheel provides wood, gold, stone or a little corn, the dark brown wheel allows technological advancements and the ability to build things, the yellow wheel allows a player to upgrade and the larger blue wheel allows a player to trade in valuable crystal skulls for points and religious advancement. So from that brief description you will note that you can build buildings and make technological advancements, both of which make actions more efficient or reduce costs while scoring victory points. You use resources collected to do either. There are also three religious tracks which can be advanced along. These tracks will be scored four times during the game, twice to provide resources and twice to score points. They proved crucial in our game with the majority of points scored by the winner coming from securing top spot all game in two of the three tracks.

When playing the first portion was a scramble to feed workers, gain more workers and scrape the odd advancement. Once you have developed enough o make your actions more efficient then more options become available but the choices still feel just as tough. Trying to keep patient and not removing your worker before they finally get to the big actions is agonising. Although a turn in which you place or remove only one worker feels like a waste of time it can be the best move. This is a game which rewards long term thinking but you need to be flexible because much more so than in other worker placement games, your actions are affected by the choices of the other players.

Very much enjoyed my first play, lives up to the hype.
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2. Board Game: Air King [Average Rating:5.63 Overall Rank:14601]
Board Game: Air King
One of four card games here from the same publisher, this is a two to four player, half an hour or so game themed on trying to move planes from one end of the board (airport) to the other.

The two airports are set up at either end of the playing area with five imagined spaces for cards between them. The ten available airplane cards are placed behind either airport, 1-5 at one end and 6-10 facing them. Each player is dealt a goal card which details four of the airplanes which they need to have landed at the opposite airport to the starting position in order to win. These goals are kept secret. Player's goal airplanes may overlap to some degree but all the goal cards are different.

On a turn players may make two standard moves with an airplanes, forwards or sideways only apart from exceptional circumstances. Players also draw a card from the action card deck and it is there that the fun kicks in. It is much more likely that you will use your actions to screw the others over, including a once per game ability to send a plane back to the starting airport which should induce some colourful language if you have worked out which plane is on the goal card of your opponent. Sticking a plane in a dead end with the use of a storm or two is always good for a laugh.

A half hour game with interaction and some thought required. Not world changing but certainly competent.
 
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3. Board Game: Myrmes [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:486]
Board Game: Myrmes
Themed around running a successful ant colony over three years this is a worker placement game in which there are only nine turns and it feels like there should be twice that number just to get started. Despite the pretty garden artwork and cute plastic ants this is a tight, deep game full of tough compromises and soaked in that 'just one more...' feeling.

The game is split into three years with three productive seasons in each year and a short winter phase at the end of each year in which your ant colony must be fed. For each season a die is rolled at the beginning of the year, the results indicate what event happens each year. In effect this event is a bonus on a particular action for that season. Players are then able to change the available bonus by spending resources , larvae, to adjust the value up or down one per larvae for their own colony only.

There are two types of worker available, nurses and workers, and in the next phase you allocate your nurses to either produce more larvae, soldiers or workers or to take actions later in the turn. Any births you have triggered by allocating nurses now occur. Larvae and soldiers act as resources and workers act as, well as workers.

Now you may assign workers which is the first stage at which turn order kicks in, the first two phases are simultaneous. Workers can be used within the hive to collect resources (food, larvae, stone or earth) or outside the colony to spread pheromones to claim territory/resources or to eliminate prey/other players pheremones using soldiers or earth. Workers used inside the colony return to you at the end of the round, workers outside the colony die.

In the next phase you harvest resources from the areas outside the colonies, in the garden, which have been claimed with pheremones. After this, in turn order players use any nurses not used to birth new ants in phase 2 to take actions from a selection of four Atelier actions. It is possible to build new entrances for your colony, birth a new nurse, upgrade your colony or complete objectives.

At the start of the game six objectives are drawn from a selection. Two objectives for each of three levels of achievement. These goals require a player to hand in or sacrifice things they have achieved in order to score points immediately. Any player who has completed a goal also scores points if another player completes the same goal in a subsequent turn. A player must complete at least one level one goal before they can complete a level two goal and so on. Each goal can only be completed once by each player.

Then players clear up and return workers to their respective holding areas. If it is the end of autumn then there is a short winter phase in which players must hand in food or face a victory point penalty.

