woodnoggin's Second Essen
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It hurts to type this since my hands are red raw from hauling five large bags of games back from Germany. I had a great time at Essen Spiel but it's always over so quickly. This year, Phil and I made the trip through the Channel Tunnel to meet up with our friend Ruben in Dusseldorf. We were at the fair on Thursday and Friday. Here's what I brought back with me:

From gallery of woodnoggin


I'm glad we took the Eurostar: I'd have never got all that back home by plane.
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1. Board Game: Age of Steam Expansion: Chile, Egypt and CCCP [Average Rating:7.43 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.43 Unranked]
Board Game: Age of Steam Expansion: Chile, Egypt and CCCP
Rich P
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I had pre-ordered some new Age of Steam maps and the unbelievably exciting Miscellaneous Game Accessory, so the first place I had to head was the Spielbar stall. The Age of Steam team were set up next to it with their folding tables, but only between 10am and 12pm on Thursday, like some shady market traders ready to pack up at the first sign of authority.

The Chile, Egypt and CCCP expansion came in an oversized triangular tube, like a giant Toblerone. I groaned when I saw it: this was the most awkward item to carry around the fair and it had to be the first thing I bought.
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2. Board Game: Le Havre [Average Rating:7.87 Overall Rank:45]
Board Game: Le Havre
Rich P
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Next I headed over to the Lookout Games stand to collect my Le Havre pre-order and some Agricola goodies. The queues on Thursday morning were ridiculous - two lines going from the middle of the Lookout booth and past the two adjacent stalls in both directions. I wondered if the people at the Ystari booth (next to Lookout Games) were a little bit annoyed at their location.

I contemplated giving up and trying later, but then I remembered I was English and queued up to make my fellow countrymen proud. Melissa was wandering up and down the queue, entertaining the masses and handing out signed Agricola L-deck cards. 40 minutes later I was at the front (this was good going by some reports) and got my copy of Le Havre (Australian edition).

I haven't had a chance to play it yet, or even fully read the rulebook, but Le Havre appeared briefly in the Fairplay Top 10 at Essen on Friday, although it's not in their final Top 10. Perhaps the fact that it's a long game meant fewer people could try it out.

I spent enough at the stand that I received 10 of the 12 bonus cards. Hopefully the other 2 I *need* will turn up on the BGG marketplace or eBay.
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3. Board Game: Agricola: Through the Seasons [Average Rating:7.12 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.12 Unranked]
Board Game: Agricola: Through the Seasons
Rich P
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While at the Lookout stand, I picked up everything Agricola-related I possibly could:

- two copies of the postcard expansion, one for me and one to send home to a friend

- vegimeeples (although after playing the so many games of Agricola using yellow and orange discs it will be a little strange using these new pieces)

- animeeples (for a friend who has been unable to get an English language copy with these)

- a refreshing bottle of Agri-Cola, after a donation to charity

- Agricola Euchre and Doku decks (basically standard playing cards with Agricola designs on them)

But that's not all...
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4. Board Game: Agricola X-Deck [Average Rating:6.21 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.21 Unranked]
Board Game: Agricola X-Deck
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50 English language copies of the X-deck were available each day, on a sliding price scale. If you bought them between 10 and 11am they were 15 Euros, and they reduced in price by 1 Euro for each hour you waited. When I got the front of the queue, half of that day's allotted packs had been sold, but they were still 14 Euros each. I bought a couple (again, one for a friend), since I'd already spent ages queueing and it would bump up my total for bonus Le Havre cards!
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5. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:7.96 Overall Rank:29]
Board Game: Agricola
Rich P
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Then began the two-day quest for L-deck cards. There were eight to collect and each could only be obtained by finding the person pictured on the card and asking them for it. I got Thomas and Hanno's from the Lookout booth on Thursday morning (there was also a ninth, blank L-deck card "Kreativer Kopf" which can be used to create your own occupation card). Melissa was giving her cards out up and down the nearby queue and I found Uwe a few stalls away in the demo area. I also got him to sign one of my begging cards, to make it less painful having to take one.

