Surya's Essen 2014 initial thoughts and ratings
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
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Like each year, I have a geeklist with an overview of my initial thoughts and ratings for the new Essen stuff

2015, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010

Some games are considered Essen releases even though they're available sooner, but I'll include those as well.
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1. Board Game: 7 Steps [Average Rating:6.28 Overall Rank:5279]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
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tl;dr: fine multiplayer abstract

Every couple of years a new family friendly multiplayer abstract comes along that is actually fun to play. Ingenious comes to mind of course. While this game might not actually be as good, it's certainly enjoyable and worth playing.

Initial rating: 6.7/10
BGG scale: 7/10
 
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2. Board Game: Abyss [Average Rating:7.31 Overall Rank:324]
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Michelbeke
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More hype on my gaming table! I didn't buy this, as I felt most of the hype was simply based on the great artwork. And it is lovely to look at, but great artwork does not make a good game. In some cases it even bothers actually playing the game *cough*FFG*cough* After just having played Five Tribes, playing more Cathala games does sound appealing though.
This game has us collecting cards with a fun twist and then using those cards to buy other cards that give us a combination of points and abilities. Some of those cards have keys on them which give you even more points and abilities, but they also take away some abilities as soon as you have 3 keys.
This is a pretty typical superfiller. It plays fast, it has a good amount of strategy and tactical choices and a good dose of luck with a short playing time. Good stuff, but nothing spectacular. And the awesome artwork can't hide the fact that there is no theme.

Initial rating: 6.8/10
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3. Board Game: Alchemists [Average Rating:7.73 Overall Rank:80]
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Belgium
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tl;dr: solid, intriguing design.

Some people hate having electronic elements in board games. I'm not sure if I like the idea, but it works in this game as it's simply there as a way to avoid having someone - who can not partake in the game - looking up results all the time.
This is a game in which you deduce formulas in order to use what you found to score points. On this first play however I was so caught up in deducing stuff that I missed most opportunities to score points. For one thing, I only realized late in the game that you should put a banner on the board each time you have only 2 possible results for a certain resource. That's a good way to score some points. It didn't help that my first 3 combinations resulted in zilch. Other players where building up information and I had close to nothing.
I liked the game and would be happy to play again, but this first play was rather frustrating. Still, a solid design!

Initial rating: 7.2/10
BGG scale: 7/10
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4. Board Game: The Ancient World [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:952]
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tl;dr: solid euro

Ryan Laukat popped up on my 'designers to watch' list when I first played City of Iron which I still think is a very good game. Other than the name of the designer I knew nothing about this game.
In essence this is a worker placement set collecting game. You're collecting sets of cards with colored banners. The more of a certain color you have at the end of the game, the more points you score.
Everything works great, and the game moves at the nice pace. It doesn't do anything new at all, but it does work as it should and therefore it certainly is worth playing.

Initial rating: 6.7/10
BGG scale: 7/10
 
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5. Board Game: Antike II [Average Rating:7.52 Overall Rank:1048]
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Wow, Mac Gerdts is a genius. In Concordia he showed us that you can create deep strategy games with ridiculously simple rules, and with this game how demonstrates this ability again. Everything is just so streamlined and straightforward... except the strategies! Every action in and of itself is so simple, but the ways in which you can combine them open up such possibilities and strategies. Great stuff.
This game does include Imperial style combat, which I'm quite fine with. And you don't have to fight to win, but in certain situations it can certainly be beneficial.
In our game all of us where at 8 points before I squeezed out a victory. It was just incredibly close.
It seems we did play a rule wrong - remove armies after conquering a city - but I don't think that would have influenced my win as I didn't do much with the armies after I used them to conquer - which I only did twice in the game with different units. Just saying
Oh, just to clarify: Antike is his only title I hadn't played yet. I still haven't, but I don't think I need to now that I have this one.

