Essen Spiel

Spiel19 – Wooden wheels of Barrage; aye or nay?

Wooden Wheels and 5th Player Map for BARRAGE. Are they worth the upgrade / add-on? Here’s what CK thinks from his first-look at Spiel19. A Happy 10 Birthday to Cranio and quick look at their 2020 line-ups.

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Event: Spiel 2019
Location: Messen Essen, Germany
Dates: 24-26 October, 2019


Essen Spiel 2019 – First Look at the Wooden Wheels of BARRAGE
by jack208

Nothing has generated as much drama as the BARRAGE Kickstarter from Cranio Creation back in Nov 2018. If you missed that boat, then it’s okay as I won’t be regurgitating that past. hehe.

BARRAGE (Cranio Creations)
In the dystopic 1930s, the industrial revolution pushed the exploitation of fossil-based resources to the limit, and now the only thing powerful enough to quench the thirst for power of the massive machines and of the unstoppable engineering progress is the unlimited hydroelectric energy provided by the rivers.

Amidst all the hoo-ha and to cut a long story short, Cranio decided to proceed with the following to remedy the situation

  • Launch a 2nd Kickstarter (Nov 2019) to offer 1st Kickstarter backers the option to request for (replacement wheels, wooden water drops) with 2 addition Executive Officers (XO) as a free bonus,
  • Offer a new Expansion Map and components for 5th Player. This is not free but comes with a discount for original backers

In the meantime, a couple of organizer/insert vendors in the market also decided to release their own “Wooden Wheels” replacement for Barrage, notably Laserox (

Laserox has had a good track record with their wooden game organizers/inserts. Those are not cheap but their quality is solid. So when Laserox also announced they’ll be having their own Barrage Wheels by this Essen, it caught my attention.

I love BARRAGE, and I feel it’s easily one of the top games of 2019. But those water drops. The 3D board. And that wheel of frustration!

With two Wooden Wheel options available in Essen for me to test them out – and the opportunity to take a look at the New Map and 5th Player Expansion components – the Cranio booth was earmarked as one of the firsts for me to visit on Day One!


First, a stop to the LASEROX booth to check out their version of the Wheel.

LASEROX Barrage Wheel (wooden)
Regular EU5 / Spiel19 EU4

The Barrage Wheel as expected was displayed prominently πŸ™‚ Looked really pretty, with nice markings on the wheel. Made of plywood. Felt sturdy and certainly a big step-up from the (bendy) cardboard wheels that came with the 1st Kickstarter version of Barrage.

At EU5/ea, it’s not a cheap accessory. You’ll need at least four (or five if you are getting the 5th Player XP for Barrage). If you get them during Spiel19, there’s a discount of 20% off (EU4/ea).

The wheel felt heavy-enough in the hand. However in the “spin test”, I found the wheel to be quite stiff, didn’t spin smoothly. I tried a few and got the same “rigidness”. Or maybe those wheels need some breakin-in?

If anyone reading this have had actual playing experience with these wheels, feel free to chime in.


Next stop is the Cranio Creations booth. It looked busy with 2 tables of Barrage available for demo/play; both included the mapboard changes and components for 5th Player, and the featured new Map (which can play 5 vs the original map which was designed for 4 players only).

The BARRAGE demo table with all 5th Player component and new expansion map for gamers to give it a play-thru (even if you do not know yet how to play the game)

But first things first. The new Wooden Wheels!

CRANIO Barrage Wheel (wooden)
EU5/ea incl shipping
(only available via Kickstarter)

The new Wooden Wheel from Cranio. Markings were less intricate than the Laserox version and of darker color. From the aesthetic perspective, I prefer the Laserox wheel to Cranio’s, but I like the darker tone of Cranio more than Laserox.

Now let’s see how it spins…

The Spin Test passed perfectly for Cranio’s wheel. Moved smoothly and I like the feel of it. The Action Technology tiles and the workers moved along without a hitch.


Price-wise both are at around EU5/ea retail. The difference lies in availability. Laserox Wheel is available to anyone who were in Essen (with a 20% discount) and also direct via their website (excl shipping).

Cranio Wheels however were only available thru their 2nd Kickstarter campaign and if you missed that, there’s no indication so far from Cranio they are offering these Wheels outside Kickstarter.

If you are an original backer, you can get Cranio Wooden Wheel at a much lower price ie EU3.40/ea for a set of 5 (EU17).

