Essen 2013 - the 38 games I played (with mini reviews)
Nick Pitman
Scotland
Glasgow
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I made a list like this at my first Essen 6 years ago. Then I managed only 23 games despite staying an extra night. I am obviously becoming more effective at squeezing every last drop out of the fair. Here is what I thunk about them all.

Feel free to comment on any games you have experience of. Or even those you dont.

If you care you can also see what I actually bought - here
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1. Board Game: Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice [Average Rating:6.51 Overall Rank:2473]
Nick Pitman
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Glasgow
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Two of us, of our total group of 8, made it into the fair on Wednesday, the day before the official opening. This was in part to get a headstart on trying to learn our way around the new halls. In the past this has been a bit of a disappointment as most people are still setting up, you can rarely buy anything and I have never previous actually played anything on a Wednesday. Not so this year.

I had been watching Luchador! with interest for a while and it was high on my list. We played a 4 player tag team match with the design team. We got into the spirit, tagged each other in and out enthusiastically, and got our asses whipped. In the end we both felt slightly disappointed. For a lower price point I would probably have picked it up as a fun filler. Or even if it felt like there was more variety, the different characters had fun flavour text and art but played identically.

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2. Board Game: Donburiko [Average Rating:6.36 Overall Rank:7486]
Nick Pitman
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This was the second game we managed to play in the halls on Wednesday. Picking up the compulsory Japon pre-orders and saw the chance to try something. This was highest in my list for Japon games I hadnt bought so I requested a game.

It has a central Coloretto mechanic; add a card to a row or pick up a row. However for a small fee you can play cards face down. Numbered cards in each row are totalled. If you manage to pick up a pile worth 6 you end the round early and everyone else still in gets nothing. Under 6 and you score your total, over 6 and you are 'bust' and must pay the bank a fee. There are minus cards and "make all minus cards positive" cards. When you see a pile with one hidden card you have to decide; was it the perfect 6 the other player was setting up for themselves and so you must take it, or is it a trap and you will be bust. I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me!



Bought a copy first thing the next day and it went on to be one of the favourites for pretty much all 8 in our group.

One of the best in show.

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3. Board Game: Theseus: The Dark Orbit [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:1054]
Nick Pitman
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We were demoing this for Portal on Friday so picked up a loan copy on Wednesday to learn that night.

Reminiscent of Neuroshima Hex! 3.0 in some respects with a heavy tactical feel. Not surprising since both games are from Michał Oracz.

There are 5 very different factions with different abilities moving around a circular set of rooms in a space station. Movement is mancala style. You move one unit through a number of rooms equal to the number of units in the room it starts in. Each room has different special actions and more importantly each faction plays cards into all the rooms, often setting up traps.



The more you play the better you can see the strategic choices in the game and the strengths and weaknesses of different factions. While the mancala movement seems chaotic and uncontrollable at first you start to see how you can plan several moves ahead, and even better force you opponent to move to certain locations. I am not sure how well people were able to see the depth of the game in the 2 player shortened demo we taught on the Friday, it is a tough game to show off well at a convention.

I am itching to play again, although I will be better to find regular opponent(s) rather than tabling it in the new-game-every-week system we can never help but adopt in our group.



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4. Board Game: Machi Koro [Average Rating:6.68 Overall Rank:789]
Nick Pitman
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Glasgow
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I held off pre-ordering this as a rules read-through left me feeling it was a bit light with a low gamerice ratio. One of the other guys got it on pre-order so we gave it a birl on Wednesday. Four of the other played first and proudly proclaimed it "genius" on our traditional binary scale of "genius"-"broken".

The other 4 of us were up next. On your turn you roll a dice and if the result matches one of your building you get stuff, mostly cash, sometimes from other players. You can then use your cash to buy more buildings, each of which is activated by a different value. At some point you can move to 2 dice and start using the relevant buildings.

It looks beautiful and plays quickly with a lightness of touch. However to me it just seemed a bit too random with not enough game to it. There can be massive swings too. On one turn the outcome of a single dice roll was the difference between a player giving away all his amassed money to the other players, or getting a huge payout and winning the game.

