A Study in Pork - Essen 2013 (Impressions, photos, crude knob gags, etc)
Ben Kirman
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As has become tradition, here are our experiences on our seventh visit to Essen. Five days of gaming punctuated by pork and pilsner.

These lists focus on snap personal impressions of games, rather than boring rules stuff and reviews you can find everywhere. Also it is not just new games, more new to us. Go look for your balanced, interesting, justified and coherent viewpoints somewhere else!

- Passages were Entered: Essen 2012 Impressions, with photos and "hilarious" commentary
- Essen 2011 - Our annual summary, with pictures and impressions (now with more Spunk!)
- Essen 2010 Helicopter (and Games) fair, tons of pictures and impressions
- More Essen 09 Impressions (now with Pictures)

Here is my somewhat camouflaged purchase collection for this year, including several for other people. I notice this year was expansion-heavy, with Flash Point, Suburbia, Mage Knight and Power Grid all getting more love:



Here are the links for things that didn't get a mention/play:
- Power Grid: Australia & Indian Subcontinent
- Power Grid: Taxes
- Suburbia Inc
- Knuckling Knights
- Town Center: Expansion n°1
- Town Center: Expansion n°2
- Wildcatters
- Cornish Smuggler
- Steam Park
- CV
- Card City
- Flash Point: Fire Rescue – Extreme Danger
- Flash Point: Fire Rescue – Dangerous Waters
- Pick-a-Polar Bear
- A House Divided
- Urbion
- Toe-to-Toe Nu'klr Combat with the Rooskies
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1. Board Game: Lost Legacy [Average Rating:6.49 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.49 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.49 Unranked]
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Our journey begins, like all the best stories, with drinks in the pub. That is, the overpriced faux-country pub in Manchester Airport terminal 1.

Our last taste of delicious flat, warm, full pints of english beer before a few days drinking overly-fizzy underfilled glasses of German burpjuice.

We were at the airport fairly early, some of us more hung over than others, and keen to get things moving. Thankfully Russ remembered to bring his copy of Lost Legacy to try. We played several rounds, using both the decks. I think it was enjoyed by all and there were a lot of fun moments. Personally I think this and Love Letter do a great job of gently reintroducing the fun of player elimination in games, without the pain of losing hours of effort.



Lost Legacy immediately went on my "to-buy" list. I knew there was a closed pre-order but Japon Brand had promised they had saved some copies to sell at the fair. Knowing how popular Japon brand games are, it was my first stop at 10:00 on the first day of the fair. I was around 10th in the queue at the moment of opening. Predictably, they had already sold out of this and a few other titles. A nice "fuck you" to begin the fair. Not surprising but still disappointing given the promise of availability. I'm not angry they sold out, I'm happy for them, but the just annoyed that the carrot was dangled at all.

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2. Board Game: Love Letter [Average Rating:7.26 Overall Rank:241]
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Unfortunately, our flight was delayed an hour - presumably because the airline was suspicious of all these shady characters checking-in huge suitcases, each containing only a single pair of underpants and a box of indigestion tablets.

Russ saves the day again, and we settle into several rounds of Love Letter, which again has not lost its charm. A few seemed to be of the opinion that this was the better of the pair but I quite liked the secret-swapping/deduction mechanic in Lost Legacy and would put them even.
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3. Board Game: On The Cards [Average Rating:6.57 Overall Rank:7865]
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Settled into the hotel, we all got together for an annually vigorous game of Enter the Passage. (Nope, that joke still hasn't got old, and continued to crop up in every conversation)

George pulled out his deck and flopped it on the table:



This odd game involved cards but not with the usual victory point symbols and power values, but weird abstract heart/spade shapes and numbers. Totally bizarre.

This is actually a fairly neat little trick-taking game that breaks down traditional card games into component rules and combines them in random ways in each different round. It was great to see how small rule changes completely changed the way some rounds played. Although some of the "games" that came up were broken, some were genuinely fun. A few of us picked up copies for ourselves. Although you might read the description and get the Fluxx sweats, actually this is random rule changes done relatively well and makes for an interesting (if long) experience.
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4. Board Game: Tichu [Average Rating:7.59 Overall Rank:130]
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Finally we settled into a "quick" game of Tichu. This is a bit of a classic, but lots of people still haven't played it so George taught it, while the others played more rounds of Love Letter.



