So I played a bunch of the new Essen games (Euros). Here's what I thought.
Curt Carpenter
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I spent 4 days at Sasquatch, which had most of the new Essen releases there. I was able to play many of the ones I intended to. That's what's in the geeklist.

There are also quite a few I intended to play, and didn't get around to. Sometimes because they bumped down my priority list after hearing input from people who played them. Those are:
Altiplano. This one seemed to just be too long for what it was.
Azul. Everyone seemed to love this. I just couldn't squeeze in a game. Going directly to short list for next order.
Carthago: Merchants & Guilds. Never saw it get played. Bad sign.
Clans of Caledonia. Got a fair bit of play. I was reasonably sure this would be a buy for me, so didn't feel the need to try (given limited time)
Gaia Project. Just didn't look very inviting. I'm getting kind of tired of kitchen sink games, and while I own and enjoy Terra Mystica, I already don't play that enough (I would be happy to play more).
Keyper. The foldy thing seems like a gimmick. Folks who played it were not wowed.
Loot Island. It's a WYG? game, so of course I'm gonna buy it anyway. I particularly liked Oddville, their other small game, so I assume I'll like this.
Majesty: For the Realm. Not sure why I didn't play this. Not sure why I didn't see anyone play this.
Noria. I heard nothing but bad things.
Outlive. I couldn't talk anyone into it. Rules seemed like a bit of a slog to try to go through with a group. I was lazy and didn't pre-read anything. Few folks who played it gave it the thumbs-down.
Pioneers. Just didn't look good. Although I've heard it's ok.

Of the games I actually played below, somewhat amazingly I liked all of them! Well, maybe with the exception of Nusfjord, which I'd only play again if I were joining friends to be social. I see why people like it, but I am allergic to text-driven games. But there were no games which I thought were so bad that I wanted to abort, and had to question the judgment of anyone who liked them (like last year's Inis yuk). Edit: Oops, I forgot about Queendomino, which I wouldn't play again.

Now on to the games I did play... ordered roughly best at the top, although again, I really liked them all. I guess my planning paid off.
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1. Board Game: Heaven & Ale [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:2424]
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Really nice tension across multiple directions the game pulls you. Looks like a point salad, but it's not. Opportunities for huge point swings based on skillful play. In my games so far, VP ratio between 1st and last place has been up to 10x. It's incredibly humbling (humiliating?) when you go into the last round of the game realizing, "crap, I might end with a score of zero points!" It's got player boards where you get to place stuff, but placement is not super critical. The central mechanic is a sequence of action spaces, and everyone starts at the beginning of the sequence each round, and on your turn you can go to any space in front of you. Most of the spaces have tiles to buy (and thus place on your board), which means that you might want to race ahead to get the tile you want, or go slow and have more turns picking up stuff people left behind. Money is very tight. Scoring is very tight. Turns don't drag. Highly recommended.
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2. Board Game: Calimala [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:3074]
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Almost forgot about this one (late add)

Nice little spin on worker placement. Actions are randomized on a grid, and you place your discs on spaces between the actions, which gives you two actions on your turn (the two actions your disc is between). There are lots of things that score, and the order is randomized. Actions discs can be stacked, in which case when you take an action, not just the active player, but everyone in the stack gets the two actions. There are a lot of scoring opportunities, so you can look ahead and decide which ones you're going to make a play for, and which you won't. If you worry too much about getting your engine going, you're going to miss 1/3 of the game, and unlike some games, scores don't get bigger as you go. Rather competition only gets steeper. So you are rewarded to getting in on early scoring opportunities. This alone is quite unusual, where normally you're rewarded for ignoring early scoring opportunities in favor of the late-game big scoring opportunities.

I played this with two separate groups, and it was a smash hit with both. Like Heaven & Ale, very clean rules. So simple that you're almost left with a "well gee, I could have designed that myself" feeling. But you didn't.