Fun, I would play again, but not a purchase for me. Just as well, as it was sold out by first thing Thu morning.


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5. Board Game: Sukimono [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:5545]
Nick Pitman
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Another Japon pre-order by one of the gents in the group. It's market based game where you buy pots [cards] and then try to sell them for a profit. The central mechanic involves you simultaneously speed searching through a stack of cards for the pot or pots you think will turn the best profit. Several of them look pretty similar so you need to be on your toes. A nice concept but it just ended up feeling a bit frustrating.

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6. Board Game: Coup: Reformation [Average Rating:7.30 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.30 Unranked]
Nick Pitman
Scotland
Glasgow
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What better way to finish of out first night than a friendly game of Coup. We had bought a couple of copies of Coup: Reformation in the hall on Wednesday before telling the very nice people that, no, we didn't think you were supposed to sell anything on the Wednesday.

Coup is very popular in our group with it's combination of lying, stealing, bluff calling and elimination. This expansion adds factions - Catholics or Protestants, an excellent choice for us to play in the sectarian city of Glasgow. You are unable to do anything mean to someone who believes in the same flavour of God as you. You can however change your faith or that of other players. Lead to some very amusing occasions where everyone quickly changed to the religion of the player with enough cash to Coup, or almost everyone, there was always some poor sod left with a target on their back.

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7. Board Game: A Study in Emerald [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:636]
Nick Pitman
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Glasgow
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So day one of the fair. What to play first? There were a few games jostling for pole position but the limited number of copies pushed this to the front of the queue.

This promised to be a return to heavier form for Martin Wallace and on that front did not disappoint. Area control, deck building, special actions and attacks on other players pieces/decks all wrapped in a nice Cthulhu by Gaslight kind of theme. It all came together pretty nicely.

However there is one key mechanic that leaves me undecided where to place it on the "genius" or "broken" scale. There are 2 factions and when the game end is triggered the player in last place on the VP track will have all their team-mates eliminated, and the wiiner is the highest scoring remaining player. But you dont know who is in which team, or even how many of them there are. We had 1 on one and 3 on the other. There are things you can do in the game that may gives clues to your allegiance, although you may be bluffing. In the end we were left feeling that you could never really deduce who was in what team and therefore could not reliably wotrk this into your strategy, meaning it became almost a random game losing element one could not account for.

I walked away disappointed, but the game gnawed at the back of my brain over the next few days, and although I never bought it I would like to give it another chance.

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8. Board Game: Pick-a-Dog [Average Rating:6.18 Overall Rank:3094]
Nick Pitman
Scotland
Glasgow
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Genius. Lay out cards with dogs (or pigs, or both if you combine sets) in a grid.



Say the word and everyone begins frantically picking up dogs that match their own or differ in only ONE way. If you think you can make no more legal pick-ups shout STOP! Then go through your picked cards in order to confirm you have a true run - "big dog. gains popcorn. puts on sunglasses. goes brown. ARGHH! goes small AND looses an arm! Dammit, dammit!" If you dont screw up keep the cards you picked up. Repeat. Player with most cards wins.

I think we acquired about 12 copies (pig and/or dog) between 8 of us.

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9. Board Game: CV [Average Rating:6.74 Overall Rank:938]
Nick Pitman
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Wandered past this one on the list and spotted an empty table. The theme of going through your life integrates well into the mechanic as you acquire cards from different stages to build a picture if your life and career. Use the trendy Yahtzee dice rolling mechanic to buy cards to add to your portfolio. Cards can give benefits such as extra dice-face results to spend to buy cards in later turns.

For some reason it left the 4 of us cold and we all happily gave up after a couple of rounds. Not long enough to give a complete assessment but none of us were interested in going on. I had a terrible first dice roll that, in combination with my starting hand, left me unable to buy any available cards in the first round. Similar luck in the second round left me still with a portfolio of 1 vs my fellow players 3 cards, and the powers that came with them. That was partly why I thought it sucked, but does not fully explain the disinterest of the others.

