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Flashback Convention Report - Spiel 2003

Scott Alden
United States
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Aldie's Full of Love!
I recently read about Rick Thornquist's creation of Terminal City Gamers' website and The Game Wire in Counter Magazine, which was eventually to become the Board Game News blog that was taken over by our own W. Eric Martin. I always enjoyed Rick's Spiel reports, and I asked him if I could repost the content of those blogs for others to enjoy - thank you Rick for graciously allowing me to repost these reports. Here is Rick's report from Spiel 2003 in its entirety.

Essen 2003 Report: Travel Days - Sunday, October 19 to Monday, October 20, 2003 By Rick Thornquist

After a day of travel, I'm in Essen! The trip went pretty well - I actually expected it to be much longer than it was. I drove down to Seattle the night before and stayed the night at Jeremy Young's (from Uberplay) place. I was going to be accompanying Jeremy on the trip. It's great to be going with someone who has already gone and knows his way around. The next morning we headed off to Seattle airport and boarded our flight to Amsterdam.

The flight to Amsterdam went quickly and one of the ways we passed the time was to, of course, play a few games. Jeremy schooled me in a game of Crazy Chicken, getting six chickens in two of the rounds and beating my by a score which I'd rather forget.

We then started a game of Scrabble - not exactly a German game, but Jeremy had brought along a travel version of the game and we talked the woman who was across the aisle from us (who was from Ireland) to join us. Now, you've got to remember that I'm pretty useless at Scrabble - I've been known to think for five minutes and then put down 'it', but I actually got some pretty good words this game and the scores were relatively close. They were close, that is, until I set up Jeremy for a triple word score and he put down 'ditzy'. That catapulted him into a substantial lead and in the end, the victory.

After getting to Amsterdam airport, we had a few hours layover. Jeremy taught me a Goldsieber Spiele game that I had never played before - Isis & Osiris. This is a very simple placement game, with a bit of a memory aspect to it, designed by Michael Schacht. We played two games and each won one. I liked the game, it's a good short filler game that is a good thinker. I'll have to pick up a copy of this one.

We also played a game of Corne van Moorsel's StreetSoccer. I've had this one for a while but hadn't had a chance to play it - my loss, because I really liked it! This is a very simple soccer game where you are kicking the ball back and forth and trying to score goals. Every though it is quite simple, it really does capture the feeling of playing soccer quite well. I our game we were tied until the waning minutes when Jeremy scored the game winner. We both liked the game a lot - very fun.

We then caught our plane to Düsseldorf. This was just a short hop. After we landed we caught a cab to Essen and to our hotel. We are staying in a great location, right beside the convention centre. We already met a few people who are here for the convention. Even though the convention does not start until Thursday, we are going to head there tomorrow and wander around. Stay tuned!

Essen 2003 Report: Setup Day - Tuesday, October 21, 2003 By Rick Thornquist

Today is one of the setup days at Essen. I got a chance to wander around the massive exhibition hall for the first time and check out the used games section, where games are already being sold. I was also able to get some of the new games we've all been hearing about and give a few of them a try.

After a nice breakfast, I headed over to the convention centre to check it out. The first thing that popped into my head when I first walked it was - wow, is this ever big. The fair is just huge, with a number of airplane hanger size halls housing more booths than you ever could count. The first thing that caught my eye were the massive booths of the bigger publishers - these were all in the process of being constructed and even though they were incomplete, they were still impressive - very big with lots of huge banners. Construction was going on all day as the publisher's pushed to get everything done before the big opening the day after tomorrow.

One part of the fair that had a number of booths set up already was the used games section. This is a flea market of all your favorite games in massive piles, just waiting to be sold. There is a mind-boggling selection of games, from the big sellers to obscure older ones. I thought I knew most of the games from the big publishers, but there were a number that I saw that I have never heard of. Also, there were copies of a number of games that I have been looking for forever - quite a few copies of Schoko & Co., New Orleans Big Band, Ave Caesar, and more. Some of them had relatively high prices - a used McMulti for around 50 Euro, but there were lots of deals, such as a shrinkwrapped Tennis Masters for 8 Euro (I shudder to think how much I paid for my copy of the game).

