Essen 2017 Diary
Stephan Kadow
Germany
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This is a detailed breakdown of my trip to Essen Spiel 2017 with first impressions on all the games my group played or bought at the convention.
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1. Board Game Event: Spiel 2017
Stephan Kadow
Germany
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Introduction

2017 was my 2nd visit at the convention (after 2016). This year again I was accompanied by 3 other board game fans from our local (but very international) board game group in Berlin, where we usually play boardgames every Thursday evening and occasionally also on weekends.

As far as preparation goes, most of us went through the preview list here on BGG and came up with some sort of Top X lists, which (not surprisingly) were unfortunately less similar than what I hoped for. But if I learned something from last year's visit then it was the fact that you should not expect to play most of the games on your list anyway, as you usually have to decide on the fly what to play anyway based on how long the queues at the tables are, especially if you are attending with a group of people.

None of us had any "I really need to buy this on day 1" games on their list, so instead our focus was to try to play at least 4-5 games per day (not neccesarily until the end) and purchase a few games to play in the hotel on the evening. Speaking of which, we had a hotel near Duisburg central station (~15min from Essen), where we arrived by train on Wednesday evening. Overall, our accommodation was fine (most importantly there was a free table in the lounge for us to play every evening) and the burden of having to travel to Essen every day wasn't that big of a deal in the end.

We had our first "Essen moment" already in the train near Berlin, when we started playing Karmaka and found out that the women sitting with us at the table was apparently also going to Essen (she was working there for 2F games), so we of course invited here to play along. I also brought 2 games mainly to play in the train, which I bought on the previous day at the local board game store (The Game: Extreme and Dodelido), and especially the latter was quite some fun (although I expect the rest of the train was probably questioning our sanity).
 
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Stephan Kadow
Germany
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My Most Anticipated Games

To start off, here is my Index Geek List with my most anticipated games by category, including my overall Top 15 games. I ended up playing 6 games out of the top 15 on the convention, namely:
- Chimera Station (#3)
- Paper Tales (#5)
- Alien Artifacts (#7)
- Fast Forwards: Flee (#10)
- Altiplano (#13)
- Tybor der Baumeister (#14)
(see later entries on the geek list for more details on these)

As for the others, the following ones were already sold out (and not available to play when I was at the respective booth) or the booth didn't have a lot of tables and was always crowded:
- Santa Maria (#4): Was sold out on day 1 (and again quickly on day 3 after some new copies arrived) and there was only 1 table to play it.
- Ex Libris (#6): Was sold out on day 1 I believe and there were not even a single demo copy left when I checked again on day 3 & 4.
- Whistle Stop (#12): Same as Ex Libris, didn't even see a single copy at the Bezier Games booth the whole convention, probably sold out early (but not sure for this one).
- Noria (#15): The booth was very small and always crowded, so it was almost impossible to play.

Finally, the other 5 games were all pretty hyped to begin with and I expect to get a lot of information / reviews on these anyway in the weeks after the convention. Still, I would have probably tried those as well if the convention would have lasted longer:
- Gaia Project (#1): There were always long queues on all booths were this was sold (same publisher as Charterstone also), but still quite a lot of tables to potentially play it. I already had a lot of information on this before (as I am a big Terra Mystica fan), so I decided it's not necessary to try this at the convention. Still I am curious to find out how the different factions play and how much depth is added by the new technology tracks.
- Yokohama (#2): This game already came out before Essen and was on my watchlist for a long time (almost bought it already). I would have liked to confirm my interest with a play session, but there were only 2 tables and a lot of people at the booth to try Altiplano.
- Azul (#8): The game stayed on rank 1 of the geek buzz since at least day 3 of the convention, so naturally the booth was pretty crowded all the time. I expect this to become a hit soon and be widely available for purchase & information via reviews anyways.
- Photosynthesis (#9): Similar to Azul, this was hyped a lot and pretty crowded as well most of the time. I am still a bit concerned that this might be overhyped (how much interesting game is there beside the nice theme and material) and would have liked to confirm / prove wrong by playing at the convention.
- The Palace of Mad King Ludwig (#11): There was a good amount of tables at the booth, so there was definitely possibility to play this. Would have probably played it, if my group would have been more interested in trying.
 
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3. Board Game Event: Spiel 2017
Stephan Kadow
Germany
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Thursday (Day 1)

With no specific plans in mind for the first day, we decided to take the subway all the way to the final station at Messe West (near the entrance of hall 3), hoping that most people would already leave on the previous station for the main entrance and we might get a free table to play in hall 3 (which we knew from last year hosted most of the big publishers). Unfortunately, we weren't expecting the delay with the subway (we went by car last year) and also we weren't aware that the convention might open a few minutes earlier (apparently it already opened ~20min earlier), so our plans didn't really work out and it was already pretty crowded when we arrived around 10:15.

