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Mister Penguin takes a trip to Essen Part 1

Boyd Ludlow
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This year I got to attend the biggest boardgame fair on the planet, Spiel at Essen in Germany. To make the visit more interesting (challenging?) my wife Shelley and I decided to build the visit into the middle of a 3 week continental vacation. So when we arrived in the city of Essen on the Wednesday night before the fair we’d already been travelling for a week and a half. Fortunately it turned out that weariness from travelling wasn’t a problem and being able to spend several days in the same place was a nice change and quite relaxing.

The walk from the train station to our accommodation at the Motel One was short but not as short as it would have been had my printout from Google maps shown the pedestrian malls. We dropped our bags in our room and went out for a short walk. Partly this was because after four and a half hours on the train I needed to stretch my legs but mainly because I’d seen an ice-cream stand and wanted some. I’d had a sustaining lentil salad for dinner on the train but sometimes you want something sweet to finish of a meal. Unfortunately by the time we returned the ice-cream stand had closed for the night but we were able to go to the Lidl in the train station and buy some chocolate with cornflakes in it.

Returning to the Motel One we found several boardgamers already setup in the bar and one guy was taking the shrink-wrap off his brand new copy of Ginkgopolis. Seeing a new game essentially on the day of its release sent a tingle through me and I realized how excited I was about the coming days.

We enjoyed the Motel One. It has a clean funky design which is consistent through its interior. The bar area offered both low tables with comfy chairs and higher tables with more upright chairs to suit your gaming needs. I liked the music played in the bar which was at a volume low enough to not hinder gaming. Out room was a decent size and had a very nice shower. The amusing if slightly annoying thing with our room was that the television appeared to be linked to the slot you put your key card in to enabled your lights, so every time we returned to the room and inserted out card the television turned itself on to show a glowing open wood fire. I think it was supposed to be cosy. The hotel faces onto the Kennedyplatz which has numerous cafes and bars also opening on to it. It is handy to a U-Bahn station so getting out to the Spiel is easy and it is close to the shops in case you feel that you haven’t spent enough at the fair.

From gallery of Mr Penguin

Our television fire at the Motel One

We didn’t get up quite as early as we’d planned on the Thursday morning but I didn’t mind because I figured that it wouldn’t matter if we weren’t there to enter as soon as the doors opened. We headed out for breakfast but all of the cafés we found seemed to be doing buffets and we only wanted a light breakfast so we ended up just grabbing some pastries, which saved us some time but meant I didn’t get my morning caffeine. Our next stop was the information centre where we bought 4 day passes to the Spiel. This was slightly more expensive than buying them at the venue but saved us having to queue. It was then on to the U-Bahn out to the Messe where Spiel is located. The train was busy but nothing like what we’d experienced in Paris at the start of our trip where the crowding was such you almost had your face pressed to the window, on this train there was room to breathe. It also had some positive atmosphere which I guess was from all the game geeks heading to our Mecca.

Due to having breakfast on the move we’d caught up a bunch of time and arrived at the Messe almost as the doors opened. As we already had our tickets we were quickly inside. My immediate goal was to visit the Czech Games Edition booth in Hall 4. I had maps for each of the halls on which I’d highlighted the booths I was particularly interested in. The problem was that I did not have an overview map that showed how the halls related to each other and Hall 4 was almost as far from the entrance as you could get. The Messe is big and with all the people rushing through to be the first to try a new game it took us some time to orient ourselves. The big signs above the doorways between halls helped but there were a few fractious comments before we made it to Hall 4.

From gallery of Mr Penguin

The maps I used to get myself round Spiel '12

I was going to the CGE booth because I wanted a copy of the 5th anniversary edition of Galaxy Trucker which I believe was only going to be available in limited quantities. I had pre-ordered a number of games and Galaxy Trucker was among them but whereas most of the other companies I’d pre-ordered from had sent a confirmation email (often with an order number) CGE had used a Google apps form that didn’t even provide relevant feedback when you submitted it and they didn’t send confirmation emails. As this was the game I wanted above any other and being uncertain as to whether my order had got through I wanted to make sure I got my copy. It turned out that CGE had a very well organised list of all the pre-orders and I needn’t have worried but it did feel good to have got my hands on my prize. The downside was that this behemoth of a game weighs in at just under 4.2 kg and I had to carry that around for the rest of the day.