So you score points by claiming territory with pheremones, removing other player's pheremones, hunting prey or completing objectives. There are only nine rounds in which a player may take actions and every choice is a compromise. Making use of the event bonus can feel very powerful in such a tight game but then using larvae to manipulate it when they could be put to use making more nurses feels like a tough choice. Soldiers protect your colony from the ravages of winter but without sacrificing them you can not kill prey to collect points and clear garden areas for securing with pheremones. All your pieces have multiple uses and it is certainly a much tighter game than appearances may suggest. Although you must upgrade and use your own colony wisely there is plenty of interaction with the other players in the garden when making contact can garner points for pheremones clearing but leave you open to have the pathways of pheremones you have built be destroyed in return. Keeping an eye on who is chasing what bonus could be crucial. Another hit for me and a very enjoyable medium weight Euro.
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4. Board Game: Food Chain [Average Rating:5.49 Overall Rank:16296]
Board Game: Food Chain
Another Brain Game card game for two to four players, themed around a food chain in a forest. Each card represents a type of plant or animal. The majority of them feature a silhouette of the animal or plant, a victory point value and a representation of the cards which are above and below them in their branch of the food chain. Each player is dealt four cards three or four cards are place in the centre of the table depending upon the number of players. Each player also receives four tokens in their colour to note which cards they have played to the table.

In turn each player can take one action from a selection of six. The aim of the game is to place a predator in a chain above the prey which they can eat and on a subsequent turn collect the prey and add it to their score pile while the predator is discarded. Other player's can mess with this plan however as the same prey can be hunted by another predator or the predator can be turned into prey by playing a predator higher up the food chain on to them. Two players can play the same predator on a prey card which causes a deadlock and locks up one of the valuable four tokens available to each player. Players therefore also have the choice of action to back off a prey and leave it open to a competitor. It is also possible to pass and discard one card to draw another card. To be honest I get a little confused at this point. The person at the booth told us that it was possible to swap any card from your hand with a prey card which did not have any predators on it. The rules suggest that you could only do this if the card in your hand is of a higher rank in the food chain than the one you are taking. This seems a bit counterintuitive as it makes it harder to create chains but perhaps that is the point. I will have to clarify that rule. There are two other types of special cards, one hunter and three swarms of bees. The hunter is the apex hunter and can eat anything but can not be eaten. The swarms of bees can remove any cards from the play area. You play until the draw pile is empty and players have played all their cards, possibly by discarding them. If you eat a card with another player's token you take it although if at any time two players hold each other's token they must swap. At the end of the game you total the points values of all the cards you have eaten and add one point for each token in your possession.

Either way, this played ok but just ok. I am not sure how many decisions there are to make but I am willing to give it more of a chance.
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5. Board Game: Suburbia [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:123]
Board Game: Suburbia
A tile laying, city developing game with a heavy dash of Sim City in it. Players start with three basic city tiles laid out in a column. There are two tracks on which players keep track of their income in points and money. There is also a scoreboard which keeps a running total for points. The most interesting feature of the scoreboard are the red lines which occur at intervals along the track, the intervals become more tightly spaced further along the score track. There is also a board for the tiles which are on offer for players to add to their city.

There are goal tiles laid out on the board according to the number of players which detail bonus points on offer for completing certain goals and I thought the titles of them were pretty funny, eg. Least Commercial tiles in your borough = Socialist. Each player also gets two bonus tiles, they kkep one and discard one before the game begins. These differ from the communal goals in that only the player with that tile can score it.

Each played has a choice of four actions on their turn, purchase a building tile, purchase a basic tile, make a lake or develop a tile in their city. Tiles have a cost, a type and two possible effects on a players income; one inherent to the tile itself and one affected by other tiles. The tiles are stacked up according to the phase in which they enter the game A,B or C. Then seven (maybe eight) tiles are laid out in a row across the bottom of the board. Adjacent to these tiles are additional costs which decrease from left to right. Once a tile is purchased by a player all the tiles move from left to right to fill the gap and a new tile is placed in the lefthand space, so tiles become cheaper the longer they have been available but the price on the tile itself must still be paid. If a player does not want to, or is not able to, buy a tile from the row on offer then they have three other options; they can take a tile and pay nothing for it and play it face down as a lake, they can purchase a basic tile type or they can invest in a tile already in their city by paying the tile price again and doubling all benefits and drawbacks of that particular tile. In either of the latter cases a tile must still be taken from the row and discarded, paying any associated fee if you have taken it from a place in the row with a cost attached to it. Lakes provide one off money payments and basic tiles provide limited income but are usually best used to boost the benefits of other/adjacent tiles.

