Faulty Predictions: Essen 2013
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So, I survived the chaos at Essen for one more year and it's time to compose my thoughts on what I played. In the interests of time, this list is going to focus on just what I thought about the games and less on rules/thematic explanations - these are easy enough to find elsewhere.

One thing to note is that the ratings given are based mostly on gut feel and should be taken as such. Many are based on a single play or less, so don't take them too seriously.

Oh, and if you want a laugh, you can see how this list compares to my predictions before the show. To sum it up in meme form:
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1. Board Game: 1860: Railways on the Isle of Wight [Average Rating:7.93 Overall Rank:1320]
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We arrived at the hotel on Wednesday night and sat down for a game of 1860. It's been way too long since I've played an 18XX in general or 1860 in particular and Juho ran away with the game. I came out of the private auction in a strong position, but some mismanagement of the IOW early on caused me to stall in the middle. The final nail in the coffin, however, was completely missing out on a token in the N city. This severely stunted the runs for both of my railroads. It also left Juho with the two strongest railroads in the game - one at 90% owned and one at 70%. We called it after a particularly brutal set of operating rounds which left me limping along with one company and another two in receivership. Juho, in contrast, had three solid companies, two permanent trains and the money for a third. He had at least twice the cash, at least twice the share value and at least twice the income. There was no coming back.

Both Juho and I continue to be pleasantly surprised at just how well 1860 plays 2p. It's way better than 1825 Unit 3, which is supposedly designed for 2p. Beyond just that, 1860 is a very unique 8XX which forces you to play on its own terms and will punish you for naive play. I would highly recommend it for fans of the series.

Rating:
13 
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2. Board Game: Field of Glory: The Card Game [Average Rating:6.64 Overall Rank:3195]
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Supposedly there's no such thing as bad publicity and never has there been a more stark example of this than FoG:TCG. I would never have even bothered with this game had it not been for the recent controversy about its near pulping. Our morbid curiosity drove us to try it rather than any expectation that it would actually be a good game. To our surprise it turned out to be fairly good. There's a nice amount of strategy in how you draft your deck combined with some tactical play. It reminded me a lot of Blood Bowl: Team Manager, a game I also really enjoy, but the deck construction and the dual purpose nature of the cards really adds something. The low price and small box also made this an intriguing value proposition and I wound up grabbing a copy before the show was over.

Rating:
25 
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3. Board Game: Rococo [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:195]
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The rules to Rokoko had made me interested to try it, but it was more of an intellectual curiosity about how the worker management system might work than because I thought this might be a good game for me. As such, this game was an incredibly pleasant surprise. The different elements in Rokoko come together well and the game offers some interesting decision points mainly around managing your deck and hand of workers. Like the dresses you craft in the game, this mechanism is both elegant and painful for the user Rokoko is a solid game that works well both in theme and mechanisms. Another member of our group picked up a copy and this is one I would gladly play again.

Rating:
21 
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4. Board Game: Bruxelles 1893 [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:251]
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In my predictions GeekList I wrote a comment on Bruxelles 1893:
Capoeirista wrote:
Finding out a game you thought was terrible is actually really good is one of the greatest joys of this hobby IMO. Getting things wrong the other way round is less fun.

With the playing of Rokoko and Bruxelles 1893 back to back, this would turn out to be oddly an oddly prophetic statement.

I had expressed some concern that the play in Bruxelles might be a little too random but I hadn't expected the game to be quite such a mess. The myriad of mechanisms crammed into the box never really cohere in any way. Each element remains disparate and disjoint. The board play is lackluster at best and many of the mechanisms which looked interesting at first blush, such as the simultaneous auciton while playing or the spatial market, fall flat in practice.

Rating:
14 
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5. Board Game: Russian Railroads [Average Rating:7.80 Overall Rank:67]
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I had high hopes for Russian Railroads before the show. I'm a huge fan of OO's 18XX games and was interested to see what they might bring to the worker placement genre. In the end the final product is fairly admirable, it's a solid worker placement game with a strong economic engine on the backend. However, after a couple of plays, it became clear that it isn't much more than that.

Now, just to be clear, this does have one of the best economic engines I've seen in a worker placement game and they've done a great job of ensuring an open strategy space in which you can play. At the end of the day however, I guess I was hoping for something more exceptional. There are some nice bells and whistles (the engineers which offer variable action spaces which begin public and turn private, the massively powerful bonus tiles), but fundamentally, this is the same game you've played before - a solitaire puzzle game complicated by having to compete for action spaces with other players. It's probably the best worker placement game to date, but that's all it is.

