Back from Essen - and some mini-reviews: Cavum, Diamonds Club, Name of the Rose
Simon
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Just back from 4 days at Essen - these are some of the good games I played while I was there, and I will spare you the blow-by-blow descriptions of what I ate and which booths were crowded. Suffice to say that this year Essen coincided with a lot of school holidays and so Thursday and Friday were more crowded than in the previous 2 years.

It's still a wonderful experience.
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1. Board Game: The Name of the Rose [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:1513]
Simon
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For day 1 (Confucious and Machu Picchu) please see my first day's report: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/35937
DAY 2
Fiirstly, it's completely different to Mystery of the Abbey, and I haven't played Heimlich and Co. so I can't judge whether it is similar or not. It's a clever game - players are each given a secret card identifying them as one of 6 monks in the Abbey. They must try to help their monk while not revealing who they are to anyone by their moves. They play cards to move monks of different colours around the board to one of many different possible locations in the abbey (denoted in latin, and hence the game has no in-game foreign text). On each location are 2 small different, randomly allocated chits each with a number and a colour matching that of a monk. If the monk you move matches that colour, you get the chit - one chit handed in later delays the day's end by an hour, an can prevent you from being the last to move in a day, which otherwise brings a victory point (VP) penalty. So picking up the chits is important. If the monk moved does not match either of the 2 chits, then his counter receives suspicion points on a suspicion scale going round the edge of a half of the board. Suspicion eventually translates into VP penalty points.
An alternative move is to move the big brown monk (he's William, the monk detective of the book) or little monk Adso (detective helper). Big monk in a room with other monk/s = increase in that monk/s VP penalty. Small monk (Adso) in same location as other monks = increase in that monk/s suspicion points.
Every play of a card (except moving Adso) adds time to the time clock, denoted by a circle and a cube which tracks the hours. As time ticks on, you approach the end of the day and it gets tactical to avoid being the one who passes midnight and therefore has to take the event card which is a two point VP penalty. However, once someone takes the card, the day ends. So what we have at this point is a spread of counters on a suspicion chart, according to how many times the monks of each colour have gained suspicion points by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then these suspicions are transferred to the VP chart - the most suspicious monk receives 5 VP penalty points, the least zero.
At the end of the game, each player guesses what colour monk each other player really is. Getting the guess right (which is not as obvious as it may seem) nets that player who is found out more VP penalties; .

Then the player who has the least VP penalties is the winner.

I found it a good, interactive game which was fun to play, while not being Earth Shattering. Probably very suitable for playing with your friends and maybe not brilliant for gamers.

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2. Board Game: Diamonds Club [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:971]
Simon
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This Rudiger Dorn design was one of the best games at Essen, in my opinion.
Each player has a board showing a park which must be filled with different tiles (pavilions, an Orangerie, animal areas, trees...). The objective of the game is to fill the park as quickly and as best you can, with VPs being given for having one of each type of major object, for being the first to collect a set (å la Thurm und Taxis), etc.
The various types of object are obtained by paying jewels, and each item becomes more expensive each time it is puchased in a round - although fortunately only one object type can be bought per round per player (aprt from trees). So the first person to buy a pavilion will play 2 jewels, the second will pay 3, etc.
So how are jewels obtained?
Each round everyone starts with zero pounds, but receives at least 10 pounds to spend (in the form of plastic pound coins).
The board contains 10 strips of cards which slot into it to form a grid of squares, each with different symbols on. Each round teh strips are removed, shuffled with spare strips, and put back - and sinceeach strip is double sided, teh board changes every round.
Players take turns to place their pound on a square. The squares contain shiops, licences to sail, and jewels: one of each is required to get a batch of jewels of one of 5 colours; the number of jewels is determined by numbers on the squares claimed. Squares with lower numbers allow you to take a number of steps on a scale ; at the end of the round, the highest on this scale gets first turn to buy items, which is a significant advantage. And so one must choose often between going first and getting better options on jewels.
Apart from jewels, there are 3 ways in which a player can increase one of three sliding scales on their own board. One scale gives you more coins at the start of the round, and hence possibly more turns, the 2nd allows you to get a free jewel or later a free joker jewel (a diamond) wen you get jewels; and the third allows you t increase the number of VPs you get per ordinary tree (trees are cheap!)

