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JUST GAMING AROUND - EGG Game Day - ESSEN GAMES GALORE - My first plays and impressions

-matt s.
United States
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The EGG Game Day was the weekend of November 12 graciously hosted by our Chief EGG Head, Lorna (and, yes, I'm very slow to getting this posted - due to Thanksgiving and spending my 'writing' time working on Dominion dividers for Hinterlands), :
Chief EGG Head
United States
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Lorna goes to Essen every year and picks up a number of Essen releases then invites locals over to give them a go. I received at least a couple of invitations but unfortunately I was too busy to be able to attend.

So, I was really looking forward to the EGG Game Day as I had most of the day open to be able to play games (well, after an early-day Scouting activity). And, I was really looking forward to getting in some of those Essen games I'd been drooling over.

The night before I read through the rules of Dungeon Petz as it was one of several games near the top of my 'to play' list. I've been hoping that it might be something I could play with my kids. Reading the rules closely really started getting me excited about playing it. I did have some concerns though whether my kids (8 & 11) would be able to play it as it I read through the many moving parts.

I could go into a long description of the details of attending the game day (like I usually do) but I'm not - I'd rather go into a long description of the games themselves. Well, ok, I'm going to try to be short...or medium length at least.

Here's a quick rundown of the NON-Essen games I played first:
* PitchCar - My friend Chris (Togra) left me a message the day before to bring PitchCar as his wife wanted to give it a go. So, I brought it and set it up with her soon after I arrived. Upon setting it up we played a 3-player, 2-lap game with a third, Doug. It had a nice looping hairpin and a longish jump (which we shortened later). She seemed to enjoy it quite a bit despite realizing it was more difficult to play than on the iPad...I didn't even KNOW they had it on the iPad!

* 7 Wonders - My friends Aric and Heather attended for their first time at my suggestion and I wanted to get a game in with them. They have attended a couple of game nights at my house and have been more and more interested in trying different games. I figured they would like this one and we also happened to have 7 people looking to play a game so this seemed like an obvious choice. I've really enjoyed my few plays of it and I'm enjoying trying different ways to try to score points. Everyone seemed to have a great time and the newbies (A&H, plus Greg who only played once before) picked up the game quickly (not surprisingly). Interestingly, all the players with resources were at one end of the table and all the players with military were at the other end of the table - and the military side ended up with mostly the lowest scores, mainly due to lack of......resources! As usual, a quick, fun, solid game.

Well, I have to laugh at myself a bit here - I thought I had played more Non-Essen games, but, nope, it was just these two! Overall, I was there for about 10 hours and I ended up playing a total of 8 games, 6 of which were Essen releases (well, 5 games, I played Mondriaan 2020 twice).

So, here are the Essen games in the order that I played them (barring the Non-Essen releases)

* Dungeon Petz - I had read the rules before arriving and was looking forward to getting this played. It took a little while to get everything set up and fully taught - there's a lot going on here. I love the artwork and I enjoyed the gameplay quite a bit as well. Putting together all the groups of imps with money was an interesting mechanic as it was very difficult to play out your entire turn without knowing what everyone else was seem to have to just focus on your 1 or 2 key important things then take what you can for the rest. I really like how as your pets grow you get more and more cards for them. Having magic books is nice to give you an extra card or two for the rest of the game. There's a lot to think about, but at the same time

It seems we were mostly pretty lucky with the card draws (or were we just skilled at managing our hands?) - none of us ONCE had a suffering monster OR a mutation. I think if the cards came out differently it could have been more of a problem...we didn't see too many negative effects of 'luck' in this game, although I suspect horrible card draws could likely really screw you over. The tough part is you need to place your creatures in cages BEFORE drawing cards, so you obviously aren't 100% sure you can get what you want. But, it seemed there was enough to do to keep your pets mostly happy and contained. I think getting the 'books' which let you hold an extra card helped as well as having multiple creatures from which to draw and select cards.

