Qwertymartin's first impr-Essen-s
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Until now, Essen meant that time of the year when I scoured BGG for nuggets of information on new games, peered at photos of demos and scanned the GeekBuzz and Fairplay rankings to get an idea what was hot and what was not.

A large group from London on Board went last year and I was very jealous. Finally this year everything fell into place for me, and I booked my hotel back in March. And then waited, and waited... and waited. Flights were booked, watch lists were made and at long last the day came.

Could it possibly live up to expectations? Read on and find out.

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1. Board Game: Explore Europe [Average Rating:5.00 Overall Rank:18404]
Board Game: Explore Europe
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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The trip out went without a hitch. I rendezvoused with
Lloyd
United Kingdom
Camden
London
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at Heathrow, the flight got into Dusseldorf early, we transferred to a packed double-decker train for the half-hour ride to Essen and found the Ibis hotel a five-minute walk from the main station.
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2. Board Game: Antigua [Average Rating:5.80 Overall Rank:12408]
Board Game: Antigua
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Mates from London on Board were already in the bar (where else?) though no games in sight yet - we'd all been saving luggage space for the way home. A pleasant evening of anticipatory chat passed with just the one game played - Antigua. I've really liked several of the Adlung-Spiele games but this one wasn't great. No one wanted to stay up too late, ready to hit the halls in the morning.
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3. Board Game: See-Queue [Average Rating:7.50 Unranked]
Board Game: See-Queue
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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The morning was a bit frantic. We'd planned to get down nice and early, but a packed subway line meant it was later than we hoped. It was almost like there was a major international event going on at the end of the line! Fortunately the queuing system at the Messe was very efficient, and having recruited a stranger to make up a group of 10 for reduced price tickets, we were in with minutes to spare before the doors to the halls were thrown open.
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4. Board Game: Love Letter [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:253]
Board Game: Love Letter
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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I'd decided that my first destination would be the Japon Brand stand to pick up a copy of Love Letter with the charming original artwork.
Rich P
United Kingdom
Sheffield
United Kingdom
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was keen too, hoping to snap up one of the few remaining copies of Trains.

It was hard to keep focused as I got my first sight of the halls - there was stuff to look at in every direction and the place is HUGE. Rich hurried me along but by the time we got to Hall 5 there was already a sizeable line at Japon Brand. Poor Rich got to see the display copy of Trains handed over to someone else just before we reached the front, but there were plenty of Love Letters left, delightfully packaged in an envelope sealed with a teddy-bear sticker.

Best of all, it came with two bonus cards (pictured) allowing you to choose whether your love letters will target a raven-haired princess, a red-head, or a prince!
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5. Board Game: Trick of the Rails [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:2499]
Board Game: Trick of the Rails
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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I had two pre-ordered copies of Trick of the Rails to pick up too, one for me, and one for
eryn roston
United States
San Diego
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who was at Essen with the LoB crew last year but has now returned to his home in San Diego.
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6. Board Game: BraveRats [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:2095]
Board Game: BraveRats
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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I impulse bought a copy of Seiji Kanai's other 16-card game too. This one also came in an envelope and cost a mere €4. Five minutes into the fair and three games purchased already!
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7. Board Game: Bargain Hunter [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:2546]
Board Game: Bargain Hunter
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Next stop was Hall 4, home of the bargain second-hand stalls I'd been told about. I think it was good that I did this early on because it brought home to be very clearly that I wouldn't be able to buy everything I was interested in! The sheer abundance of amazing deals actually put me off buying anything and I ended up only buying one second-hand game on the last day (more later).
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8. Board Game: Columba [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:5737]
Board Game: Columba
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Rich and I noticed an empty table to demo this game and sat down. Free tables for gaming were hard to come by throughout the fair, and we'd both vaguely heard of this one. It turned out to be a fairly enjoyable tile-laying game that reminded me of Heartland. Nothing to write home about, but a nice start.
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9. Board Game: Lost: The Game [Average Rating:3.69 Overall Rank:18568]
Board Game: Lost: The Game
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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The order of events gets a bit hazy at this point. I wandered back and forth around the vast expanse of the halls with no particular plan, covering far more ground than I needed! The nice thing about going with a big group was that I never went more than about half an hour without bumping into a familiar face.