Each square on the grid costs 1 pound if no one else has placed a coin orthogonally next to it. However, for each pound placed next to it you must pay one pound extra for a square - meaning as the round proceeds, things can get expensive.

After all squares are allcated, players cash in for jewels, and then buy the appropriate tiles, again with costs going up as each player before you buys the thing you are after.

The game ends when one person's park is full, and then VPs are added.

Multiple strategies, a lot of interaction, fast player turns because short-term decisions are quite light...make for an excellent game. Someone said its as good as Goa but without the faults. Only criticism is the board and especially the plastic coins and jewels which were quite cheap feeling.

If you don't mind the components, strongly recommended!

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3. Board Game: Cavum [Average Rating:6.74 Overall Rank:1573]
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This game is truly a good one, but rather complicated to explain!
Briefly, the board shows a mountain filled with blank hexagons, and surrounded by a number of cities of differing number of hexagons at the bottom.
Players start each round with 3 station cubes, 5 tunnel tiles, 2 option tiles which can be cashed in for station cubes, tunnel tiles, or VPs; a dynamite tunnel tile, and a prospector tile which is played last of all.
On a player's go, he can play 1-4 of his tiles or cubes. He may build tunnels from a station to a city or to another city, but all tunnels may be used by all players, Thus tunnel routes are built up, and players may place station cubes on desirable intersections which then block everyone else from passing through that tile. Players may also place - in fact, have at least one they MUST place - dynamite tiles which blow up the surrounding six hexagons at the end of every turn, unless the hexagons have mines or stations on them.
Finally players may place a vein tile on the board, choose 4 gemstones to place on it of one of 6 colours.

Why?

Well, at the start of each round, first player turn is auctioned off. Then the first player chooses one "order tile" which is worth around 15-30 VPs, and must be fulfilled by paying the appropriate gemstones. So gems are needed to gain VPs. Orders not fulflled at the end of the game lead to penalties of 2 or 3 VPs.

Since each player may play 1-4 of his tiles or cubes per turn, some players will finish their 12th turn - which is the prospecting turn - first. This gives them first chance to get jewels from the various mines that players have built - which can be important when there are only a few left - but also makes him more susceptible to having his routes dynamited!

Prospecting consists of tracing a path which starts and ends at a station all the way along any legal tunnels....and each mine which is passed by yeilds one jewel. Making nice complicated trails to take in as many mines as possible is important, also bypassing other players stations is mandatory to make sure you are succesful. So, lots to do and think about.

When everyone has prospected, the cities are scored. If you have a station in a city, you score VP = no. of empty (unconnected) city hexes. So if you make an effort to get to a far city you can score up to 7 VPs.
Then dynamite explodes...removing some of the tiles, which is lovely to see.
Then colour by colour, each of the gems may be sold back to the market. There are 9 of each colour gem - as gems are placed on mines, they become rarer and are worth more. Players bid a number less than or equal to the current market value; an overbid is in fact bidding less than the last player to sell your gems. What is important here is that rare gems - eg when only one player has picked a few up - can be worth a lot of VPs: in our game, once player had 3 gems, and all others were on mines: he sold 3 ems for 2 x 9 - 27 VPs - and won the game. Something to watch out for.
Lastly, orders are fulfilled and bring VPs.
Then the round starts again. 3 rounds and the game is over.

Cavum is an excellent game, with train game aspects as well as some nice auctioning and a lot of back stabbing. Like Age of Steam, and many train games, it is susceptible to Analysis Paralysis! Thoroughly recommended.

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