Board Game: Galaxy Trucker

Why Galaxy Trucker 5th Anniversary weighed so much

CGE’s location was convenient as Hall 4 had more games I was potentially interested in than any other making it a good place to start the day. We began to circulate through the hall but already things were crowded and demo tables were full so while we’d sometimes lean over to have a look at the game-play we generally kept moving as arriving half way through an explanation is not that useful.

Our next significant stop was the Japon Brand booth. Based on the BGG videos from the previous couple of Spiel Japon Brand have a lot of quirky games with interesting twists that for the most part I thought sounded interesting. However their games are often hard to track down away from the fair and even at Spiel they are usually only available in limited numbers so I was interested at looking at this year’s offerings early. Unfortunately their stand is not very big with just enough room for a sales counter and 2 demo tables. When we arrived one table was midway through a game of Trains, a deck building train game, which may have appealed to me if it hadn’t sold out prior to the show. The other table was showing Ninja Chess in which I was not interested.

At the time I was disappointed about how hard it was to find out more about the games that Japon Brand was showing and wished they’d had more space to demo more games. As the fair went on I learned that I needed to be more forward in seeking information about games that looked interesting. I guess I’m used to pushy salesmen that happily initiate contact but many of the people on the stands at Spiel are not out and out salesmen and with so many interested people coming to see what they have on offer they don’t need to be. I also know that Japon Brand is an association of small independent publishers and designers and maybe they can’t afford a larger booth. Things I’ve read since the fair make me believe that they and others of a similar size aren’t there to necessarily sell a lot of product but are trying to raise awareness of their games, generate some hype, and hopefully create enough demand to finance a bigger print run or to do a deal with a larger European or American publisher who have the muscle to take the game to a wider audience.

For the present I contented myself with collecting my pre-ordered copy of BraveRats. This game consists of just 16 cards and comes in an envelope with the rules so it made a nice counterpoint to the size of Galaxy Trucker.

Board Game: BraveRats

R - Small and light to carry

We didn’t play R immediately but we did get in a few games on the train from Essen to Munich a few days later. The game is perfect for when you don’t have much space as you only require enough room for two stacks of cards, one for each player. Both players start with an identical hand of 8 cards. Each player selects one of their cards to play and they are revealed simultaneously. Generally the higher numbered card will win the round giving 1 point to the person who played it. If both cards revealed are the same then the point for that round is held over to the next making the next round worth 2. Some of the cards have special abilities that can affect the current round or the next, such as changing the current round to be lowest card wins or forcing your opponent to reveal their card for the next round before you choose yours. The first player to score 4 points is the winner and the whole game can be played in a matter of minutes.

I enjoy this game but I think that it needs to be played between players who know each other quite well so that the guessing and the second guessing of your opponents moves are at a deeper level, otherwise I fear that the game play may become too random. So it is great for us as a married couple then and I’m sure we’ll take this travelling with us in the future as well as playing it at home. So far I’ve been the more successful player but I’m sure that Shelley will become more devious in her choice of cards to throw me off my stride.

We continued to orbit Hall 4 until we found ourselves at the Odynaut Games booth. From my pre-fair research I thought that Cavemen Playing With Fire would appeal to Shelley and myself but I wanted to have a trial run first. When we arrived at the booth the table with the Cavemen game on it was unoccupied so we took a seat and were lucky enough to have the game taught to us by the designer Steffan Ros himself.

This is a 2 player card game that has a nod to Stratego. Each player has 3 fires to defend and the winner is the player that manages to extinguish one of their opponent’s fires first. Your 3 fires are laid out in a row with space for a card between; above each fire you place 2 caves in your colour. Your opponent sets up the matching pattern in their colour facing your cards so that you have 3 columns of 6 rows with space between and outside the columns into which you’ll be able to play cards. Each player has a deck in their colour made up of various cavemen and more cave cards. From their deck each player draws a hand of 5 cards and the game begins.

On your turn you can activate one caveman per column then you may play up to 3 cards from your hand before drawing back up to 5 cards. As you don’t have any cavemen to activate on your first turn let me first cover the playing of cards. You can swap one of your opponent’s caves for one of your own although you can’t touch the row immediately above their fire, or you can play one of your cavemen face down in an empty space beside one of your caves or fires. As cavemen cards are placed face down there is the opportunity for bluffing as your opponent knows that a caveman is there but not how strong it is.