Though there were a tons of games for sale there were a few notable absences. There were almost no Alea games and I had no luck trying to score any copies of Ra. Some games seemed way overpriced - Sternenhimmel, for example, but others were at practically giveaway prices. I'm going to pick a few up and then maybe wait until Saturday to see if I can pick up any deals before I leave - maybe some of the prices will come down by then.

While in the flea market I ran into a number of the gang from the Gathering - Alan Moon, Pitt Crandlemire, Angela Gaalema from Plenary Games, and Bob Herried from Funagain. It's good to see the old crowd and it should get better as I know more are on the way.

One thing about the fair that a number of people have noted before - the cigarette smoke. Quite a few people were smoking in the hall, and even though it is relatively empty, it still is annoying. I'm not looking forward to the atmospheric conditions when the mobs start showing up. It looks like I'm going to have to wash my clothes a few thousand times when I get home to get rid of the stink.

After wandering the halls and checking out the used games I headed back to the hotel. Jeremy Young and I had a meeting with Reiner Knizia - Jeremy had some things to go over with him. It was good to see Reiner again and it's very impressive to watch him work - when we talked about some games that were in development he had lots of excellent ideas for improving them.

After a quick nap, Jeremy Young and I headed off to meet up with Alan, Pitt and Bob at their hotel for some dinner and gaming. We were soon joined by Jurgen from Schmidt who had brought along a very nice surprise - copies of the two new Hans im Glück games - Carcassonne: Die Burg and Attika. After some dinner we settled down for a few of the new games.

First up was The Bridges of Shangri-la. This is an Uberplay game that is being published in German by Kosmos. This game is definitely a thinker - there's no luck at all and lots of options as to what to do. Basically you place your pieces in areas that are connected by bridges. During your turn you can either place pieces or you can attack a neighboring area which can displace pieces of your own or other players. After the attack is complete, the bridge between the two areas is removed and those two areas may no longer conflict. When there is only one bridge left on the board, the game ends and the player with the most pieces on the board wins the game (I'm simplifying here a bit).

This game was played by Alan, Pitt and Jurgen and was taught to us by Mr. Uberplay - Jeremy Young. The beginning of the game was a bit mind-boggling as we were trying to figure out what we should do, but then the strategies started showing. Lots of great moves were made and towards the end of the game it was anybody's game. Alan got the crucial last move leaving one bridge and ending the game. He got 24 points for the win, Jurgen and I tied with 20 and Pitt got 18.

I quite like the game. It's is a thinker - I wouldn't play this one with someone who takes five minutes to make their moves in Tikal. Otherwise, it's very strategic and you can make lots of interesting moves to advance your fortunes or to impede others. This one's a keeper for me.

We then split into two groups, with Alan and Bob playing the new Carcassonne game Carcassonne: Die Burg (the Rio Grande version will be called Carcassonne: The Castle) which Jurgen had brought along. The rest of us watched at Jurgen explained the rules. Those who have played Carcassonne will be right at home, the now familiar mechanism of place a tile, place a meeple, score, is still intact, but a number of interesting twists have been added which add some different strategies. I didn't see the game being played, but from the explanation it sounded quite interesting. If you are a Carcassonne fan and are looking for something new in the Carcassonne realm (and want a two player game), this one looks good so far. I hope to give the game a try myself soon.

Jurgen had also brought along the other new Hans im Gluck game - Attika. The rest of us - Pitt, Jurgen, Jeremy and I - dove in. This is a game of building buildings on a number of interlocking terrain tiles. Eight tiles are laid out at the beginning of the game and a temple is placed at the four corners of the board. The object? Either make a string of your buildings between two of the temples or build all your buildings. Whoever does one of these first is the winner.

The building of the buildings is the heart of the game. When you build, you need to spend a number of terrain cards to do it. The number of cards you spend can be reduced by building adjacent to certain terrain or certain other buildings. This is the hard part - to maximize the buildings you will build in the shortest number of turns. You can build lots of buildings early in all sort of places, but then you've blown all your cards and you have to spend a number of turns replenishing your cards. In addition, you have to keep an eye on the other players and make sure they aren't getting too close to winning.

