Essen 2013: Plays, purchases and close encounters
Karl Bunyan
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Essen 2013 was an extended trip for me. A night in Brussels on the way out, then to Essen on the Wednesday, leave on the Sunday and head to Bruges (with a bag full of games) for a couple of days. And all by train too. So civilised.

Below are most of the games I looked at, thought about, bought, liked, hated and everything else.
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1. Board Game: Yōkaï no Mori [Average Rating:7.03 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.03 Unranked]
Karl Bunyan
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No pre-orders or heading for the hotness for me; I just wander about until I see an empty spot. This year's first lucky benefactor of my random paths through the halls was Yōkaï no Mori, a game that is essentially a simplified version of Shogi (Japanese chess).

Shogi had intrigued me before but it's just a lot to learn in one go and this comes with two sides to the board, the simpler of which only has 4 pieces. That's more my level. It still hurts my brain too, but I liked it and bought a copy later in the day after the requisite "cooling down" period (of about 4 hours) had passed. Unfortunately there are currently no English rules available, which means I have to play it once every few weeks just so I can remember how. Yes, even with only 4 pieces...
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2. Board Game Publisher: Blue Orange (EU)
Karl Bunyan
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The next stand to pass by was Blue Orange. I had a few of their games on my list to look at, so I did, especially since they were empty and seemed keen to demo. In fact, after trying four (different) games in a row the demonstrator seemed to want us to stay for another - I think the fact that somebody was sitting there and enjoying their games was enough to attract a few onlookers. They were all good games too and I bought three of them, and will buy the other when it's in stock. The games in question were...
 
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3. Board Game: The Blue Lion [Average Rating:5.95 Overall Rank:6662]
Karl Bunyan
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A strange abstract with a bit of deduction and memory thrown in. A bit lighter and chaotic than Mr Jack Pocket but another one for the "games that play in 10 minutes and are interesting" collection.
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4. Board Game: Okiya [Average Rating:6.61 Overall Rank:1980]
Karl Bunyan
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Even more abstract, and coincidentally mentioned in the current issue of Spielbox in relation to some very abstract mathematical ideas, and I think more enjoyable than Mr Jack Pocket mentioned above. A tenuous attempt at a theme that I can't even remember, but a really nice, quick, 2-player game.
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5. Board Game: Chicago Stock Exchange [Average Rating:6.00 Overall Rank:9478]
Karl Bunyan
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I describe this as a much lighter version of Hab & Gut as the idea of shared interest market manipulation is there, but the mechanics are ridiculously simple. The only downside I've found so far is that turn order can end up screwing some players out of a final round, but then the game is over in under 10 minutes and is firmly in the filler category.
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6. Board Game: Longhorn [Average Rating:6.57 Overall Rank:2007]
Karl Bunyan
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I'm still not exactly sure why they only had 50 copies of these at the show, unless it was to be able to have something sell out. We played the demo copy and it was a good game, and one I'll be grabbing once it gets a full distribution.

Again, it's a two-player abstract, with a bit more of an attempt at a theme (since there are wooden pieces), which actually helps in this case, but essentially it's another fast do-your-head-in puzzler.

Fun coincidence note: Chris Marling introduced me to Rosenkönig, which he'd finally found for a good price, and according to the BBG description the original game was based on cattle ranches in Texas before being changed to War of the Roses in a re-theme.
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7. Board Game: Karnickel [Average Rating:5.44 Overall Rank:14448]
Karl Bunyan
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Brett (Divinare) Gilbert's latest release is very much a kids game so, unfortunately, didn't have much to give 2 adults, whatever our infantile tendencies.
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8. Board Game: Amun-Re [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:295]
Karl Bunyan
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This year's hottest Essen game! Well, for me anyway, as I got it in an auction for 15 Euros.
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9. Board Game: Palmyra [Average Rating:6.26 Overall Rank:5755]
Karl Bunyan
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This was on my to-look-at list and we had a slightly shakey rules explanation. There wasn't enough there to push me into buying it, and later I found out that lots of others have so I'll generously help them play their copies instead.
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10. Board Game: New Haven [Average Rating:6.54 Overall Rank:3765]
Karl Bunyan
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Similarly with New Haven, which looked interesting but wasn't quite a must-buy. Having since played it twice I think I made the right decision: it's a pleasant enough game, but would just be shouting for attention amongst all of the other light-ish abstract-ish three-to-four player Euros that I haven't played enough.
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11. Board Game: Prosperity [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:1630]
Karl Bunyan
United Kingdom
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After waiting for about half a game's length to play Prosperity we certainly got our money's worth out of the seats as I turned the AP up to 11. In my defence: I don't care. Oh, and I won and that's all that counts.

It was another not-quite-buy game that I'd play again, although I'm not sure anyone else will play it with me...
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12. Board Game: CV [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:1010]
Karl Bunyan
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Compared to the past three "okay Euros that I'd play again", CV sits in the odd category of "enjoyed playing, don't want to play it again". It was an interesting experience of using dice to build a life and career, and lamenting how my MBA-qualified Chief Executive was having a much harder time than the care-free days of his youth as a cycling, magician blood-donor, but it didn't feel enough like a game to offer anything more second time around.
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13. Board Game: Armadöra [Average Rating:6.39 Overall Rank:2951]
Karl Bunyan
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Another game on my list and we managed to land a test game and were paired with a German couple. I instantly played the most dickish moves I could think of, probably reinforcing some stereotype or other, or more likely just leaving them with the impression of me being a dick.