Rating:
15 
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6. Board Game: S-Evolution [Average Rating:5.45 Overall Rank:13429]
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This game was always a bit of a wildcard, it had the potential to be a fun, light civ building game, but it could just as easily flop. The rulebook is a curious mess, almost all the rules are there, but for some reason never in the place or form you expect.

We managed to play two games of S-Evolution. In the first I was riding high - pushing through the ages with strong production buildings and winning a lot of tricks. I enjoyed myself, but my companions seemed less enthused. In the second game I got to see why. Falling behind the other players, even slightly, is a death knell in this game. In the second game we had the critical issue that one player didn't manage to leave the primative age at the end of the first round (which is played entirely blind) and it was pretty clear that from that position recovery was impossible. For my part, I remained competitive, but it really wasn't any fun. The leader would just hoover up all the good cards leaving us with the scraps. He was fortunate to have a couple of very strong hands early on and by the time he had to play his bad cards, he was an age ahead of everyone else and so would just keep winning. Unsurprisingly enough, he couldn't understand why the rest of us weren't enjoying it (it was his first game).

The reality is that the small number of cards in each hand kills this game creating too high a variance. When players start to fall behind, their card play quickly becomes irrelevant and you are never going to catch up by only picking up the dregs from the other players.

Rating:
21 
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7. Board Game: Nations [Average Rating:7.71 Overall Rank:96]
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This will likely wind up being my biggest disappointment of the show. The game seems like a streamlined Through the Ages, but the sad reality is that there are just too many cards. In any given age in the game, you will see only about 1/4 of the cards for that age. This means you really cannot do any long term planning based on particular cards or even particular features of cards. For example, in our game it was only in age 3 that we first saw a tech which had food production above 1, our friends, playing at the same time, saw exactly three colonies during the whole game.

Now, perhaps the game might have been better if we had played with just the "basic" cards as hinted by the rulebook. This would certainly reduce the streakiness of the cards. However, the game still doesn't scale well with the number of players (you will see fewer of the cards with fewer players) and it really begs the question of why the "advanced" or "expert" cards are included in the game at all. I would usually expect an "advanced" or "expert" game to be more strategic, promoting long term planning above short term tactical play, but this seems to be the opposite here - the extra cards reduce the predictability of the deck to the point where you can only play to what you see and banking on some particular type of card coming up later is a huge gamble.

Regardless of the deck composition, falling behind in the military race is particularly harsh. If you lag behind, not only will you suffer from wars and events, but you will also suffer in turn order which is decided by military strength. This makes it too easy for your opponents to starve you of the means to your salvation. This might also be better with more players as there should be more competition at all levels in the military track.

I might play Nations again with just the basic decks and more players, but overall I wasn't impressed. That said, I can see the more tactical nature appealing to a broader audience and I suspect that overall, this game will do fairly well. For me, however, if I want a tactical Civ game I'll play Clash of Cultures and if I want a strategic one I'll play Through the Ages.

Rating:
28 
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8. Board Game: Trains and Stations [Average Rating:5.90 Overall Rank:4622]
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In recent years innovative designers have managed to show that not all games with dice need not necessarily be random in nature. Trains and Stations, however, goes entirely the other way. By way of example, in our game, one player got more than 1/3 of his points from a card he received at the beginning of the game and did absolutely nothing with. In contrast, the two cards I received gave me half the points and I had to spend considerable effort to score them. Your capability to make decisions is almost zero, you will be at the mercy of your dice. This game is abominable.

Rating:
21 
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9. Board Game: Yunnan [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:1248]
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We played a few rounds of this at the fair and Juho picked up a copy. I had the chance to play a full game back at the hotel on Saturday. The curious blend of auction and worker placement at the opening is quite interesting, but the board play turns out to be not only meaningful but absolutely brutal in practice. Influence becomes a key defensive mechanism if you want to ensure your continued good fortune but the tea inspector ensures it remains a balanced advantage.