In our game we made a few mistakes, so this session report will have to have an asterisk beside it. Pitt won the game by connecting two temples, even though we thought he had no chance of doing so. Good one Pitt!

I think we all liked the game. The game is of medium complexity but with lots of strategy. I really liked the mechanics - it is fairly straightforward and very interesting. There is one annoying component gaffe - markers should have been provided to players could keep track of what buildings they have built without having to scan the board constantly. You'll need to grab some markers from another game (or used pennies) to do this. Aside from this minor issue, this one is another keeper.

And with that, we headed back to our hotel - Jeremy for a good night's sleep and me to write up this report. Today I was also able to get my hands on the new Queen games Industria and Lucky Loop - they are sitting beside me all ready to play but I don't have an English translation! Ahhh! I hope to find a German tomorrow who can teach me the games so I can give them a try. I also have a copy of the new Uberplay / Inspiration Games Carcassonne game, The Ark of the Covenant. As tomorrow is another setup day I'll do some more wandering around the convention centre as the booths are being completed. Be assured some more new games will also be played so stay tuned!

Essen 2003 Report: Setup Day - Wednesday, October 22, 2003 By Rick Thornquist

Another day in gaming heaven. Today is the last setup day before the fair officially opens tomorrow and the exhibitors were madly trying to finish things up before the onslaught tomorrow. Today I spent some more time in the used games section as well as browsing among the completed booths. I also got a chance to try a few of the new games for the first time.

As with yesterday, there were already a number of the used games dealers already set up and ready to deal. Today, one more dealer set up and this one was a bit different than the rest - he had some very hard to find games, and the prices were fantastic. A small group hovered around as the dealer opened big boxes with piles of games inside and made a grab for the treasures as they were unearthed. I saw a guy quickly grab a copy of Code 777 - he then held onto like it was his first-born. I spotted another dealer at this booth - he bought a pile of games, went back to his booth, marked them up, and then put them on display in his booth!

I saw an amazing array of hard to find games including a number of old Moskito releases by designer Karl Heinz-Schmiel. One was a copy of Extrablatt that was signed by the designer for 12.50 Euro! Finally some Alea games made an appearance and the deals were great - there was an unpunched copy of Chinatown for 8 Euros.

There were also some dealers with new, shrinkwrapped games for sale, but these ones weren't selling until tomorrow. There were some incredible deals on the new games - a Kosmos Lord of the Rings big box game was going for 1.50 Euros! There were tons more for ridiculously low prices. I can imagine these booths are going to be mobbed tomorrow.

Between the new and used game dealers, the number of great games and deals was incredible - I could have bought all the games in my collection for 1/4 of the price I paid for them (probably less).

In the midst of all the game buying mayhem at the used dealers booths, new arrivals Ward Batty, James Miller, Greg Schloesser, Craig Berg, Richard Borg and Mik Svellov made their appearance. Along with the group that was around yesterday, this gave me quite a good pool of English speaking gamers to play against when I start ramping up the game playing tomorrow.

The first new game of the day was Warfrog's Princes of the Renaissance. The group that played included Ward Batty, James Miller, Greg Schloesser, Craig Berg and me. We were taught the game by Warfrog notable "Hammy" Hamilton. Put on your thinking caps, boys and girls, because this is definitely a gamer game. Each player is trying to recruit various characters, armies, artists, merchants, etc, with the goal of accumulating the most victory points. The game is quite involved, and it did take some time before we were able to play comfortably. There are many paths to victory, and it can be a bit mind-boggling at first when trying to figure out what to do. I was only able to finish about half of the game before I had to leave, but my first impression is that this could be a winner. It's very diverse, and for those of us who have been clamoring for a gamer game in the midst of all the family games - this could be the one we have been waiting for.

Of course, this game being Warfrog, there were a few typos in the game. It just wouldn't be a Warfrog game without typos.