The good news – if you are an original backer – is that Cranio is committed to remedy (some) of the issues of the 1st Kickstarter by replacing the Cardboard Wheels, and the Water Drops for free. And in lieu of the EU1 pledge (Kickstarter pledge requires a min of $1) Cranio is throwing in 2 additional Executive Officers. That’s not too bad.

In case you are wondering, so how well does the replacement Cardboard Wheel spin? The newly designed Wheel no longer comes with the rivet (which is likely the source of the woobly spin problem) and from my quick test, they do spin much better than the ones in my Kickstarter set. They are made of cardboard though so there’s no guarantee how long that “good spin” will last. tsk tsk.

5th Player Expansion and New Map

The newly announced 5th Player Expansion components and the New Map that supports 5 players were also on display at the Cranio booth for us to playtest. Let’s take a quick look at how well they play.

New Map for 4-5 player games

The new Player Map is designed to scale up to 5 players. It also supports 4 players. The new map has 5 basins at the mountain area and 4 basins in the hills and plains (vs 4/3/3 on the original map) but this probably means it won’t be good for 3 or lower player count.

The downside? Oh well if you have pledged for the KS Exclusive 3D Map, then sorry to say this new Player Map doesn’t do 3D.

New Management Board add-on just for 5 player game

An additional sideboard for the Management Office in 5 player games so that you don’t run out of action spaces to place your Engineers. This extra board won’t be in play for the original 2-4 player sessions.

New board overlays for the other boards eg Energy Track and Patent Office. These are only required when playing at 5 player count.

Wooden water drops

Above: This is how the substitute wooden water drops look like. Original backers would get a set of these to replace the plastic water drops that came with the 1st Kickstarter.

These still does not resolve one gameplay issue. If you are seated facing the front of the map, it can be hard to see how many water drops are retained behind a dam if it’s built up to 2- or 3-level of elevations. What these improved is a much easier “pick-me-up” compared with the original water drops.

New Executive Officers – Mrs Wu Fang and Dr Octavius

An added bonus for original backers – to kinda offset the EU1 they paid for the Kickstarter minimum pledge – these two XOs are good-to-have and add more variability to each session.

My thoughts?
All-in, when these new items are delivered to backers, it would help improve some of the playing experience. Even without the wooden wheel, the replacement non-riveted cardboard wheel works better than the original sets. Likewise the new water drops.

As for the 5th Player XP, while the new map offers replayability I’m not sure I’m keen to play BARRAGE with 5p. So this is a pass for me.

However those “Kickstarter Promises” made and broken would remain in the backers memory and sullied what’s otherwise a top game! And in another stranger twist of fate, buyers of the recently released Retail Ed would get the improved components (cardboard wheels, water drops) while original backers need to wait till Mar/Apr before theirs arrived. Haiz.

The CRANIO booth at Essen Spiel 2019
MASTERS OF RENAISSANCE, the card ver of Lorenzo il Magnifico

The other highlight game from Cranio last year was their card-ver of LORENZO ie MASTERS OF THE RENAISSANCE. The most eye catching part is the Market Tray with marbles representing resources

The game is late (from USA release) so we need to wait before I can write a quick impression for you.

Happy 10, Cranio!

Cranio Creations was celebrating their 10-year Anniversary last year (2019) and in spite of their BARRAGE missteps, let us take a moment to reflect on the list of great Euro games they’ve released for us to enjoy these past 10 years. To me that would be Lorenzo il Magnifico, Newton, Council of 4, Horse Fever and obviously last year’s Barrage.

Happy 10, Cranio!
Four of my fave Cranios (beside Barrage)

A Blast from the Past!

It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy when I checked back our past albums and found this photo of CRANIO’s booth way back in 2012 (when BGC first stepped foot into Spiel).

The CRANIO booth back in Spiel12

What’s Not to Like?

Oh wow! Seems we actually bought a copy of their 2012 title “LIKE” which is a game about trolling for social media LIKES.

Like – The Social Game aims to bring the β€˜Y Generation’ (used to social life on the internet) to share a game experience around a table, showing them how β€˜social’ can be a real game experience, more than a virtual one. Give it a try… You may Like it.

What does the Future hold?

Their future plans couldn’t look more exciting with a series of exciting new games announced for this year. Not much details available on these but take a look at that GOLEM box cover! GOLEM features the trio of Luciani, Gigli and Brasini!

May the next 10 is be even better for Cranio and they keep churning out great games for us all.

Updated (1/3/20) to mention LIKE, one of Cranio’s 2012 titles

For more Essen Spiel reports:

For more photos of our Essen Spiel 2019 trip, visit our Flickr Spiel19 Collection.

Next Essen Spiel
22-25 October, 2020

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