Monday, December 09, 2019

Mark's Bundle of 2019 Essen Game Thoughts

This post was written in mid-November... thus, I have not just gotten home from a weekend of post-Essen gaming in "real time".

Just got home from a fantastic weekend of gaming (Thursday evening through Sunday afternoon) with friends… enjoying a truckload of new games straight from Essen. (OK, so not really a truckload, unless it was a small hand truck being pulled by a guy on a moped. Still, 32 new games isn’t a bad weekend – especially when you get to play them with great people.)

Here’s my ‘hot takes’… organized by day. (Disclaimer – the majority of these are based on one play, though under excellent conditions with experienced gamers and a rules teacher who had read the rules ahead of time and/or played the game previously.) There are some thoughts about games I didn’t get to play at the end as well.


The “Essen games only” rule of this particular gathering didn’t kick in until Friday morning… so I had the opportunity to play Giant Azul (which is made me feel like a small child – dang, those pieces are huge) and an unpublished prototype from Bezier Games.

Cloaked Cats: Code 777 for children… that’s over-simplifying it, but this is a deduction game for kids & families. The cards in your hand determine what clues you’ll give and/or force out of other people. My only complaint is that the striped cats are sometimes tricky to see in the artwork. (BTW, I was horrible at this game… no surprise.)


Lux Aeterna: Played this solitaire real-time space adventure a couple of times… winning both times on “easy” setting. You pick up four cards, quickly assess them and assign them to one of four positions, then execute the good (and bad) stuff. Your job is to keep the space ship alive and not fall into a black hole. I like the art style but the rules could use a slight tuning and I don’t see it holding my interest for too many more games.

Mandala: Two player game of set-collecting… very abstract. Simple to play but I want more theme in my games. Note: board is a printed tea towel… I could feel the Ragnor Brothers smiling from across the sea.

What Came First?: Simple party game that was performing at its best (I think) with just 3 players. Bid 1-3 chips on which thing (Doritos or Pringles?) happened first. If you know the year for sure, you can “go big” to gain extra points. Find out actual answer, score, lather, rinse, repeat.

Kakerlaken Sushi: The first of two times I would be talked into playing the newest member of the Kakerlaken (cockroach) game family. Cross the easiest form of the dice game Bongo with an Arriba-like grabbing game… I was decent at it but I don’t play these kind of games much any more unless I’m at a weekend gathering. If you like these kinds of things, it works very well.

5er Finden: HABA does a pattern search game that is really enjoyable. Roll the dice then quickly find Tetris-like shapes that incorporate all five symbols on your personal mat. Outline them with a dry erase pen… and when you’ve got 5, flip the timer for everyone else. I liked it.

Die Crew: Do not be surprised if the copy of this at BGGcon this week is dog-eared from near constant play. It’s a cooperative trick-taking game that is really enjoyable. Die Crew (The Crew: was in near constant rotation this weekend – I personally played 3 different times… and can’t seem to find my way past Mission 7. (Other OG members have written about this in their Essen reports… and I’d expect to see a full review coming up soon.)

Electropolis: One of my highlights of the weekend… a relatively simple drafting/city-building game that still offered some really nifty twists. You draft from a circle of tiles… where you have to take the appropriate number of adjacent tiles. You know how many to take based on where you chose to end up in the turn order – go later & get more tiles or go early & get a couple that you want/need. Placement is determined by an action card that you draft with your tiles. I would love to play it again and see how it goes with 2 players… 4 was great – our game was just over an hour.

Ab durch die Mauer: This is right in Zoch’s wheelhouse… cool mechanic (magnets and rotating board lead to ghosts floating through the titular walls) coupled searching for costume cards for your ghost. Went just a little too long… would work best with 8-11 year olds, I think – the frustration level of your ghost traveling all over the board without your control would overwhelm some smaller kids.

