Essen 2012 - Just one suitcase!
Stewart Cowan
United Kingdom
Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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2012 was my fifth Essen trip, and the fifth in a row. This year there were three of us from the Phoenix Games Club who traveled to Germany from London - Arthur (as usual), Bijan, and myself.

Despite attempts to get a hotel by the station, we booked late and ended up in the Ambassador again, about ten minutes from the train station. It's an OK hotel, but at 55e a night it's hard to complain too much!

Traveling on the Wednesday, and returning on the Sunday, that gave us three days to explore Spiele and for me to make my annual games purchases. I'd made a decision before the fair this year that I would be tying to buy good games, rather than filling my suitcase with cheap things from the discount retailers. I've always brought back two full cases in the past, mostly of sub 20-euro games that looked like a bargain at the time. There have been a few notable successes (Troyes last year, Steam) but far two many that still sit in the cupboard unplayed and unloved.

My overall impression was that there were a lot of solid games around this year; it felt like a good crop! I kept my purchases down to eight games, plus four expansions and a few promos.

Here are the games I bought, played, and considered.
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1. Board Game: Red Ocean: Africa [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Board Game: Red Ocean: Africa
Stewart Cowan
United Kingdom
Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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I played the prototype for this game on Wednesday evening at an Essen warm-up event at the Unperfekthaus in the town center. I enjoyed it, and the gameplay felt really solid. We did have a runaway leader in the game I played, but this wasn't replicated when Arthur and Bijan tried it.

Looking forward to seeing how the final version turns out!
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2. Board Game: Archipelago [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:347]
 
Stewart Cowan
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Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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This game was near the top of my list of games to check out this year. Beautiful components, takes up to five players, and an intriguing semi-co-op mechanism.

We managed to get on to a demo table for this on the Thursday morning, although we had to wait for nearly 20 minutes at the table for someone to teach the rules (we would have had a go ourselves but the only rulebook we had was German). When the rules explanation did start... it took forever, and the chap kept getting the rules wrong and having to go back and correct himself.

After nearly an hour of rules, we played two turns of the game, but by now everyone at the table was utterly fed up so we called it early and left. A shame - it looks like there's probably a solid game there but I still didn't feel I knew enough to make the purchase.
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3. Board Game: Hanabi [Average Rating:7.11 Overall Rank:349]
Board Game: Hanabi
Stewart Cowan
United Kingdom
Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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The smallest game I bought at Essen, and one I knew very little about other than that it's a co-op card game.

I played it for the first time on the evening after I got back from Essen - it's a fantastic little game which doesn't have some of the inherent problems of co-op games (one player dominating the table, etc). Very pleased with this.
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4. Board Game: The Manhattan Project [Average Rating:7.39 Overall Rank:269]
Board Game: The Manhattan Project
Stewart Cowan
United Kingdom
Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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A few months ago there was news floating around that a new version was in the works from Queen games. It didn't make Essen, but there were copies of the 1st edition around. Despite the fact I'm interested in getting a copy I passed; I'd like to see what the bits look like it the Queen edition first! (if it appears)
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5. Board Game: Galaxy Trucker: Another Big Expansion [Average Rating:8.07 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.07 Unranked]
Board Game: Galaxy Trucker: Another Big Expansion
Stewart Cowan
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Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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I managed to resist the huge anniversary edition box and restrict myself to just the new expansion, picking up the bonus cards in the process. Really looking forward to trying this - I've played the original and the expansion A LOT and hopefully this will freshen it all up again.
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6. Board Game: Power Grid: Northern Europe/United Kingdom & Ireland [Average Rating:7.90 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.90 Unranked]
Board Game: Power Grid: Northern Europe/United Kingdom & Ireland
Stewart Cowan
United Kingdom
Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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I've been waiting for a UK power grid map for some time, but we've had to stand in line behind the bigger board game markets! Picked this up from the BGG store at the same time as Tzolk'in.
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7. Board Game: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar [Average Rating:7.91 Overall Rank:39]
Board Game: Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar
Stewart Cowan
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Milton Keynes
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I probably had the same initial thought process as a lot of people on this one:

"Oh wow! That board has GEARS on it! It looks so cool!"

"...wait a minute. This is going to turn out to be a pointless gimmick, isn't it?"

