Essen 2007: A 3 Week Retrospective of the Great, the So-So, and the Disappointments
Ted Alspach
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It's been about three weeks since Essen Spiel 2007 ended, and during that time I've continued the Essen experience by playing games from the show. Some have been great, some have been horrendous. And 15 of them have still not been played, three weeks later.

Of course, looking at my most recent list, I still have 13 games purchased at Essen 2005 that I haven't played (including Indonesia for some really odd reason), and 12 games from Essen 2006 I haven't played.

Here's a quick recap of the games of Essen 2007:

First, the games I've played that I think are great:
Tzaar, League of Six, Wabash Cannonball, Gipsy King, Oregon, Felix: The Cat in the Sack, Ubongo Extreme, 1960: The Making of the President, Caylus Limited Edition

Then, the games I'm so-so on:
Giganten, cuba, hamburgum, Utopia, Wurfel Bingo, Ziegen Kriegen, Year of the Dragon, Agricola

Then, the games I'm disappointed with:
Origin of Failing Water, Amyitis, Brass, Laborigines, Container, AoS: Pittsburgh/Southern US, Bulp!

That still leaves a whole bunch that I haven't played yet (as of 11/10/07). Here they are in the order I want to play them (they aren't in this GL):
Galaxy Trucker
King of Siam
Antler Island
Key Harvest
Chinatown (new to me)
The Circle
All those Japon Brand games (whoops)
4 in 1 (haven't played any of them except Mu)
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1. Board Game: TZAAR [Average Rating:7.68 Overall Rank:339] [Average Rating:7.68 Unranked]
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Tzaar was a game I planned on buying as soon as I knew it existed. Even though I wasn't that big of a fan of Punct, I absolutely love Dvonn and Zertz, with Yinsh being a favorite as well.

I actually had fairly low expectations after reading a description of the game, but after 10 plays (my first "dime" of Essen 2007), I believe this is the best game in the series, and my favorite of the show.

The choices are simple to grasp, but they require you to look ahead one or two turns, and in addition to simple tactical "where should I move" decisions there's a great short term strategy component: should I invest in one or two towers that will go out and strike fear in my opponent's heart, or should I focus on zapping as many of his pieces as I can each turn? The answer is somewhere in between, but the range you can fall into here is huge, and you really do control your destiny in many ways. Any GIPF series player who gives this a few plays is going to love it.

Downsides to this game: (1) only two players can play and (2) Gooberheads who "don't play abstracts" won't ever be convinced to give this a play.

10 plays, 4 at Essen and 6 afterwards.
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2. Board Game: League of Six [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:1189]
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League of Six takes the Amun-Re/Vegas Showdown auction and makes it SO much better because it adds a few twists: it costs to move between individual auctions, and paying the player you're beating for the auction (with even a small twist on that) can give them the upper hand even if you end up securing the better spot.

The arrow tiles that are placed at the beginning of each of the six rounds are all unique and interesting, and depending on the situation the number of arrows doesn't always make for the most valuable tile. This seems like it will have a lot of replayability, too.

3 plays of this game after Essen (2 with 5 players, 1 with 4 players), and a lot more to come.
 
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3. Board Game: Chicago Express [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:362]
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Oh, Wabash wabash.

The components are Winsome-ugly (though in a strange twist, the 2007 Winsome AoS maps are somewhat decent looking for a change, see that entry below for details), but the minimalist design doesn't detract too much for a fast, super-engaging decisionfest.

Victory or defeat is determined by the slightest of margins, with the winner typically winning by $1-$5. It's all about optimizing your moves each turn to benefit yourself, and take value away from your opponents.

Downsides to this game: (1) the map/scoreboard/shares/money are horrid eyesores, as is expected from Winsome, and (2) JC (Clearclaw) has been raving about this game since before he played it, which tends to set off warning bells.

I've addressed both of those issues by (1) redoing the map/chart myself (I'll bring my prettified copy along to BGG.con to play there) and using poker chips for money, and (2) not playing Wabash Cannonball with JC.

Four plays after Essen (3 players, 4 players twice, 6 players).
 
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4. Board Game: Gipsy King [Average Rating:6.59 Overall Rank:2575]
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I like Factory Fun, but that's not why I picked up a copy of Gipsy King. Initially, upon seeing it at the booth in Essen, I liked the big chunky RVs and modular board, but it seemed kind of boring. Saturday night in my hotel room I was reading about BGN's Eric playing this three times in a row, and I thought to myself "gee, if mr busybody editor stopped his sucking up to publishers long enough to play THREE games of this, I should check it out."

But instead of sitting through a demo or anything, as soon as I saw those big chunky bright wood RVs, I decided I was going to buy it.

What a great game it is, too! It's almost too simple: Players take turns placing RVs near lakes, passing to give them opportunity to place first at the next lake. There are two rounds, with scoring for majority surrounding lakes with fish and the sum of all your groups of caravans. Simple simple, but lots of great decisions in a game that takes less than 30 minutes.

3 plays after Essen, all with four players.
 