When activating a caveman you can move him forward or backward one row (or 2 rows for some cavemen but that does provide your opponent with valuable information) or jump him sideways into the next column. As you get one action per column when you jump a caveman sideways you can activate him again as you used up the action for the column he came from not the column he is now in. If you land on an opponent’s caveman both cards are revealed and the strongest caveman wins (except in the case of weakest verses strongest) and the loser is discarded, with a tie both cavemen are discarded. An interesting twist is provided by limiting when your discard pile can be re-added to your draw deck. This can only happen when you lose either of two particular cavemen but even then only if they are the defender not the aggressor, i.e. your caveman can’t commit suicide just so that you can get your discards back into your draw deck. If you are able to move a caveman sideways onto one of your opponent’s fires he puts the fire out and you win the game.

Board Game: Cavemen Playing With Fire

Shelley looking fierce like her cavemen

We enjoyed the game. Our first play only took us about 10 minutes as concentrating on attack I left a gaping hole at the back that Shelley exploited to win. In fact we liked the game so much that we returned later in the day and bought a copy. We’ve played a couple of times since and as usually happens with such 2 player strategy games our play adapts as we learn how to counter each other and the games last longer but not so long as to become dull, still less than half an hour.

Our next stop was to pick up my third pre-order of the day. This was my copy of Clocks from SandTimer. To help with their logistics they’d asked people making pre-orders to nominate which morning they’d collect the game on. I’d picked Thursday so now I had 3 games to carry round for the rest of the day. The lesson I learned on day one was that unless you’ve arrange a specific pickup time or you are planning to take a trip back to your accommodation during the day, save your pre-order collections till the end of the day. This way you don’t have to lug the games around and you have room in your hands for games you did not pre-order but fear may sell out before you can return. Or just bring a trolley for your games.

Because I was one of the first 100 people to pre-order clocks I got a set of 2 shiny gold dice as a bonus expansion. Sandtimer also threw in 4 player aids. The player aid is available in the files section for clocks but these are nice glossy card versions.

Board Game: Clocks

Clocks with bonus gold dice and free player aids

The next stop in Hall 4 was to check out a game that was announced only a few days prior to the fair. All I really knew about Septikon: Uranium Wars was that it was a 2 player game, was a board game implementation of a tower defence style game, and that Hobby World would have 2 prototype copies on display. Shelley really likes tower defence games on her computer and phone so I thought it was worth checking out. The prototype was certainly impressive to look at with all of the pieces lovingly crafted out of fimo. Apparently while the European edition of the game will just use wooden cubes they are planning to have plastic pieces for the American market but at the time we talked to them the designs were not finalised.

Unfortunately the game as laid out ready for play looks very complex and this immediately put Shelley off. So we moved on without an explanation of game play but I will keep this game on the radar to see if it is worth looking at again in the future.

Another game that didn’t have much information available before Spiel was Twin Tin Bots but what was available made it sound good. I knew that the game involved programming robots but it had the twist that you could only make small changes to the programing from one round to the next. As a software engineer that sounded interesting so I stopped to check the game out. Each player has 2 robots that they are using to try and collect gems. Each robot is controlled by a board with 3 slots into which instructions can be entered. On your turn you can place a new command into 1 of the 6 slots replacing the command that was there, remove the instruction from a single slot, erase all of the programming for a single robot, or swap the order of two of the instruction for a single robot. The 2 robots then run through their programs before it is the next players turn.

I only watched a few rounds being played and didn't actually play the game myself but it just didn't look that exciting. Each player had a complete set of instructions available to choose from so the only fly in the ointment could be caused by other players messing with your bot. It became an analysis game as you try to developed the most efficient program and maybe screw the other players as well. To me that could be interesting from an academic view point but just doesn't seem relaxing or fun to play. Maybe if I’d actually had a go I would have found it more exciting but there were a lot of other games clamouring for my attention so I passed.

There were still other games I wanted to see in Hall 4 but they were all very busy so we moved on into Hall 7 because I wanted to look at Medieval Mastery from Chaos Publishing An explanation was just starting for a full table so I was able to listen in. Now it was my turn to make a snap judgement, this game just sounded too dry for my current mood so we moved across the aisle to play a game of Avalam on the giant board.