For those who have played, my new house rule: When playing with random placement of action spaces, don't let wood and brick be next to each other. It's just too obvious of a first move, which creates a pile-on, which makes starting player too advantageous.
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3. Board Game: Santa Maria [Average Rating:7.82 Overall Rank:2579]
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Very enjoyable first game. Maybe better with additional play. It's a dice placement game where there are both shared dice and personal dice which get allocated to your personal board to activate all buildings in a given column (community dice) or row (personal dice). There's typical resource production and conversion, and goals to turn in various specified combinations of resources.
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4. Board Game: Rajas of the Ganges [Average Rating:7.59 Overall Rank:1941]
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Nice dice game. Clever central idea where you can make money, and you can make VP, which advance on opposite tracks, and the objective is to make them meet. Advancing down each track will unlock new stuff when you reach checkpoints. I think the money side is strictly better, which is a little concerning. Lots of interesting things to do, most of which require dice. Nice little tile laying aspect where you buy tiles in different colors to build out your personal tableau, where tiles can (again) generate money or VP. You start at the top middle, and get rewards for reaching any (every) edge position. Every tile must have a path back to starting tile. Would definitely play again. I did not play with any of the variants, which look like they may make it better.
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5. Board Game: Whistle Stop [Average Rating:7.34 Overall Rank:1546]
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This is a solid couple steps up the complexity scale from Ticket To Ride, without it feeling too heavy, like Age of Steam or something. Although it's actually significantly more thinky than the name and art might suggest. The only randomness in the game is the tile draws, but it doesn't really make a huge amount of difference, because you have a bunch of trains on the board, and can use everyone's tiles. Personal tiles placed just means that the player who places them is the first one to use them. You generally are moving trains from one side of the board to the other, and the spaces on the far side have goals for specific resources, so you want to collect those by the time you get there. There's a little stock game thrown in where you get a share of stock by completing a small order on one of the company spaces, which also gives immediate VP. My only real concern is that each company has 6 shares, and at the end game whoever has the most (tie broken by whoever got the first share among those tied) gets 15 points. with no payout for 2nd place. It's a huge swing when two players each have 2 shares, and one player gets nothing for it. If nothing else, I would strongly emphasize that to new players. The game also has special bonus tiles, which can be bought with resources, which give the owning player a special power. At least one of them I know I hate: One tile lets you search through the draw pile of tiles rather than picking from the visible set of 3. That's an incredible drag on the game. I would ban that in my games. Other than that, pretty enjoyable.
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6. Board Game: Merlin [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:1894]
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Felds are starting to feel a bit samey. How many designs does he have in that mold? Still, it's pretty decent. It's effectively a dice allocation game. Dice are simply allocated to move your dude around a rondel, and you take the action of the space you land on. Each player has a dude in their color, and there's one community piece (Merlin) which gets moved by neutral dice, of which everyone gets one. Given that you only have 3 dice each round to move your own guy, you really don't have that many choices for actions you get on your turn. That's one concern I have with the game that despite my general liking, keeps me from rating it higher. Another concern is the balance of the optional component for scoring missions. Missions are cards that you get rewarded for meeting various conditions. With the variant, instead of getting VP (the standard reward), you can instead get a bonus on a menu of bonuses (each player has their own board), which has 3 levels. I don't think the 3rd level is enough reward to warrant foregoing the VP. The copy I played had the Queenie 1 mini expansion. This was really nice, and I really think they should have included that in the base game. No reason not to. Could have been done with the same count of components. Just printing on already-existing tiles. I will wait to buy until the game is reprinted with Queenie 1 included.
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7. Board Game: Riverboat [Average Rating:7.77 Overall Rank:3758]
Curt Carpenter
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Kiesling just keeps pumping these kind of well-balanced middle-weight Euros. It's kind of amazing. There definitely multiple paths to victory here. Nice fixed length, doesn't drag. Has nice balance of tactical and strategic play.
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8. Board Game: Transatlantic [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:2777]
Curt Carpenter
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Had really high hopes for this, as the pseudo-successor to Concordia, which I think is fantastic. Transatlantic isn't as good. With no board/map, there's no sense of space. With a limited number of spots for houses, they fill up fast, which leaves this odd feeling of trying to get VP where you already have houses, with little reason to focus elsewhere.
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9. Board Game: Dragon Castle [Average Rating:7.60 Overall Rank:2636]
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I got sucked into this, somewhat reluctantly. But I was pleasantly surprised. It's light, it's fast, but it's a nice twist on Mahjong,filling a nice slot in the super filler genre. Lots of variety in that every game there's a unique score card and a unique action card (in addition to standard scoring and actions). And of course you can make all kinds of shapes when setting up the tiles, although I think that's mostly aesthetics. I'm probably being overly generous with the 7 rating, but the pieces feel extra nice, so I'm feeling generous.
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10. Board Game: Agra [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:2185]
Curt Carpenter
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Hard to rate after the first game. Seems pretty good, but there's a lot of stuff on. In addition to main actions, there is a menu of secondary actions, including a sub-menu of actions you use via favor, which separate from influence. There are orders to fill for guilds, as well as to specific nobles within the guilds. There are 12 different resources. But despite all that, the only major gripe is the production choices. The board looks like it was designed to be hung on a wall, not play a game on. It's really not that complicated, but it looks like a mess. It really is bad enough that people can get confused on what it's actually saying. And it's enormous. But really, the cherry on top is the guild board, which for some unknowable reason they decided to make a slanted board to place tall/skinny pieces, just to make sure that if any piece falls over (which is easy to do, since it's slanted), it knocks over all the other pieces below/around it. Those with large or unsteady hands will not be able to use it all. I felt like I was playing the old kids dexterity game Operation.
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11. Board Game: Nusfjord [Average Rating:7.53 Overall Rank:2743]
Curt Carpenter
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I seem to be in the minority on this one, but I didn't care for it. But that's mainly for what it is, i.e. a game with lots of unique dudes to acquire and unique buildings to build. There is virtually no common game being played between the players. I may be missing a gene or something, but I'm not sure why people dig this sort of thing.

Edit: Not sure why I didn't say this explicitly, but the main problem with all the unique dudes and buildings is that they are all pure text. Very little iconography anywhere, except for costs. Which of these dozen cards should I buy? Hold on while I read them all... snoresnoresnore
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12. Board Game: Queendomino [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:1812] [Average Rating:7.46 Unranked]
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Another game I forgot (late add)

I don't get the hype. I haven't played Kingdomino, but heard it was good, and this was the souped up version. Really basic tile laying game. But with some extra chrome that doesn't really add that much. I wouldn't even use this as a gateway game.
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