Was it hot or not?
If you're only interested in information about games, skip over the text in italics, because that's where I do NOT provide any of that.
I went to the Spiel in Essen, Germany's biggest board game fair, with my two friends Alex and Andi, to explain games at the Heidelberger Spieleverlag booth, Germany's distributor and translator of FFG, Nexus, FFP, Valley Games and more. my friends worked all four days, I took Sunday off to stroll around the exhibition with another friend Rico, whose apartment we were staying at, but who couldn't go on Thursday or Friday.
Age of Conan
I didn't play this game, but Andi played the prototype on Thursday when things weren't yet that busy at our booth. He thought it was pretty good and described the game play a little.
Every player is trying to become the most powerful nation. At the beginning of the game a bunch of dice are rolled as in WAR OF THE RING, but here all players pick from the same pool. Once the pool has been emptied all dice are rolled again, giving every player the choice over a full pool at some point in the game. To take control over other areas the players can either fight a battle or stage an intrigue. The combat system is also dice based, but you need to expend cards to trigger special results turning useless die results into very effective ones. Conan is controlled by the game system is wandering around aimlessly on the board, randomly helping one player and slaying dudes of the other. That's about all I remember.
My friend Alex explained this game from Saturday onwards and he was very enthusiastic about it on Saturday already, so I just urged to play it on Sunday.
Basically this game is SHADOW OVER CHAMELOT done right. It expands the similar card play to an extent which satisfies dedicated gamers and gives the players, especially also the traitor, far more options and also threatens them with many more different calamities. We didn't finish our game, but I'm certain our Galactica would have never reached its goal(, which it would do by jumping a few times before reaching Kobol). Morale was decreasing fast. I played Apollo and was deemed to idling all game, because every time just the moment before I closed the range to attack enemy Cylon ships, our Admiral Adama launched a nuke (to protect his son?), so we were out of nukes after jumping twice. This lead the other players to think that I was the traitor. I knew who our real traitor was very quickly, but during the whole game I was either piloting a Viper or in the Sick Bay and the other players wouldn't have trusted me anyway. Consequently I was hoping to become a Cylon traitor the second time loyalty cards are handed out, which is by the way a very nice aspect of the game. My friend Rico got two traitor cards and if the game had continued I'm pretty certain he would have passed me one, which is completely legal and also a very nice rule. All in all we (all four) think this is an awesome game and if it wasn't sold out at the end of Essen we would own a copy already.
Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear
This game was hyped a lot before Essen and was also published quite some time ago. I did not buy it, because I generally never trust hypes and also wanted to play the game before buying it. The single session I played confirmed some of my prejudices, while also overwhelming me. The game is simple and fun, because it converts all aspects of tactical warfare, which slows down other game systems, into a few dice or movement modifiers, chit draws and cards. Losing two of my eight squads/teams already to the opening attack, I was pushing my little Nazi Germans hard, because tactical games like this always put time constraints on the attacker. Maybe a little too hard, because only single squads reached their victory hex one after the other and although the close combat was deadly the Soviet Russians gave away no quarter. I congratulate my opponent Rico to a glorious defense of the motherland, which according to the demonstrator was only the second Russian victory for the whole four days of the exhibition. Still, we did not think the scenario was unbalanced, maybe the Russian strategy is just harder to grasp and other less experienced players set up pointless counterattacks.
Our perception of the game is not very glorious though. I think this is an excellent game for casual or novice war gamers, or generally for people who enjoy light war games and I know these people exist plenty. I have to give credit to the designer who admirably condensed huge antiquated war game rule systems into an easily playable game which still manages to capture all the flair of these systems, while still keeping the game 'realistic'. These things for example can't necessarily be said about TIDE OF IRON. The game even incorporates a clever system for reacting to the opponent's moves and the components are also awesome. However, it's just not my type of game, the resolution of attacks gives a too broad array of results, i.e. the game is very luck based and at least with the few units we had in our game you can't really stage a sophisticated attack or defense. For example breakthroughs in our game were generally achieved by rolling high and having the right card which allows a unit to move extra fast. Maybe I'll still buy the German edition of the game, which will have a politically correct name and by appearing next month will be the only German war game to be published in quite a long time. Or maybe I'll wait for one of the other titles in the series about conflicts I not yet have games about.