Overally I really enjoyed Yunnan and was even considering picking up a copy. It's possible the game may become a little dry with repeated play, but there seems to be enough strategic wiggle room for it to hold its interest. I just really wish they had had an Essen promo in the form of a special Tea Inspector figure - it would have been hilarious to see people scrabbling to get something which serves absolutely no purpose in the game

Rating:
18 
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10. Board Game: Concordia [Average Rating:8.07 Overall Rank:23]
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Concordia is one of the better Gerdts games I have played. The action selection mechanism works a lot better than a rondel and the need to inhale cards not only to improve your action capabilities but also your end scoring is delightful. The board play is both interesting and meaningful. It's neither obvious to figure out exactly what you should be doing nor trivial to do it once you do. All in all, this is a very solid game and probably the best of the show for me.

Rating:
34 
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11. Board Game: Artifact [Average Rating:5.78 Overall Rank:9731]
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One of the few games I feel my predictions were accurate about. This game is really a mess. As well as having a few structural issues (it seems like the best course of action is to basically inhale as much as you can at one location and then move on to another) the actual minute to minute gameplay is just tedious. There are a couple of interesting ideas (having to plan ahead by taking specific "worker" pieces and the fact that you can decrease everyone's income by completing certain exhibitions) but they are nowhere near enough to redeem it.

Rating:
10 
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12. Board Game: Spyrium [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:483]
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We tried to get a game of Spyrium at the show but to no avail. Since it was reasonably cheap and the box was small, I decided to just take a chance on it.

This is a fun little auction/engine building game. The core gameplay seems very tactical and I didn't see much of the harshness that was hinted at by commenters: money was tight but not oppressively so. It's possible that there is some element of groupthink to this - if people are more willing to stump up money for cards, then money should get tighter. I did enjoy the spatial dutch auctions, although I think the unlimited use character cards (which seem more frequent in the later decks) do soften it a bit.

Overall though, this is a fun game with some nice decision making which plays quickly, so I'm happy I bought it.

Rating:
16 
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13. Board Game: Madeira [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:299]
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This game really reminds me a lot of Vinhos. It has a lot of moving parts, but at the end of the day, the different paths on offer produce largely the same benefits. I played with a group of strangers and we all agreed that it was complicated but that the complications didn't seem to provide anything interesting. I also didn't like that the scoring tiles essentially just put an arbitrary upper bound on any aspect of scoring forcing you to re-task later. It also took more than 90 minutes to play two of five rounds which was discouraging.

Rating:
16 
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14. Board Game: Sail to India [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:1113]
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Despite this being the first game I actually heard about from Essen this year, I managed to be too disorganised to actually pre-order it. Fortunately another member of our group was more diligent. This is a surprisingly good game in a surprisingly small package. The main gimmick of needing workers to act as scoring or money markers actually works well. The choice of technologies, but their limited availability also means you must think about your strategy early and ensure you get the tech to match. We had four players each of whom took a very different approach to playing the game (I occupied the first space for the whole game, another was driving the exploration, the other two were going for big shipments) and we all finished reasonably closely suggesting that you can take different approaches to winning. I am sorry I missed out on this one. Hopefully the AEG reprint will be just as good.

Rating:
12 
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15. Board Game: Wildcatters [Average Rating:7.53 Overall Rank:1660]
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This was introduced to me by Juho as a potential "Black Horse" candidate. Fortunately, Ben was kind enough to drop by our hotel with a copy and we got to try it out. This is an interesting economic game. The board play is really fascinating with lots of different ways you can approach the spatial problem of getting your precious oil to refineries. The need to ensure that players don't get an easy time on the wildcatter auctions also means you need to colocate with other players. The need to balance two forms of currency (money and your own shares) is also interesting.

I have only two drawbacks to the game:
1) The fact that the interesting board play turns into a set of area majority plays feels a little disappointing at first (especially for the shares).
2) The shares should not have been cards - it's just too difficult to figure out how many a player has.

1 isn't a huge issue. Sure, it's a little disappointing, but it doesn't make it less interesting in how you use the board play to achieve those majorities.

2 could be fixed by making tracks for the share holdings which would make it much easier/quicker to compare at the minor cost of making share exchanges slightly more fiddly.

Overall, I really enjoyed Wildcatters and would happily play again. I wound up swinging by the stand on Sunday and picking up a copy.

Rating:
13 
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16. Board Game: Amerigo [Average Rating:7.50 Overall Rank:265]
Gareth
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I picked this up on a whim. This looked like a very unusual Feld game. The tower turns out to be a total gimmick (which is kind of what I feared, tbh). Worse, it actually creates some unrealistic expectation that the set of things you can do each turn will be fairly random. The reality is that you will be able to do the action you drop in and maybe one or two others. Often however, either no other cube will come out or the cubes that do come out will be useless which comes as a bit of a let down.

