GCL Eclipse Division: Episode 304. That Most Wonderful Time of The Year
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Essen Spiel 2017

The excitement is in the air. Essen Spiel 2017. The fabulous Spiel '17 Preview app is up on BGG tempting me with hundreds of potentially perfect games. What to look at, what to demo, what to buy? Let's look at the games coming out, the rivals to Essen, and reflect on what motivates us to want to play or buy a game at an event like Spiel.




PLEASE READ BEFORE POSTING

If you're a lurker or have otherwise discovered GCL Eclipse, feel free to read along with us. And if you have a constructive comment or something else you think would add to the discussion, consider posting it—if it's helpful, respectful, and polite to the discussion group as a whole, as well as to its individual members. However, if you'd like to join in regular discussion, first post to the current discussion list inquiring about the possibility of becoming a member, with full discussion privileges.

If you are interested in becoming a regularly-contributing member, please contact:

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1. Board Game: ESSEN The Game: SPIEL'13 [Average Rating:6.87 Overall Rank:3012]
Peter D
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Are you going to Spiel this year?

Have you been in the past?

If you answered Yes to either of these what are your thoughts on the event?
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2. Board Game: ESSEN [Average Rating:6.12 Overall Rank:10575]
Peter D
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The wonderful Geek Preview is up on BGG and is filling up with new enticing games:
https://boardgamegeek.com/geekpreview/4/spiel-17-preview

What particular games coming out around Essen this year are you excited about, or at least interested in investigating further?
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3. Board Game: All American: United States Expansion Pack [Average Rating:5.00 Unranked] [Average Rating:5.00 Unranked]
Peter D
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Have you been to Gencon, which is beginning to rival Essen as a release date for many games?

If you have been to both, how do they compare?
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4. Board Game: A Gamut of Games [Average Rating:7.72 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.72 Unranked]
Peter D
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So when you go to Essen, or GenCon, or when you are looking at the mass of games that are about to be published, how do you condense your list of games to buy (or aim to play) to something manageable?

Here are some techniques I have heard about: some people have a long list and demo as much as possible at the event, others read as many rule books as possible and fine-tune their list this way (this is what I do), others have their ear to the ground listening for the buzz, some read previews from great sites like The Opinionated Gamers...what's your preferred way to be?
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5. Board Game Publisher: What's Your Game?
Peter D
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In 2017 which publishers do you feel are at the top of their game, where you look seriously at all their releases as you have total confidence that they will only be publishing good solid games?
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6. Board Game Designer: Alexander Pfister
Peter D
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And which designers are you so impressed with right now that whatever they design you'll take a long good look?
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7. Board Game: Cult Classic [Average Rating:5.78 Unranked]
Peter D
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Essen is all about Cult of the New. Take a step back now: where do you stand on the Cult of the New vs Play and Replay Old Classics dynamic line? And wherever you feel you are right now, in recent years have you moved in a particular direction along the line?

As an illustration: if the line was from 0 to 100, with 100 being a pure Cult of The New gamer, I'd be around the 60 area, whereas five years ago I was around the 75 mark, so I am moving away from The Cult of The New, albeit VERY very slowly. I still need my fix of new-game boxes each month.
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8. Board Game: Gentes [Average Rating:7.69 Overall Rank:1357]
John Bandettini
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4th September at LoB

I love playing games on a Monday night (I like playing them every night, but that is besides the point), going to work on a Monday morning knowing you will be doing something you love that evening helps make Mondays so much better. For some reason though it’s the least popular day at LoB, whilst nearly every other session is full or close to Monday is never more than half full and often less.

I didn’t let lack of people spoil my Monday though. We started with Roll Player, and although I started setting up with just the two of us, we had a full complement of four by the time we started. Even though I bought a weapon early that gave me an extra coin every time I got a coin on an initiative card, I seemed to struggle for money all game long.

I also did a fairly poor job with my alignment. I think it was the first time I failed to end on the 3 point space, instead scoring 0. I did quite well on my attributes and a full 6 points for my backstory. But not enough points for armour and traits doomed me to a last place finish.

Next up was Century: Spice Road. Again it just was not my day. The few good merchant cards that showed up were grabbed by other players. I never really manged to get any synergy between my cards. I did manage to get three big scoring cards, but finished third out of five. (We had picked up a fifth by now).