Several punishing rounds later John and I finally put Leo and George out of their misery. They failed to rise like the phoenix, and died like a dog. and then got eaten by a dragon.
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5. Board Game: Friese's Landlord [Average Rating:6.51 Overall Rank:2870]
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Thursday morning, and after disappointment from Japon Brand, we ran across the 2F stall and invited to demo the rerelease of Landlord. André was a great teacher but needs to work on his sales technique. One of his first moves was to murder George's entire family and then blow up his house.



This is an extremely vicious little game of evil landlords (to use a redundant adjective). It is totally normal to murder your own residents and bury them in order to move in more wealthy tenants. Plus there are an awful lot of nasty cards to be played on others. Great simple fun, nothing too strategic here but evocative, playful and with great art and dark humour.

We later played this with 6 and it was just too chaotic. Smaller is better in this case.

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6. Board Game: World of Tanks: Rush [Average Rating:5.94 Overall Rank:5655]
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Next George and I were taught World of Tanks and played a full game. A nice light combat-based deckbuilder with some strategy. I think we were pleasantly surprised. It is a bit thematically weird (I build my army out of individual tanks of various nations! It is a nightmare for maintenance but I can't abide duplicates!)

Also, the French are a faction, but not the British... I can't say there weren't words said under our breath.

Plus, there were clearly production issues - the box is in Russian, although there are German and English rules included, and for some reason they refused to sell us a copy of the game until after 1:30pm?!? Something about online codes no one gave a crap about anyway.


The rules are also a little unclear, and led to a few misunderstandings in later games (specifically about how tanks are played and why anyone would bother playing a tank in defence if it just gives away medals) I think the game is actually solid, but the confusing rules did lead to Mal renaming it "Turd of Wanks" before they were corrected on how to play, what we call, the actual rules.



In bizarre coincidence, World of Tanks is sponsoring a new statue of a tank to be put up in my home city of Lincoln, UK, where tanks were "invented". A lovely welcoming sight for any visiting foreigners.

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7. Board Game: Mascarade [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:971]
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A lot more wandering and we visit Andy, Chooi and Russ to ransack their hotel room for fresh games to devour.

Andy placates us with a round of Mascarade. Which has a confusing name (Masquerade, surely??). It also has a rather confusing theme. So we are all at a masked ball, pretending to be other people. To gain... money? and there's a witch? and someone invited peasants? I'm beginning to suspect that Bruno is not really sure what balls are about. Balls.



At it's heart is a cool little game about deduction and hidden roles. There are plenty of funny and tense moments as players tried to figure out who on earth they were any more. There is a bit of a stink of Citadels about it, but this is much more fun in my opinion. George reckons it is very similar to Coup but I haven't played that.
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8. Board Game: American Rails [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:1284]
Ben Kirman
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Bellies full of the traditional post-Essen-Thursday Schnitzel n' Weizen, we hopped on the German Rails to the hotel where we broke out a game of American Rails.

This is a tight stock-based rail game of the same style as Chicago Express and German Railways. I'm not sure of the relationship there but it felt similar - fast paced, streamlined and elegant.



I really enjoy Chicago Express, but the "race" format makes it quite tricky to introduce to new players. German Railways was almost amazing but the special powers of each company required constant rule-checking.

American Rails feels like the best bits of both games - accessible, fun and deep. I very much enjoyed it. There are a few small quibbles with the graphic design (which is quite plain. I also prefer the CE trains to the cubes here) but these are minor in what is a deep and rewarding experience in about 90 minutes. Although I didn't get it this time, I will probably pick it up at some point.
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9. Board Game: Hanabi [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:314]
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To round off the evening, George brought out his overproduced €50 version of the decent €5 card game Hanabi.