Qwixx on Board: Take regular Qwixx, which I enjoy. Add a board that the active player can use to move on to cross off yet another space and move along to earn a few extra points. It sounds goofy, but I really liked the extra decision it added. I hope Gamewright will release a copy of the board to put in my nice Qwixx Deluxe box.

Age of Dirt: A Game of Uncivilization: Imagine, if you will, Stone Age if the guys designing it were junior highers who had just been given their first dice tower. That sounds like a snarky complaint, but we really had fun with this prehistoric resource-gathering game where sending cavemen out to harvest stuff doesn’t always mean they’ll show up. They can get stuck in “The Passage” (the dice tower) and appear at some later time. The invention cards are pun-filled and offer the “rock star points” you need to win the game. It ran right at an hour, which is about right for the weight of this game.

Fast Sloths: I understand it’s a game about sloth racing… but with five players it didn’t move quite fast enough to feel like a race. There are a lot of opportunities for clever plays and the game is mechanically sound – but there wasn’t a spark. I’d like to try it again with fewer players to see if I like it better with less waiting between turns.

Bubble Tea: Speed pattern building game with over-produced bubble tea shaker for dice cup. And that pretty much covers it.

Dust on the Wings: Beautiful production – but the game play is Five Tribes without any special powers and/or reasons to play more than once. Possibly my least favorite game of the weekend.

Dawn of Mankind: Prehistoric civilization creation… I liked the aging mechanic and the variety of ways to chase resources, points and innovations. There’s also nice variability in the action layout. I’d like to play it again with a different mix of actions.

Era: Medieval Age: I’m a big fan of Matt Leacock’s “Roll Through…” trilogy of games: Roll Through the Ages: Bronze Age, RTtA: Iron Age, and Chariot Race (on which I was a playtester). I had high hopes for Era… and though the components are gorgeous (with the exception of the base board which should have had the icons darkened), the gameplay does not live up to the previous incarnations of the system.

Nova Luna: I love Uwe’s Patchwork… and I adore Corne’s Habitats – in theory, combining those two games should be a winner. The problem? They’ve shucked all the theme and character out of Habitats, leaving just the placement mechanic. If you like abstracted placement games, this is excellent… but it left me cold.


Coloma: The Wild West meets worker placement with an interesting action selection system and LOTS to do. It moves at a nice pace (even with six players) and the presentation is very good. I actually put it on my BGG Secret Santa wishlist… though I wonder how often I’ll get to play it. (Our first-timers six player game took 2.5 hours – I think a second game would clock in right at 2 hours.)

Kauchuk: Using rubber bands & a peg board for area control (in a stunning variety of modes) is genius. I want to clarify a rule (how big an area can you surround with completed areas and claim?) and I’m not in love with the cardboard scoring track – but I’d be more than happy to play again.

Miyabi: Puzzle-y game of building Japanese gardens from HABA… not really a game for kids – it’s got some tricky decisions and you can paint yourself into a corner. On the plus side, it’s enjoyable and (no surpise with HABA) has big chunky tiles for you to build up your garden.

Pictures: Cross Codenames Pictures with a variety of oddball ways to communicate the correct answer (sticks & stones, 3×3 colored pixel grid, shoestrings, etc.)… and what you get was actually an enjoyable party game for 3-5 players/teams. I think it might have a limited number of plays in the box (due to the number of cards and the sameness of the challenges) – but those would all be really enjoyable plays. This would be a great choice for holiday gaming with non-gamer family.

6 nimmt! Brettspiel: I’m a long-time fan of Tanz der Hornochsen, the previous 6 Nimmt! board game… so I wondered both (a) what’s different, and (b) does it work? Happy to report there are differences (mainly the addition of action cards and the shortening of the game by eliminating buying new tiles) and that they work like a charm. (Sadly, the relatively tasteful manure/poop jokes are gone… part of the bizarre charm of Tanz.) I honestly prefer either of these to the original game (which is good but more abstract) or the numerous variant decks (which complicate the game unnecessarily.)