The game is a 2 player abstract where you are building up stacks of discs. On your turn you take a disc or stack of discs and put it on top of an adjacent disc or stack. Stacks cannot grow taller than 5 discs, discs or stacks of discs may not jump across spaces so a stack shorter than 5 tall may become isolated and no longer be able to move, stacks may not be split. Play continues until no more stacks can be moved and then each player counts up the number of stacks with their colour on top and the player with the most is the winner.

I liked the game, it played quickly but provided some think. However the experienced was enhanced by playing with the giant set, we had to stand up and move about as we played and the large weighty pieces had a satisfying heft and it was satisfying to clunk them into place. I don’t think it would be as much fun playing on the smaller retail sets. I’d play again if the opportunity arose, especially if I could play with the giant set, but I didn’t feel that this was a game I needed to own.
In our game despite a couple of early mistakes that gifted me 2 easy points Shelley ended up winning by a single point. I forgot to take a picture as we played but here is Shelley resetting the game for the next players.

From gallery of Mr Penguin

Shelley setting up Avalam for the next players

We did a quick tour of Hall 7 but nothing else grabbed our attention at that time. There were plenty of quite booths with rather sad looking designers or publishers hoping people would stop to look at their game; I wasn’t feeling that charitable so moved on into Hall 6.

Wow what a lot of costumes! If you were into your fantasy or medieval role playing (i.e. dressing for the castle or the battlefield) this is the place to come. I’m not into that sort of thing but the costumes looked pretty cool, well-made, and durable. I’ve no idea what they cost and if I did I wouldn’t know if they were good value but they were impressive.

We stopped at a Bretzel stand so that Shelley could buy one of those funny salty bread things. In addition to the standard salty one that Shelley got they also did one covered in cheese (which from my time in Germany seemed very German), one covered in cheese and pineapple, and probably some other flavours too. Shelley asked the lady serving her if the cheese and pineapple was traditional or if they were catering to the international market. The impression we got was that they weren’t traditional and that pineapple does not play a big part in German cooking.

Hall 6 wasn’t just about role playing and dressing up it had some board and card games too. Our first stop was at the booth dedicated to the game Coup, the only game so far published by La Mame Games. We had an explanation of how the game works although we didn’t play it. The game has 15 character cards, 3 each of 5 different characters. Each player receives 2 of these cards which they keep secret. On your turn you can use the ability of one of the characters (not necessarily one of the two in your hand), take a single coin, try to take 2 coins, or if you have 7 coins you can pay them to force one of the other players to give up 1 of their cards. When you use a character’s ability other players can challenge you if they think you don’t have that character, if you do have it you reveal it then shuffle it back into the deck and draw a new card and your challenger loses one of their cards, if you don’t have it you lose one of your cards. A lost card is left face up in front of the player that lost it meaning that as the game goes on more information is available to all players and bluffing becomes riskier. If nobody challenges your choice of character they may still use the countering ability of another character, now it is your turn to decide whether to challenge their use of character with you losing a card if you challenge is wrong and the other player losing a card if you’re right. When a player loses both of their cards they are eliminated, the last player left is the winner.

This type of game is not really my cup of tea as I am terrible at bluffing and if anything even worse at reading whether other players are bluffing. However I could see this game being a big hit with the guys I used to game with back in New Zealand and in fact after the explanation Shelley turned to me and said she could imagine those guys playing it and even more she’d like to play it with them. So “guys” this is a game you should get as recommended by Shelley (and me).

Next stop was at booth of Diablos Polacos where they were selling CLASH: Jihad vs. McWorld and where once again we were able to get straight into a game. This is a re-theming of RRR which I’d been trying to find at a reasonable price for the last couple of years as I was sure I’d like it and thought that Shelley would too. I did like it and so did Shelley who liked it so much that she suggested we buy a copy, a suggestion I was happy to comply with.