I quite enjoy Hanabi, it is a clever and interesting game, but here the components make all the difference. Although it seemed a bit overdone at first, the pleasant heft of the tiles and aesthetics of this release are really exceptional. This is the way Hanabi is meant to be played. Fantastic and beautiful.
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10. Board Game: Cuba Libre [Average Rating:7.75 Overall Rank:483]
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The next day we sat down to half a game of Cuba Libre, one of the new COIN games from GMT, demoed by the German wargames society and UGG. It is a 4 player asymmetrical political wargame set around the Cuban revolution. Each faction has different concerns and objectives that sometimes align and other times clash. An exceptionally clever system that I think we all enjoyed thoroughly. Since there are basically four different games going on all at once, there are a lot of rules and it takes quite a bit of cross-reference at first, however once you are up and running it is a tense and exciting experience. Highly recommended and a definite pickup for me.



Mal indeed grabbed his own copy and we would later get a quick game in while waiting for our flight home on the Sunday!
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11. Board Game: Police Precinct [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:1365]
Ben Kirman
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This was an interesting game that only really arrived on my radar late - I'd hoped it would be at Essen but unfortunately it seemed like it wouldn't be there. However, incredibly, the publisher stepped in and organised a special session to meet the designer and get a demo of the game! Fantastic customer relations given the game wasn't available to buy. I went along and heard the rules, and watched a few turns (unfortunately I had limited time) but loved it! A tense and fun coop game of solving crimes and keeping the city safe. Lots of really great details (doughnuts, unmarked cars, a variety of crimes, etc).



The stall did happen to have a couple of copies of the limited edition but given the availability they were asking for €65. That was too much for me, despite how much I enjoyed the game. I will definitely pick up a copy of the 2nd edition though!

Cheers again to Common Man Games and Ole for showing us the game!
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12. Board Game: Machi Koro [Average Rating:6.66 Overall Rank:842]
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John was one of the lucky ones to be able to pre-order some Japon Brand games, and taught us Machi Koro - a dice game around city building. City building is a hot theme apparently!



This is a very simple game of playing the odds and developing buildings to increase city revenue. There is a clever switch between one and two dice, and the associated change in probability curve, however the actual gameplay is exceptionally simple. Probably not once for the fans of heavier or more strategic stuff but decent fun as a filler.
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13. Board Game: A Study in Emerald [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:676]
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This brings us to A Study in Emerald.

Martin Wallace's games and I have a bumpy history - I've never really enjoyed them that much. I understand their popularity but none have ever really grabbed me before. In particular, I've *personally* found them far too fiddly and filled with rules exceptions. All the elegance of a box of tools, when compared with the swiss army knife of other designers. Again, my personal opinion.

The theme of this piqued my interest - although the Cthulhu mythos is basically overdone now (Mythos is the new Zombie, etc), the dark late 19th setting amongst anarchists both real and fictional, plus the fantastic artwork on the cards and on the board, made me keen to try. I'm glad I did, because the mechanics combine to create a really dark and thematic experience. Although the big monsters do appear later on, the game really has a strong Lovecraftian feel to it.



The paranoia in the game is exceptional, as players are dealt hidden alignments either with the anti-mythos Restorationists or the Loyalists. The central victory mechanic means that the lowest scoring person at the end of the game will cause their entire team to lose. This has enormous repercussions on the behaviour of the players - trying to figure out who to help and who to hurt, and more importantly when to try and end the game in a moment when you might win. The table talk is similarly important as you try to uncover allegiances and figure out the actual standings. Players can gain "notional" victory points that means the track is not necessarily a true representation of the game position. This can be used to your advantage to lure other players into traps. Very deep, social and complex game experience.



In my opinion again, there is a little of that Wallace klunkiness in "Emerald". The "Known to authorities" box as a kludge to prevent early game ending, the blocking discs that patch some balance problem (e.g. to prevent Vampires & Zombies cards being taken without a fight) and the permanent effect cards that have the appearance of some old vestigial and now extraneous mechanic. Obviously these are wild speculations but that's how it feels to me. Also, given the Lovecraft theme and tie-in to Neil Gaiman, I worry that some non-gamers will pick this up and have trouble with it. There are a lot of rules, and it takes a long time to learn, even longer to "grok". For example, at the Treefrog stand, the table next to ours didn't have a rules-explainer, and the group there got up and asked us "Do you understand any of this at all? We just can't comprehend what is going on" before leaving looking disappointed.