The last round was toughest as the differences between the Exhibition and the Customers was fairly wide, plus we all had non planned properly to be able to sell a monster each to both customers (only having 1 appropriate sized creature each)

The point difference between 1st (Lorna) and 2nd (me) was only 1-1/2 points, so it definitely came down to the wire and if either of us had drawn 1 or 2 different needs cards, it could have flip-flopped easily, so I guess luck of the draw can make a difference. But honestly, there's so much going on it's hard to say exactly which moves did and didn't ultimately make a difference by the end.

This game is now on my Christmas wishlist. I think it might be a tad heavy for my kids to play, but I think I can at least tweak it a bit if necessary just to have fun playing it with them.

* Mondriaan 2020 - This is an interesting game from Cwali for 2 players. The game consists of 11 large-ish square tiles for each player plus 1 additional to draw as a starting tile. Each tile has 1-3 colors on it. You take all 11 tiles as a 'hand' and select any one tile to play on your turn. Colors must match on played tiles. You then receive 1 point per 'section' of that color in the extended area (i.e. count all attached tile sections except the tile you played). Keep a running tally on a piece of paper. Whomever has the largest total when no more legal plays are available is the winner!

This game feels familiar and yet different. It actually feels a little like ConHex but without the goal of connecting the ends of the board. The key to the game seems to be getting large scoring areas without letting your opponent get in on them - if you can do that consistently and they can't you'll come out ahead.

Apparently the game was inspired by Mondriaan's artwork, but in reality the lines could have been drawn in a number of different ways (curvy, sketchy, etc) with different colors and the game would play exactly the same. Still, it has a sort of the feel of his artwork, but not enough for me really - no solid black lines, not quite the patterning I'd expect. It works for the game and looks neat, but it isn't Mondriaan for me unfortunately...

The game was fun and fast enough that we played twice in less than 30 minutes including teaching. I'm not itching to get it but if there was an opportunity to pick it up I might.

* Space Maze - I was quite interested in this game reading about it. I loved the idea of working through a maze with different colored space aliens. The goal is to get the relic (tinfoil looking hat) in the middle and get it back to your spaceship. You also get a token each time you steal it from someone else and can win by getting 3 tokens.

The most intriguing element for me was the gates between rooms (square tiles) of the maze are colored red, blue and yellow. These colors must 'mix' to match the color of the alien that you want to move through the gates. Then, you can play action cards to rotate or swap the squares to change who can go through each of the gates. I really liked this idea.

The issue I had with this game was I was expecting the game to be a bit faster paced. The way the cards came out and how you perform your actions, you only get 1 set of moves per turn. Then, if your action cards only let you rotate you're kind of stuck. This all is especially frustrating when you have to use your movement points to get more/better cards instead of moving the direction you need/want.

I would say my expectations were different than what the game ended up being. It was very difficult with 4 players to get yourself anywhere at times, made even more difficult by people then moving you back again wrecking your progress.

Ultimately, I still need to wait to try it again before I determine if this is a game I might want to get. I think the key is understanding how to leverage the action cards to get more 'movement' out of your turn.

* Tournay - I, like many other geeks, LOVED Troyes. For me, it got to the point of making my own mini copy of it before it became available. Granted, it didn't get played as much as I'd hoped before I got the 'real' copy, but I enjoyed the project. And, I still really love the game.

So, when I heard about Tournay it seemed like an instant buy for me, even after reading about it being a card game with no dice, but many similarities including the artwork (which I really like) and work placement aspects.

Lorna agreed to teach and Bryon joined us mid-teaching - he had not played before as well. I liked the idea of having limited space to build your buildings and the idea of building in such a way as to try to set up combos.

In playing, I never quite felt obligated to go after the event cards and so, I didn't. And, according to Lorna, the town criers came out very quickly making this normally shorter game even shorter than usual.

Still, my biggest complaint was the fact that EVERY card has different iconography and it's difficult to say what each building does. Even with the information provided it wasn't always perfectly clear. There is a reference card for all the symbols (a full sheet in fact) but even that doesn't seem to cover everything (or show the possible variety in the symbols).

Now, I'm not against having initial difficulty trying to figure out what cards do, but I will say it definitely made the first play a bit of a slog trying to even read through each of the cards, compare abilities, and make choices when selecting 1 card out of 2. In Troyes, when the action cards came out, everyone read through them once, deciphered them together, then we could move on to playing the game. Our very first time playing from the rulebook was extremely slow, but once we got past the initial interpretation we were good. Here, you had to deal with this sort of situation nearly EVERY TURN! In fact, with the cards in hand and the cards in the tableau it was a bit overwhelming for being a 'simple' card game.