We then started to hit some of my small games. I introduced the table to Parade. On the face of it Parade appears to be a game with little skill, but play it a few times and the same players consistently do well. It’s a game I always do well at, but can’t really explain why. Maybe what look like obvious plays to me, are not obvious to everyone.

I did not take any cards till very late in the game. There were three blue cards in the parade and one of the other players joked that if I played a blue 1, I would get them all. I did have it and it was actually my best play, I did it much to his surprise. A couple more blue cards as the end approached. I had a very tough decision with my final two cards. I had been hanging onto a blue zero, but I had played it to guarantee the most blue. All the cards I had left were between 4 and 6. I went with the green 5 and 6. There was a chance that, I might tie for the most green with two and flip them.

We all played our last cards, nobody played a green. I flipped all my cards and won with 7 points.

Last game of the night was Clubs. Nobody at the table (Apart from me), had played a climbing game before. It does take a few hands to get used to how different they are from trick taking games. I did get some good hands, not quite as good as the other players thought, they seemed to think I was very lucky, not giving me any credit for knowing how to play my hand. We played to 50 points. It took four hands, I was first out in three of them and second in the last hand for a comfortable win.


5th September at LoB

It was Katy, James and Joe night, but no James as he was away for the week. We managed to find a substitute though, and his name was James. Business as normal then.

I had a theme for the evening, games about someone called Harry. We started off with Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle. I have kind of mixed feelings about this game. It has some good ideas, plays very cleanly and is fun, but it’s a bit easy. OK, it’s very easy. I have now played it nine times now and never been in the slightest danger of losing.

I have only played games 1 to 5 so far and have not tried game 6 or 7. Hoping they might finally be a challenge. We played game 3 and 4. (Not going to bother with 1 or 2 again) We won both fairly easily, although we did lose a location in game one, first time I have had that happen. The second game (Game 4) should have been the tougher game but we sailed through it. I will bring it again as I really want to try the last two games and see what they add.

Next up was Harry Dresden. The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game, an odd little game that is as much a puzzle as a game. Substitute James needed to leave soon, so I pointed out it was only about a 15 minute game. Then noticed the box said 30 minutes, how could you take that long to play 5 cards? (OK, there are sometimes a chance or two to get extra cards, but mostly players have a very limited amount of cards).

If Harry Potter is very easy, Harry Dresden is a bit the other way. In four previous plays I have won once. Totally at random we decided to play book four (Summer Knight). This was quite a coincidence as I am currently reading Summer Knight.

The Dresden Files is a very good co-op game, because the players really need to work together to win. It’s worth spending a few minutes before you even play a card to discuss around the table how you are going to tackle the game. From the setup, the main problem we had were the obstacle cards. There were three of them in play, but two of them could not be removed until the third one was removed. The one we needed to remove was of course at the longest range, and one of the other obstacles was one that gave -1 to range cards greater than 1.

There was an advantage card at range one, so all was not bad. We started with that, so two players drew a card each. Harry started discarding cards so he could use his ability to move obstacles to a closer range. Once we were able to deal with one obstacle, we soon managed to get rid of the others. We were doing pretty well now. We managed to defeat two of the three foes, but we were running out of cards. We went into the final showdown in quite good shape. We needed to kill one more foe and solve at least one case, or solve two cases. We had quite a lot of fate points left. We went for the foe first, we spent maximum fate points. We needed two hits to finish him off. So we could afford a net -2 from six dice and still defeat him. We got a net -1, so he was toast. Now we needed to finish a case, we only needed 1 clue and we got 4. So game over and a solid win for the good guys.

Substitute James had to leave and we debated whether to play another Case of the Dresden Files or play a non-Harry game. In the end we went for Cottage Garden, which neither Katy or Joe had played before, but Katy was a big fan of Patchwork. I nearly forgot the rule about the final round of the game, you lose two points every time you have a turn, until you clear all your flower beds.

The game seemed to be pretty close with Joe lagging a bit behind Katy and I. I managed to get one of my cubes to the end of the scoring track first, so I got the two Bee Hives, Katy then grabbed the second one. We reached the final round and both of Joe’s flower beds had less than three tiles on them, so he was finished. Katy had one in play and I had two. I finished off one of them on my first turn in the final round, but I was still going to get hit for negative points a second turn. Katy finished her last flowerbed on her first turn of the final round and managed to get a second cube into the end scoring area.