Whichever action the player has chosen they must adjust their reputation and income levels according to what effects the tile placed has had. Then money is collected or paid according to income and population is raised or lowered according to reputation. It is here that the red lines mentioned above come into effect. These red lines represent 'tax' levels in the game, every time a players population crosses a red line in an upwards direction they lose one point of income and one point of reputation. If I tell you that the red lines are spaced two points apart at the top of the board and that will give you an idea of how important it is to be aware of this taxation system. It is very much a double edged sword to chase population early in the game, if you do not have the correct infrastructure in place to cope with the costs of a large population then you will soon find yourself going backwards. Having a few tiles which are big producers of income/reputation which you can invest in seems to be very important. I have not worked out yet how to leave areas open to place tiles in later on to maximise their benefit but it seems plausible.

The major concern I have is that there are two buildings which counteract taxation. The PR Firm gives you a point of reputation every time you cross a red line, cancelling the penalty, and the Casino does the same for the income penalty. They have been very powerful, especially the PR Firm, in the two games I have played so far. When your opponents are scurrying around trying to balance the effect on two forms of income if you can negate one of these issues all you need to do is get a decent income going and then concentrate on half the problems everybody else has. The PR Firm seeming so powerful because with lakes there is always the ability to raise cash if you run short, if you start scoring ten less points each turn than the person with PR Firm because of all the tax then it does not take long for that to become a big gap.

The concerns regarding those two tiles aside, I really enjoy the game. Each player's turn is quick and with shared bonus goals, buildings interacting across the city and some tiles giving bonuses for types of buildings in the city (offices for the office supply store, all airports generating income for each other for example) and the shared row of tiles for sale it is always interesting to watch what the other players are doing. Tiles feel thematic for the most part and there are lots of options to explore. Without knowledge of the taxation it really irked me in my first game. It felt like a very obvious 'catch the leader' mechanism but the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. You can not boom the population of a city without the correct facilities in place and it stops the game from being a straight out points race. People I play with have copies of it but it is tickling me in the right place for a purchase.
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6. Board Game: Seven Dragons [Average Rating:6.27 Overall Rank:2887]
Board Game: Seven Dragons
Another card game going for silly money. 6 Euro. How could I not? Each player is dealt a goal card at the beginning of the game, the goal card has a picture of a dragon in one of five colours on it. The player's victory condition is to have seven connected dragons of that colour on the board at any point. One silver dragon is placed in the centre fo the table. This dragon counts as all colours at the beginning of the game and cards placed on the table must be placed adjacent to the Silver Dragon to begin with and in the same orientation. All cards placed must be in the same orientation to the first card, rotated zero or a hundred and eighty degrees but not at a right angle. I am sure there are more succinct ways to state that. Cards must also be edge to edge, you can not overlap two cards with one placement.

Each player gets dealt five cards, on your turn you play one card and draw one or more cards. Most cards show one or more dragons in the various colours. Some cards are action cards which are not added to the table but have some effect. Dragon cards must have at least one dragon on them adjacent to a dragon of the same colour on the table already when they are placed. The player draws one card for each connection they have made. So if they play a card with two dragons on and they are both adjacent to dragons of thesame colour as themselves the player would draw two cards. This means that hand sizes creep upwards gradually during longer games, although I could not see this ever going over thirty minutes. The action cards let the player mess with either goal cards, hands of cards or the grid of cards on the table. Goal cards can be swapped or rotated in either direction. Cards on the table can be picked up or moved. Hands of cards can be swapped. Each type of action card is also associated with a colour, when an action card is played it placed on a discard pile and the Silver Dragon which we started the game with now takes on the colour of the action card on top of the discard pile.

It sounds more chaotic than it plays. It also probably sounds like it would be easy to spot when a particular colour is getting close to seven and block it.

It is a bit chaotic but never to unmanageable levels, this is no Fluxx. It is also not as easy as you would like to block a chain of colours as you must make at least one connection when you place so plonking an all green card in the middle of all those red cards is not possible. It is fun, quick and a little bit thinky. I like this one a fair bit.
 
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7. Board Game: Swordfish [Average Rating:5.94 Overall Rank:10816]
Board Game: Swordfish
This game clocks in at between an hour and an hour and a half and it is based upon Swordfish fishing in the North Atlantic. Players start with some money with which they need to employ a Captain, hire a boat, load it with bait and fuel if they wish and then head off to sea to try and catch that big one. The fishing is better the further away from the coast one travels but it takes precious time to get there and the best fishing zones are in The Flemish Cap where the weather closes in during later rounds and boats can be capsized.