Jeremy and I then headed to the Savoy hotel for some dinner and some gaming. After dinner we joined a game of Finstere Flure already in progress. The other players were Pitt Crandlemire, Richard Borg and Bob Herried. This game has a fairly simple concept - each player has three tokens representing people that they have to move from one corner of the board to exit the other corner. The player that exists two of his people wins the game. The fly in the ointment is a monster that moves after all the other players have moved and wreaks havoc on the people by eating them. If your player is too close to the monster when it moves, you're dead meat! The strategy comes from trying to predict where the monster will go (it has a sort of a programmed-type set of moves) - you try to move your people so they won't be attacked but at the same time try to maneuver the monster so it attacks other players. The game is quite simple, though I understand there is an advanced version that adds a few mores rules to spice things up. I thought the game was okay to good, it doesn't have as much excitement as I expected. I will play a few games of the advanced version before I submit my final verdict.

We started to go over the rules for the new Queen game Lucky Loop, but both Jeremy and I had a long day and decided to head back to the hotel early. Tomorrow will be the opening day of the convention and for me, it will be a game playing day - I hope to get in as many new games as possible. Stay tuned!

Essen 2003 Report: Day One - Thursday, October 23, 2003 By Rick Thornquist

Today is the day - the opening day of the fair. Lots to report on today - I'm actually doing the first part of this report in the middle of the day so I won't be up until 3:00 in the morning trying to get it done. Lots of new games to play, people to see, and crowds to navigate. I understood from some veterans of the show that the first thing to do is to visit some of the smaller publishers to get a chance to try their games. A lot of the bigger publisher's game are being done in English - I can get to those back home. Here I can try the smaller publisher's games and grab them if they look good.

Before going to the show, I joined Jeremy Young for a meeting with designer Michael Schacht. Jeremy needed one more player to play a prototype of Michael's, so I was chosen as the guinea pig. This was the first time I've met Michael, a very nice guy. After playing the prototype, Michael was nice enough to go over the rules of Industria, his new game from Queen. The description makes it sound like a middle-weight game with mechanisms that are vintage Schacht. This is one possible bump in the road from English speakers - there is a lot of German text on the board. The text are mostly names of buildings and raw materials (Iron Mine, Brick), but those uncomfortable with the German should be aware. And since a lot of it is on the board, it makes paste-ups unlikely. I think most people should get along fine. Aside from all that it sounded very good - I'm looking forward to giving it a try.

I was supposed to meet with Pitt Crandlemire at the show at 9:00AM, but our meeting with Michael went long. I ran to the fair, and as I crossed the street I was able to see the long lineups at the door for people waiting to get in. I snuck in one of the back gates (ah, the wonders of a press pass), and got into the fair just as the hordes were let in. It's quite a sight to see so many people, thousands, all excited about all these new games. I had missed Pitt - and resolved to find him so I could apologize profusely.

After I got into the show I decided to case each hall carefully and to make sure I at least took a quick look at each booth. Even at this early point in the show, the booths were mobbed - even the huge ones like Kosmos had every table filled with gamers.

My first stop was Days of Wonder, where I finally got to meet their marketing guy Mark Kaufmann face to face. I've been corresponding with Mark for a while, but it was great to meet him in person. I also met Days of Wonder head honcho Eric Hautemont. Mark talked to me about the new Bruno Faidutti game Terra that they are going to be publishing. They had a few prototype copies there to play - I hope to get a game of this one in the next few days. They also had copies of all the rest of their games on display.

While casing the Wassertal Spieleverlag booth I ran into Counter magazine luminaries Ben Baldanza and Alan How. It was good to finally meet Alan, but we only got a chance to talk for a second before he was off on the hunt for another game.

I had reserved a number of games from Winsome and as I was passing their booth, I decided to pick them up. After a quick chat with John Bohrer, I picked up InterUrban, Veld Railroads and the Age of Steam Expansions: Western US & Germany. I had heard good things about these games from the grapevine, so I thought I'd pick them up. It seems strange to pick up North American games in Essen, but Winsome games are a bit hard to find back home.

I then spied Pitt at the booth of French publisher Toodoo Editions. After profuse apologies for missing our meeting time I joined him at a table in the booth. Designer Christophe Berg went over the rules of a couple of his games with us - L’encanteur and Ana contre Corax. They both sounded quite interesting. L’encanteur is about buying and selling fish and has some very interesting mechanics including a novel auction mechanism. Ana contre Corax is a two player battle game, pitting mythical creatures against one another. I was very impressed by Chrisophe's designs - from a small publisher you expect something derivative, but the games were all interestingly designed. They have nice graphics as well. Earlier, Christophe had gone over the mechanics of his other games with Pitt and Pitt told me he was impressed. That was good enough for me - I picked up copies of all four of the Toodoo card games plus their board game Mamba.