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5. Board Game: Oregon [Average Rating:6.78 Overall Rank:986]
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Even though there were no English rules to this, the cowboy meeples (yes, that's right, meeples with cowboy hats) and area control mechanisms combined with simplistic play caused me to pick up a copy of this. I didn't see a demo at Essen, I just watched a few turns of a game, and decided that this was my kind of game.

And it is my kind of game!!

The board is divided into five columns and rows, each player has "location" cards and "building" cards. Play two location cards and place a cowboy meeple at either intersection of the two cards, or play a building card and a location card to place that building in a row or column of that location. And score points as you place things. Simple, straightforward, lots of interesting decisions controlled by the cards you have.

3 plays: 1 two player, 2 four player, all after Essen.
 
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6. Board Game: Felicity: The Cat in the Sack [Average Rating:6.61 Overall Rank:1087]
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Due to a nationwide green chip shortage, the English copies of Felix weren't available at Essen. Aside from the rules, however, it is language independent (unlike cats, who prefer to be talked to in French). After a quick overview of rules from Friedemann, I picked up a copy.

Patrick Korner (everyone should have a Patrick with them in Germany when at Essen...it makes learning games that don't have English rules quite pleasant) walked us through the German rules and we played a three player game which I enjoyed. All of us realized that the game would be much better with more players, however, and I did manage to get in another two games at Essen with 5, which indeed were better.

A great bidding bluffing game that I really enjoy.

5 plays, 3 at Essen. 3 with five players, 2 with 3 players.
 
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7. Board Game: Ubongo Extreme [Average Rating:6.83 Overall Rank:1517]
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Having played "baby" Ubongo (what you need to call the original, square version once you've played this one) several times in the last year or so, I planned on getting this sight unseen.

The scoring is a little different, allowing more focus on the patterns and less on how to optimize your score.

But the game, in moving from squares to triangles, is SO much harder. It's crazy hard on the "four" piece side, sometimes so much that none of the four players finish before the (now much longer) timer runs out. But it's a good hard. I won't be able to play Baby Ubongo anymore, as I've moved on to the man's version of the game. The title is PERFECT for this game.

4 plays, 2 at Essen. All with four players.
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8. Board Game: 1960: The Making of the President [Average Rating:7.59 Overall Rank:157]
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I picked up a copy of this from Zev on Tuesday, because Jeremiah and myself were sitting around waiting for my AoS Maps to show up (of course, they did right about the time we had the game set up and ready to play).

I love political topics, and this game is overflowingly rich with theme. I had never played Twilight Struggle (I'd like to, but a combination of the theme not appealing to me and my general dislike of two player wargames kept me away), but this definitely seemed like something I'd like.

It plays in less than 90 minutes (maybe even faster if both players know the rules), and there are great decisions and a nice feeling of really being in a presidential campaign.

2 plays, 1 at Essen. 1 loss as Nixon, 1 win as Nixon.
 
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9. Board Game: Caylus [Average Rating:7.83 Overall Rank:45]
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Caylus Limited Edition absolutely rocks. I was going to get this anyway, but when I saw the box at the Ystari booth, I started drooling uncontrollably. The art, the quality of the tiles, the money...oh, the money. This is an awesome version of a great game.

1 play after Essen with three players.
 
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10. Board Game: Airships [Average Rating:6.42 Overall Rank:1624]
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I happened to see these being made at LudoFact prior to the show, and the great art on the boxes made me want to get this regardless of the mechanics. Which is a good thing, 'cause if someone had described the game to me I certainly wouldn't have been interested in it (dice! yuck!).

But I've played it once now, and I did enjoy it. Not enough to play it again since Essen, but I'm sure it will come out again...

1 play at Essen, three players.
 
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11. Board Game: Cuba [Average Rating:7.16 Overall Rank:418]
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This is one of the first games I played at Essen, and I remember enjoying it quite a bit. That said, I haven't had the urge to bring it out again. It's *not* like PR, despite the shipping of goods and the similarly shaped island in the Carribean.

1 play at Essen.
 
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12. Board Game: Hamburgum [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:689]
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Played this once with "A random English dude" who crushed us. I was pretty tired, and didn't really "get it" until a good way through the game (rules overload is the cause, I think). But it was fun and seemed like it would have some replay value.

1 play at Essen, 4 or 5 players (so tired I'm not quite sure).
 
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13. Board Game: Utopia [Average Rating:6.34 Overall Rank:2775]
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I didn't like Khronos at all, but this was a lot of fun to play. The big scary box was intimidating, but I did enjoy the game I played. It was early on in the show and I might have been more impressionable due to the fancy components, but I liked this. Just not enough to play it again once I returned to the states.

1 play at Essen, five players.
 
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14. Board Game: Würfel Bingo [Average Rating:6.58 Overall Rank:3048]
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Patrick taught this to us in the booth on Saturday, and I immediately went to go pick up a copy. I almost picked up a second copy, but then I realized that I could make sheets for more players (and that I did, and made English scoresheets with all three rounds on the same page).

