Friday, December 12, 2014

Essen 2014: A Weekend to Remember

I had a wonderful weekend (well, extended weekend) with good friends playing a large pile (45!!) of Essen 2014 games. The following list is my attempt to give you my quick reactions to the games that were new to me.

I plan to write longer reviews on some of these games in the upcoming months. Questions are welcome in the comments - I'll do my best to answer them.

The games are listed in alphabetical order under each category.

  • The Battle at Kemble's Cascade - creative mechanics do a great job of capturing the feel of old skool video games... specifically side-scrollers like Defender or Gradius
  • Castles of Mad King Ludwig - a cousin to Suburbia... but with some great spatial challenges and some tricky decisions about setting prices
  • Colt Express - an incredible 3D board (of a Western steam train) makes an excellent platform for a delightfully random gunfight (your mileage may vary drastically, depending on your tolerance for wackiness & fluff)
  • Deus - a blending of tableau-building and Catan-like building to the map works like a charm
  • Hook - a speed pattern recognition game with a pirate theme... that doesn't lock out slower players
  • Nations: The Dice Game - taking a different approach to dice + civ-building than long-time favorite Roll Through the Ages, this is more interactive (due to the limited tiles)
  • Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Skull & Shackles - my younger son dubbed this a "role-playing deck-building game"... he's right. And we've had a lot of fun playing this cooperative game together. As of last night, we've played the first four scenarios.
  • Abraca...what? - a deduction game for people who don't like deduction games... and kid-friendly as well
  • Fresh Fish - the new edition of this classic game is MUCH easier to figure out while retaining the nastiness of the original
  • Gib Gas - blind bidding game with a theme (auto racing) and some interesting twists (note: my friend, Dale Yu, designed this, so I may be biased)
  • Orleans - I really liked the puzzle element of putting your turn/moves together - but not my normal type of game
  • Sheep & Thief - a card-drafting game with Carcassonne-like placement... and a simple but effective interaction mechanic (the thieves)
  • Spellcaster - very fast magical card battle game...
  • Spike - my friend, Stephen Glenn, pays homage to crayon rails & Ticket to Ride... the end comes quicker than you think it will... need to play this one again with some experience under my belt
  • The King of Frontier
  • Uruk II: Die Entwicklung Geht Weiter - much like Fresh Fish, the new edition (esp. the English rule set) makes Uruk MUCH easier to play
  • Villannex - mind-warping micro-game of bluff & double bluff - there's a lot going on for such a small game
  • Camel Cup - not sure that it's SdJ material... but it's nicely produced, works as promised - and I had fun playing it
  • Murano - Venice? Again? Sigh. Well, I did like the gondola mechanic.
  • Pandemic: The Cure - If I hadn't played the board game, this would be rated much higher. It's a well-done and enjoyable cooperative game - but I found myself missing the board.
  • Roll Through the Ages: The Iron Age - Again, if it wasn't for Roll Through the Age: The Bronze Age, I think this would have been a hit for me. As it is, fun but I don't need to own both of them. (Note: we did not play with the Mediterranean expansion board.)
  • 7 Steps - abstract multi-player stacking game... very, very tactical (in other words, almost NO look-ahead ability for players).
  • Ciub - While I love the ideas behind this, I found myself wishing I was playing To Court the King (also designed by Tom Lehmann) instead.
  • Der 7bte Zwerg - Very light press-your-luck / gambling game... not much here but was fun with the right crowd.
  • Grog Island - Pirate theme slathered across a pretty standard "new Euro" auction game... though I will admit to enjoying the tension created by the extra resource system.
  • Orongo - a decent family game that is definitely crippled by some mystifying component choices (tiles that blend into the board when you need to see them, conch shell pieces that roll away from where they are supposed to mark the board). We were all surprised by this behavior from Ravensburger.
  • Pandemic: Contagion - This is an area majority game disguised as a cousin to Pandemic. Your willingness to enjoy this game may depend on how well you liked games like Nuclear War. (Yes, I'm dating myself. Again.)
  • Rolling Japan - Take It Easy with dice & an abstracted map of Japan. I wish this was an iOS app rather than a board game.
  • Samurai Spirit - very well-designed cooperative game that is (a) tough to win, (b) filled with gorgeous artwork, and (c) still a little soulless. Found myself wishing we were playing Geister, Geister Schaumeister (which we did play during the weekend) or Pandemic.
  • Soqquadro - a real-time "play in your house" scavenger hunt party game that could be fun with the right crowd
  • Time Masters - a deck-builder with some interesting interactions and tableau-building elements. Not sure it will hold up to 10+ plays.
  • Who Am I? - deduction game with way too much packaging for what is essentially a set of paper dolls. Did produce one of the funnier moments of the weekend, though.
  • Witness - a sophisticated game of Telephone crossed with Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective
  • Viceroy - Russian game of tableau-building that works just fine but lacks the proper oompf
  • Yardmaster Express - simple drafting game that would be very family-friendly: quick, good-looking & an accessible theme. 
  • Crowns - standard dice game in the same vein as Wurfel Bingo... only not as interesting
  • Da Yu: The Flood Conqueror - a clever mechanic (card-flipping to change values) did not help me like this game as much as everyone else at the table
  • Johari - an irritating exercise in converting money to gems to points
  • Marchia Orientalis - some nice ideas sabotaged by an economic system that has very little tension after the early going as well as some difficult-to-read artwork
  • Nehemiah - pseudo-Biblical theme doesn't win it any points with me... neither does the trap of avoiding helping out others (but I did like the cascading actions for later plays)
  • Neptun - The base game mechanics are nice - but it is too long by half.
  • Artificium - the only game we aborted the entire weekend
  • Cubo - pointless and frustrating dice game
  • Moscow to Paris - card game with one of my least favorite gaming problems: avoid setting up the player on your left
  • Planes - do not let the similar artwork fool you... this game is NOT related to the very enjoyable deck-builder Trains. The core mechanic is Mancala if it was set upon by rabid gamers... with action/scoring cards added. We found ourselves trying to figure out how to end the game - never a good sign.


Peter Schott said...

Disappointed that Nehemiah didn't go over so well - it sounded like a promising worker placement game when I encountered it. Can you go into any more detail about how it failed?

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Others liked Nehemiah more than I did... I felt like I was working primarily not to set up the next guy rather than build for myself. Many plays seemed obvious ("have to take this now before someone else does").

I wanted to like it as well...