Pitt and I then took to the aisles for a few minutes only to stop at the Lookout Games booth to try out the English edition of Attribute. This is a party type game, sort of like Apples to Apples. We played a few rounds and I liked it enough to grab myself a copy. Lookout was supposed to have a freebie expansion card for Verrater, but they ran out of them for the day - I'll have to get one tomorrow.

We stopped by the Diet Evil Games booth for a moment to introduce myself to Ayne Sellers who I have corresponded with. They were selling copies of their own games plus some from Jolly Roger games. They had copies of Joe Huber's new game Scream Machine so I picked up a copy. The game has gotten good word of mouth, and hey, Joe's a good guy so I gotta get his game.

The next stop was Edition Erlkonig and their new game Feurio!. Designer Heinrich Glumpler was kind enough to explain the rules to Pitt and me, as well as two other players. We then started a game - I was a bit hazy on the rules but as game we progressed, it became clearer. It is a fairly abstract game, and though the theme is about forest fires, it's abstractness comes through fairly clearly. It is interesting, though, with a number of tactical moves possible. From my standpoint it was a bit too abstract, but I can see others liking the tactical play. Pitt grabbed a copy - I'm going to wait until I've had a chance to play one more game.

Next stop were a couple of quick stops. I stopped at the Bambus Spieleverlag booth where I picked up a copy of Flaschenteufel for Terminal City Gamer Patrick Korner (yes, Patrick, I've got your game!). I just had a very quick chat with designer Gunter Cornett - his booth was packed with people playing his games.

Another quick stop was at the booth of Cwali. Here I got a chance to meet Corne van Moorsel and pick up a copy of Logistico (yes, Patrick, I also got one for you). I'm not buying many games on sight alone, but this one just looks and sounds too good, so I decided to pick it up.

Pitt and I then headed back to our hotels to dump our booty (and so I could write this) before heading back for another round. We met again at the fair and went off in search of more games.

Our next stop was Red Omega Studio - an Italian game publisher. They had two games that we looked at - the first one was Tortuga. Tortuga is a pirate game that has a novel mechanism of playing the cards. There are a number of different categories of cards (transport ships, the amount of gold they carry, the sea conditions, etc), and each are laid one at a time. Once all the cards have been played they are resolved to determine how much treasure was plundered by each player. We didn't get to play the game - we just got it explained to us - but it seems to be fairly simple. I did think it was interesting enough to buy the game.

The other game they had was Crazy Rally. Crazy Rally is, of course, a car race game. This one is different than most in that it is mainly a memory game accompanied by blind bidding. You'd think that these mechanisms would turn me off right away, but I ended up liking the game for the fun of it. Not deep or particularly goofy, but good nonetheless. Pitt and I played a game - he drove his car way over the speed limit most of the game and beat me to the finish line. Those crazy Americans and their fast cars!

We then quickly checked out Fantasy Pub by Mind the Move - another Italian publisher. Again, we were explained the game but didn't get a chance to play it. In this game, each player gets four fantasy characters that go into a bar. They move from table to table, buying drinks, with the ultimate goal of leaving the pub. The game looks extremely light, but there is a bit of strategy to it. This one looks good as a light filler - I'd like to give it a try.

I met up with Jeremy Young and after handling a bit of business, we joined up with a group of Spielfrieks and headed out for dinner. There was quite a crowd of us, including Trond Braut, who I was finally able to meet face to face. The conversation was fast and furious and ranged from Essen stuff to all things gaming and more besides. We had a fabulous time - everybody in the group is a lot of fun, I haven't laughed that hard in a long time. Side Note: Trond was accidentally served my dinner and took a big bite out of it before he realized it wasn't his. In the interest of international relations he offered to get me a new dinner but I demurred.