I managed to get the other four L-deck cards on Friday. Klemens was at an Austrian games stall, Zev was at the Z-Man Games area, Felix was at the Lookout Games booth and Harald from Heidelberger was nowhere to be found. Really, I asked everyone who knew him. In the end, to obtain his card, I had to resort to devious and underhand methods which must remain a secret.
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6. Board Game: Space Alert [Average Rating:7.45 Overall Rank:202]
Board Game: Space Alert
Rich P
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The Czech Games Edition stand had a few pre-ordered games for me, all surprisingly heavy and full of bits. I picked up Space Alert, Galaxy Trucker and Galaxy Trucker: The Big Expansion. Space Alert had a bit of a buzz around it and I like the novelty of a game with a CD soundtrack.
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7. Board Game: Galaxy Trucker [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:174]
Board Game: Galaxy Trucker
Rich P
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I passed on Galaxy Trucker at last year's Essen, because the sci-fi theme didn't appeal to me, but I had the chance to try the game out at StabCon this July and it was so much fun I had to get hold of a copy. They also gave me a load of cardboard and plastic pieces separately. I presumed these were to make the base game compatible with the new pieces in the expansion, but they seem to be exactly the same pieces that came inside the box anyway.

When I got back in that evening, I noticed I'd been given the German language edition of the base game instead of the English one I'd pre-ordered. So I had to carry it back to the Spiel the following morning and change it. I was worried the CGE staff might have thought I'd opened it in the meantime, stolen some of the pieces, then re-shrinkwrapped it, but they swapped it anyway.

While at the CGE booth for the second time, I spotted Reiner Knizia approaching. I quickly began thinking whether I had any of his games on me that he could sign, but realised I didn't. After searching through my bag for something I could possibly get signed, I decided upon my Spiel ticket. Then I looked up and he'd gone. laugh
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8. Board Game: Sylla [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:1574]
Board Game: Sylla
Rich P
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Another pre-order to collect, with some nice silver coins in a leather bag. I had to squeeze past the people queueing for the Lookout Games booth to get it, which resulted in some suspicious looks in case I was trying to push in and jump the queue. I saw quite a few people playing this game throughout the fair and it seemed to be selling quickly, but it didn't appear on the Fairplay polls and nobody seemed to be raving about it, so we shall see how this one turns out.
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9. Board Game: Mykerinos: The Nile [Average Rating:6.95 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.95 Unranked]
Board Game: Mykerinos: The Nile
Rich P
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A small expansion I bought at the Ystari booth while collecting Sylla.
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10. Board Game: Jamaica [Average Rating:7.06 Overall Rank:478]
Board Game: Jamaica: Extra Treasures
Rich P
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Three new treasure cards for the pirate race game. They were free, so what's not to like?
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11. Board Game: The Name of the Rose [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:1823]
Board Game: The Name of the Rose
Rich P
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After all this rushing around collecting pre-orders and other goodies, we finally sat down to play a game. The Ravensburger area had two games we wanted to try out and we luckily found a newly-vacated table to sit at. This game only came in German, but we had the rules explained to us and the only text is on six event cards which weren't too difficult to translate.

There are six coloured monks on the monastery board and each player represents one of them, although the other players do not know who is which monk. It's a secret! Any player can move a monk by playing a card of that monk's colour - the monk can then move to any building. Alternatively, you could play a building card and move any monk to that particular building.

Each building has two coloured, numbered tokens in it. If a monk is moved into a building which does not contain a token of his colour, he is deemed to be acting suspiciously - there is no work in that building for him to do, so why is he going there? That monk's marker is moved up on the suspicion track by a number of spaces equal to the total on the two tokens in the building. If a monk moves to a building in which there is a token of his colour, the active player keeps the coloured token and the monk's marker is moved down the suspicion track by the value on the token.

Collecting these tokens is useful, because each card played has a cost in hours. Once the total cost of cards played by all players exceeds 24, the day ends. You don't want to be the player who causes the day to end because you then have to take a penalty of 2 points in the final scoring. To stop the day ending, you can reduce the time cost of a card you play by expending one token per hour of reduction.