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10. Board Game: Prosperity [Average Rating:6.76 Overall Rank:1557]
Nick Pitman
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Glasgow
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We hung around at this busy section of the hall to get a table at this new Knizia - Bleasdale effort. Having deduced the end game conditions we picked a winning table, onyl to find it manned by some surly looking, and very slow, French chaps. Got a seat in the end though.

A very Euro style city building game. Buy tiles to add to your board, covering old ones as you do. Each has an impact on different tracks such as economy, pollution, energy, research etc. Often pushing one up but another down. Each round the different tracks will "score" giving out payouts of cash, advanced tile upgrade access, points and so on. A nice balance exists between the different approaches giving multiple routes to victory, although probably only 5 or 6 different ones.

Everyone enjoyed it and walked away saying good things, but while playing as a very solid game it just didnt engage any of us emotionally enough to consider buying.

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11. Board Game: Mascarade [Average Rating:6.67 Overall Rank:926]
Nick Pitman
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Glasgow
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We moved a couple of tables over next, to give this one a go. We had a slightly inadequate explanation so played a few rules wrong, sorted some of them half way through but only realised all of them after the fact.

A bit like a cross between Citadels and Coup. Everyone gets a role with a special ability eg take money from the bank, steal money from another player, need less money to win the game than usual. You know what everyine starts with but players begin to swap roles around, each time the swapper secretly chooses to swap or keep the cards the same. Players continue, using the abilities of the cards they [think] they have, but may be called as a liar at any time.

Felt promising but needs more plays with correct rules to be sure.

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12. Board Game: Suburban Dispute [Average Rating:4.44 Unranked]
Nick Pitman
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Glasgow
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Our group was split into 4 and 4, and while playing the last game we got word that the other guys had played the "game of the show". We got there after they had left and were delighted to find the table empty so got stuck in.

On your turn draw a card, it tells you some "amusing" and unpleasant thing you can do to your neighbour, pick another player (who is usually unaffected by the fact that you "tipped over their bins" or defiled them in some other unspeakable way), roll the dice. IF you succeed gain the points stated on the card.

Two rounds in the penny dropped. The b******s had pranked us. We soon started making our plans to give up. We made it into the second phase where options such as drawing a card from the stock market came up - you may get loads of money. Or you might loose loads. Then we beat a hasty retreat.

Probably the worst game I have ever played in my entire life. The kind of game you might make at primary school. If you were a half wit.

gulpgulpgulpgulpgulp
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13. Board Game: Koryŏ [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:1613]
Nick Pitman
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Another game on our radar with a limited supply.

The deck consists of one number 1 card, two 2s, etc up to nine 9s. Draft cards of a single value on your turn and add them to your display. If you have the majority you can take the power of that card, eg increase your card limit, swap cards with another player, draw extra cards, breaks ties for majority, etc. The cards you reject are put back into the deck, it is reshuffled and you go again. At the end of the game each card scores its value for the player with the single majority.

There is a nice interplay between the different powers and a lot of interaction as you try and discard or steal other players cards while increasing yours to get that crucial majority. A very neat game, although in the sessions we played there was a bit of a potential kingmaker aspect in the final round.

One of the guys bought and I would like to play it again.

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14. Board Game: Garden Dice [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:1833]
Nick Pitman
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Glasgow
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An old KS game I had almost backed before.

Roll dice and use the values to buy seeds, plant seeds (on a numbered grid), water seeds, harvest plants or use creatures to mess up other players.

Another game that had nothing wrong with it but just didnt grab any of us. We moved on to pastures new after a few rounds.

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15. Board Game: Tales & Games: Baba Yaga [Average Rating:5.53 Overall Rank:13985]
Nick Pitman
Scotland
Glasgow
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Circular tiles are laid out like so.



The lighter tiles round the edges have ingredients on the back; snake venom, bread, oil, flowers and so on. The art on the front gives some clue as to the item on the back, although there are often similar looking ones to confuse. The wolves look quite like a pack of dogs, the ribbon in the tree looks a bit like a snake.

