Random musings about Essen 2013
Birgit Vera Schmidt
Austria
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My personal thoughts about games I've seen in Essen 2013, in roughly chronological order of when I saw them.


A few things to note:

* Due to various circumstances, I wrote significant parts of this list more than two months after Essen, and hope my recollection after all this time is not too wrong. For some games, I looked up rules on boardgamegeek now.

* This is a mostly private list, and in some places I took the liberty to be more harsh than I would be if I wrote this as a game comment where every potential buyer will immediately find it. I'm sure that all games have their target group, that there are people who will deeply enjoy them, and that a lot of effort went into their development. It's just that I love ranting once in a while.

* At the end of each entry, I tried to give some information how closely I looked at the game.
- "Seen" means that I have seen the game being played at some table in Essen, and maybe had a very short overview.
- "Explained" means that I heard or read the entire rules, or at least significant parts (say, 70%) of them.
- "Played" means that I played at least a few rounds of the game.
- "Acquired" means that I in some way managed to get a copy into my possession.
- "Played at home" means that the thusly acquired copy has been played at least once since my return back home.
- "Intending/Considering to acquire" means that I did not buy the game at Essen, possibly due to availability or transportation issues, but am planning to acquire a copy earlier or later.
- "Want to play" means that after what I have seen from the game so far, I would be interested in playing a[nother] round of it.

* Additionally for most games I gave a "rating", using the same scale as for other games. I'm sure Juho will once again have the time of his life questioning my rating scheme. ("This game is complete crap! I would never play this again! ... 6.0" ) As you can guess, ratings for games that I have only "seen" might not be very exact; They are to be considered a measure of what I expect the game might be like, extrapolating from very little actual information.
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1. Board Game: Archon: Glory & Machination [Average Rating:7.03 Overall Rank:1839]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
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[Thursday]

First game I saw (and immediately played) this year in Essen, and it actually was a pretty good start of the fair.

Decent worker placement game with basically no randomness. Another two interesting aspects are the hand management in which you always have exactly 10 workers, but can replace the basic types with more advanced ones over time; as well as the multiplayer prisoner dilemma concerning the guarding of the walls.

The graphics appear a bit convoluted at first, but actually are very clear once someone has explained them. If, oh if, there wasn't that horrible choice of primary resource colours, which are black, blackish, dark white and white. Especially black and blackish are basically indistinguishable on the board.

Still, I was determined to take home at least one "large" game from Essen, and this was one out of three on the final list of possible choices.

Seen, explained, played. 6.3
 
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2. Board Game: Old Town [Average Rating:6.40 Overall Rank:4171]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
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Got a quick explanation at the booth.

Marketed as a "deduction" game, when in reality it is more of a "find a card which does not yet produce any obvious contradictions" game. (I wrote my diploma thesis about deduction games, so I'm a bit picky when it comes to correct terminology here.)

Can't see much of a game in it, though; Looks more like an exercise in pattern matching.

Seen, explained. 3.3
 
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3. Board Game: Café Melange [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:4946]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
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Basically the same as Old Town, just with a different board and cards.

Seen, explained. 3.3
 
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4. Board Game: Schinderhannes [Average Rating:6.48 Overall Rank:5781]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
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Basically the same as Old Town, just with a different board and cards.

Seen, explained. 3.3
 
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5. Board Game: Ready to Rock! [Average Rating:6.28 Overall Rank:8681]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
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Also just listened to a quick explanation.

Race game in which you try to move your rocker to the stage through the crowds of people. Very thematic, but otherwise presumably 98% luck.

Seen, explained. 2.7
 
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6. Board Game: Madeira [Average Rating:7.64 Overall Rank:321]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
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Listened to half of a (rather lengthy) rules explanation. The rules sounded like an extraordinarily convoluted mess, but I finally stopped listening when I realized that pirates are mentioned in every other sentence. It just reeks too much of the designer having been unable to balance the game the proper way and therefore having thrown in pirates wherever he wanted to prevent players from exploiting yet another flaw.

The other criticism I heard from someone who actually played it was that just too much depends on the proper selection of the player order position for the next round, which means that people need to optimize their entire next round at one moment, i.e., when selecting that token.

Seen, explained. 5.6
 
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7. Board Game: Glass Road [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:227]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
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Played a quick game (they had removed a few of the more complicated buildings, and made everyone select their first hand at random).

The production wheel is an awesome idea. Other than that, it's an Uwe Rosenberg with another variation of the by now well-known theme -- producing goods to convert to other goods to produce more goods to build buildings to produce more goods. Thanks to the production wheel a lot less on the fiddly side than usually, but also more centered about exactly two goods (glass and brick) as opposed to the more open approach of earlier games. I'm not too fond of the forced production of glass and brick either, which in my opinion just needlessly complicates the micro-optimization, but that can be easily remedied with a house rule.