Initial rating: 7.5/10
BGG scale: 7/10
 
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6. Board Game: AquaSphere [Average Rating:7.33 Overall Rank:355]
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Belgium
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Yes, I'm a bit of a Feld fanboy. I'm not ashamed of that. Some people don't like his games, and that's OK, but I don't see why being a fan of his is looked down on by some. End rant
Each time he creates a new game we wonder what the new clever mechanism is going to be. There's no big central innovative mechanism in this game that stands out like in most of his big games of previous years. But that's not a problem at all. This game combines a whole bunch of things that aren't all that new in and of themselves but it's all done a bit different. The way in which you program your future moves is quite neat and a nice challenge to master.
I must say that even though I didn't do well at all, I quite enjoyed this game.

Initial rating: 7.5/10
BGG scale: 8/10
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7. Board Game: Arkwright [Average Rating:7.90 Overall Rank:622]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: heavy, dry and good

There's a reason this is the last game from my Essen haul to hit the table. The basic version of the game is 24 pages of rules. The advanced version adds another 32 pages and then there is an additional overview of components and strategies that is just as thick. Of course we opted for the basic version with the predetermined setup, as it is already complex enough to satisfy most hardcore eurogamers.
This game continues the line of complex strategy games that we've come to expect from Spielworxx and it is just as well developed as their other titles. Even with the sizable rulebook most rules are intuitive and everything makes sense. There are a few details which could easily be forgotten, but I guess most of them won't ruin the game if you do.
This is definitely a game that begs to be explored more after the first play. It's also a game in which every action counts. I screwed up the very first action and than wasted an other one in the 2nd round and as a result I lost. It's that kind of game. I enjoyed it and look forward to playing it more. I don't expect to move on to the advanced game any time soon though.

Initial rating: 7.5/10
BGG scale: 7/10
 
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8. Board Game: Beasty Bar [Average Rating:6.86 Overall Rank:1062] [Average Rating:6.86 Unranked]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: fine chaosfest

Like chaotic but fun card games like Take 5? Then check out Beasty Bar. It's similar but with cuter animal artwork. Each animal has a certain special ability that screws up the order of the cards and hopefully leads to you scoring cards. But that's hard as the situation changes quite dramatically with each card played.
It is very chaotic, but also quite enjoyable. Only: Take 5 is a better game.

Initial rating: 6/10
BGG scale: 6/10
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9. Board Game: Black Fleet [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:641]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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My track record with pirate themed games has been pretty horrible. I don't like many of them. But somehow this one works great. It's simple, family friendly, it plays fast, it has great bits and art and it doesn't outstay its welcome. But most of all, it allows for some nice combos with the card play. And we all love making combos and feeling smart for doing so, don't we?

Initial rating: 6.7/10
BGG scale: 7/10
 
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10. Board Game: Bucket King 3D [Average Rating:6.25 Overall Rank:4104]
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Belgium
Michelbeke
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This is not actually a new game but almost a straight re-release. The 3Dness doesn't actually add anything to game at all. It's still a very entertaining light game.

Initial rating: 6.7/10
BGG scale: 7/10
 
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11. Board Game: Cargotrain [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:7987]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
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tl;dr: enjoyable but a bit too long

A very tactical, not a strategic game. It's quite simple and a solid design, but it does go on for a bit too long. And by too long I don't mean the play time is too long, it just gets a bit repetitive after a while.
Oh yeah, and couldn't they find some other colors than brown and orange?
Not bad, but I can't really recommend this.

Initial rating: 6.3/10
BGG scale: 6/10
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12. Board Game: Castles of Mad King Ludwig [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:82]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
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Ted Alspach spends a lot of time on development of his games, and you can tell from this design. It is very, very streamlined, with very simple and short rules.
The game has quite some Suburbia in it. It also has tiles which you can buy for a varying price, the tile you buy gives you points and additional points according to what other tiles are adjacent or elsewhere in your castle. Very similar indeed. What is quite different is the I-split-you-choose mechanism which we know from games like San Marco. Except here you don't make sets, you determine prices. You want to make things expensive so the other players pay you lots of money. But if you make it too expensive, they will buy something cheaper. And you want to make the tiles you want cheap, but not so cheap the other players will snatch them from under your nose.
It all works great together and it plays very nicely and quick. I'm not sure if this is as good as Suburbia, but it certainly is a very solid design.