I started to get an idea of how the halls fit together, but there were several times I noticed a stall to come back to and then couldn't find it again, and I was pretty sure there was a lot I'd missed entirely. The halls were thronged with people and you had to get used to being continually jostled, especially as most people were carrying around huge and quickly-filling bags.
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10. Board Game: Sleuth [Average Rating:6.91 Overall Rank:1110]
Board Game: Monad
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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At some point I picked up my kickstarted copy of Sleuth/Monad/Venture. I was pleased to see how handsome the box set looks, but a little disappointed that I could have bought it on the spot for less than I paid to back it. Oh well.
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11. Board Game: Sheepdogs of Pendleton Hill [Average Rating:6.00 Overall Rank:10266]
Board Game: Sheepdogs of Pendleton Hill
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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My final pre-order to pick up was Sheepdogs. I said hi to Max, who'd sent me a prototype to review earlier in the year. The size of the board and the shepherd meeples was somewhat alarming - it looked like one of the giant versions of games they had on some of the other stalls!
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12. Board Game: Dr. Shark [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:6049]
Board Game: Dr. Shark
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Running into a few LoBsters, we spotted a free table at the Hurrican stand. We were hoping to play Lady Alice, but the table turned out to contain Dr Shark. The concept of this game is pretty fun. You rustle through a bag of jigsaw pieces, trying to pull out the ones you want by feel only. It went on a bit long for what it is though, and when the Lady Alice table next door became free, we abandoned it a turn early.
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13. Board Game: Lady Alice [Average Rating:6.35 Overall Rank:4029]
Board Game: Lady Alice
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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And it was pretty good. Each player has one of the pieces of information needed. You take turns to make a guess, and then everyone finds out how many bits of that guess are correct. What lifts it above a standard deduction game is that the winner isn't necessarily the first person to 'solve the crime'. Instead, after each guess, you get to place a chit (0, 1 or 2) face down on one of the items. At the end of the game, you get points for chits placed on correct items. This adds a layer of bluff - did he put that token there because that's the bit of information he knows for sure? Or is it a zero, trying to get me to waste one of mine? Gorgeous production too.
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14. Board Game: Hanabi [Average Rating:7.11 Overall Rank:350]
Board Game: Hanabi
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Hanabi's a game I knew I loved already. When it was hard to come by, I mocked up a copy from another game, and introduced it to several people at LoB. I was delighted to hear about the Abacus reprint and pleased to see it on all the stalls selling new games for a mere €6.
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15. Board Game: Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small – More Buildings Big and Small [Average Rating:7.72 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.72 Unranked]
Board Game: Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small – More Buildings Big and Small
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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I'd been hoping to pick up the expansion to a game that I've really enjoyed recently, and was disappointed when the Lookout stand only had the German version. But later I noticed someone with an English copy and realised I was right by the Z-Man stall. I picked up one for me and one for who couldn't make the trip.

The expansion looks like it will provide just the little dash of variability that the game needs. There are a generous 27 new buildings, but you only put four randomly selected ones into each game.
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16. Board Game: Sticheln [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:954]
From gallery of W Eric Martin
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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I also picked up a copy of the new version of this old trick-taker. I'm sure I could have played it with cards I already have, but never mind...
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17. Board Game: Food Chain [Average Rating:5.49 Overall Rank:16341]
Board Game: Food Chain
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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It took me a while to realise Hall 7, way at the back, even existed and it turned out to be full of self-published and small-publisher games. I was solicited into a game of Food Chain with the designer and a couple of others. It wasn't awful but nothing special either, and I made my excuses when they suggested playing another of the publisher's games.
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18. Board Game: Hotel Life [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:5484]
Board Game: Hotel Life
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Having tramped the halls for a good seven hours and with 10 games weighing my backpack down, it was time to head back to the hotel. The best thing about the Ibis was the large space in the bar and breakfast room that they made available for gaming throughout the fair. It acted as a magnet for gamers from other hotels too and was bustling until well past midnight every night. The staff at the bar were very friendly and kept the beer and wasabi nuts flowing!
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19. Board Game: Love Letter [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:253]
Board Game: Love Letter
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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I was keen to get my little Love Letter to the table and we ended up playing three times that night. It was every bit as good as I hoped. Making a game this fun with just 16 cards should be a lesson to us all. I don't imagine everyone will like it though. It is very light (a micro-filler?) and you can be eliminated (sacrilege!) without even playing a card. Almost everyone seemed to have a copy of either the Japon Brand or the AEG version though.