Kushi Express: Speed dexterity game of making sushi out of 4 plastic blocks and two cloth pieces of “bacon” and “cheese”. I am awful at this… but it does photograph quite nicely.

Point Salad: Reminded me of King’s Breakfast a bit… inoffensive but I don’t need to play it again. Pretty much standard set collecting.

The City: I’ve played the German version of the The City 91 times… and Jump Drive (the Race for the Galaxy re-implementation of The City) 72 times. I’d call myself a fan. So this play with new English language edition was a treat – Tom Lehmann (the designer) has re-balanced some of the cards and added a few new ones. I don’t like the art (too pastel) or the graphic design – both of which make it harder to read the game across the table than the original Amigo version. But the game still works like a charm… and it’s really nice to have an English version available.

The Artemis Project: A six round engine builder of settling Europa (the ice moon of Jupiter)… it’s primarily a dice placement game that is reminiscent of Jeff Allers’ Order of the Gilded Compass/Alea iacta est games – only with more random events and sci-fi theme. I enjoyed our three player game but need to try it again with more players to see if it has more “sharp elbows” at those player counts.

Suburbia Collector’s Edition: Did I spend a lot of money on a box that is big enough (and heavy enough) to generate its own gravitational field? Yes. Was it worth it? Oh yeah. The new tiles are gorgeous, the bits are wonderful, the tower is silly but keeps things organized… and the sliding tray for tiles and Gamer Trayz for storage are top notch. (And I won.)

It’s a Wonderful World: A slightly more gamer-y 7 Wonders-ish card draftign game of civilization building. The major difference is that you’re drafting a set of cards that you then use as resources (discarding them) or construction (building them). We were just over 30 minutes with 2 players… but both Dan & I are “play by the seat of your pants” players. I saw other games with more players that lasted nearly an hour – which indicates that the game proceeds at the pace of the slowest player. Good news: it worked just fine with 2 players “out of the box”.

Silver: I know that lots of folks like these games… and the prototype deck I played had some crunchy tricky goodness in it. But I’m not the right audience for this one – while still acknowledging I’m in the minority here.


Robin von Locksley: Uwe Rosenberg designing in the mold of Patchwork and his classic card games, rather than in Agricola/Caverna mode… and it’s very, very good. Great two player set-collecting game that involves the knight movement from Chess and a variable race track. I need to find a copy of this one!

Expedition to Newdale: I’ve never played Oh My Goods! (which Newdale is a thematic continuation of)… but if this game is any indication, I’ve been missing out. This was just the right side of think-y production engine building with interesting board play decisions and (bonus!) a campaign system that tells a story. The box actually contains 8 different boards and cards that are seeded into the deck as the story moves along. 4 players landed right at 2 hours… I’m wondering if it will work as a 2 player game for my younger son & I.

Rune Stones: My last game of the weekend… a beautifully produced Queen deck-building/deconstructing game. The theme is standard fantasy trope: collect creatures, use them to collect gems which you can turn into artifacts… which finally transform into points/rune stones (permanent powers). The game ran almost 90 minutes – which is too long for what’s there – but I think it might pick up speed quickly on a second play. Turns are very straightforward and the way in which you can un-build your deck to use powers on the cards is cool.

Didn’t Get To Play

I had three games I really wanted to try and didn’t get to:

  • Flotilla
  • Lockup: A Roll Player Tale
  • Megacity Oceania

They all look very interesting in their own strange ways.

The game I most want to try from Essen 2019 wasn’t at the event: Sanctum (from CGE). Both my oldest son & I have it on our Christmas lists.

Observed But Not Played

Some quick hits on games that were played around me but not by me:

  • Crystal Palace – long… very long.
  • Maracaibo – popular and well-liked… but had a long running time for first-time players
  • The Magnificent – the board is very murky looking
  • Cooper Island – cool-looking board… but very much “play your own game” except for worker placement
This post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

1 comment:

Christian Sinclair said...

Long time reader. I went in 2014. I had fun reading your snippets. It brought back memories and i want to go again.