Initial rating: 7.2/10
BGG scale: 8/10
 
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13. Board Game: City of Iron: Experts and Engines [Average Rating:7.63 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.63 Unranked]
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Belgium
Michelbeke
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I quite liked City of Iron which I got to play twice over a year ago. So I was glad to get to play it again now this expansion is out. We didn't use the pirate part of the expansion, but I have to say that the new race specific additions to the decks are quite cool. Each of them seemed to have a card all other players where very jealous of. But since scores where quite close I don't think they are all that unbalanced. So nice addition!

Initial rating: 7.5/10
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14. Board Game: Ciúb [Average Rating:6.15 Overall Rank:4641]
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Belgium
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With To Court the King Thomas Lehmann proved that he can make compelling dice games. So I had good hopes for this game. And even though I wasn't expecting too much I was very disappointed. There simply is very little here. Cards need you to roll certain combinations. If you do you get the points, if you don't, you get an extra die. There's ways of managing your dice pool and such, but in the end it didn't live up to it's potential at all. It's not horrible, but I was hoping for just a bit more.

Initial rating: 6.2/10
BGG scale: 5/10
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15. Board Game: Concordia: Britannia / Germania [Average Rating:8.07 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.07 Unranked]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
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The Britannia side of this expansion doesn't do anything new with the game except that it splits the starting positions of land and sea colonists. The graphic representation of the prefect tiles is also different. But it doesn't add any new rules or twists.
What it does do is it has a very compact map with less provinces and cities. This makes for a very competitive and tight game even with 3 players. Good stuff!

Initial rating: 8.5/10
BGG scale: 8/10
 
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16. Board Game: Concordia: Britannia / Germania [Average Rating:8.07 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.07 Unranked]
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After enjoying the other side of this map, I was eager to try the Germania side as well. It is a big map, whereas the other side is very compact. So we played with 4 players. It turns out that even with 4 players everyone is pretty much spread out. I think this map will play best with 5.
The tweaks to the game are very subtle: ships grant you 2 movement points for increased maneuverability. Also there are some locations that grant you a resource when you happen to stand next to them when playing the Tribune card. A nice twist, but the tweak to the ships if of more importance, especially since the ships themselves have very limited options since there aren't that many rivers, and they don't take you via efficient routes.
The changes to the rules don't make for a very different game, so you can take or leave those. With 4 the game wasn't tight enough to my liking, so I'd have to play with 5 to get a better feel for this map.

Initial rating: 7.5/10
BGG scale: 7/10
 
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17. Board Game: Cubist [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:2338]
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tl;dr: fine

Dice games are a dime a dozen these days. I generally enjoy them. Most of them simply combine a number of familiar elements to make a new game. This is one of those games. You have the building aspect like in Blueprints but everyone is competing to complete the same structure before someone else does. There are some other cards to spice things up and there are - for the most part - no rerolls. It all works fine, but it doesn't do anything new so if you already have a similar game in your collection, there's no real reason to own this one as well.
And the artwork is ugly, ugly, ugly. I guess, I don't like cubism.

Initial rating: 6.3/10
BGG scale: 6/10
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18. Board Game: Cubo [Average Rating:5.67 Overall Rank:10384]
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Belgium
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tl;dr: fine dice game

It seems like dice games with some abstract cube theme are all the rage these days. We already had Cubist and Ciúb. So far those have been OK games, and this one is no different. What this game does different from the other two is that there is a speed and puzzle element, which I enjoy.
It's not earth shattering, but I found it enjoyable enough for an occasional play here and there.

Initial rating: 6.4/10
BGG scale: 6/10
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19. Board Game: Deus [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:301]
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Belgium
Michelbeke
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So far Sébastien Dujardin's output has been pretty good, so I was looking forward to this game. I was pleasantly surprised when this strategic came was finished in about an hour with 4 first timers yet it didn't feel too short or rushed or overdeveloped. In fact it felt like a full fledged strategy game. Good stuff!
The theme is pretty much pasted on and I feel like the graphic design is too clean for the theme they chose, but that's all nitpicking.
One thing that kind of annoyed me was that the temples are limited to those available. That means that if the game end is triggered, but you still get to perform a turn, you won't be able to build a temple even if you have the right cards and resources. And that will hurt your score. I feel like more temples should be available after the end of the game has been triggered.