On your turn try and flip the tiles that match the ingredients on one of your cards. And... while you do this the other players move the big wooden Baba Yaga piece from one side of the path to the other, along 5 of the darker central tiles shown above and back again. Each player takes a turn to move her one step. It really doesnt take long - BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG, BANG. Done.

First time we played a round each and declared it impossible to find 2 ingredients in the time, never mind 3. We wrote it off as a novelty and moved on. But I felt drawn to it and persuaded people to go back later in the fair. A few rounds in one of the guys actually did it! A lap of hounour round the IELLO booth followed. A couple more recepies were subsequently completed.

Very funny. I am not sure about replayability as you get to know it and the novelty wears off. But writing this up I am thinking "maybe I should try and track down a copy.."


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16. Board Game: Tales & Games: The Three Little Pigs [Average Rating:6.52 Overall Rank:1944]
Nick Pitman
Scotland
Glasgow
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We slid over from Tales & Games: Baba Yaga to an empty table of this. Another Yahtzee based game with a fairly simple tile selection mechanic for building little piggy's houses, plus a little screwage. Uninspiring.

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17. Board Game: Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:567]
Nick Pitman
Scotland
Glasgow
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Got to borrow a copy of this from Portal to try out. Just as well as we ended up teaching it the following day.

The game centres around building your family, with the central event being the marriage of existing members of your family to "friends" represented by the cards in your hand. Each marriage creates children to form the next generation and the games plays over 4 generations. The various friends can give you certain bonuses and you can enhance members of the family with titles, property, donations and business ventures. There are also secret end game objectives that can shape some of your choices.

I would place it as a medium-light game in terms of complexity, meaning it is easy to pick up and get into but there are important strategic decisions to be made. The theme and the mechanic integrate very well and you really feel like you are building your family. When teaching the game I would often find people getting into their roles and making little stories as they went along. "We are poor so have to marry the shoemaker", "the bakers daughter is very fertile and so we have an extra child", "his wife dies in childbirth, no problem, he will get married again". The character art also works well. It was always interesting to watch all the guys crane across to get a better look every time the attractive and mysterious "Pirates Daughter" was placed on the table. There would always be some disappointment when one of the other players took her as a bride.

The game reminds me a bit of Last Will with some mechanical and thematic similarities. Which is no bad thing.

In the end not quite my kind of game as I cant see myself going back to it repeatedly, but generally well received.


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18. Board Game: Russian Railroads [Average Rating:7.80 Overall Rank:70]
Nick Pitman
Scotland
Glasgow
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Next game of the night was Russian Railroads. It was very high on my to-try list and only got bumped from "first game to grab a table for" by A Study in Emerald at the last minute.

This is a worker placement game with a central action board and individual player boards. You have four different tracks on your board and you can advance increasingly powerful markers along each one, representing the development of different rail tracks. Each track bestows different powers and earning potential

If this sounds a bit abstract it's because at the end of the day it is. Despite this it is an enjoyable play with all the player interaction that comes from competitive worker placement. For many of our group it was a strong contender for game of the show. For me it felt very solid but just didnt inspire.

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19. Board Game: One Night Werewolf [Average Rating:6.20 Overall Rank:4565]
Nick Pitman
Scotland
Glasgow
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Genius.

I had already played this before the show with a standard set of Werewolf cards but thought the designer deserved my cash for their genius, and I liked the pixel art.

It is werewolf in exactly ten miuntes. Everyone gets a role (from 2 werewolves, one seer and one theif, with the rest being villagers) and two are left unclaimed in the centre of the table. Close your eyes. Seer open their eyes and look at a players card, or both the cards in the middle of the table, werewolves open their eyes and identify each other, theif open their eyes, swap cards with another player then look at what you have taken. All open your eyes and discuss. At the end of the time everyone simultaneously point at a player you wish to kill.A dead werewolf? Well done villagers. A dead villager? The werewolves bask in their bloody victory. Game over.