The boardplay is a bit more interesting requiring you to try to partition off sections of the islands so that you can try and play some lucrative big tiles. Balanced against that is the fact that scoring small islands early on (especially if you can get two trading posts on them) can also be quite productive.

I'm torn on this game. I didn't really enjoy my first play, but I think at least part of that was due to the disappointment of just how little the tower impacted the game in practice. I would also put forth that the actions which don't affect the board (i.e. anything other than planning, building or shipping) are kind of dull and seem more like roadblocks on the way to the interesting part of the game. However, the board play is indeed interesting and it seems like there might be enough there to support the rest of the game.

As a result of my conflicted opinion, the following rating should be taken with some salt. If the board play holds up after another play, this will probably be a comfortable 4 game, but I'm rating it based on my enjoyment of our one game so far.

Rating:
16 
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17. Board Game: Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:529]
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Another gamer at the Hotel very generously allowed us to play his copy of Legacy. Although we had a lot of fun with the theme and the artwork, the actual game is kind of a pointless mess. Although it's worker placement, the majority of the time you will be taking actions on your personal board so the interactions there are limited. The "family tree" mechanism is nice and thematic but it's kind of irrelevant as it makes absolutely no difference who a particular child's parents are: there is no inheritance of traits, titles or anything else for that matter. This means that all the mechanism really succeeds in doing is taking up a ton of table space. The card powers aren't very interesting and the chance of getting any particular card is low making planning redundant. The small card and icon size means it's easy to miss things on your tableau and almost impossible to assess the status of someone else's. All in all, this wasn't a very good game.

Rating: (it got an extra half star for the artwork)
13 
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18. Board Game: Venetia [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:3145]
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This is an interesting, but very light, area control game. It goes a bit over the top with randomness (random action cards, random battle tiles, random threats, random bid bonuses, random VP tiles) and some of it seems unnecessary (I think you could drop the action cards and just use them as bid bonuses without losing much). As long as that doesn't bother you, the game works well and it has a nice pacing. I enjoyed playing this and would be willing to play again, but it's too light a game for me to want to own.

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19. Board Game: Ultimate Werewolf: Inquisition [Average Rating:6.62 Overall Rank:2291]
Gareth
Switzerland
Zürich
Zürich
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My ass is green, but I don't let it worry me.
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My problem with vanilla werewolf was always that there were never any information (no matter how ambiguous) coming from the game mechanisms itself. It was always all conjecture based on things people said or how they acted and so on. Inquisition takes things way too far in the other direction. It seems like there is information leaking out all over the place. I feel like there's actually not much point in staying hidden as a werewolf, especially not if playing against competent humans. I also worry that the seating order of the werewolves will be the main decider in most games - if you happen to all be in a row, it will be much easier to abuse the actions to execute villagers rather than werewolves.

Fundamentally, though, I'd rather play The Resistance.

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Edit: The version of this I played was faulty to the point of being unrecognisable. I therefore retract this mini-review.
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20. Board Game: Patchistory [Average Rating:7.28 Overall Rank:781]
Gareth
Switzerland
Zürich
Zürich
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I managed to snag a copy of this on the first day but only managed to get it to the table on the last. The rule book really is awful, although once you get your head round it, the game makes a surprising amount of sense. This is a unique spin on the Civilization theme. The patching mechanism is well thought out and the spatial constraints can be agonising. This also feeds into the auctions making a meaningful difference to how players value the different tiles. You often find yourself having to bid higher than a particular tile is worth simply because some other tile will destroy your economy if you have to take it.

It does still have some of the Civ game stereotypes. There is some randomness in what will be available in any particular game (although most of the patches are used in a single game, it varies by number of players and only one side of each patch will be used). You also must remain competitive in military or you will become everyone's punching bag later in the game (although the game seems good about offering ways to bolster your military based on other resources).

Unfortunately, we ran out of time for the game during the second age, but I'm really looking forward to playing this again.

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21. Board Game: Sigismundus Augustus: Dei gratia rex Poloniae [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:3699]
Gareth
Switzerland
Zürich
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The box was substantially less impressive in person than the representative image made me believe.
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