I'm going to post this and then I may head to the Savoy or Jung hotels to see if any games are being played. If so, I'll report on them tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Essen 2003 Report: Day Two - Friday, October 24, 2003 By Rick Thornquist

Today will be a bit of a quieter day for news. I was doing business stuff most of the day, playing prototypes and buying up games for the trip home. I didn't get a chance to play any new games today, but I did get a chance to take a few pictures of some of them - check out the picture section to see them.

My first order of the day was to get together with Wolfgang Kramer to play some prototypes. He has the bearing of an elder statesman, but very nice and approachable. Playing his prototypes was a great - like most game designers, he has a certain design style and it was apparent in his prototypes. It was a pleasure to meet and game with him.

After the meeting with Kramer it was just after noon and I was beat. I felt fine for the first few days I was here, but today I think the jet lag and long hours caught up with me. I caught a nap for a few hours but I still felt tired most of the day. I'm still a little bagged - hopefully with a good night's sleep I'll feel better tomorrow.

After my nap I headed back to the fair. Most of my time in the afternoon was spent buying up games, mostly from the smaller publishers. The fair didn't seem as crowded as it was yesterday, that is to say the it was very crowded, just not ridiculously crowded. I wandered through the Kosmos booth at one point and every inch of it was packed - not only people playing games on the tables, but lots of people playing on the floor. There was a lot of Anno 1503 being played, but, and Stephen Glenn should be happy to hear this, there were quite a few people playing Balloon Cup.

And here's something Alan Moon should be happy to hear - at the Goldsieber booth it seemed that every table was playing either New England or Das Amulett. Not to mention that over at the Hans im Glück booth there were lots of people playing Eiszeit.

Probably the most popular game that I saw played was Attika. Of course, Hans im Glück has a lot of tables, but I did see a ton of people playing this game. I'm not too surprised - so far it is my favorite of the show, but I still have quite a few that I haven't played yet.

I did get a chance to do a stroll through one hall that was mostly fantasy games. It was different than the rest of the halls that were mostly regular boardgames, and it was very reminiscent of Gen Con. There were people in costumes with amour and swords and lots of that sort of stuff being sold. There were booths with collectible card games, roleplaying games, dice, books, etc, etc. There was also a smaller hall that was filled with comic books and associated stuff.

One nice thing about just strolling around is that I do run into lots of familiar faces. I thought with the size of Essen I'd probably have a hard time finding anybody, but there is a large contingent of familiar gamers, and I would see one or another of them fairly often. I ran into Alan How in the fantasy games section - Alan had bags full of games, and after a few words he was on the hunt for more. I finally ran into Rio Grande's Jay Tummelson who was standing, as most people do here, with a few games under his arm. It as good to have a few words with Jay. I would run into most of the others that I have mentioned previously lots of times during the day.

A number of times during the fair I've been recognized by people who know of me from my work on the Terminal City Gamers website. It's funny to have this happen - it's not like my picture is on the front page of the website, you have to dig a bit to find it, but I had a number of people recognize me, approach me an say "Are you Rick Thornquist?". A very nice chap from France approached me while I was just standing beside a booth - it was both surprising and flattering. Fortunately they all said that they liked my work (if they hated it I might not be so flattered).

After the fair finished for the day, Jeremy Young and I headed out for dinner with Alan Moon and Richard Borg. We had dinner and played a bunch of prototypes. Alan has some really good ones in the pipeline - I hope to see these games published soon so I could play them with my friends!

And that's pretty much it for the day. After writing this report, I may head to the Hotel Jung for a quick visit before hitting the hay. Tomorrow is my last day here, and I have a little work to do in the morning, but I hope to get some gaming in the afternoon. Stay tuned!

Essen 2003 Report: Day Three - Saturday, October 25, 2003 By Rick Thornquist

Today is my last day at the fair. It does go on for one more day, but as of tomorrow morning, I am heading back home so I really wanted to make this day count - and count it I did! I felt great today and got in tons of games. Fortunately for me, at the beginning of the day I ran into a German friend of mine - Heli - that I met at the Gathering. Heli was good enough to join me for a bunch of games throughout the day and got me through when some German translation was needed. Thanks, Heli!