A fast, entertaining game that no one seems to like as much as me. Good I didn't buy a second copy...

4 plays, 2 at Essen and 2 after (with 5 players once too, using my scoresheets)
 
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15. Board Game: Ziegen Kriegen [Average Rating:6.13 Overall Rank:3021]
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I'm a sucker for Amigo Card games. Really. I have most of them, always looking for the next Geschenkt.

I've played Geschenkt, and this is no Geschenkt.

But that said, it certainly is better than last year's Elephant in a China Shop disaster.

2 plays, both at Essen.
 
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16. Board Game: In the Year of the Dragon [Average Rating:7.40 Overall Rank:220]
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I love Notre Dame. This is a good follow up, but it doesn't have the Notre Dame "thing" that Notre Dame has, but it has a similar feel.

1 play at Essen when really sleepy (3 players), 1 play with mangled rules following Essen (5 players).
 
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17. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:8.02 Overall Rank:17]
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I'm a English-only snob. There, I've said it. I just don't want to play Agricola again until I have a "real" English version. There's (I think) a really fun engine/game there, but struggling through the translation was exceedingly painful on my first and only play, and knowing that there's going to be translation required makes me not want to play it.

Go Zev, get this thing published and I'll buy a copy. Until then, I probably won't even play it (unless maybe if someone has a game with snazzy paste-ups).

1 play after Essen, three players "Family style"
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18. Board Game: Origin of Failing Water [Average Rating:5.62 Overall Rank:11828]
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This was supposed to be AWESOME! The idea of playing tricks in reverse, then working through them in the right order seemed really super cool.

But the awfully funny and just plain awful rules made learning the game painful (fun, in a painful way), and the game just didn't work.

1 play after Essen with 4 people, game abandoned about 4/5's of the way through.
 
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19. Board Game: Amyitis [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:796]
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I love Ystari games. Every one of em. Especially Ys, from Cyril, who also designed Amyitis. But this seemed SO convoluted. It's the first "miss" from Ystari. Felt a little too much like busy work and not as fun at it should have been.

1 play, 3 players, after Essen.
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20. Board Game: Brass: Lancashire [Average Rating:8.01 Overall Rank:34]
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After sitting in the booth (Bezier shared it with Warfrog) for four days listening to Brass explained again and again by the Warfrog Army, I figured it would have seeped into my subconscious a little. Nope, didn't happen.

I read the rules, played a few sample turns, and was still really confused.

Eventually my group played, and I had a pretty terrible time of it. I should like this game, really, but there were so many exceptions and fiddly rules that it just didn't work for me. Once the bad taste has gone away, I'll give it another try.

And I know it's been said before, but those rules are not good. Eeek.

1 play after Essen, four players.
 
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21. Board Game: Laborigines [Average Rating:5.45 Overall Rank:12624]
Ted Alspach
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Louisville
Tennessee
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This is my own fault. I bought all four of the Czech board games (2 from each company) since last year I only bought Graenland (still haven't played it) and NOT Through the Ages.

And they had people playing this, and the components are HUGE. And very cool, from the giant head to the player clay pieces. It looks awesome. But boy oh boy it is not my type of game. Yuck yuck yuck.

1 play (with my kids, who liked it more than I did), three players, after Essen.
 
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22. Board Game: Container [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:583]
 
Ted Alspach
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I didn't have the benefit of having Miss Canada teach this to me personally, unfortunately...

The components really kind of, well, aren't that good. The ships are made out of some material that looks like soap but is heavier. And they're a little unfinished looking and not the right colors. And the little boards are warped. The game itself seems like it should be something I like, and I'll definitely be giving it another shot, but the game I played almost locked up, with two players unable to play due to loans and no cash.

1 play with 3 players after Essen. Next play with be with 4 or 5.
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23. Board Game: Age of Steam Expansions: Southern US & Pittsburgh [Average Rating:7.50 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.50 Unranked]
Ted Alspach
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I really like Age of Steam, if you haven't noticed, and John Bohrer's maps tend to be really really good. I thought last year's Canada map was really innovative and a great way to have 6 players. But these two maps just didn't work for me.

The Pittsburgh map really requires a lot of sharp curves to be built, and there are only 7 in the box (and AoS is tile limited). After the third turn, all of us were constantly frustrated by that limitation, so much that we really didn't enjoy the game. I like the idea behind the "Pay $10 for straight sections" but the tile limitation killed it for me.

The Southern US map had several unique elements that just didn't seem to mesh well together, and First Build has very little value on turn one relative to most maps (something most folks probably won't realize until it is too late).

The good news about these maps is that they're full color, not those icky white hexes with shapes to indicate terrain. That makes them keepers for me.
 
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24. Board Game: Bulp! [Average Rating:5.20 Overall Rank:14062]
Ted Alspach
United States
Louisville
Tennessee
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This was a painful experience to play. I like connection games, this seemed like it would be fun, but that was not at all the case.

1 play, 3 players, couldn't wait until it was over....
 
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