At the end of the day, the relative position of the monks on the suspicion track is converted into real evidence on the evidence track (5,4,3,2,1,0). After six days, the monk with the least evidence against him is the winner.

Event cards modify the rules slightly each day and after days 1, 3 and 5 there is a pause while players choose one colour of monk to reveal to the other players. This is to indicate one monk they are NOT. At the end of the game everyone has to try and guess which player was which coloured monk. If your colour was guessed correctly, you move up on the evidence track by a number of points depending on the number of players in the game. This is a bad thing, so you want to try and keep your monk identity a secret. I was terrible at this! Both my opponents knew I was the blue monk by about day two and my attempts to throw them off the scent were to no avail.

There are two brown monks, William and Adso, who can only be moved by playing a special card. You then have two choices: you can either pay 0 hours and move Adso, or 5 hours to move William. Any monks in the building Adso moves to can be moved up or down 5 spaces on the suspicion track. Any monks where William moves to can be moved up or down 3 spaces on the evidence track. These effects are really powerful, which left me feeling that the players who drew most of these 0/5 cards would have more control over the game. Usually your hand of three cards gives you enough choice over actions, but it felt like if you were lucky and drew more 0/5s you would inevitably do better than your opponents.

The game was reasonably good fun; a family game and not one for over-analysis. I can see it running a bit long with players who really want to think through their actions, but an hour should be about right for this game. I thought the theme and feel of the book was really well represented and my only annoyance was with the 0/5 cards described above. Phil bought this one, so I didn't feel the need to.
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12. Board Game: Diamonds Club [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:1285]
Board Game: Diamonds Club
Rich P
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The other game we wanted to try out at the Ravensburger stall was Diamonds Club. We didn't have chance on Thursday, so we waited around for a table on Friday. And waited... and waited... That was tiresome. They should have some sort of ticketing system so you know when you might be able to get a table. Even all the available floor space was taken up. After about half an hour of waiting we gave up, which is a shame because this game featured prominently in the Fairplay poll and I would have liked to give it a try. Instead, I'll wait for an English release.
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13. Board Game: Ticket to Ride: Switzerland [Average Rating:7.51 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.51 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.51 Unranked]
Board Game: Ticket to Ride: Switzerland
Rich P
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I've got all the Ticket to Ride games so far, but there was no way I was getting Ticket to Ride: The Dice Expansion. yuk The Days of Wonder booth did have free copies of the replacement (thicker) cards for the Swiss map, so I grabbed a pack.
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14. Board Game: Sutter's Mill [Average Rating:6.14 Overall Rank:5704]
Board Game: Sutter's Mill
Rich P
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There was very little information available about this game before the fair, but it looked interesting so we sat down and gave it a go. The theme is the life of a goldrush town, from the arrival of the first prospectors, through the flourishing of the town itself, to the diminishing of the gold in the mountains and the departure of the town's inhabitants, eventually leaving a ghost town. While we were trying to get our heads round the rules, the theme didn't really leap out at us, but upon further consideration it is tied in quite well.

The game has two stages: the first where prospectors are arriving in town to pan for gold and use their "influence" in the buildings there. The second when the gold is running out and people leave town. Each player decides for themselves when they want to change the stage of their own game from bringing workers in and increasing their influence in town to removing workers and influence.

Each player has 5 workers available to them. In the first stage you play new workers into the river area (panning for gold) or town buildings. If you have a worker in a building you can play one of your cards (one suit of standard playing cards 2 to Ace) onto the building as influence. Highest total gets the associated building card which gives you extra powers.

You pan for gold by moving workers from the river into town. Then you get to collect gold tokens from a face-down supply (they seemed to be of values 1-4). This supply acts as a time track for the game. Once the river tokens have run out you have to move up into the camp in the hills to get gold. Once those have run out, you have to move into the mountain camp to get the last pieces of gold. Once all tokens have been taken, the game ends.