First up is one of the new ones in Kosmos fabled line of two player games - Dracula. This I would classify as mainly a memory game. One player takes on the role of Count Dracula while the other takes the role of his adversary Dr. Van Helsing. The board portrays a town with buildings in a grid of twelve squares. Each player puts six cards together and then both players cards are shuffled and one played face down on each building. On the player's turns, they move from building to building turning over the cards. Some cards are goal cards that you need to win the game, some other cards attack you and deplete your resources. The key is remembering which cards were which after a few turns have gone by. There is some other strategy in the game, but the memory aspect is most important. I thought the game was good, however, I'm not a big fan of memory games and this would reduce my enthusiasm for it somewhat.

Next up was the other new Kosmos two player game Rette Sich wer Kann (the English Edition will be called Crocodile Pool Party). Note that is not the fabled 'Lifeboat Game', this is another game altogether. This one is quite a bit simpler than Dracula. Basically, the board is a swimming pool that has had a grid superimposed. Each player has a number of pieces that are swimmers on one side of the piece and crocodiles on the other side. Each player has to try to get as many of his pieces to the opposite side of the pool as he can. Both players start their pieces as swimmers, but they can flip them over into crocs to grab opponents pieces, which also count for points. The game is fairly simple to learn, but has a bit of - believe it or not - a chess aspect to it where you are trying to move to take an opponents piece without leaving yourself open. On first playing I thought it was good, but this one is going to have to take another play before giving it a final rating.

Next up is Die Kinder van Catan (the English edition is The Kids of Catan). I know what my friends are saying - what the heck is Rick doing playing a kid's game? Is he ill? Is the smoke making him goofy? Well, not really - after finishing the two player games there was a table with this game free and Heli and I thought it would be interesting to see how it works. In the game you roll the die and collect resources, which can then be made into buildings. Whichever player makes all their buildings first is the winner. Make no mistake, it is a kid's game, but it does look like a pretty good one - simple, very nice bits, but with a little bit of thought to it (but no strategy, the game is pure luck). If you do have young kids, I recommend you give this a look-see (and you may just be able to get out of playing Candyland).

While waiting for Jeremy to arrive for lunch, Heli gave me a quick demo of Jumbo's Squad Seven. This is a game that came out a while ago and I've always been intrigued with (but have never seen). The game uses a CD that is 17 minutes long. It just has sound effects on it - the sounds for day, the sounds for night, the occasional scream and a helicopter sound when the game is about to end. The game is played while the CD is playing. In the game, each player is sending out a team of seven people to find treasure, whoever finds the most wins. There are lots of fun aspects to the game, to claim cards on the table, they are slapped, some cards require players to run around the table and shoot a dart gun at a target, etc. It all looks like great fun. I tried to score a copy, but I couldn't find any anywhere. I'm am going to get a copy of this.

After lunch, Heli and I headed up to the press room so I could get some pictures of games that I had missed so far (see below). In the press room, all the games are laid out for the press to take pictures of. I haven't taken a picture of every game - there are just so many. Over the past few days I've tried to get the most notable ones.

Heli and I then headed to the Zoch booth to play Iglu Pop (The English edition will be Igloo Pop). Supposedly this uses a similar mechanic as a previous game, but it was new to me. There are a set of small opaque plastic igloos each with a number of small beads inside. When the game starts, each player grabs one of the igloos and shakes it, trying to determine the number of beads inside. There are some cards on the table with numbers - if you think you know the number of beads in the igloo, you put it on the appropriate card. After the round is over, you check to see who was right and those players get the cards (which give points). The game is really silly fun, but I can see it wearing thin quickly with adults. The kids might like it, though.

We then went up to the press area for Amigo where we got a short demo of Santiago. Santiago is a game of plantation development. The board has a grid where the plantations are placed after players bid for the ones they want. Canals are also placed on the board between the plantations. You try to get a number of similar plantations together to score more money (points). There is an auction mechanic as well as a negotiation aspect, but it is on the abstract side. It has had some good word of mouth. I did buy a copy so I'll give it a try when I get back.