I finished the game of on my next turn, I managed to get a second cube into the end scoring area and a third one pretty close. Despite losing four points on the final round, I had enough points for the win.


6th September at LoB

Only got to play one game. It was Gentes and I don’t think it should have taken all night even though none of us had played before. Two of the other players in particular were rather slow. I enjoyed playing it, but as whenever I play slow games, not as much as if it was played at a greater pace.

Gentes is the latest in far too many games that suddenly seem to have a massive buzz and are nearly impossible to find. I stumbled across a copy on facebook and snapped it up quick.

The game has a Civ style theme centred on the Mediterranean. It’s kind of a worker placement game, except it has no workers. Instead of putting workers on the board, you take tokens from the board and do the associated action. So why take off tiles rather than place workers? Because actions have an associated time cost.

At the top of the player boards are turn tracks with spaces for tiles, both action tiles and time tiles. As you take actions you place the tiles on the track. When it is full, you cannot do any more actions that round. The action tiles cost between 1 and 3 time units. The time tiles come in denominations of one or two units. You can choose how to take the time used. The thing is, at the end of the round all the action tiles and the single cost time tiles are removed from the track. The double time tile is flipped to the single side, but remains on the track.

You also need to pay for the action tiles. You generally have a choice between paying less and taking more time and paying more and using less time. There are tax actions that are always available to all players. When you take the tax action there is no action tile, you just place time tiles. 4 coins is one time unit, 8 coins is two time units.

Like other recent game, thinking in particular of Terraforming Mars and La Granja, cards very much drive the game. They represent the buildings in your empire, they have perquisites that need to be met when you play them and rewards you get when you play them. The rewards are usually points plus a variety of other things, income each turn, build a free city, special actions and loads more.

The cards are split into three eras. (The game lasts six rounds, two rounds to an era). In era one you get very few points on the cards, but some really good abilities, and reasonably easy perquisites. Era two cards give more points, but have higher perquisites. The third era is only points on nearly all cards, and need very high perquisites.

You start the game with two cards, after that you need to take an action to get them. And of course you need to take an action to play them. The other main actions you will do is to build cities (Which give you an income, money points or cubes which can be used for bonus actions. You have six different types of citizens, at the beginning of the game you have four points of training to make them better. During the game you can take the training action to make them better. Most of the building cards need various citizens at a certain level to be playable.

Finally there is a start player tile. It does not use a time token, but it is a single tile that goes on your turn track. As well as being start player on the next turn you get 2 coins.

So how did our game go? We randomly picked a start player, and I was last. We did use the recommended first game set up. This meant we all started with a set two cards and the citizens we needed to put them in play. I decided to concentrate on the cities early on, as well as getting my starting cards in play. The first card I played had a training action on it as part of the reward. This meant I could take a training action without taking a tile from the board, thus saving a space on my turn track.

I built my first city and went for cash, 5 coins. You get the city reward when you build it and at the end of each round you can activate one city from each area of the board (There are three areas). I managed to build a second city before then end of the first round, this one gave me 2vps. This meant I got 5 coins and 2vps at the end of every round of the game.

This was a pretty good start. One of the other players also looked to have made a good start. He had got two cards into play. One removed a cube from his turn track (Part of the track is blocked at the beginning of the game) and he got another card played that gave him double the income when he took the tax action.

There are bonus tiles available for three achievements, building all six of your cities, training 18 points of citizens and playing 8 cards. The first player to do each gets 8 points, everyone else gets 4. I completed my sixth city in the fourth round to claim the eight points for that. At the start of the fifth round one of the other players beat me to 18 citizens, due to turn order. We both got to 18 citizens on the first turn but he was before me in the turn order. Later that round I played my eighth card for the 8 point tile.

At the end of the game any cards you have in hand that you meet the perquisites on, you can play and score half the points rounded up, any you can’t play you lose half the points rounded up. I grabbed three cards on the last round, knowing that I could not play them, but planning to get half the points for them. I had a solid lead by then, and they were more like insurance than probably needed. I did make a mistake though as I realised I had taken one I could not play. It needed me to have a Temple city and I did not have one. Luckily it was only a 5 point card. I scored 13 from the other two, whilst losing 3 from this one. In the end I won with 112 points and a 20 point lead.