We figured out soon, that it would be quite hard to get a free table in hall 3, so we decided to head to the less crowded area, starting with hall 7, where we ended up spending most of the first day at the convention. We played the following games on the convention on Thursday:
- Kepler-3042
- Feudalia
- Natives
- Chimera Station

(see entries below for details)

Before leaving, we decided to purchase Natives and also grabbed Flee from Stronghold Games, so we could play both games in the evening. I was also thinking about buying Paper Tales and coincidentally met the youtuber Ben from brettspielblog.net at the booth, so we had a little chat about the game and his channel, which was quite interesting. I ended up not buying the game because he didn't seem to be too excited about it (I still bought the game on the next day after playing an introduction session though). We also made a "reservation" to play Cutthroat Kingdoms on the next day after the convention would be open.
 
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4. Board Game: Kepler-3042 [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:1841]
Stephan Kadow
Germany
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We kind of decided to sit down at the first free table we saw in hall 7, which was Kepler-3042. As there was no one available at that point to explain the rules we starting reading through the rule book on our own, but the game turned out to be more complex than what we initially thought, so we were glad that someone came over to explain us the game after a few minutes. I had mixed expectations to begin with, as the reviews on the game I saw before were not too positive, but still the game would have probably landed in my "top 30 most anticipated games" list (if I didn't decide to nail it down to top 15 instead). We only played a couple of rounds before we decided to move on.

In Kepler-3042 players are moving space ships to explore and colonize planets. A game lasts a fixed duration of 16 rounds, in which players always chose from 1 of 9 actions (like moving the ships, colonizing planets your ship are currently on, producing ressources on your planets or advancing your technologies). You can also choose to do additional bonus actions based on the main actionyou choose (like e.g. additional movement and getting more ressources), but these come at a cost of permanently removing other ressources (with only very limited ways to get them back, as your ressource pool is pretty much fix from the beginning). There is also events cards drawn at the beginning and resolved at the end of each round, which usually gives advantages to players being behind in some way.

Initial impressions:
- I liked to action selection mechanism (reminded me a bit of Scythe) together with the free support actions & the research tree, which made every turn feel like a little puzzle on how to squeeze out the most efficiency
- the event cards were an interesting way of implementing a catch-up mechanism

- the material & art was fine, although it wasn't outstanding in any way
- player interaction was low (usually not too big of a deal for me) & mainly focussed on trying to settle planets before other players

- I was missing something like variable player powers in form of different factions or similar, which might be an issue for replayability
- I didn't like the fact the there was a fixed amount of rounds, as I was hoping for a more dramatic end of the game and it also made any investments in technology feel weak because there was not so much time to benefit from them


Overall, the mechanics reminded me a lot of Scythe (minus the direct player conflicts), although the game cannot compete with Scythe in terms of production and thematic feel. Don't know if I would play it over Scythe (which is one of my favorite games) under any circumstances. That being said, I liked the gameplay quite a lot and would be up to try again to find out how deep the actual strategic decisions in the game are.

Inital Rating: 7/10
 
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5. Board Game: Feudalia [Average Rating:7.51 Overall Rank:3403]
Stephan Kadow
Germany
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We saw another free table close-by and decided to take a seat. We again started to read through the rules book as there was no one there to explain the rules initially, but when we were almost about to leave the table we got a very brief explanation and finally started playing. We played through the tutorial scenario, which took about an hour. I remembered the game briefly from Rahdo's runthrough, but wasn't particularly interested as I find most deckbuilders to be rather non-strategic and usually causing the feeling of the game playing me rather than the other way around.

In essence, Feudalia is a deckbuilding game similar to Dominion. There are 4 smaller twists to the genre in the game:
- there are player boards with 3 different lands, which players can upgrade and play specific cards on to collect ressources
- ressources can be spent on buying new cards (in addition to the gold cost) or to help working on the cathedral (a public project which grants points)
- there is a small amount of very expensive master cards, which players can purchase for points or permanent powerful effects
- the players start with the "tax collector" card in their discard pile, which will frequently be drawn and basically forces players to remove ressources

