Spiel Around 2013
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Year four of tracking select Essen games and still not getting to the show. So like last year and the year before and the year before that, I'll have to patiently wait for the games released at Essen to trickle across the Atlantic before I can experience them for myself. In the meantime, I'll track this year's crop of games in this list and see what comes of them. This year, I'll also track a few games that came out around Essen, but not specifically for Essen. For example, Francis Drake was released just ahead of Essen.

Reviewing last year's picks, there were some games that started out hot, but very few of them remain in regular rotation as Essen '13 approaches. Keyflower is one such example. It got a lot of play in November and December, but nothing after January. Snowdonia also got a lot of plays early with just my wife and I, but then after a couple four player games, we stopped playing it as we enjoyed it more with four (and our opportunities to play four are far and few between).

A few 2012 games which I overlooked initially have turned out to be winners. I passed over Archipelago at first as it was a heavy negotiation game, but with two players, it's not that at all. It's just a fun, little exploration and colonization game with two. Finally, there's a few games from 2012 that I haven't even seen yet (New Amsterdam), and Yedo sits unopened still as I just got it a few weeks ago. Hopefully it will get played before Essen '13 games start to appear around here.

This year's list is ordered so that games I purchased (or played) are at the top, games I'd like to purchase are next, and so on down to the ones I decide against getting.

Feel free to comment on my choices, whether you think they're good enough to make the cut, or original enough to warrant adding to my collection (or your own). And, please, come back in a few months, see how the list has evolved, and what I purchased or not, and what I thought of them.
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1. Board Game: Russian Railroads [Average Rating:7.80 Overall Rank:67]
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Verdict:
Status: Purchased

Designer: Helmut Ohley & Leonhard "Lonny" Orgler
Publisher: Z-Man Games
# of players: 2-4

Attraction: Train theme by Helmut Ohley and Leonhard "Lonny" Orgler.

Pre-Essen Commentary: I like 18xx games and although I've never played one by Helmut Ohley/Leonhard "Lonny" Orgler, I'd really like to. In fact, I may ultimately pass on this game because Mayfair Games is supposedly publishing a couple games by them this year and do I really need another worker placement game just because it has a train theme?

Post-Essen Commentary: seems to consider this game one of the better worker placement games out there, but there's nothing new or innovative about it. That's not necessarily a bad thing - even better if I get it and it pushes a lesser worker placement game into my trade pile.

Pros: Railroad themed, worker placement game. Yes, really!
Cons: Maybe I'd just rather play 18xx.
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2. Board Game: A Study in Emerald [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:594]
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Verdict:
Status: Purchased

Designer: Martin Wallace
Publisher: Treefrog Games
# of players: 2-5

Attraction: Multiplayer A Few Acres of Snow with a Cthulhu theme.

Pre-Essen Commentary: I passed on the Kickstarter and even after it came out was not sure it would work with my small group.

Post-Essen Commentary: GCL love for this game made me give it a second look and when an used copy appeared in auction, I took a chance. If nothing else, it should look good on the shelf next to God's Playground.

Pros: Deck-builder with a game board.
Cons: Direct conflict. Not well regarded as a two-player game.
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3. Board Game: Yunnan [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:1248]
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Verdict:
Status: Purchased

Designer: Aaron Haag
Publisher: Argentum Verlag
# of players: 2 - 5

Attraction: Beautiful artwork and network building.

Pre-Essen Commentary: Not a thing. I'd heard of the game, but nothing I'd heard was enough to get me to investigate.

Post-Essen Commentary: Rahdo's Run Through of the game has got me curious. Appears to be a good medium-weight game that could be played with a wide range of people.

Pros: Interesting spin on worker-placement/bidding.
Cons: Probably better with more than two.
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4. Board Game: Concordia [Average Rating:8.07 Overall Rank:23]
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Verdict:
Status: Purchased

Designer: Mac Gerdts
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
# of players: 2-5

Attraction: Role-selection, deck-building hybrid.

Pre-Essen Commentary: Just another Euro pasted into ancient Rome. Trajan, anyone?

Post-Essen Commentary: Talk at GCL Phoenix and the Radho Runs Through has made me curious about this one. Initially, I'd written it off as being another "rondel game without the rondel" and I've already got Gerdts' Imperial and Navegador. Both good games, but rarely do they get played around here. Concordia appears to be a game with little down time (play one card) and having some interaction (playing off another player's card) so it's worth another look.

Pros: Rondel-like mechanism using cards.
Cons: May be a bit dry.
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5. Board Game: Madeira [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:299]
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Verdict:
Status: Previously Owned

Designer: Nuno Bizarro Sentieiro & Paulo Soledade
Publisher: What's Your Game?
# of players: 2-4

Attraction: Visual appeal of Vinhos.

Pre-Essen Commentary: The artwork is by the same artist who did Vinhos. The publisher is the same as well. So the appeal of this game is, at this point, just superficial. Even after skimming the preview available on the game's page, I'm not convinced it's a buy. I'll wait for some reviews before deciding on this one.

Pros: I like what has come out of What's Your Game?.
Cons: I don't get a good sense of this game even with the previews.
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6. Board Game: Lewis & Clark [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:138]
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Verdict:
Status: Traded Away

Designer: Cédrick Chaboussit
Publisher: Ludonaute
# of players: 1-5

Attraction: Board game with deck building.

Pre-Essen Commentary: None.

Post-Essen Commentary: Kurt (enzo622) tipped me off on this one and Joel Eddy (eekamouse) is singing its praises. And after watching the first segment of Radho's run through on it, it's looking very promising. That it has dual usage of cards (one assisting the other) and that players can "leech" off the other players' cards makes this "race" game look very promising.