I explained this game throughout most of Thursday and Friday and it was a big hit with all the folks I explained it to, always generating lots of laughter and fun. At least one person in every group stated that they're going to buy the game. I don't know if they did, but our store was sold out of the game on Saturday.
A prototype of this game was present at Essen, it looks great with many cool miniatures and game play that seems to be on the level of the COMMANDS AND COLORS or CLASH FOR A CONTINENT systems.
Neuroshima Hex – Babel 13
Portal demoed the expansion to Neuroshima Hex, but I did not have time to check it out.
PLANET STEAM is an economical simulation game, which is rumored to be based on M.U.L.E. It is a complex game in the eurogamer definition of the word complex.
The fun times of explaining GALAXY TRUCKER were over when I was gently forced to learn PLANET STEAM from the only guy who could explain it at our booth, but who had to leave Saturday afternoon. After all the game is quite simple and I could explain it pretty fast, but the game system is very interwoven, so first time players will be bored by the rule explanation and won't grasp the different strategies during the first few turns. Add Essen visitors who are interested in the game because of its big box, the overproduced components or the face that it was the 'hidden gem' of this year's Essen and who really should be playing GALAXY TRUCKER instead, and you understand why I enjoyed explaining this game the least.
This game is about pumping resources on a gas giant. I guess a fair amount of readers will skip to the next paragraph, when I say that the best part of the game is its dynamic market. Basically players start out with a few resources and place pumps and tanks on a grid every turn, producing bonus resources if they are placed in a certain pattern. With these resources players either they sell and buy them on the market or produce items helping them progress. The market is quite clever since every resource is sold to or bought from storage and the price is adjusted by the amount of resources in storage. The price is adjusted after every player buys/sells and in player order for every resource, so a sensible strategy is for the player acting last to buy all resources of one type thereby increasing its price and selling all the next turn. I guess you POWER GRID players out there will love this game, but it's just not up my alley. However, it is in my opinion, far better than AGRICOLA, which I think are about in the same league and genre if not sharing the same game system. It's clearly a game Michael Barnes might admit to liking in his column. I plan to write a review about this game, even though Mike Chapel will probably criticize again that eurogame content is written for F:AT.
On early Thursday morning nobody was able to explain this game so I was ordered to learn it by the rules, which I almost finished doing before being asked by an English family to explain ARKHAM HORROR and later GALAXY TRUCKER. Finally on Sunday I was able to kill two Russian-Gnomish submarine crews.
The genre of cooperative games has grown extremely popular recently, but Bruno stepped in to do a Faidutti. Each player is a Soviet Russian gnome trying to survive in a malfunctioning nuclear (read: new-clear) submarine for a given time until the rescue ship arrives. At the start of the game everything is fine, but every two or three minutes something bad happens. So if for example the first player wants to move to the captain's cabin to pick up two bottles of grog and this costs him six minutes, then three calamity cards are drawn. These include fires breaking out, leaks setting a room under water, hatches jamming, a reactor breakdown and even a kraken attacking the ship. One catastrophe launches a rocket which has to be deactivated in ten minutes, but it is unclear whether this resembles a circular-running torpedo or a nuclear missile fired on an American (Gnomish? Goblin?) city.
Similar to THEBES the player with the most remaining time moves next. If a player wants to for example repair the reactor he has to choose a certain amount of minutes and then roll less or equal than this number with a ten-sided die. Items help with certain skill checks by giving a bonus on the die roll and the aforementioned grog can be used to increase any skill check, but at the end of a player's turn he has to check if the drunk gnome loses consciousness for ten minutes. Of course the player who manages to find the diving suit may abandon the ship and either win if the submarine is lost or lose if it survives. Obviously gnomes die plenty by losing consciousness in a flooded room, ending a turn in a burning room, and so on. Red November is a very funny little game and it is also pretty tough to win, which with the random events grants a high re-playability.