Initial Impression:
(note that I am not sure exactly which major game elements / card effects were missing in the tutorial scenario, so take my thoughts with caution)
- I liked the new element of having a player board with lands and all the mechanics working together with that (e.g. the priest card that enabled to retrieve cards previously played on those lands)
- I think there was some potential in creating some sort of synergies when playing with the more advanced master cards (that being said, the tutorial ones were super boring and just gave points)
- a lot of the mechanics were not particularly innovative and pretty much a copy of what is already known from other deckbuilders like Dominion
- I didn't like the cathedral building action, as it was pretty much just a "dump ressources and grab points" mechanic without any strategical elements
- I didn't like the tax collector mechanism as it added an (in my opinion) not needed element of randomness to the game, that also was limiting strategic choices (it disallows players to stack up ressources)


Overall, I didn't like the game too much and would probably not play it over Dominion or Clank (which is in my opinion the better twist of the traditional deckbuilding genre)

Inital Rating: 4/10
 
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6. Board Game: Natives [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:6488]
 
Stephan Kadow
Germany
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Continuing our journey through hall 7 on our mission to try out random games we didn't know much about, we stopped by a rather small booth to play a suprisingly fun little game, which we ended up buying twice. The explanation was short and clear and this time we didn't have to wait for it. I believe this is also the only game we played at the convention, which no one in our group heard of before.

In Natives players are playing native American tribes and draft cards from a common pool one after the other, which can then be "deployed" into your tribe in several ways depending on the type of card (e.g. tribe cards can be deployed as workers to improve your "engine", different kind of food cards can be collected for points, totem cards for immediate or permanent effects etc.).

Initial Impressions:
- the game is super easy to explain and plays in <30 min
- there is still room for some tactical decisions (how much time do I spend on deploying workers? do I draw more card to make my turn stronger potentially but risk that I also add options to my opponents? etc.)
- the totem effects are pretty interesting and add a lot to player interaction

- there is some significant luck involved in terms of card draw (I feel like grabbing a lot of tribe cards from your own tribe early to deploy as workers is super important)
- variable player powers or missions could have helped replayability
- the box was significantly oversized for its content


After the first play, everyone in our group seemed to like it quite a lot, which was surprising considering this came out of nowhere. We decided to buy it and played another session in the evening with a slightly worse but still pretty good overall impression.

Inital Rating: 6/10

 
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7. Board Game: Chimera Station [Average Rating:7.55 Overall Rank:1023]
Stephan Kadow
Germany
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After hearing a lot of positive reviews on this game already before the convention, we decided to give Chimera Station a try as well. It was the first game on my personal Top 15 list (rank 3), so I came in being pretty excited. There was a surprisingly large play are for this publisher with a lot of tables and very friendly staff, but we still had to wait for >30 min to get a table. The rules explanation was fine, especially considering that this was one of the more complex games we played at the convention. We actually played through a whole game, which took I believe around 2 hours.

Chimera Station is a worker placement game, where players take control over alien factions, who try to get most prestige by improving the culture and contributing in expanding the the space station they live on. The biggest selling point of the game are (phyisically) modifiable workers (you can attach new components to a worker which give them special abilities like being able to push away other workers from an already occupied spot and getting additional ressources / points for doing specific actions). Players can also build new rooms in the station, which adds new actions to choose from (similar to lords of waterdeep). Finally, players can also increase on the science track, which provides them either additional workers or cards with special abilites and / or some sort of mission for end game scoring.

Initial Impressions:
- the modifiable workers are a very innovative and fresh idea to the worker placement genre, also the phyical process of upgrading your worker felt smooth
- there were a lot of interesting decisions (where to place workers, which placement bonus to grab, which upgrades to get first, which special abilities to get etc.)
- I liked the fact that the game board (and thus the possible action spaces) is expanded constantly, which is a nice change from the usually very static setup of most worker placement games
- effects of ability cards were very different and added to player interaction (some cards had "mean" effects like stealing money)
- game length of 5 rounds only looks short at first glance, but it still feel strategic enough and also ensures the game doesn't take too long
- although in our introduction game we played without faction asymmetry, I like the fact that they exist and give players a direction to start with

- investing in improving the research track (to get special cards & additional workers) felt very powerful and almost mandatory
- there is quite some potential for analysis paralysis especially during the later rounds
- I didn't like the fact that there were less upgrade action spots available than players on the table (so 1 player per round could not upgrade their workers at all), not sure if that limitation is needed


As probably clear already from the big list of positive points above, Chimera Station ended up being my favorite game we played at the convention. I think it definitely deserves and will get more attention in the board game community. I still didn't buy it for now, as I would like to see more reviews on the game first to get other objective opinions, before I add another heavier Euro Game to my collection.

Initial Rating: 9/10
 
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8. Board Game Event: Spiel 2017
Stephan Kadow
Germany
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To be continued ...

Too tired to continue writing for now - but I will most likely continue during the next days.
 
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