Essen Spiel 2014 was a blast! It was my second year at the fair and that worked out well for me, as everything was familiar (most vendors were at their same location, halls were the same, etc.). Less awe, confusion and rushing around for stuff meant that I had more time for demos, to walk around and see all the fair had to offer, take photos, take in and think about boardgaming trends. So without further ado, I now present to you the Kazzies! – my special one-of-a-kind awards. 🙂
Ok, so I know people hate scrolling to the bottom to see the best, so I’m gonna start with that!
“BEST IN SHOW ” AWARD
Orléans – Reiner Stockhausen, dlp games.
This was a tough one for me! Personally, my favorite game was Imperial Settlers, but I gotta hand this to Orléans. I watched this game dominate the Fairplay charts and hung around the booth for days trying to see how people reacted to it. After watching a group of gamers play and subsequently purchase the game, I couldn’t resist any longer… and boy was I rewarded! That night, we played our first game and I was enamored. This is the quintessential Euro: paper thin theme (the rulebook didn’t even have any flavor text! Awesome!), muted art (although stunning IMHO), engine building, VP generating goodness all packed into 90 mins of game time. What’s different? It uses this year’s hottest mechanic: bag building (more on that later). Although Feld’s Aquasphere pipped it to the #1 spot on the last day, Orléans remains my #1 this year.
Runner up: Imperial Settlers (Ignacy Trzewiczek, Portal Games) – what can I say but Imperial Settlers is my kind of game! Card play & tableau building, variable player powers, engine building.. yummy!
“I JUST HIT ROCK BOTTOM” AWARD
Frankenstein’s Bodies – Andrew Harman, YAY! Games.
Oh wow, how bad was this. I doubt even the fair doctor could reanimate it! Frankenstein Bodies is most overproduced and overpriced “take that” game. You play mad scientists trying to impress Frankenstein with your monstrous creations and on your turn you draw cards and play cards. And… that’s it. You either play some body parts to one of the two monsters you create, screw others by taking their parts or defend yourself from other jerk players. There’s no novel mechanics, no twists, nothing. It could also just have been a €6 card game, and I probably wouldn’t complain but it’s €40! For a bunch of cards and unnecessary player boards. Geez. I actually sat down for a full game (albeit shortened) of this and won it by basically stacking defensive cards in my hand. The sense I got from the other players on my table was, “That’s it? Really?”. And for those who bought it for €40, if you’d just walk into the next hall, you could have got it for €28… you just got royally served. I think I’ll end my rant here before I kill someone. 🙂
Runner up: None.
“THAT WAS A NICE SURPRISE! “AWARD
Beasty Bar – Stefan Kloß, Zoch Verlag
I heard nothing about this game prior to the fair but on the second day, I noticed this small box game climbing the Fairplay charts. So I popped on over to the Zoch booth to check it out. There wasn’t much info about it there either, but at €12, I guess it was good gamble…. one that paid off sweetly! Beasty Bar is probably the most laugh out loud game this year. Simple and tricky with all sorts of ways to be mean. The theme alone is enough to draw some chuckles. Art is great and cards are huge!
Runner up: Gaïa (Olivier Rolko, TIKI Editions Inc.) – an easy to learn and fast paced tile laying game with rulesets for junior players as well as gamers. Looks really fun and was flying of the shelves.
“INDIES FTW “AWARD
Doodle City – Eilif Svensson, Kristian Amundsen Østby, Aporta Games
This award is given to first time designers / publishers at the fair. With the big boys taking a hiatus after a bumper year last year, it gave opportunity to the indies to shine. And boy did they shine! It was a strong showing by the newcomers from Poland, Norway, Canada, Finland and even the local boys. Not an easy one to pick either but I think I’ll go with Doodle City. The game had some good pre-Essen buzz, courtesy of Dale Yu at Opinionated Gamers and it charted well on BGG’s ranking (although I won’t think too much of it, that ranking is whacked.. haha). It’s one that falls into the “easy to learn and hard to master” category. Plus it plays up to 6 players!
Runner up: Green Deal (Juma Al-JouJou) – I gotta give props to Juma for his marketing strategy at the fair. He had helpers wear T-shirts with his game box in front and a map at the back roam the halls, passing out flyers or just hanging around playing games. Now, that’s what I call tenacity. The game though is ambitious – a 90 minute pure economic game in the vein of Power Grid. It’s brave, it’s well play tested (“smooth like butter” – according to OTK gamer, Heng after first play) and it fills that nice time slot and player count (up to 5 players).
“I PUT THE X IN X-PANSION” AWARD
Terra Mystica: Fire & Ice – Jens Drögemüller, Helge Ostertag, Feuerland Spiele / Z-man
The best just keeps on getting better. New map, new ways to score and pick races and most important of all, those insane new races! Ice Maidens, Yetis, Acolytes, Dragonlords, Shapeshifters and Riverwalkers are on their way to tear up the land! So excited to play this! Terra Mystica has undeniably been the best game I’ve played for a long time… and hopefully with this expansion will cement it’s greatness.