The big difference though is the action selection mechanism with the (not always desired) following of other players. I'm badly undecided what to think of that one -- on the one hand, it makes the game much more interactive than the usual simple competition for common resources (buildings, ...). On the other, it can completely mess with your plans in a way that dangerously leans towards the too unpredictable side.

I would have been badly undecided whether to buy this one or not, but was fortunately spared that decision when my SO declared that he will buy it anyway. (After having asked me countless times in the weeks before Essen why I would want to buy games in Essen at all rather than ordering them online afterwards, no less.)

Seen, explained, played, acquired by proxy, played at home, want to play. 7.8
 
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8. Board Game: Connect Four [Average Rating:4.85 Overall Rank:16990]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
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We found the large (1.5m x 1m) version of it and couldn't help playing a round.

Seen, played. 5.9
 
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9. Board Game: Go [Average Rating:7.65 Overall Rank:134]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
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Needed to remind my companion that Essen was about new games, even though I have to admit that the bamboo boards they had were quite pretty.

Seen. 6.4
 
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10. Board Game: Monopoly Empire [Average Rating:5.57 Overall Rank:14220]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
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I thought it simply was Monopoly with well-known brands instead of cities, and just wanted to curiously check out which brands they had chosen. That's when I realized that they also have simplified the rules -- as if Monopoly still needed simplification! Gone are the hotels. Gone are variable prices depending on the location. Gone even is proper bankruptcy.

Given all that, I think they could at least have grouped the brands properly. I mean, [Coca-Cola, Samsung] and [Nestlé, xbox, Intel]? Are they certain there would not have been a more appropriate grouping of those five into two groups?

Seen, explained. 2.3
 
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11. Board Game: Terra Mystica: 4 Town Tiles [Average Rating:8.09 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.09 Unranked]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
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Picked up the expansion tiles, did not get to play (or even look at) them yet.

Acquired, want to play.
 
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12. Board Game: Terra Evolution: Tree of Life [Average Rating:5.39 Overall Rank:14198]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
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Had a quick glance at the rules and a group playing it. Looks like yet another deck builder, a bit on the beta side. Also with direct attacks against other players, and probably a bit of a runaway leader problem resulting from that. And the "evolution" tree seems to restrict possible strategies a fair bit. On the other hand, collecting "money" in front of you until you have enough for buying something could be a nice change of pace from other Dominion-style games. Either that, or it completely ruins any point of building a strong deck.

Seen, explained. 5.9
 
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13. Board Game: Ricochet Robots [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:618] [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
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A quick "I hope you know this game already?" accidentally turned into a hard struggle of trying to get my friend away from the table again. Not exactly new except for the new edition (which did not significantly improve the physical connection of the four board tiles), but of course still a good filler game.

Seen, explained, played. 5.6
 
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14. Board Game: Russian Railroads [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:71]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
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Played a game against one of the explainers.

Solid worker placement game. Nothing extraordinary, but well made.

It does however feel over before it really starts -- I had expected to get to develop a lot more track before the game is over, but being able to develop only a small fraction of it seems to be fairly normal.

And it does seem a wee bit exponential to me; In the last round, I made 58 points, which is a number that just rings a bit too high for my ears. The game explainer said that his maximum on that weekend so far had been a final score of 318. I have a feeling that if the game lasted one or two rounds longer, scores would finally go to a completely crazy range.

Still, the game was the second out of three possible choices for a "large" game I might want to take home.

Seen, explained, played. 6.7
 
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15. Board Game: S-Evolution [Average Rating:5.42 Overall Rank:15173]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
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[Thursday evening at hotel]

Watched a game of some other people in our gaming group. The trick-taking mechanism in which the strength of one's cards depend on one's level is very interesting in theory. In practice, I have a feeling that it is pretty unplayable; At least I can't imagine that all this rotating of cards by a certain angle to indicate that they are or are not coloured sounds pretty confusing to me. It also cries for runaway leader issues. Add a crappy rules booklet to that, and the game fails to get me interested.

Seen, explained. 5.2
 
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16. Board Game: Nations [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:110]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
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Got two half explanations and watched some other people from our gaming group playing it one evening.

The sheer number of cards feels a bit deterring to me -- since it requires knowing a lot about the game in advance in order to be able to play properly --, though at second glance it appears that they are all relatively small variations of the same cards over and over again, just becoming stronger over time in small steps. Which leads to annoying possibility number two: That the game moves on and on without any real progress.

That's how the game I watched actually felt to me: A very long series of very small, incremental steps, where every round the players made some small improvements somewhere -- replacing a soldier with a marginally stronger soldier, adding an advisor for some almost negligible benefit, ... -- and thereby just tried to slowly but steadily move their civilization forward, if possible a little faster than the others. In short, it looked like two hours of micro-optimization without any big events or notable long-term strategies.

Feels similar to the earlier Civilization computer games in "peace only" mode in that way. You just gradually build up your cities, micromanage production, cope with unhappiness and natural disasters, and try to do all of that in a way that is slightly more efficient than that of the opponents. In short, it seems dull.