The game was good and it really plays to my strengths, much like Terraforming Mars. It has a lot of tactical play and it rewards efficiency.
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9. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:8.03 Overall Rank:16]
Peter D
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Recently I have been playing old favourites rather than newness. The London On Board Agricola final saw me taking a respectable third place which I was very pleased with. Since then the London on Board Terra Mystica tournament has started and I'm very much enjoying that one, and even finding in the Darklings a race I had never played before.

The summer saw much time with the family and my usual attempts to cajole them into playing games took place. And this summer it was met with some big successes.

Kingdomino took me by surprise. I ignored this at Essen as it looked too simple, but I could ignore it no longer when it won the SDJ. And it has gone down so well with the family, we played around 20 games of it in a few days on holiday. They are not gamers and it was delight to hear that, after I had returned home back to work, they carried on playing it without me, something that never happens.

Insider has also gone down well with the family, 10 minutes of clever social deduction, but in a good way, not in the negative lie and deceit of Avalon.

Codenames worked well though some of my children got frustrated waiting for others to formulate linking words, the game would often break down during those moments. But with Word Slam, by the fabulous Inka and Markus Brand, the essence of word play found in Codenames has been made into a fast and furious word race game where two teams compete simultaneously to find a word whilst the two clue-givers give word clues on cards just to their team. Each team is shouting out answers which gives further clues to the other team. It all works really well and moves at such a pace.

Finally,the last family-hit of the summer was Diamonds. A simple trick-taker with some glamorous bits to play with seduced them all.

I love it when the family come together to game, and it is even better when they all really love a game such as these above.


Other games played over the summer:
Ethnos - I don't get the hype. Seemed a bit of a random card draw off the top making no sense of any attempt to strategize. Too complex for the family, too random for the gamers.

Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure continues to be enjoyable and the underwater expansion is fun.

Hanamikoji disappointed me a little. I prefer Battle Line by far and they are broadly similar.

Carson City made a comeback though I can't decide if the dice are too influential. On balance I think they are just about acceptable.

At last I got Merkator out of the shrink and onto the table. It didn't feel like a Uwe game at all. ANd like all his games I enjoyed it a lot.

Rialto, that criminally overlooked Feld game, was a joy to bring back to a Monday session. I just don't get how this one went under the radar. We had five and I really think it needs that many.

Terraforming Mars remains fresh even after a few plays. And Yokohama was as go0d second time as first.

Hansa Teutonica showed itself to be a real classic when I played it a few weeks ago. I know it is well-respected by so many, and every time I play it I smile and the cleverness and the options available, and the way the timer works on the game. Brilliant stuff.

San Juan and Port Royal are becoming the two games I grab when going gaming and in case we have a spare 30-45 minutes - I could happily play nothing else for hours at a time. I only played each a couple of times over the summer but it felt good to have them in my bag...just in case.





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10. Board Game: Café Melange [Average Rating:6.67 Overall Rank:4624]
EGG Head
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 N/A   The Quest for El Dorado
 N/A   Pyramids NEW!
 N/A   Bunny Kingdom
 N/A   Habitats x2 NEW!
 8   Café Melange x2
 6.5   Imhotep
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11. Board Game: Spirits of the Rice Paddy [Average Rating:6.80 Overall Rank:2063]
Daniel West
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Springfield
OR
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I had two new to me games since my last update.

Spirits of the Rice Paddy was an interesting engine building game. I would want to play without some of the take that cards next time to see how well the other order cards are lined up as this particular session turned into a rich get richer runaway win for one player. Still, the system had some fun ideas, so it's a positive first impression, with some reservations.

Deadline was the other new to me game, and I also liked it quite a bit with one reservation. The cooperative gameplay reminded me a lot of The Grizzled which was definitely a plus. Working together was a challenge when you couldn't communicate what cards you have. As for that reservation, it is the story element. There are questions you answer about a mystery, and in the first case at least, if you beat the set challenges during the co-op phase, then you get the piece of the story needed to answer the questions. If you didn't, then you'd simply miss a fact. Like in Watson & Holmes or Consulting Detective, I would like it if there was a bit more in the way of cases where you have to deduce information by reading between the lines. It's possible that later cases will do that, which just means I will have to play this one again.
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