It all comes from the usually hilarious banter generated by during the discussion phase. Maybe one werewolf claims to be the seer and tells all that he looked at his lupine fellow and can vouch that they are a villager. Maybe the thief stole a werewolf card, now they want the villagers to loose but the person they stole it from thinks they are still a werewolf (as does the 2nd werewolf). Maybe the seer takes a while to speak up - were they cunningly trying to draw a werewolf into making a false claim, or are they a werewolf happy to claim the role now they think that it has not actually been given to anyone.

One of our group added an extra element by trying to see if their card had been moved. This universally backfired. In one game he was convinced his card hadnt been moved and argued so hard with the seer who was correctly identifying him as a fellow villager that he managed to convince everyone to kill his village-mate. Next time he was so adamant that his card had been moved that he refused to believe the claims of the genuine thief and seer who had seen each other's cards. One of the werewolves eventually jumped on this and claimed to be the seer who moved said players card, instantly winning his undying allegiance. A couple of easy wins for the werewolves.


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20. Board Game: Kohle & Kolonie [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:1807]
Nick Pitman
Scotland
Glasgow
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We grabbed a table at this first thing on Day 2. We were aching for a solid, heavy game and this looked like it would do the job. When we sat down and the designers asked us if we had played Martin Wallace games we were pretty sure we were on to a good thing.

It reminded me most of Brass: Lancashire with a fairly complex inter-relationship between the different actions that I was only starting to grasp towards the end of the game. The central premise is that you are building mines. Each mine goes in a specific place on the board, grants you some bonuses and gives you access to that part of the board to do other things - build towns and claim rail links. There are a number of other factors including a dummy faction that will buy some of the mines (important when working out who gets the uber-mine when they merge later in the game), disasters (with a blind bag draw element that left me a little uncomfortable on the randomness front), player boards you can place gained workers and engineers on for certain bonuses, and more.

It played very nicely and gave a feel that there quite different strategies you could adopt. As I said it will take a bit of getting into before you can really "see" what is happening, with it hurting your brain a little to start with . As I said a bit akin to Brass: Lancashire in that respect.

In the end I didn't buy it but we now have a copy of it in the group and I look forward to getting my ass kicked when we play it again.


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21. Board Game: Trains and Stations [Average Rating:5.88 Overall Rank:4950]
Nick Pitman
Scotland
Glasgow
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ANOTHER Yahtzee based game. It did have a nice mechanism where you place dice with a "track" result on a central board to make routes. If you complete a route you get a pay off. Frequently you will build part of a route and hope other players will finish it off to give you the points. You can also use certain dice results to seed the board with resource generating buildings that pay out when people connect to the cities they are in.

Some quite nice central mechanics but you never really feel like you have true control and the game also ran a bit long for what it was. In the end a bit "Meh".

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22. Board Game: Krosmaster: Arena [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:994] [Average Rating:6.87 Unranked]
Nick Pitman
Scotland
Glasgow
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Excuse for looking at this one was as a possibility for the respective offspring of two of us. A very well produced miniatures combat game with quirky and cute moulded characters on a gameboard with 3d cardboard components.

Our first attempt to play was at the French booth (Ankama I think). We grabbed a table at the well staffed booth and asked one of the guys if he would teach us. Sadly this was not possible as it was time for them to get some lunch. But in true French style there was no shift system, everyone downed tools simultaneously.

Later we tried at another booth that was staffed by a very nice American lady. She was working very hard but was running the booth solo, trying to teach several tables at once AND deal with all the sales. After 3 mins of rules scattered over 10 minutes we eventually gave up.

Finally we caught the French crew when they were not on a break and were taught by one of the artists.

We played 2 teams of 2, controlling two character each. The rules are pretty simple but do include movement allowance, LOS, variable damage and defence and elevation bonuses among other things. Consequently we decided the children would need to be a bit older before tackling this one. The gameplay was fun and the characters had unique strengths and powers. In the end though I would probably rather play a more gritty combat game from the GMT stable, particularly when considering the cost of the base game and future expansions.