Initial rating: 7.2/10
BGG scale: 7/10
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20. Board Game: Diamonds [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:662]
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Belgium
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tl;dr: it's a trick taking game!

Yes, trick taking games are a dime a dozen and as you should know I'll compare each and every one of them with Sticheln. Because And guess what? I still haven't found any that comes close. But this one is pretty solid. The twist (every one has one, no?) in this one is that each suit has a kicker action which you get to use when you win a trick... and when you can't follow! And that's pretty huge. Keep the right cards so you can play them when you can't follow. Because in this game that is a good thing.
What did bother me is that it is pretty hard to take the lead away from someone once they they get going.
All in all a solid game, but it's no Sticheln

Initial rating: 6.7/10
BGG scale: 7/10
 
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21. Board Game: Doodle City [Average Rating:6.38 Overall Rank:2960]
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Belgium
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tl;dr: fun pass time

This is a simple dice game and while there are some strategic choices to be made, it is mostly a luck fest. If people (or you) don't roll what you want/need, then you're screwed.
But it's enjoyable and doesn't last long, so who can fault it for that?

Initial rating: 6.5/10
BGG scale: 6/10
 
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22. Board Game: Dragonscroll [Average Rating:6.62 Overall Rank:4040]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: a disappointment

Each year I play the new Fragor game. Each year I'm hoping their crazy ideas and great components make a good game. Sometimes they come close, sometimes they don't come close. I quite like Antler Island, I really didn't like Hameln.
This game combines a ball tower and tile laying with resource collection. The tile laying doesn't add much to the game, it doesn't really inject any fun challenge like it does in Carcassonne. The fighting with the ball tower sounds fun, but there is a huge problem: the tower is broken. Killing orcs is SO easy, killing knights and wizards is doable, but elves and dwarfs are very, very difficult. That is the result of the design of the tower. It results in the player holding the orc scoring card having a real easy time of scoring big points.
But most of all the game isn't challenging nor entertaining. It's just so incredibly bland.
A disappointment

Initial rating: 5/10
BGG scale: 3/10
 
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23. Board Game: Eat Me If You Can! [Average Rating:6.14 Overall Rank:4479]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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tl;dr: crapshoot, the game

Pigs select if they want to sleep or lay a trap. They get points if the wolf comes to them and they laid a trap or if the wolf doesn't come and they sleep. They lose points if they sleep and the wolf comes to eat them. The wolf scores points if he enters a home with a sleeping pig, he loses points if he enters a home with a trap. So it's crapshoot the game. Luckily it's short but it doesn't have a high replay value.

Initial rating: 5.5/10
BGG scale: 5/10
 
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24. Board Game: ESSEN The Game: SPIEL'13 [Average Rating:6.88 Overall Rank:2998]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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This game wasn't really on my radar. It sounded too much like a gimmick and the art is ugly. But when I get the chance to play a game from the designer of Bruxelles 1893, how could I pass that up?
I must say that this is a solid design. You run around buying games. And you can play tactical or strategic in what you buy. But I have one big problem with the game: if you want to be strategic, you have to buy games from your wishlist. But there is nothing you can do about it when someone else buys that game for tactical reasons. And there is only one of each game. So you can try to buy your wishlist, but it might not work out and there isn't really anything you can do about that. This problem is magnified by the end game scoring: you score big, really big, for having a lot of games off of your wishlist. But if you can hardly plan for that, is it really strategic or just luck?
So I thought it was a good game, but that end game scoring rubbed me the wrong way.
One more thought: so whatever is on no one's wish list is on everyone's wishlist?

Initial rating: 6.5/10
BGG scale: 6/10
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25. Board Game: Evolution [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:329]
Surya Van Lierde is pure Eurosnoot and proud of it!
Belgium
Michelbeke
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This game didn't sound like my thing. And I hadn't heard great things about the original. But I have to admit: this is a pretty decent game.
There certainly is some take that but it didn't bother me too much. And you can find ways to protect yourself against that.
I enjoyed playing this, especially since it doesn't go on for too long, but it's not something I need to own.

Initial rating: 6.5/10
BGG scale: 6/10
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