World Cup Game, The
I almost forgot to try this game which Michael Barnes is so enthusiastic about. The designer himself demoed the game at a single table in some booth shared by several small English publishers (see picture) . He had finished the fourth expansion for the exhibition and kindly explained the game to us. The system is pretty cool, although we didn't have enough time left to try the game, which had to wait until we got home. While I was buying the game (and two expansions) another one of the independent game designers commented that I made an excellent choice and that it is really a very good game.
I played the 1930 Uruguay World Cup and it's a lot of fun. The rules are pretty clever, but the more subtle decisions only get apparent when playing the game. Each turn you for example have to choose on which of your three teams you play an action and you always have to observe which group (= several teams playing once against each other) you have the chance to come up first in, which of course is the goal. If three goals are scored against one of your teams will you submit this match or fight back?
Knowing that this isn't a bad thing on this site, I compare the underlying card system to WRASSLIN', because in both games you have available certain offensive and defensive actions, which cancel each other out and there are also other special actions which are very powerful, but have to be timed correctly. You need observe the other players and their matches. The best thing about THE WORLD CUP game is that you can play cards on any team, so for example if you are certain you're going to win one group you can play cards on a weaker team in another group, whose winner you'll be facing in the semifinals.
Last, but not least while the players absolutely don't need to know the rules of football to play the game, it still generates surprisingly realistic results. If you plan to bet money on the next world cup, you should play this game to determine your bets.
At a quiet half an hour on Thursday or Friday, the guy explaining SPACE ALERT thought it would be a good idea to teach other supporters the game, because he was the only one who could do it. He ended up demoing it the whole four days of the exhibition, but at least I got to try another of Essen's new releases, which because of the loud noises it radiated was a constant nuisance to the other people explaining games.
Oh no, another coop game! I'm convinced that innovative games can't suck and therefore Czech designer Vlaada Chvátil has a free ticket for good reviews. The short introductory game I played left me without any founded opinion of the game. I can only say that everyone interested in it should try it, because it really is a unique experience. The players represent crew members facing several dangers aboard a space ship, which is divided into six spaces, three of which are positioned in front of the ship and three in the back. Each space bears a cannon with different abilities, the forward facing spaces contain shields and a power generator is positioned in the central space in the back. Basically in each room you can either do action A or B, while A always resembles firing the cannon. The game takes exactly 30 minutes and either a stereo or a player armed with a stopwatch announces the start of several phases and the arrival of enemy ships. In each phase the players plan their actions, which are resolved simultaneously later in the game. The actions are available through split cards showing movement (Up/Down, Left or Right) on one half and actions (A or B) on the other. At a certain very short phase players can trade actions.
So how does it work? Basically you're trying to cooperatively take down one enemy ship after the other, with some players loading and then firing two or more guns, one player charging shields and one player generating power. However, in my session due to inexperience of the players and time constraints this resulted in total chaos, because players took the same action at the same time (one being useless of course), charged the shields while the ship had yet to generate more power (also useless of course) and one player was so stunned by the game that he didn't plot his last two actions. This last problem didn't affect us much though, as our ship was completely havocked before he could have even used them. Fortunately the first mission is story-wise said to only be a simulation. Still, I guess I wouldn't represent the captain on the next simulated flight.
The game is fun, but I also find (unreal) panicky chaos entertaining. However, I guess the game is easily solved by over-analytical players, who all listen to the captain's command, thus I'm certain not everyone will cherish this game. The underlying game play is also pretty simple, so it will hardly satisfy people looking for a hardcore SciFi game. Still, a group which knows to have fun will find it here and if they work very well together will be excited trying to beat the toughest scenarios of the game.
Sorry, I did not check out LE HAVRE (the Agricola successor), DOMINION (the Magic anti-addictive) or other hot new games using the acclaimed worker placement or rondel 'mechanics'.
Explaining games was a lot of fun and this year's Essen offered more interesting games than I could check out in one day. Our trip was pretty cheap since we drove there with one car and spent the nights free of charge at a friend's apartment. I don't think an Essen trip is worth it for non-Europeans. For three days of explaining games I also received a copy of Titan and a very cool and large placard of RED NOVEMBER with a burning gnome on it, which was used at our booth and now decorates one of my four walls.