Still, I was hoping I would like this one and Arthur and I managed to get on to a demo table on the Thursday afternoon. I played atrociously, with a score scraping in to double figures and I came last by nearly 15 points. Really enjoyed the game and bought a copy immediately!

In my opinion, the gears are innovative rather than merely cosmetic, and do make the game feel unique which is quite an achievement for a worker placement game!
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8. Board Game: Village [Average Rating:7.54 Overall Rank:139]
Board Game: Village
Stewart Cowan
United Kingdom
Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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Having scoured the fair for the cheapest copy of this I could find, I bought it for 27 euros. I first played this only a couple of months ago at a games day, and I've been after a copy since.
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9. Board Game: Village: Customer Expansion [Average Rating:7.25 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.25 Unranked]
Board Game: Village: Customer Expansion
Stewart Cowan
United Kingdom
Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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Picked these up from the Pegasus stand after I got the main game.
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10. Board Game: Power Grid: Québec/Baden-Württemberg [Average Rating:7.86 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.86 Unranked]
Board Game: Power Grid: Québec/Baden-Württemberg
Stewart Cowan
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Milton Keynes
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I hadn't realised this was there until I went to the 2f stand to pick up the annual power grid promo card. Only 7e, which was an instant purchase as it keeps my set of map boards complete.
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11. Board Game: Power Grid: Oracle & Industrial Espionage [Average Rating:6.84 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.84 Unranked]
Board Game: Power Grid: Oracle & Industrial Espionage
Stewart Cowan
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Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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And this IS this year's power grid promo, with bonus Oracle card for First Sparks; although that's still not going to persuade me to buy a copy.
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12. Board Game: Copycat [Average Rating:6.76 Overall Rank:1484]
Board Game: Copycat
Stewart Cowan
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Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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In previous years, I've made a habit of getting caught up in hype for games and making blind purchases based on what seems to be getting a lot of attention. One of the culprits behind it is this site's very own Geekbuzz feature.

Note the "buzz" that forms part of the word. In the past, I haven't; instead following the logic that if it's on the list it must be good. This year, I've followed it more in line with the buzz intent as a list of games to look at rather than just buy.

Having said this, I bought Copycat based on the geekbuzz, and the fact the only had about five English copies left. Plus it was only 25e which seemed pretty good for a new game, in contrast to...
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13. Board Game: Lancaster: Henry V – The Power of the King [Average Rating:7.68 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.68 Unranked]
Board Game: Lancaster: Henry V – The Power of the King
Stewart Cowan
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Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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...this.

From what I could see from the back of the box, this consists of about 10 pieces of cardboard and a rulebook. Charging 25e for this seemed a little steep, however good the base game is (and I do enjoy Lancaster a lot!). I'm also a little way of worker placement game expansions since the Age of Empires: Builders expansion, which I didn't rate at all.

I appreciate that companies have a right to price their goods as they see fit; I also have a right to baulk at that price and walk away.
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14. Board Game: Al Rashid [Average Rating:6.64 Overall Rank:4355]
Board Game: Al Rashid
Stewart Cowan
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Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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It's not often that I've decided to buy a game before the end of the rules explanation at the demo table, but this was that game. It's a worker placement game (which I like), and it's full of opportunities to mess with other people's plans by tinkering with the action resolution order (which I also like). It's also very nicely styled to fit the them visually.

There are two issues I did have, both of which are to do with the text on game elements. The lesser of the two is the pseudo-Arabic font which has been used for headings: it's difficult to read but I can appreciate it as a stylistic choice. The bigger issue is the text size on the cards, which is in possibly the smallest printed font I've seen on a game in some time - I'd guess at 4 or 5 point maybe? There's a large set of tiles with special abilities that use this font, and it's hard enough to read when holding the cards let alone from across the table.

On the demo booth they had some home-made player aids with the card manifest on, and I think I'll need to knock up something similar before the game is playable in the moodily-lit pub where my games club meets!
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15. Board Game: Fairy Land [Average Rating:6.57 Overall Rank:6225]
Board Game: Fairy Land
Stewart Cowan
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Milton Keynes
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I got this as a 5e throw-in when I bough Al Rashid. No idea about it, but the cards look pretty!
 