At the end of the game, you score points for each piece of gold you've collected. Cards in hand are ignored, but you lose points for having workers and influence cards remaining in the town, so you want to remove them. You do this by declaring you are switching into the 'leave town' stage of the game - you can choose when you want to do this. This allows you take workers off the board and cards out of buildings. If a building is emptied of cards, you remove one gold token from the time track, thus speeding up the end of the game. The trick is to best decide when to switch stages and which buildings you can give up.

The actual turns involve paying for actions using gold, so the more you want to do, the more you have to pay. Your first action is free, 2 actions cost 1 gold, 3 cost 3 gold, 4 cost 8 gold etc. One action would consist of moving a worker from building to building, playing a card onto a building, or bringing all your prospecting workers into town to claim the gold they've discovered. If you prospect, that's the only action you can do that round.

There's a bit more to it (like how you can only remove the top influence card from a building, which means you may have to give an opponent one of his/her cards back in order to get yours lower down the pile), but that's a general overview.

One building seemed particularly powerful, which allows you to swap the order of influence cards in a building. This is strong in the endgame as it allows you to remove your cards without giving your opponents any victory points. I'm sure with further plays the better buildings would be more heavily contested, but our first attempt was unbalanced. The game was OK and I wouldn't mind playing it again, but I didn't feel the need to own it. I'm sure it will have its fans (Phil liked it much more than me, but then he won!).
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15. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.63 Overall Rank:87] [Average Rating:7.63 Unranked]
Board Game: Dominion
Rich P
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We had chance to try out the "next big thing" on Thursday evening. There were plenty of sets lying around the Rio Grande games area, and I'd read the rules in advance so I taught Phil and Ruben how to play. I don't think we made any mistakes, although we were baffled as to what the point of Curse cards was (I later discovered they only come into the game if you use the Witch card, which we weren't using).

A game about deck-building didn't sound all that great, but it was better than I expected. None of us had any idea of strategy, so we just took a few of each action card to put in our decks and then Ruben and I raced to get Provinces (6-point victory cards) while Phil went for more smaller values. I expect with more plays it will become clear that it's better to concentrate on fewer specific action cards rather than a broad spread, but we were just playing about with the game to see what would happen.

We all enjoyed it more than we thought we would and both Phil and I bought a copy. There are a lot of CCG players in our club and this game might appeal to them in a similar way to Race for the Galaxy. I'm not sure it will replace Race, which is what it will compete with in our group - it doesn't seem quite as deep. That could just be because it's easier to get the hang of the rules. With Race you feel like you have to put in the effort to learn what all the symbols mean, after which the game becomes more rewarding. Since Dominion is so easy to pick up in terms of rules, it could be seen as more lightweight than Race.
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16. Board Game: Keltis [Average Rating:6.42 Overall Rank:1616]
Board Game: Keltis
Rich P
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First thing on Friday morning we sat down at the Rio Grande booth to try out Lost Cities: The Boardgame, which turned out to be the same as Keltis but with a different art style. We joined a friendly couple from the US who seemed to know everyone else working at the booth and had an entertaining game which played pretty quickly.

It's basically multiplayer Lost Cities with a few bonus tokens here and there. The tokens add two extra ways to score points or move your adventurers further along their expeditions. The other difference from Lost Cities is that you can play cards higher or lower than your start card, so long as you keep going in the same direction.