It turns out the two versions differ not only in aesthetics but also slightly in rules. The AEG version started out coming in a rather garish red velvet bag, but when they ran out they started selling just the cards for 5 and then 3 Euros - a steal!
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20. Board Game: River Dragons [Average Rating:6.49 Overall Rank:1757]
Board Game: River Dragons
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Tom P
United Kingdom
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had come back from the halls with a stack of games, and suggested this one next. I knew nothing about it, but later found out that it's a remake of a 2000 game Dragon Delta.

I'm not sure it's a great game, but it was a good laugh in a chaotic RoboRally kind of way. You pre-program five actions, trying to get your little man from his island to the opposite one by building bridges and blocking others. Things inevitably go haywire and I seemed to end up back at my home island every couple of turns. The giant-sized version in the halls looked awesome too.
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21. Board Game: Coup [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:467]
Board Game: Coup
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Next up was one of Lloyd's discoveries, which turned out to be designed and published by an irregular LoB member. This ended up being the hit of the fair for the LoBsters. It was impossible to resist just one more game, and I ended up playing seven times in total.

The basic schtick is that it's a secret role game where you don't actually have to have the role to use it, you can just lie!

There are three cards for each of five roles, and every player is dealt two cards. On your turn you take one of the actions associated with one of the roles, whether or not you actually have the matching card. Certain roles can also be used to counter someone else's action. So for example, I might say "I use my Captain to extort two of your money" and then my opponent says "I use my Ambassador to block your Captain".

At any time, anyone can call bullshit on any role claim. The called player has to show the role if they have it (and they then shuffle it into the deck and draw a new one). The loser of the call loses one of their cards and has to play on with a hand size of one. If you lose another life, you're eliminated. Last man standing wins - the whole thing lasts under 15 mins.

It's also really nicely produced for a first-time self-publisher. Good card stock, nice art, very clear rules.
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22. Board Game: Shinobi: War of Clans [Average Rating:6.07 Overall Rank:9061]
Board Game: Shinobi: War of Clans
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Asian themes seemed to be 'in' this year, and this was another of Tom's pick-ups. Like Clans, you don't know which player has been assigned which colour, and you're trying to make your colour do best without giving it away. Another of the many games that I didn't hate, but wasn't particularly excited by either.
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23. Board Game: BraveRats [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:2095]
Board Game: BraveRats
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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The night ended with a couple of hands of R, another minimalist 16-card Kanai gem. This one's for 2 players, each with an identical deck running from 0-7. You play cards simultaneously, highest card wins, and first to four wins the game. That doesn't sound like much, but each card also has a special power (seems to be a running theme for Kanai) which turns it into a delightul dance of double-think. Six plays for this one over the weekend.
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24. Board Game: The Palaces of Carrara [Average Rating:7.21 Overall Rank:638]
Board Game: The Palaces of Carrara
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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I decided Friday needed a slightly more focused approach. There were a few games on my watch list that I wanted to at least try, and I wanted to make sure I hadn't missed anything either.

When the halls opened, we headed straight for Kramer/Kiesling's new effort. I enjoyed it, but something felt odd. There are a bunch of differently-shaped wooden pieces, but according to the rules we were given, they were each just worth 3VP at the end of the game. Later I found out that the demonstrators were only teaching the basic game and the box also includes a gamers' advanced version.

Fortunately, one of the gang bought a copy, so we got to try the advanced version back at the hotel on Saturday night. I found it quite promising and wrote up my impressions here.
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25. Board Game: Tokaido [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:501]
Board Game: Tokaido
Martin G
United Kingdom
Bristol
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Another one on my watchlist was the new Bauza with its striking whiteness. The stand was always busy with people picking up pre-orders and buying copies, but a short wait got me and Tom on to a table with a group of Belgians. My initial impressions were fairly positive, but two subsequent plays in the hotel soured me on the game. I wrote a review explaining why: Zen and the Art of Victory Point Maintenance
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