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16. Board Game: Desperados [Average Rating:6.53 Overall Rank:6642]
Board Game: Desperados
Stewart Cowan
United Kingdom
Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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Arthur and I played a short demo of Desperados, an all vs one game which left me with the impression of a very light and inverted version of the movement mechanic from Fury of Dracula with a little Robo-rally thrown in. Here it's the team of Desperados who move secretly, revealing 5 cards at a time to show where they've been, whilst the marshal moves publicly to track them.

I found it a little light, and not a game for me.
 
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17. Board Game: Tweeeet [Average Rating:6.26 Overall Rank:5572]
Board Game: Tweeeet
Stewart Cowan
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Milton Keynes
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I was pulled in to a demo of Tweeeet as I walked by the Cwali stand on my way towards the exit on Friday. It's a cute, quick team racing game where the idea is to move efficiently rather than necessarily quickly. There's also the potential for some nasty blocking moves on the other team. I enjoyed the game, but again, a little lighter than what I was looking for.
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18. Board Game: Myrmes [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:486]
Board Game: Myrmes
Stewart Cowan
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Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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Not one I bought, but one I played on the Friday evening. There are a lot of rules to get through - especially as we were learning Bijan's copy out of the rulebook!

It was fun, but a little to much direct conflict for me.
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19. Board Game: Colonies [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:8460]
Board Game: Colonies
Stewart Cowan
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Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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The three of us had booked on to a demo table for 10am on Saturday, which was quite the logistical challenge, as we had to get to the convention from the town center and make our way to the halls on the far side. We managed to make it, with much use of elbows, by about ten past, for a short 45-minute demo before some media people turned up at the stand for their slot.

The good bits were the mechanics, which were interesting and interacted well with each other. The board was a little confusing to look at though, and to me the theme didn't come through very strongly and the game felt very dry.

Again, I stress I only had a short demo of this so it might come much more in to its own over a longer game, but this was another one I passed on.
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20. Board Game: CO₂ [Average Rating:7.19 Overall Rank:685]
Board Game: CO₂
Stewart Cowan
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Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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I spoke to a few people who enjoyed this, but I wasn't able to get a demo so I passed in the end.
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21. Board Game: Snowdonia [Average Rating:7.41 Overall Rank:432]
Board Game: Snowdonia
Stewart Cowan
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Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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Saturday is always a tricky day to get demos at Spiele - it's so much busier than the preceding two days. I managed to luck out and pass the stand just as a demo was finishing, and phoned Arthur and Bijan who both rushed to join the game.

I really liked Snowdonia; it's a game that rewards good timing and the theme fits really well. All three of us ended up buying a copy.

Although, as I said to the guy who sold me my copy, they pretty much had my money when I saw the Ivor the Engine promo card!
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22. Board Game: Snowdonia: Essen 2012 Promo Cards [Average Rating:7.08 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.08 Unranked]
Board Game: Snowdonia: Essen 2012 Promo Cards
Stewart Cowan
United Kingdom
Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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And here are the promos!
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23. Board Game: Seasons [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:186]
Board Game: Seasons
Stewart Cowan
United Kingdom
Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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I never managed to find a free table for Seasons. Really wanted to try it as the rules looked interesting and it's the kind of thing I'm sure would appeal more to my casual gaming friends. I was worried it would be a little bit random so I wanted to try before buying
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24. Board Game: Eclipse [Average Rating:7.92 Overall Rank:41]
Board Game: Eclipse
Stewart Cowan
United Kingdom
Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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At 5pm on Saturday, my last day of the fair, I was wandering around with quite a lot of my games buying budget still in my pocket. This was good in a way - it meant that the trip would be cheaper - but somehow unsatisfying.

So I bought Eclipse from the Asmodee stand as I passed it on the way out.

As crazy impulse buys go, I have a good feeling about this one...
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25. Board Game: Eclipse: Rise of the Ancients [Average Rating:8.45 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.45 Unranked]
Board Game: Eclipse: Rise of the Ancients
Stewart Cowan
United Kingdom
Milton Keynes
Buckinghamshire
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I also picked up the new Eclipse expansion at the same time. It's the German version... which is simply the English version with German rules shrink-wrapped to the back of the box. English versions had sold out on pre-order, but these "German" copies were apparently available to purchase.

I have heard that other people were turned away when they tried to buy German copies though... did I just lucky?
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