The game is split into fifteen rounds which are each split in to five phases. Purchasing is when you can hire boats, employ crew and getsupplies, the better boats are expensive but are faster, more fuel efficient and can carry more fish. All crew are the same but you need one for each boat you hope to sail. Fuel can be burned to make your boat travel faster, all boats can still move without fuel but they go more slowly. Bait is used when fishing for swordfish, you can fish for bait to save money but that costs time. Movement is when you move your boats around the map. Thre are ports, anchors and buoys to move between. Ports are where you buy and sell, with varying prices depending upon how close they are to the best fishing grounds. Anchors are way points with associated fishing buoys and buoys are where you can fish. In the weather phase a card is turned over which dictates what change there si to the weather. Bad weather cancels fishing and can cause the loss of a precious boat. The fishing phase is where fortunes are won and lost.

You can fish from any buoy with the buoys being split into four different colours. You can fish for bait if you could not afford or did not want to buy bait in port. It takes time but no resources, you roll a die and collect that much bait for that crew to use. You can also fish for swordfish which uses one bait per attempt. You can fish a maximum three times in each fishing phase; three times for bait or swordfish or once for each. this is reduced to two attempts if the anchor your buoy is associated with is getting too crowded. Each of the four colours of buoys is associated with a bag of the same colour. Before the game each bag is seeded with fish tiles according to how fruitful the fishing is there. The orange bag contains more pups and rats, the smallest swordfish which are worth the least money at market. This bag also has proportionally more Mako Sharks than the others bags, these are worth next to nothing at market and scare away the swordfish which stops any further attempts at fishing for them at that buoy that turn. The bags increase in catch quality to the red bag which is loaded with double and triple markers, the big boys, and fewer sharks. Getting to the red buoys with a decent boat with ample storage looks like the way to go but that is easier said than done. It is also at the red buoys that the weather is treacherous so the trip is risky although any crew that manages to fish there and survive to the end of the game gets a bonus. When a player draws a fish from the bag they choose whether to keep it or throw it back in. This means that the areas which are fished more often soon thin out in quality and players are forced to look further afield.

The last phase of the round is selling. If a boat has made it back to port it must sell all the fish on board with the bigger swordfish getting the better prices. Then it is rinse and repeat with the weather gradually worsening and the easier fishing areas becoming more depleted. At the end of the fifteenth round there is a final move and sell phase and then the player with the most money/points is the winner.

This game is not going to change the world. It has some problems. The graphic design is not great, especially for the boats. It is a bit awkward to keep track of where boats are supposed to be at times, buoys and anchors can become a confusion of cardboard. The Mako Shark draw does feel very punishing however in a game which for us felt tight. Each player is given a marker for is they score two hundred points and we barely broke sixty so perhaps it was just us being awful but losing a turn or two to sharks when you only have fifteen in total can be a pain. Just to get to the best fishing areas in the cheap boats would take half the game so if someone can get back to port a couple of turns before you early on and start turning a profit, getting better boats, cranking up their commercial fishing engine then it is a bit disheartening. There is a lot to like however the dipping in the bag feels thematic and not nearly as frustrating as in Thebes. It feels like you are starting a small fishing concern and you give a damn about your boats, you don't get enough of them not to. There is a feeling of progression during the game as you slowly build up your fleet and trying to beat the weather and land a big catch as autumn closes in and the turns run out is quite exciting. I think that we were a bit Essen-y, tired and rubbish when we played and so did not play very well but we have been dsicussing the game since and most of us are eager to try again with different plans so that shows that there is definitely something there. It is not JASE, it is not perfect but it is fun.
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8. Board Game: Septikon: Uranium Wars [Average Rating:6.49 Overall Rank:8163]
Board Game: Septikon: Uranium Wars
I played a demo of this two player game using the homemade version and with the designer talking us through our strategies and opening rounds. Players start with five 'clones' inside a space station which occupies one side of the board, facing their opponent's staion on the other side of the board. Each space station is represented by a grid of squares which all function as action spaces. Each player takes a turn to roll a dice and then move one of their clones that number of spaces, either around the grid inside the station or outside the station in order to line up attacks. Inside the station the clones act as workers and activate the square they land on, outside the station they act as gunners and channel offensive moves which have been triggered by the clones inside the station. Most actions represent either the use of resources to trigger an effect or the collection of resources. I can not remember them all but you have oxygen which can be used to create more clones, metal which can make defences, energy which can fire lasers and so on. There are a variety of weapons which can be utilised and a variety of defences which can be deployed to counter the weapons. Some weapons just do damage to the square directly opposite the gunner which was triggered, others send a remote bot into the opponent's station where they can wreak havoc for example. Weapons take on different characteristics depending upon which squares are currently being activated by clones inside their home station. The winner is the player who destroys their opponent's station first, I think. I quit because I was taking such a beating.