It was OK, but we hardly play Lost Cities anymore and certainly didn't feel the need to buy this. I hear it's more expensive than the Keltis version, and since it's language independent the only reason to pay the higher price would be if you didn't like the art/style of Keltis.
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17. Board Game: Ghost Stories [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:244]
Board Game: Ghost Stories
Rich P
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I picked up my pre-order on Friday morning, along with a nice Wu-Feng t-shirt and a small expansion they were giving away. I haven't had chance to play the game, but reports are positive so far. I thought I'd pre-ordered a mug as well as the game and t-shirt, but the sign at the Repos booth had MUG crossed out. I'm not sure if that meant that there were no mugs available at all, or that they had already given their last mug away.
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18. Board Game: Pit [Average Rating:6.39 Overall Rank:1604]
Board Game: Pit
Rich P
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While at the Repos booth, I bought a copy of Pit. I'd been thinking about getting the game for a while, but my mind was made up after I saw a group of players at the stall playing the game and having a blast. Should be fun.
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19. Board Game: Die Siedler von Catan: Rincewind und der Tourist / Die Gilden von Ankh-Morpork [Average Rating:6.63 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.63 Unranked]
Board Game: Die Siedler von Catan: Rincewind und der Tourist  /  Die Gilden von Ankh-Morpork
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This and Die Siedler von Catan: Rincewind und der Tourist / Die Gilden von Ankh-Morpork were free from the Österreichische Spiele Museum stall. We're sick of Settlers, but they were free expansions, so why not? I've already heard a complaint that the Ankh-Morpork map doesn't look much like the city it's supposed to depict. Where's the river?

I saw designer Klaus Teuber sat at the Galeria Kaupthof stall, signing things, but I had nothing for him to sign. In any case, I'm not fond enough of any of his games to want his autograph.
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20. Board Game: J'te Gage Que... [Average Rating:5.54 Overall Rank:15310] [Average Rating:5.54 Unranked]
Board Game: J'te Gage Que...
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I stopped by the Cocktail Games booth to take a look at Kaleidos and see if they had I Betcha, which sounded like an interesting party metagame. The new version of Kaleidos comes in a nice tin, but I find the art revolting. I couldn't stand looking at the boards for more than a few seconds, let alone for a whole game! I passed on that one, but bought I Betcha, which the booth staff seemed surprisingly grateful about. Perhaps they haven't sold many, but it's a clever idea if nothing else.

It consists of a set of cards, which each player gets one of at the beginning of the evening. Each card lists three actions that players have to try and perform at some point. If you manage to perform the action and nobody calls you on it as part of the game, you score the points listed on the card. If someone catches you, you lose the points. I suspect the effect will be to induce paranoia in all players over any action anyone takes, however innocuous. Probably not something you'd want to play when you're supposed to be playing another more serious game, but for a bit of fun at a dinner party or Christmas family gathering it's worth the money.
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21. Board Game: The Stars Are Right [Average Rating:6.31 Overall Rank:3113]
Board Game: The Stars Are Right
Rich P
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I wonder what Lovecraft would make of this. A Cthulhu-based card game with cute art picturing the Great Old Ones. Are you feeling cyclopean or eldritch yet? It's in German, so I've no idea how it plays or whether it's any good, but there isn't too much text on the cards so hopefully a rules translation will appear soon and make it playable. I just bought it because dinky pictures of Hastur and Tsathoggua amused me. There aren't as many Mythos creatures involved in the game as I had hoped: four pantheons of three creatures each, plus five other beasties. Hand these cute cards out to players in your Call of Cthulhu RPG games to really ruin the mood. goo
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22. Board Game: Illusio [Average Rating:5.61 Overall Rank:14253]
Board Game: Illusio
Rich P
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I passed a stall covered in playing cards and the trappings of stage magic, so I stopped to look thinking some close-up magic was about to take place. Instead, I was invited to join in this game with two demonstrators from Funforge and PatK from this site.

Players take the role of stage magicians competing to perform the best tricks while disrupting their opponents' efforts. Four potential tricks are available for all players to try and as a player attempts one of them, it is replaced by another, so there are always four up for grabs. Each trick requires a specified number of components (1-4).

Each player has a hand of cards consisting of magicians' equipment or actions. On your turn you can take two actions which could be playing an equipment card from your hand into your 'backstage area' (on the table in front of you), playing an action card, or taking one of the tricks from the centre set of four to attempt yourself. In order to be able to claim a trick you must already have at least half of its specified components in your backstage area. So, for example, a trick might require an Audience, a Rabbit, and Smoke. If you have two of those, you can begin the trick.

Interestingly, you don't need the exact components to complete the trick. Magicians' equipment is grouped into general categories, e.g. animals. In the above trick, you could replace the Rabbit with a Tiger and still be able to attempt it. You score more points for matching the trick's requirements exactly.