I ran into the gang of Greg Schloesser, Craig Berg, James Miller and Ward Batty at the Yun Games booth - they were playing Gold Geier. After they were done they wanted to one of the new Tilsit games - Maka Bana. I started to feign an illness - I really didn't want to play a Tilsit game - they do have a reputation for having problems. This was one of this first in a new line of their games so I capitulated and gave it a chance. How is it? Well, first of all, the game actually works and works pretty well - which is a big step. However, it is basically a guessing game, which is not my favorite type of game. For a guessing game it is pretty good, though. Players are putting resorts on spaces on a tropical island. In each turn, players select secretly which space they want to put their resorts on by playing the appropriate cards. You can try to screw with other player's placements and block them, but really if you guess right you'll do well, if you guess wrong you won't. If you like guessing games, you may very well like this one, but it's not my cup of tea.

We then headed over to the Warfrog booth to say goodbye to them and the various English speaking hangers-on that mill around the booth. I also said goodbye to Angela at Plenary Games who was kind enough to stash some of my stuff while I was wandering the halls.

Jeremy and I had our last dinner in Essen with Stefan Brück of Alea where we talked about all things gaming. Stefan has a unique insight into the gaming industry and it's always interesting to hear what he has to say.

Before I went back to my hotel I thought I'd visit the Savoy Hotel where I knew a group would be congregating. Sure enough, they were there - we chatted about all the news games we had seen. Jay Tummelson of Rio Grande was also there and he challenged me to a game of Carcassonne: Die Burg (the Rio Grande version will be called Carcassonne: The Castle). This was the first time I played it (in my previous report I had just observed). The game is Carcassonne, but now set inside the walls of the city. The gameplay is basically the same as Carcassonne, but with a few small twists. My impression of the game it may just be enough different than Carcassonne to get, but just barely. I would say that if you play Carcassonne with two players all the time, this game may be better than the previous games - it feels like a tighter two player game than the others. It's a close decision, though, it may not be different enough for some people.

After the game, I bid adieu to everyone and headed back to my hotel. I'm now packed and ready to go - I'll catch a few hours sleep and then I'm off. I'll be posting a wrap-up in a few days, once I've had a chance to get back and decompress. Stay tuned!

Essen 2003 Report: Wrap-up - Sunday, October 26, 2003 By Rick Thornquist

After a long trip, I’m back home. We decided to leave before the last day of the show as all of our business was done, though I would have loved to stay one more day to play some more new games.

The show is amazing – for anyone who is into gaming, it is THE show to go to. It is immense, as is the number of people there. There are tons of new games to play, and many friendly people to teach them to you. I was fortunate in hooking up with a number of people that I knew, which made it all the more fun. There were lots of get-togethers in the evenings and they were all a great time.

For me, Attika was the best game of the show. It is a middle-weight game, but with lots of strategy. When this one comes out in English, I’ll be first in line to buy it. Princes of the Renaissance comes a close second – though I have a feeling that once I’ve had a chance to play it a few more times it may become my favorite. Other games that I quite liked included The Bridges of Shangri-la and the English version of Attribute. There were lots of games in the 'good but not great' category, including Carcassonne: Die Burg (Carcassonne: The Castle), Finstere Flure, Feurio!, Tortuga, Crazy Rally, Dracula and Rette Sich Wer Kann (Crocodile Pool Party). I thought Die Kinder von Catan and Iglu Pop (Igloo Pop) would be good kid's games.

There were a few games that looked like I would like them – I saw them demoed but I didn’t get a chance to play them. These included Fantasy Pub, Squad Seven and Santiago.

There was only one game that I would say I didn’t really like – Maka Bana from Tilsit. This is not to say it is a bad game, it actually works pretty well, but it is a guessing game and I am not fond of that genre of game.

I did look at a lot of offerings from small publishers and most of them were surprisingly good. My favorite among them were the games of French publisher Toodoo Editions, designed by Christophe Berg. The games were all interestingly designed and I couldn’t help picking up all of them.

I did pick up a number of games to bring home, and I hope to give them a try in the next few weeks. First on my list is Industria, but I’m also looking forward to trying Lucky Loop, Maya and many others.

Next year I’ll be a veteran and I already know of a few things I’ll do differently now that I know the lay of the land - including getting a lot more new games in. I enjoyed my first Essen immensely and I’m already looking forward to the next one.
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