What could be extremely confusing is made much less so by good, clear graphic design. Each player has a lot of options on each roll and cutting down the AP will be a big issue here. Clones have to set up in certain positions in order to maximise your offence and sometimes, most of the time, the best move is not obvious. Unless of course the designer is sitting next to you and then it is a lot easier. Maybe you should get a free burly Russian chap with each copy. This is coming to Kickstarter later this year and while I am wary of Kickstarter and the horrendous record of undercooked games pouring from the maws of overexcitement I am certainly going to give this a second look.
 
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9. Board Game: Guildhall [Average Rating:6.96 Overall Rank:888] [Average Rating:6.96 Unranked]
Board Game: Guildhall
The 'Secret' AEG release turned out to be a set collecting card game which plays two to four players. The game comes with role cards and goal cards. The goal being to use the roles to claim goal cards and score points until one player scores twenty points and there by winning the game.

Each player starts with a hand of role cards. Role cards each have a role, possible actions and a colour. Role cards are played from the hand, activated and then placed in the player's tableau/Guildhall. Full sets of a role cards in all five colours are set aside and can be used to collect goal cards for points and a possible bonus action.

Players get two actions a turn and the most common action is to play role cards. When role cards are played from the hand the first thing which is resolved is any action associated with the role. The actions allow you to draw more cards, play cards from your hands to the table without triggering their actions, swap cards from your Guildhall with those from another player's Guildhall, draw from the discard pile, force another player to discard from their Guildhall, score points etc... The strength of the action is determined by how many of the same role you have already collected in your Guildhall. Dancers for example allow you to draw as many cards as you have Dancers already in your Guildhall, the card just played never counts towards this total. A Farmer is worth nothing if you have none in your Guildhall but it is an instant point if you have at least one Farmer already and three points if you have three of more Farmers already laid out. Each role has three levels of action. By using your action you try to manipulate the contents of all player's Guildhalls to stop your opponents from finishing sets of five and of course to collect sets for yourself.

The other two actions available are to draw back up to six cards in your hand or to exchange full sets of all five colours of a role for the goal cards on the table. There are always five goal cards available and they offer points and possibly an action. The better the action you receive with a goal card the less points it will be worth, the highest value cards require two full sets (Chapters) to collect.

I quite like Guildhall. It is not the best card game in the world but it is more than competent, it involve plenty of player interaction and it plays in well under an hour. The uninspired quasi-medieval Europa theme is disappointing, I don't think it is supposed to be a Tempest game so why bother plodding down that well worn track? In fact with an exciting rebrand I reckon it would have got more buzz but the crappy box art seems to have kept this under the radar. It deserves to be played because it is a decent little game.
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10. Board Game: Keyflower [Average Rating:7.83 Overall Rank:51]
Board Game: Keyflower
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11. Board Game: Escape: The Curse of the Temple [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:501]
Board Game: Escape: The Curse of the Temple
 
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12. Board Game: Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:328]
Board Game: Spartacus: A Game of Blood & Treachery
 
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13. Board Game: Edo [Average Rating:7.11 Overall Rank:1250]
Board Game: Edo
 
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14. Board Game: Spectaculum [Average Rating:6.42 Overall Rank:3596]
Board Game: Spectaculum
 
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15. Board Game: Ginkgopolis [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:378]
Board Game: Ginkgopolis
 
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16. Board Game: Coup [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:467]
Board Game: Coup
 
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17. Board Game: Smash Up [Average Rating:6.78 Overall Rank:793] [Average Rating:6.78 Unranked]
Board Game: Smash Up
 
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18. Board Game: Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island [Average Rating:7.88 Overall Rank:46]
Board Game: Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island
 
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19. Board Game: Love Letter [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:253]
Board Game: Love Letter
 
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20. Board Game: Kakerlakenpoker Royal [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:1222]
Board Game: Kakerlakenpoker Royal
 
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21. Board Game: Yedo [Average Rating:7.40 Overall Rank:572]
Board Game: Yedo
2 
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22. Board Game: Archipelago [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:346]
 
 
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23. Board Game: Article 27: The UN Security Council Game [Average Rating:6.52 Overall Rank:2855]
Board Game: Article 27: The UN Security Council Game
 
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