It is still a great game, and despite my reservations it is for certain my game of the fair. It is hugely evocative, paranoia-filled, tense and exciting. Highly recommended for experienced and patient gamers. We played about six or seven full games over the last few days of the fair, and I think the games caused more animated discussions than anything else we played. I am itching to play again and am certain that the others feel the same way!
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14. Board Game: Qwixx [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:693]
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From one end of the weight spectrum to the other, I picked up this ultra-light dice game on a recommendation.

It is a super light dice game that plays a little like what a dice version of Lost Cities might.



Ridiculously addictive and rewarding, I later picked up some extra score-pads since I knew I would be needing them. This is for sure the game we played the most of during the fair, at every possible moment - between courses at restaurants, in the departure lounge at the airport, everywhere we could squeeze it in.
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15. Board Game: Town Center [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:4022]
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Russ had bought this and kindly showed me his copy. A neat little abstract city building game in six dimensions, your city grows upwards and evolves based on the needs of citizens as the game goes on.


Although the game requires a huge amount of stickering (as seen above), the result is really quite beautiful as the city builds up. The cubes are big enough to get a good grip and don't fall over, and there are spaces in between that make it easy to see what is in each "building".

Now I loved the game, but Mal found it a bit more difficult. As someone with the spatial awareness of a dustbin lid, he found the game extremely challenging. He drew a lot of comparisons with Factory Fun in that it requires you be able to solve fairly complex spatial problems. Especially so in Town Center, since the effects happen in three dimensions - being able to count adjacency becomes tricky when buildings end up in weird 3D shapes.

I will say the player aid is basically more confusing than helpful. The symbols aren't really that meaningful. The one for building size income implies only horizontal. I have no idea how the first part of the diagram for step 3 relates to the game at all.

This is a prime candidate for extra player aid to help. In addition the scoring uses a triangular number system based on two different values for each building. There is no chart showing the triangular progression so you end up using fingers and toes. (You can download a custom chart here)

Eagle eyed viewers are left to figure out which rule we got wrong in the first game!

I feel like I'm coming across quite negative on this - on the contrary, it is a constructive, tactile and beautiful game. I look forward to getting it out again as soon as possible. And the game too.
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16. Board Game: String Safari [Average Rating:6.09 Overall Rank:8310]
Ben Kirman
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String Savanna is another one of the Japon Brand games. I really enjoyed String Railway when that came out, so I was looking forward to giving this a go. I "roped" in a few others for a quick go. Again, a light, interesting game where you try to capture animals to use in horrific experiments, make them fight to the death and then feed to eccentric billionaires. Or is that the expansion?



Although the game appears simple at the start, there are a few neat little quirks that make things get more interesting. Specifically, you "claim" animals using cubes and then other players cannot score them. In addition, the number of animals are increasing all the time so it gets harder and harder to place the string cleverly.

Of course, between Mal's massive hands and Leo's sausage-like fingers, there were quite a few "accidental" nudges as they tried to maximise scores.

It is very different to String Railway but still a dextrous and spatial challenge that will probably suit fans of the lighter fare. It also includes simpler rules for children, which I will be trying out in short order!
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17. Board Game: Mush! Mush!: Snow Tails 2 [Average Rating:6.95 Overall Rank:3236]
Ben Kirman
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Fragor Games are a bit of an Essen institution, and there is always a bit of a rush for their games. However after last year's Spellbound, or more specifically the ridiculous size of the box (the game was great, just hard to transport!), there was some trepidation about whether this year's release would actually fit through the cargo doors of a 737.



Luckily, this year's "sequel" to Snow Tails was a bit more manageable. We met up with some friends in another hotel to give it a blast, and a blast it was! We played the maximum 8 players and it was a lot of fun.



It keeps what was great about Snow Tails and adds a few nice elements - the houses have special abilities and the new trees look fantastic on the map. Our 8 player game went as you would expect, with lots of crashes, smashes, miscalculations and daring passes. Obviously, you can pass on this if you have the original, however for those that don't a unique race game with clever mechanics is waiting for you.
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18. Board Game: Terror in Meeple City [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:698]
Ben Kirman
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Lincoln
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On paper, this is a ridiculous idea for a board game. In practice, it is still a ridiculous idea for a board game, but it actually works really well. I'm not going to pretend it is a heavy game (except in terms of the big box!), but there are a several neat mechanics that work nicely together - each monster has a special power, plus some kind of personal objective. The blowing, flicking and dropping all just work, both thematically and practically. Certainly there are a lot of laughs to be had, and we had a lot of people coming to see what we were playing.