It's a good game, though, and I bought a copy later that day. The team-play works well and there's enough tactical play, whilst keeping the uncertainty of not knowing exactly who is strongest where, that it stands out in the amount of game it gets into a short play time (and a small box). I haven't played it with 2 or 3 yet, and maybe I won't - the 4-player game works so well I'll probably just play something else if there aren't enough players around.
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14. Board Game: Mars Needs Mechanics [Average Rating:5.92 Overall Rank:6642]
Karl Bunyan
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Surpressing my fears of Mars Needs Mechanics as a YAUDKG* we sat down for a play, and I was pleasantly surprised, after being initially disappointed that it was in fact a market manipulation game. Not that I don't enjoy that type of game - lord knows I have enough of them now - but the theme doesn't set up that expectation.

Anyway, yet again this fell into the "enjoyed but didn't buy" category. Somehow it didn't offer enough over the other games I already own or play and the market didn't seem quite as volatile as I like in this kind of game: it was often a case of "buy for 5 sell for 7 and be very happy" rather than "buy for 5, it can only go up! Oh crap... sell for 1" which makes this kind of game fun. I can see that it would get sharper with more plays, but I couldn't see that I would get enough plays with the same group who would learn how to play in a sharper way as the initial impression of pleasant-but-not-outstanding is the overriding one.

Still, another game I'd happily play again, and something like 40 euros "saved".

* Yet Another Under-Developed Kickstarter Game
 
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15. Board Game: Mauna Kea [Average Rating:5.72 Overall Rank:10956]
Karl Bunyan
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I'm a fan of Walnut Grove by the same designer, but less of a fan of Eclipse the more I play it. Mauna Kea looked firmly on the lighter side and I'd wanted to give it a try. The lack of a queue forming for something that could easily have been a big-release game was the first warning sign, and the gameplay was the second. Think "if Downfall of Pompeii or Survive were more complicated and less fun" then that's in the right area, unfortunately.
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16. Board Game: Sultaniya [Average Rating:6.60 Overall Rank:2781]
Karl Bunyan
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Another "this looks interesting" game that didn't quite live up to expectations. More luck-driven than I'd hoped for and not a bad experience, just a bit too long for what it delivered for me.
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17. Board Game: Dice's Zoo [Average Rating:5.63 Overall Rank:12773]
Karl Bunyan
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We took pity on the man shaking dice hopefully at us as we walked past and sat down for a round of Dice's Zoo. It's another kids game so I can't really say much about how good it is for that market, but there wasn't enough there for me.
 
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18. Board Game Publisher: Japon Brand
Karl Bunyan
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No visit to Essen is complete without popping by the Japon Brand stand. As usual, anything released this year that's by the designer of last year's hotness is pre-ordered within an inch of its life and the last copies sold out in 17 seconds, but when I went by on the second day they still had some other games. Plus I got to meet Senji Kanai and have a copy of his business card, which is drawn in the style of a Love Letter card. Also, there were two Love Letter promo cards, and I bought some games which are the next three listings.
 
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19. Board Game: String Safari [Average Rating:6.09 Overall Rank:8303]
Karl Bunyan
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I liked String Railway when it came out and have never quite wanted to buy it in its Western release packaging, and String Savanna has been described as a bit lighter. It certainly is that, and we got to play a game on the Saturday towards the end of the show, and again there's not a huge game there.

What I love about the String games is the spectacle on the table, though, and the way you can break down expectations of board games with something like this and skip straight past the "what, games like Monopoly?" questions without having to explain much. The concept is just obviously so different that no-one assumes it's going to be like any of the games-from-olden-days that they love to hate. I also have a sneaking suspicion there's a bit more game in there than I found on the first play...
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20. Board Game: Eggs of Ostrich [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:4822]
Karl Bunyan
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Bought almost entirely based on the bizarre artwork and being intrigued by a game that only plays with 3 - not 2 or 4. I've played a couple of games now and it's good fun; again, not earth-shattering, but definitely a bit of a laugh and fits perfectly in the waiting-for-the-fourth-player-to-turn-up slot we all have every now and again.
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21. Board Game: Eat Me If You Can! [Average Rating:6.06 Overall Rank:5148]
Karl Bunyan
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Another game bought solely on the artwork and it looks like it might be the simplest of the bunch so we'll see how that goes when I get to play it. As with other Japon Brand games I've bought in the past, I feel like I'm getting a good experience, usually something interesting and fresh and some unique presentation. If there's a good game there then all the better!
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22. Board Game: Donburiko [Average Rating:6.41 Overall Rank:7605]
Karl Bunyan
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"The one that got away". Looked at the art, looked at the components, said hello to the designer, and didn't buy it... Having played once since this goes down as this year's Essen regret. Maybe I'll get it in a trade... ha!
 
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23. Board Game: Medici [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:472]
Karl Bunyan
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Medici's a game I only know from playing on the iPad and for 14 Euros I thought it was worth owning my own copy, especially since good games that play with 6 are thin on the ground (in my collection at least).

I think I'm maintaining a ratio of coming home with at least 2 old Knizia bargains per Essen.
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24. Board Game: Walnut Grove [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:1032]
Karl Bunyan
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Seemingly impossible to get in the UK at the moment, and one that I think 'er indoors will like, so I bought a copy direct from Lookout. That despite most of the people that I know will play it already have their own, but I'm sure this impulsive hording will pay off as much in life as it does in the game.
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25. Board Game: Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small – Even More Buildings Big and Small [Average Rating:7.78 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.78 Unranked]
Karl Bunyan
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I was going to get this when I got back, since I'm sure they'll print the billion copies that they'll need for all of us A:ACBAS addicts, but then it was just there, whispering to me...
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