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23. Board Game: Cornish Smuggler [Average Rating:5.95 Overall Rank:6515]
Nick Pitman
Scotland
Glasgow
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On Friday night we went out for dinner and cocktails. Consequently we were not in our prime when two of us tried to master this on our return. We struggled through what was probably a very reasonable rulebook and played a few rounds. After a spell I realised I had backed myself into an untenable position with no way to sell the goods I had smuggled across half of Cornwall, and no money left to make a different play. With our brains aching we decided to call it quits while we still could.

Consequently I have no true impression of the quality of the gameplay experience. My feeling is that it will be good and I am keen to try again in more sober and less sleep deprived circumstances.

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24. Board Game: Lost Legacy [Average Rating:6.49 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.49 Unranked] [Average Rating:6.49 Unranked]
Nick Pitman
Scotland
Glasgow
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Having retired to bed my room-mate and I thought we could squeeze in a quick game of this, after all it is pretty much just Love Letter with new cards?

A quick read through the rules identified the key difference. You are all searching for a particular card called the Lost Legacy. When the draw deck runs out the card must be in somebody's hand or the Ruins, a set of probably 2-4 cards created during the game (not the discard pile btw). The person with the lowest value card gets first chance to guess where it is. As with Love Letter you have one card in your hand at any one time, you draw a card then discard one of them actioning it in doing so. Similarly you can win by player elimination without reaching the final search phase.

It all sounded good, although the fact I fell asleep briefly and dropped my card as my companion drew his first card was a bad omen. Then, after scrutinising them for a while he declared that he could not legally play either card. Soundly beaten by the fatal alcohol+fatigue+Essen combo we gave up.

I have subsequently been able to play it again, with my children who love Love Letter. Firstly we were wrong, one of the cards could have been discarded. Secondly it's another fun little game. As with it's predecessor it seems like blind luck initially but you start to see how certain actions other players take provide you with information. You also start to see how you can combo certain cards together to your advantage. For example you know the Girl is in the Ruins and you have the Search and the Lost Legacy in your hand (sometimes a dangerous place to keep it), you play the Search, secretly swap the Lost Legacy into the Ruins and take the Girl (card No 1) meaning you will be the first player to search for the Lost Legacy at the game end, and you know where it is... Victory!... as long as nobody sees the Girl in your hand, in which case you will be eliminated.

It is fun and light with a slightly different feel. Howevere I feel it is not the perfect 10/10 Love Letter is. This is mainly as it takes a bit longer to play and so the dumb luck (good or bad) factor in both games is a little more noticeable, and the amusing eliminations and associated laughs dont come quite as thick and fast.

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25. Board Game: Amerigo [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:280]
Nick Pitman
Scotland
Glasgow
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From Stefan Feld, the man responsible for the genius that is In the Year of the Dragon. We staked our claim on a table here first thing on Saturday.

During the game you move your 2 boats around the modular map, landing on islands and then building on them. Building the various shaped tiles onto each island nets you VP for tile placement and extra VP when the island is filled. You also pick up bonus tiles as you build for exponential end game VP. The novel mechanism is how the cube tower (a la Wallenstein) is used. There are 7 actions in the game; move your boats, improve your cannons (pirates attack with a set strength at the end of each round), buy building tiles, place building tiles, acquire special ability cards, acquire end game VP scoring tiles and move on the turn order track (very much like that from In the Year of the Dragon) Each action is represented by a colour. At the start of each turn you place the matching coloured cubes in the top of the tower. You then see what comes out the bottom - you can carry out any of the actions whose colours came out the bottom of the tower that turn. The number of "action points" you can spend on that turn is determined by how many matching coloured cubes appeared.

This mechanic is where a lot of the interest comes in the game, as certain actions become more or less available depending on what has dropped out of the tower and what is still left in there, and different numbers of AP are available each turn. Elsewhere there are different routes to victory with different tracks to advance on, different special abilities that enhance your powers with regards to other actions, big or small islands to settle on.

A very Euro type game that flows nicely and has a unique mechanic that enhances the gameplay and the decisions you must make. Having said that it didnt inspire me or really warm the cockles of my heart. I would happily play it again, but am not harbouring a burning urge to do so. It went on to my "might buy" list but had been bumped off by the end of the fair.


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