The game has a fair bit of setup - there are pieces to be glued onto the board, and hundreds of stickers to put on the Meeples (although I'm not sure this isn't just an Essen "bonus"). On that note, a good proportion of the Meeple figures are a bit misshapen, and largely seem like "factory seconds", but this has absolutely no impact on the game. The box is also quite big for the size of the components, but for a game about giant monsters destroying a city that is probably expected! For me, this was one of the surprises of the fair - more fun and clever than I expected

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19. Board Game: Dungeon Raiders [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:1727]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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G had picked up this neat little dungeon crawling card game - a very simple game where you cooperatively work to get through the dungeon but compete over treasure. A bit of groupthink means you try to save your high value cards and let the other players use theirs.



Very simple for a dungeon crawler. George reckons it is ready for some kind of expansion to add a bit more character development, which is where it suffers at the moment - there isn't much between the character classes.
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20. Board Game: The Mushroom Eaters [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:4804]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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Although we didn't actually play, John had picked up this totally bonkers game about shamanic journeys through hallucinogenic mushrooms. You have to wear 3D glasses to play, and the board has various interesting designs that pop out in weird ways. Incredibly inventive and utterly bizarre, I look forward to giving it a go!

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21. Board Game: Enclave: Zakon Krańca Świata [Average Rating:6.58 Overall Rank:6174]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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John had picked up this Polish worker placement game where you play a thief sneaking into a transdimensional portal to steal things to help you climb a tree. We think.



A solid worker placement, with great artwork. Seemed to move pretty quickly in the turn we played, and a nice mix of possible actions.
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22. Board Game: Unpublished Prototype [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:2336]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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I paid a quick visit to Phil Eklund to have a chat about his current projects. and berate him over the evil random events in High Frontier Colonization!

I got a sneak peek at the prototype cards for Pax Renaissance, the follow up for Pax Porfiriana. I'm very excited about this one - Pax is a fantastic game and solid system. Certainly it follows in the tradition of Sierra Madre "experience games" and it's unapologetic in that.

I know I criticise Martin Wallace for making fiddly games, so there is a certain element of hypocrisy here I think!
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23. Board Game: High Frontier Colonization [Average Rating:8.25 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.25 Unranked]
Ben Kirman
United Kingdom
Lincoln
Lincolnshire
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BONUS GAME:
In the run up to Essen we had a game of the new expansion for High Frontier, which I got via pre-order (well...John's accidental extra pre-order).

An already complex and difficult game made more complex and difficult.



We didn't play with all the optional "modules" but did play with expanded political rules and the additional factory/freighter rules.

A few rules have been streamlined - especially ET factory production rules which were welcomed, along with the possibility to replace stack elements using 3D printer rules.

We did end up ignoring the random events after a while, since it is so difficult already the glitches and pad explosions just extended the game. In addition, we didn't aggressively auction spaceship parts (again, it is difficult enough). We were thinking of house-ruling the card pickup rules from Bios: Megafauna to save time here so happy to hear comments.

Despite this, we always enjoy a game of HF, so the new rules were enjoyed. Again we never got as far as using Bernal stacks or getting into the further corners of the new map, but look forward to giving that a "blast" soon. hoh-mann, I hope our table has "space". etc. etc.
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24. Board Game: Quantum [Average Rating:7.30 Overall Rank:398]
George Leach
United Kingdom
Godalming
Surrey
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My hand is in too many of these photos, do I fondle games too much?!

Speaking of which, when I unboxed Quantum there was slightly sticky residue on all of the dice. Not pleasant, since it definitely wasn't me!

One of the die was severely misshapen, the rest only mildly so.



Having said all that this was a fantastic game to play. Ben passed on it early at the fair since he doesn't think it's thematic enough. I can understand that but it plays really nicely. Smooth, quick and very strategic. This is my game of the fair (closely followed by A Study in Emerald).

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