Once you have all the required components of the trick it is ready to be shown to the public. You don't score points for it immediately, rather you have to wait for the start of your next turn, which gives your opponents the chance to play disruptive action cards on your trick. They might play 'Deja Vu', reducing the scoring value of the trick, or cards that delay the scoring by a further turn.

The action card I most enjoyed was one which transformed a component into any other. For example, you could change an opponent's Rope into a Dove, foiling their plans to take a certain trick the next turn. This only works on items in their backstage area. The neat part about this is that the transformation only remains as long as the player who played the card remembers what he/she chose. If they forget what they transformed it into, the item's owner gets the original back!

You score points for each completed trick equal to the number of components required, plus one for each you've matched exactly. Your magician card (randomly assigned at the start of the game) might give you some other bonuses to scoring or affect your actions in other ways. You also score bonus points for having previously completed the same type of trick.

Illusio plays fairly quickly, it's easy to pick up and has a sneaky take-that element to it. The theme comes across well in the style of the cards. If you've seen the film The Prestige, that's the sort of thing they're going for here. The randomness of the card draw could affect the outcome of a game, but you see enough cards that it shouldn't be too problematic. As a fun filler, I was happy to pick up a copy. I was told some of the cards were misprinted but I could register my details on their website to be sent replacement cards free of charge. They also threw in a free t-shirt.
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23. Board Game: Hive: The Mosquito [Average Rating:7.52 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.52 Unranked]
Board Game: Hive: The Mosquito
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This didn't make Essen 2007 and the first chance I've had to pick a copy up was this year's Spiel.

I'll use this entry for other games I was looking forward to which didn't make the fair:

Start Player - The guy at the Z-Man booth told us it was somewhere on its way between China and Essen, but it didn't turn up while we were there.
Veritas - A no-show for the second year. Does this game exist?
Kingsburg Expansion - Kingsburg grew on me after my initial play at last year's Spiel, so I wouldn't have minded getting the expansion. But it's not ready yet.
Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age - FRED had some sort of prototype version for you to look at, but nothing you could buy.
Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game - There were a couple of tables where you could play this, but I didn't find anywhere to buy a copy. Probably for the best: I wouldn't have been able to carry it home.
Tulipmania 1637 - Again, you could play a copy, but not buy your own. There was the option to place a pre-order for a copy, but I needed my money to buy real games!
Carpe Astra - Looks good, but same story as Tulipmania.
Constantinopolis - Maybe before Christmas?
Municipium - You could buy the t-shirt but not the game (unless you'd pre-ordered it). Valley Games were not allowed to sell the game in Europe. What a tease!
 
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24. Board Game: Cavum [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:2061]
Board Game: Cavum
Rich P
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I then went and picked up a copy of Cavum. Based on reading the rules, it sounded good, vaguely reminiscent of Tikal, but probably with a similar danger of Analysis Paralysis. It also got a reasonable reaction according to the Fairplay chart. As luck would have it, I arrived at the QWG stall in time to get the game signed by Wolfgang Kramer.

It looks like this was designed as a train game, then they changed the theme for some reason. Just look at all those track mine tiles. I don't know how the explosion tiles fit in with this hypothesis, however.
 
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25. Board Game: Master Builder [Average Rating:6.11 Overall Rank:6137]
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By itself, the name of this game makes it sound like it could be a hundred other Eurogames, nothing new. I was swayed by reading the rules - particularly the bit about workers having their own peculiar traits which you have to work around, such as sensitivity or negligence! Then I saw the pieces. When they say "in the course of the game beautiful buildings will be created", they're not kidding. The box is full of 3D building models to put together as the game progresses. Genius. Bought.

While I was at the Valley Games booth, I picked up Beep! Beep!, Habitat, and Container: The Second Shipment. I also got a Die Macher t-shirt, with a big square tomato on the back. I don't know what they were thinking making the t-shirts white, but I can wear it in bed or something.
 
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