The game is played on a 3 by 3 grid. Each player has an equivalent set of 7 tiles, and access to a random selection of 5 communal tiles which are laid beside the board. The start player places the starting tile and then players take turns adding a tile to the board either from their hand or from the communal pool. The tiles are rectangular and can either be oriented for or against you. Every tile has some effect; this may be reorienting one or more adjacent tiles, destroying an adjacent tile, protecting itself or other tiles, causing an adjacent tile to perform its action again, or a few more complicated things. The communal tiles are generally more powerful than the ones in your hand but it all depends on timing. When all 9 cells on the board are full you count up who has the most tiles favouring them and that person is the winner. The iconography on the tiles makes it very easy to understand what other tiles will be affected and how but the meat of the game is not the individual tiles but the plan you build to use them and your ability to adapt to your opponent’s plays. There are 17 communal tiles from which only 5 are drawn during setup so each game has different parameters and needs to be planned for accordingly keeping replayability high.

The game is essentially abstract so the theme doesn’t have a huge impact and while I wouldn’t go as far as to say this theme was offensive it does feel slightly off. I also prefer the art work of the original but this version still has the same solid gameplay and I’m glad that we own it and are now able to play together.

While I may not have enjoyed the theme I did like the way that the team selling the game had embraced it. I particularly liked the guy in desert army fatigues and I thought that they had the best decorated booth of the whole show.

From gallery of Mr Penguin

Booth for CLASH

It was lunchtime so we decided to find some food before the queues at the food stalls grew too long. We headed out into the atrium beside Hall 4 but the range of food on offer was pretty dire. Traveling in Germany we’d got used to being able to choose a healthy option but here there was an abundance of high fat fried foods, and there wasn’t even any of the excessively sweet baking that I also like. We did manage to find a couple of sandwiches although I had trouble ordering them as I was asking for filled rolls which Shelley informed me is a New Zealand expression which the rest of the world does not use. The “filled rolls” were not very good and were cold like they’d just come out of the fridge. We then went to get some hot chips in the hope that they’d be more satisfying but the line was very slow and we noticed that the guy behind the counter didn’t seem to be taking very good care with hygiene so we didn’t have any of those. Finally we found a stand selling cut up fruit in the foyer between Halls 4 and 6 and had a pot of mango which was much nicer.

Getting back to the games we made our way to Hall 9 and stopped at the Fragor Games booth to try and find out a little more about Spellbound. However the designers Gordon and Fraser Lamont were deep in conversation with one guy while the rest of the people at the booth were busy fulfilling pre-orders. As they had sold out within 6 days of announcing the game I guess they didn't need to try too hard with the demoing and I’ll have to wait for the reviews to come in to find out if the game is any good or not. I had a look at the demo copy that was on display. The pieces were cute but seemed over the top for what are really just player pawns.

Our next call was at the Red Glove booth for a game of Out of Gears. In this game you play the part of robots squabbling over gears which you can put inside your body to improve your functioning, although the only affect this has on game play is that gears inside your body are protected. The game can handle from 2 to 8 players; we played with just 3, Shelley, me, and the lady teaching us. The play area is made up of 8 large numbered tiles that fit together into an octagon leaving a central space into which gear tiles in the player’s colours are placed face down. For each player two gears are flipped face up and placed on the tile with the same number as the player’s robot. Each player has 3 action cards and a number card for each active robot including their own. Every round players will select an action and a target with all players revealing their choice simultaneously. Actions are then resolved and gears distributed with players who’ve managed to grab 3 or more gears being allowed to place 2 of them inside their robot’s body. Then 2 more gears per robot are flipped over, players choose new actions and targets, and play continues until no more gears are left in the centre. Players score for the gears they hold at the end of the game with gears in your own colour worth 2 points and other gears worth 1. The player with the most points is the winner.

Obviously the game comes down to the actions and the targeting. The first action resolved is Attack. If you have chosen another robot’s number you attack that robot, if you choose your own number you defend yourself against all attacks. If you attack another robot that hasn’t defended itself you steal all of the gears that robot has that aren’t yet inside its body. If you defend yourself you take 1 gear from each robot that attacked you even if it means taking a gear from inside their body. The second action resolved is the setting of traps. Here you place a trap on one of the active tiles preventing any other robot from taking gears from that tile. If you place a trap and another robot does try to take the gears from that tile you take the gears instead, if no one has targeted the tile you do not receive any gears. The final action is the harvesting of gears from a tile. If no trap has been played on a tile all of the robots that decided to harvest that tile share the gears that were on it.