Runner up: 7 Wonders: Babel (Antoine Bauza, Repos Production) – strangely very little buzz, maybe it’s because it was pretty pricey… or people are kinda burnt out on 7 Wonders. I didn’t pick this up because of the price, but I would say it adds some nice twists to the base game.
Panthalos – Bernd Eisenstein, Irongames
I was very much looking forward to Bernd’s new big box game, after he had much success with Peloponnes (not much so with his small box ones). It had lots going for it: dice placement (as workers – they get stronger, ala Praetor), conflict and a good number of ways to score points. But I watched some gamers break the game.. two rounds to the end, the game ran out of tiles, and everything got a little wonky. What was sad to see was Bernd coming over but offering no solution, except that this was an extreme case and they just had to play it out. Screams of the lack of playtesting – which is a shame really. I talked to two of the gamers afterwards. One of them is an avid fan of Peloponnes. I asked if they would buy the game. Neither would. Pretty damning don’t you think?
Runner up: Imperialism: Road to Domination (Konrad Perzyna, G3) – was supposed to be a 90 minutes civ (civilization) game, which is possibly to the Holy Grail of civ games in terms of play time but turned out to be a read-card fest. Every table I looked, people were taking so much time reading their cards. Gameplay seemed dull too. Guess the search continues (or is it found in Deus?)
A couple of quick thoughts on the types of games I don’t play much:
“THOSE THAT NEED OTHERS” AWARD
Pandemic: The Cure – Matt Leacock, Z-man Games
Now, this is a co-op I would play! This one really reduces the alpha gamer problem (sorry Robinson Crusoe!) because the dice determines what a player can do on his / her turn. Easy to pick up, plays fast and still kicks your teeth in. Excellent.
“YOU AND ME” AWARD
Patchwork – Uwe Rosenberg, Lookout / Mayfair Games
A quiet year for the Herr Rosenberg, but his 2 player game Patchwork was the only one that managed to chart on Fairplay. An abstract that looks simple yet deep. Strangely, his other 2 player game “Fields of Arle” was lagging behind… possibly due to it being heavier.
“LCG-CCG-TCG- GG” AWARD
Lords of War – Nick Street & Martin Vaux, Black Box Game Publishing
Haven’t been a fan of these kinds of tactical 2 player card games but I managed to get a demo of this and it was pretty fun. Not sure how it stacks up with Summoner Wars or Mage Wars though, but I guess it offers something different and it has an Award (not mine lah.. heh). But you gotta splurge on packs in you wanna have the whole she-bang.. and that lovely lovely mat!
“MINI ME” AWARD
The Lord of the Ice Garden – Krzysztof Wolicki, RedImp Publishing
These new boys from Poland brought their shiny new toys! 😛 The minis look great, the board looks great and from what I saw, the game looks interesting. Not my kinda game though, but you might want to check it out if you’re into the whole minis and fantasy thing.
“IT’S MY PARTY AND I’LL CRY IF I WANT TO” AWARD
McJohny’s – Jan Vaněček, Czech Board Games
This one looks a riot! Players work in a fast food joint and each one is in charge of a station. They each have to solve a mini game in a small amount time. Kinda reminds me of Space Cadets, without the convoluted rules and way more fun! Although they have to complete orders together, each player is playing for themselves… evil! Pity it plays only up to 6 players.
And to wrap things up, a bird’s eye view of everything:
“THE GRAND SCHEME OF THEME” AWARD
Dodgy activities seems to be the hottest theme this year at the fair. Just check out this list: Illegal, Lap Dance, La Cosa Nostra, Greed, Prohis and New York Kings – all dealing with some form of the shady underworld.
Runner up: “Light civs” – All promising a more manageable playtime: Deus, Historia, The Golden Ages, Imperialism.
“UNDER THE HOOD” AWARD
Bag building is all the rage this year. It’s basically deck building but you add to or draw meeples / workers / cubes from a bag instead. The main mechanic in Orléans, Hyperborea and King’s Pouch.
Runner up: Dice! Yes, dice is back in a big way this year. Almost 1 in every 5 games (not an actual statistic of course) has some kind of use of dice in it. At least it seemed that way. 😛
Whoa, that was long. Part 2 will showcase more awards featuring designers, illustrators and other fair experiences. Stay tuned!
For those wondering where you can play some of these awesome games, why not check out the BGC retreat? It’s 2 full days of semi-competitive gaming at a nice little resort. Prizes, surprises and a whole lot of Essen loot to play with!
Your resident Eurodude,
Kaz a.k.a. onetonmee
Categories: Essen Spiel