Pros: Good at player counts of two or three.
Cons: Could there be just too many deck-builders out there?
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7. Board Game: Bruxelles 1893 [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:251]
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Verdict:
Status: Previously Owned

Designer: Etienne Espreman
Publisher: Pearl Games
# of players: 2-5

Attraction: Pearl Games is small with a good track record.

Pre-Essen Commentary: To be honest, I haven't looked into this one yet, but I have been impressed with Pearl Games' previous releases - Troyes is in my top ten. Need to do some research on this one before I place it on my purchase list.

Post-Essen Commentary: I read the rules the other night and from what I gleaned from them, I think I may give this one a pass. There were some cute little mini-game mechanics, but I didn't get the sense that it translated into a unified game.

Pros: A new designer with a proven company.
Cons: I don't appreciate Art Nouveau nor the game's art work.
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8. Board Game: Glass Road [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:210]
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Verdict:
Status: Previously Owned

Designer: Uwe Rosenberg
Publisher: Z-Man Games
# of players: 1-4

Attraction: A streamlined Ora et Labora?

Pre-Essen Commentary: Michael Wißner's video walkthrough of the prototype got me more curious about this game. I've pretty much written off Rosenberg's other release, Caverna: The Cave Farmers, for being too much like Agricola and therefore less entertaining for two. But I sense Glass Road may be more like At the Gates of Loyang in that it's a bit lighter and plays better for two; making it a much better game to break out on a week night when there's just my wife and I at the table.

Post-Essen Commentary: Kurt (enzo662) did not give this a good critique after playing it. He called it "constrained" and was critical of the limits placed on resources, though the card play was "mildly interesting".

Pros: Uwe Rosenberg game.
Cons: Uwe Rosenberg game.
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9. Board Game: The Builders: Middle Ages [Average Rating:6.53 Overall Rank:1387]
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Verdict:
Status: Purchased

Designer: Frédéric Henry
Publisher: Asmodee
# of players: 2-4

Attraction: The obvious play of builder and building cards.

Pre-Essen Commentary: My GCL buddy, Taibi, had this one on his awesome Yes! No! Maybe! I cannot make up my mind... geeklist for which I'm indebted for the format of my yearly lists. As he pointed out, it's a quick worker placement card game that looks perfect for times when you only have 30 minutes to play.

Pros: Quick card game.
Cons: Might be just too light.
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10. Board Game: Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:529]
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Verdict:
Status: Previously Owned

Designer: Michiel Justin Elliott Hendriks
Publisher: Portal Games
# of players: 1-4

Attraction: The aristocratic family-building theme.

Pre-Essen Commentary: Been following this one for some time as I think the theme will appeal to my wife. I had hoped that the artwork would be a bit more sophisticated (more Rococo and less Last Will). I also wished they'd kept it more "French" and less international with the marriages being between different families of French aristocrats rather than with people from all over Europe.

Pros: Card game that looks light, but not too light.
Cons: The whimsical artwork.
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11. Board Game: Francis Drake [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:331]
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Verdict: TBD
Status: Purchased

Designer: Peter Hawes
Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games
# of players: 3-5

Attraction: Elizabethan maritime theme.

Pre-Essen Commentary: Although technically not an Essen game, it's just been released so I'm including it. The game appeals not only because of the theme, but also because it has two distinct phases in the game. First the outfitting of your expedition and then the actual playing out of the expedition. The biggest downside of this game is that it requires at least three.

Pros: Theme and interesting game play.
Cons: Not a two-player game, but there is a two-player variant getting good reviews.
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12. Board Game: Coal Baron [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:470]
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Verdict: Considering
Status: Available

Designer: Michael Kiesling & Wolfgang Kramer
Publisher: eggertspiele
# of players: 2-4

Attraction: Streamlined Euro on 19th Century coal mining that could be used as a gateway or casual game.

Pre-Essen Commentary: Nothing that attracted attention.

Post-Essen Commentary: Very well designed light/medium Euro in which actions are always available but they just cost more. Play time is about an hour making it a good choice for weekday evenings. Am a sucker for industrial revolution theme.

Pros: Quick, casual Euro by the same team that did The Palaces of Carrara last year.
Cons: Hidden trackable scoring. Will probably ignore that....
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13. Board Game: Rococo [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:196]
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Verdict: Considering
Status: Limited Availability

Designer: Matthias Cramer, Louis Malz & Stefan Malz
Publisher: eggertspiele
# of players: 2-5

Attraction: Historical theme that might appeal to my wife.

Pre-Essen Commentary: Another Euro with deck-building. At this point, I'm unsure if there is enough to set this one apart, but I like the theme. And the artwork I prefer to Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy, which is set in the same historical period.

Pros: Great artwork.
Cons: Could be just another deck-builder.
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14. Board Game: Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:311]
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Verdict: Pass
Status: Available

Designer: Jamey Stegmaier
Publisher: Stonemaier Games
# of players: 2-6

Attraction: Same designer as Viticulture (which I still haven't got a copy of).

Pre-Essen Commentary: Nicolai (Taibi) was raving about it, but I wasn't listening.

Post-Essen Commentary: After a couple video reviews, I'm curious. The whole dystopian future appeals to my cynical nature and the bumping workers in a worker placement game may just be the natural evolution of the mechanic. But as cool as that may be, the game may just have too much going on and drive my wife to madness.

Pros: Worker placement euphoria.
Cons: Probably better at higher player counts.
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15. Board Game: Bremerhaven [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:3140]
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Verdict: Pass
Status: Available

Designer: Robert Auerochs
Publisher: Lookout Games
# of players: 1-4

Attraction: Chally's comments here.

Pre-Essen Commentary: At this point, I know very little about the game, but I've enjoyed what Lookout Games has put out in the past. So it's here to remind me to look into it further.

Pros: Lookout Games
Cons: Blind-bidding. See comment below.
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