Ultimately, it seemed I made several not-so-good choices and couldn't get any of my tableau to combo properly.

Bryon on the other hand seemed to catch on quickly and was really working his combos. I will say he is very good at grokking new games and performing well right out of the gate, but I was honestly amazed he did so well.

Well, having said all that, I 'got' the general idea, I just couldn't execute - whether this was due to not understanding the cards, or just not getting the right ones to synergize, it's hard to tell.

I will say this is a game that requires knowledge of the cards to a great degree to be able to play well I think. I'm just not sure that if I bought it I would be playing it enough to get to that level.

Anyhow, Tournay didn't click for me like Troyes did - I think Troyes was so innovative in it's use of dice and that part was quite understandable and created a degree of interaction that made it really interesting.

I am intrigued by Tournay, but I have other games ahead of it that I'd rather play instead. Needless to say I won't be making my own mini version of this game although I won't be against picking it up next year when the price comes down from US distribution and/or people re-selling it.

* Trajan - Reading about the Mancala mechanic on Board Game News initially made me scratch my head a bit - how exactly was that going to work? Then, as the idea sank in I began to imagine the possibilities and it had me intrigued.

So, when Chris S. suggested playing it I jumped at the chance. I really had no idea about the specifics of how the game worked, but it was a Stephan Feld game and it sounded interesting so I was ready to give it a go. Also, since Chris had played it earlier in the day and was suggesting it, that seemed to be a good sign that it wasn't a BAD game at the very least

What do you do in this game? Well, you move some bits around in your own little circular 'Mancala'. The bits are multi-colored and get picked up and re-distributed just like in Mancala. The key here is that you want colors to end up in the right pockets such that they begin to match patterns on the special action tiles played adjacent to them. Then, whatever pocket you place the last bit in triggers that associated action AND, if there is also a special action tile there and you match it's pattern, you get to do that as well. There's a bit more to it then that, but you get the idea.

So, what do you then do with all these actions? Well, each corresponds to a different area of the board where you pick up tiles that give you points, resources or special abilities, and some also let you draw and/or play cards.

Without going into too much detail, it basically amounts to a mult-level set collection game where you are trying to be as efficient as possible in gathering the sets and also try to activate combos that let you do more on your turn to get you even more stuff.

The theme on this game is paper thin - if you like theme you may have a problem here as this game really is very abstract and sort of reminds me of a Knizia in this respect - do a bunch of stuff to collect sets of stuff that gets you more points with more or larger sets. There is also the need to collect a set of stuff that everyone else is collecting and have it completed by the end of each of the 4 rounds or else you LOSE points.

Ok, I suppose that sounds boring BUT this sort of game is right up my alley and I quite enjoyed it. I'm intrigued by the Mancala and I love the multiple ways you can score points in this game. It seems you have to really focus on a couple of key areas and then just try to keep up in the rest of the areas and hope you can outpace everyone else with your bonuses by the end.

I'm not yet sure if I'd buy this game right now - probably eventually it will be on my self, but I'm not highly motivated like I am to pick up something like Dungeon Petz.

Still, I really had a great time even though I found I made a critical mistake mid-game which stalled me for about 1-1/2 turns and I never quite was able to recover.

Overall, I'm happy to have played all of these, although some of my top interests are still unplayed (Drum Roll, Helvetia, Powergrid - First Sparks, Pala, Village, Walnut Grove, Kingdom Builder) - and I don't think Lorna even has a couple of those.

Anyhow, I'm very grateful to Lorna running the game day and also for purchasing and making the Essen games available for playing. I'm sure I'll be picking up at least Dungeon Petz and perhaps Trajan as well. Tournay and Mondriaan 2020 are on my possible buy list but I think I have other priorities first. I like the concepts behind Space Race but it hasn't won me over enough yet to make a purchase - but it definitely warrants another play or two before I decide for sure...if I ever get around to trying it again.

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