As someone wrote so nicely about a different game: "There's no drama, no decisive moments, just constant optimization through a haze of complexity that seems like 'depth'." There was more than one game in Essen this year that suffered from this.

Seen, explained. 5.7
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17. Board Game: Prosperity [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:1630]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
Austria
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[Friday]

Another build-your-economy-without-wrecking-your-ecology game. I liked the idea of constantly having scoring rounds of various kinds, so you have to optimize the entire time and not just the situation at the end.

However, the relatively strict ordering of the cards and their type system -- green cards can only be built on green spots, et cetera -- seemed to very much restrict the possibilities, and probably reduce replay value a fair bit.

It also is really hard to go for one specific strategy, because you might simply not be able to acquire the cards for it before someone else gets them.

Nor is it possible to play a strategy that focuses on one specific area. For example, you cannot go for building lots of power plants and using the generated electricity for powering lots of energy-intensive (but otherwise awesome) buildings, not so much because you would not be able to cope with all the waste from the power plants, but because there simply are only two spots for power plants available in your town. And if someone buys the strong ones before you, tough luck.

In short: Decent enough game, but I'll choose 20th Century over it any time.

Seen, explained, played. 5.5
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18. Board Game: King's Vineyard [Average Rating:5.41 Overall Rank:15461]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
Austria
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Had a quick glance at it and it might or might not be a decent filler game.

Seen. 5.7
 
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19. Board Game: Packet Row [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:3994]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
Austria
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The game we played in the evening fully convinced me of my first impression of Packet Row: Nothing extraordinary, except maybe for an extraordinarily bad card selection mechanism.

The game is centered about a card selection mechanism which presumably is meant to be the interesting part of the game, when in reality it just makes it impossible to plan ahead (or at least to also put those plans into reality). That cards that are not selected by anyone simply go away means in practice that the cards you need disappear right in front of your nose, not so much because anyone else wanted the same card -- that is a kind of competition I could understand --, but simply because you used your action already, and all unchosen cards in a selected area will go away. Which basically means that as soon as two cards that you both need are open at the same time, there is a high chance that you are screwed.

Other than that, it's a rather boring mechanism of matching contracts with goods and ships.

Seen, explained, played. 3.7
 
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20. Board Game: Firefly: The Game [Average Rating:7.40 Overall Rank:293]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
Austria
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Had to have a look at it because I just finished watching the TV series. The game looks very thematic, and thematically very correct, but I just cannot see much of a game there.

Seen. 4.4
 
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21. Board Game: Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends [Average Rating:7.21 Overall Rank:491]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
Austria
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Got a rules explanation.

I'm generally not a big fan of abstract games. What bothers me about this one in particular is the relatively large number of cards that you need to know in order to be able to play effectively. Also, each card seems to significantly alter the game state -- a single move might add a token to the board, move several tokens, kill some of the opponents and prepare a formation for a completely different card -- which very likely leads to a state space explosion that is simply too much for any average human being to master (let alone for a computer).

Seen, explained. 5.4
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22. Board Game: Concordia [Average Rating:8.10 Overall Rank:19]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
Austria
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Played a game, and bought it.

I'm usually not much into area control, but I rather like this game. There is no single strategy or type of resource that is absolutely necessary to win the game; The best strategy appears to often be one that nobody else is going for.

I think we underrated the importance of buying extra hand cards, which are at the same time the only source of converting stuff on the board into victory points -- not to mention that they allow you to do more actions before having to spend an action on getting the played cards back.

What of course is always a big plus for a game is that there is very little randomness.

In short, I'm rather fond of this game, and it absolutely lived up to the expectations in the second round that we played back at home. Best game of Essen 2013 for me.

Seen, explained, played, acquired, played at home, want to play. 7.9
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23. Board Game: Dark Empire: Revolution [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:5374]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
Austria
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Got an explanation.

Sounds like one of those games where in each round, the faction that invested most wins, and the faction that invested just a tiny amount less loses everything they invested, and does not gain anything in return, which probably makes the game frustrating for everyone.

The various end situations by themselves -- if at least one faction beats the emperor, then the strongest faction wins, unless it is ahead by a factor of 2, then the second strongest one wins (nobody wants a new dictator), and if nobody beats the emperor, then the weakest faction wins -- might be a good idea, but just not in combination with that power distribution mechanism.

Seen, explained. 4.4
 
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24. Board Game: Snowdonia: The Daffodil Line [Average Rating:7.97 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.97 Unranked]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
Austria
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Picked up the expansion, did not look at it yet.

Acquired, want to play.
 
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25. Board Game: CV [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:1010]
Birgit Vera Schmidt
Austria
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Just had a quick glance at it. Seems like a playable version of Funny Friends.

I have always liked Funny Friends for the theme, but had to admit at some point that the game itself just is not a game. If this one fixes this by combining the theme with something playable, I might be interested.

Seen, want to play. 5.8
 
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