I found the game fairly boring with only 3 players. I think you’d need close to the full complement to increase the chaos and make the game more enjoyable but even then I don’t know that I’d want to play it very often. As I never get to play with 7 or 8 players these days we didn’t buy a copy. Oh, also at the end of our game Shelley had such a large pile of gears including every gear of her own colour that we didn’t even bother counting the scores, this rout may have coloured my opinion slightly.

Then it was on to the Blue Orange (EU) booth. I was interested in all 3 games they had at Spiel but Shelley thought that Docker and Button Up! looked boring. I was able to get her to try Okiya with me possibly because I grabbed a seat and said "Hey let's play this". The game consists of 16 cards each with 2 symbols on them which are laid out in a 4 by 4 grid. The first player removes one of the cards replacing it with one of their pieces. From then on players takes turns replacing a single card with one of their pieces following the restriction that the card they pick has a symbol matching 1 of the 2 symbols from the preceding card. The winner is the first player to get 4 of their pieces into a straight line or a 2 by 2 square. The game plays quickly coming in under 10 minutes. Sometimes you feel in control forcing your opponent’s moves, other times you’re on the receiving end having no real choice each turn, obviously if the game matches the former you’ll enjoy it more. I found it mildly engaging and quite fun but Shelley didn't like it.

Moving on into Hall 10 I stopped to take a look at the 10th Anniversary edition of Bang! It comes in a nice tin box but that was about as good as it got. It has player boards which I find superfluous and comes with wooden bullets as life point markers. The wooden bullets are shaped like real six shooter bullets which means that they are round. I can imagine them being knocked over and rolling away and just generally being a pain to use. In addition the box only contains the cards for the base game with a few extra character cards from later expansions thrown in. If I was going to buy an edition of Bang! it wouldn't be this one, I'd choose BANG! The Bullet! which includes the essential Dodge City expansion as well as several other expansions.

Just round the corner from Bang! was the Abacus Spiele booth where I stopped in to grab the free expansion to Airlines Europe. I don't have the base game but the guys back in New Zealand do so I'll be sending it on to them.

A couple of years ago when WizKids (I) released Quarriors! I was very interested as it sounded like an nice take on the deck building mechanic and the game came with loads of custom dice for you to roll. However all of those custom dice added cost and the weight of those dice meant that when shipping it to New Zealand the game fell into the too expensive category. Now that Wizkids had announced they were using the Quarriors dice building mechanic in a Lord of the Rings themed game and I was living on the other side of the world I was very excited. When we passed the Wizkids stand and found the one existing copy of the game ready for inspection I jumped at the chance to take a closer look. It turned out that only one guy from Wizkids knew the game well enough to demo it and even then he spent a lot of time checking the rules as he tried to teach it to us; so our demo session resembled learning a new game when one player has scanned the rules and the rest have not read them at all. On top of that we only played through the first few rounds before our demo guy got called away to present at the BGG booth so I can only give impressions and not a comprehensive overview of the game.

To start with the game looked very good when it was set up with all of the pretty green custom dice. Some people have been critical of the use of stills from the movies on the cards but for me the movie images have now come to define the looks of each character so I don't have a problem with the art. The dice however were a problem. They looked very nice but because all of character dice were the same dark green it was hard to tell them apart and the same goes for the item dice that were all the same light green as each other. On your turn you draw 5 dice from your bag but due to Sauron's influence some of those dice may be unusable. As dice of the same colour may only differ on a couple of sides you need to carefully examine each die you draw to know if you can use it or whether it goes straight to your discards. This wouldn’t be a problem if each character had different coloured dice but in the prototype the lack of colours created a playability problem. However we also learned that Wizkids had the dice hand-carved so they could show the game at Spiel. I’m assuming that they weren’t just generating interest by showing the prototype but were also gathering feedback so the dice in the released game may look different.

I don’t have an issue with semi-cooperative games where there is only one winner but where it is also possible for everyone to lose if you don't work together coherently. But I don’t know that this game implements the challenge to all players part very well. The challenge comes from the Sauron character who is controlled each round by a different player on a rotating basis and that is where the potential problem lies. How evil do you want to be in the round that you are acting as Sauron if you know that you are going to have to deal with the mess you create when you return to battling against Sauron in the next round? There are personal penalties if you don’t play Sauron effectively enough but I’m sure it is still possible to play sub-optimally from Sauron’s viewpoint without incurring those penalties. Unless there is some way to specifically target other players while you are Sauron I see problems arising from this aspect of the game. It may have been better if the game engine automatically controlled Sauron rather than leaving it up to the players themselves.

So with those problems The Lord of the Rings Dice Building Game didn’t grab like I hoped it would but the caveats are that this was only a prototype and we didn’t play a full game. My experience was enough to make me cautious but not completely put me off the game. I think it will be a wait and see on this one, it certainly won’t be a buy as soon as it is released anyway.

For a change in style from Lord of the Rings we next tried Ant Nest. This is a 2 player puzzle game where players are taking turns at adding tunnel pieces to construct an ant nest. Tunnel pieces are laid onto a square board and new bits of tunnel must connect with existing tunnel. Larger more complex tunnel tiles are worth more points as they are harder to place. Also the board has some tokens on it that if you are forced to build over you lose points and other tokens that if you can surround them with tunnels give you bonus points. Shelley must have been getting tired by this stage as she keep gifting me points. The graphics were very nice and the components of good quality but we didn’t even finish our game so we didn’t experience it in depth. However if you don’t like puzzle games I can’t see you enjoying this game.

Another game that I tried to look at in Hall 5 was Völuspá but at this time (and every other time I came back over the next couple of days) the demo copy was being played and was mid-game. The fact that the game seemed to be played continuously and that White Goblin Games sold out at the fair suggests that this is a good game. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it and maybe I’ll get to try it in the future.

It was getting late in the day and we’d tried quite a few different games so it was time to go to the BoardGameGeek booth to add some buzz on those we’d liked. While Shelley was taking her turn on the computer I was able to visit the nearby booth of Doris & Frank where I bought myself a T-shirt with some of Doris’ animal artwork on it. Yeah geek cred.

From gallery of Mr Penguin

My Doris artwork shirt

I wanted to try out Nox in the HUCH! area. We found a table with the game sitting on it but there were no rules and all of the staff were busy demoing at other tables. While looking around for someone to explain the game I found that they were selling copies of Yspahan for €7. I’d wanted my own copy of this game for a long time and I couldn’t refuse that price so I bought it forgetting about Nox in the process.

We decided that we’d had enough for the day so all that remained was to go round and collect the rest of my pre-orders before heading back to the hotel. We were running short on cash but I worked out that if we did a grand circle through the halls we could stop at the money machine between 4 and 5 and not run out. We passed through Hall 5 collecting Suburbia on the way but when we got to the money machine we found that it was empty. So we had to go back through the halls to the machine by the entrance where I had to join a queue of about 20 other people also getting money to pay for games. Having restocked my wallet we continued, I picked up Sheepland, Keyflower, and Terra Mystica and we returned to Diablos Polacos to get CLASH: Jihad vs. McWorld. While we were in Hall 6 Shelley declared she wanted to buy some horns so we spent a while with her trying them on before she figured out that she needed to see what they’d look like with her hair down and deciding to return tomorrow. Then we returned to buy Cavemen Playing With Fire before picking up The Sheepdogs of Pendleton Hill. The final game to collect was Snowdonia where I also noticed that they had a bunch of empty boxes of which they were happy to give me one. The box would come in handy to post the games home. It was a great size for the standard rectangular euro game boxes of Snowdonia, Terra Mystica, Yspahan, etc. but it wasn’t big enough for Galaxy trucker and I had more games than could fit in the box anyway.

The nice thing collecting the games from the small publishers was how happy everyone was that you were buying their games. Often you were buying from the designer themselves but otherwise there was a good chance that the person had been heavily involved in the production of the game. The delight they showed was very nice.

With our arms full we caught the U-Bahn back to town getting off at the stop closest to the Motel One. Unfortunately as this was our first time in this station we left through the exit furthest from the hotel. In addition I tend to lose all sense of direction when I’ve taken an underground train and none of the buildings looked familiar so I was completely disoriented and it took us some time to find our way home. We dumped our haul from day 1 and went out to find dinner.

From gallery of Mr Penguin

Haul from day 1

We just wanted some simple pub food preferably of German style but we kept finding ethnic restaurants instead. We ended up settling for Mexican which turned out to be very good and was nicely complemented by the Weissbier I ordered. It was late and we were tired from a long day at the fair so we returned to the hotel and went to bed rather than play any of the new games that night.

To be continued...
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