Games I Played At Essen 2008
Andy Parsons
United Kingdom
CHELMSFORD
Essex
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This is the fourth annual list of games I played at Essen.

The usual health warning applies. These are first impressions, based on games played after somebody's quick read through of the rules or an explanation on the stand. Mistakes may have been made.

A second health warning: I've been gaming since the mid-seventies, own more than 200 games and have played hundreds more. Playtesting prototypes has made me critical and ornery. I don't excite easily. If you're highly strung or prone to depression, it may be best to stop reading now.
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1. Board Game: Bloom [Average Rating:6.49 Overall Rank:4560]
Andy Parsons
United Kingdom
CHELMSFORD
Essex
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Inside the twee packaging is a game that gives the brain cells a bit of a workout. Each player gets a deck of (?) 4x4 gridded tiles, with varying numbers of squares containing blooms of their player colour. On your turn you add a tile to the field on the table. You want to cover (and steal) other players' blooms while increasing the size of your own field. A requirement is to expand the size of the field, so you can't completely cover another tile. Added complications are figures for the farmer, his pet and a garden ornament that prevent sections of tiles from being covered.

Scoring is for sets of different coloured blooms sold, for squares of your colour at game end, for the largest field and for the section of lawn (non-flower squares) bordering your ornament. My one gripe is that turn order is determined by number of flower squares - the player with the fewest takes turns until someone else has the fewest. This is fine when the numbers are in single digits, but the counting becomes a real chore when numbers are in the teens and twenties.

As befits the theme, the artwork is colourful and, er, twee. Production quality is OK.
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2. Board Game: Boss Kito [Average Rating:5.71 Overall Rank:9760]
Andy Parsons
United Kingdom
CHELMSFORD
Essex
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A light and fluffy card game from Michael Schacht. The players are junior gorillas offering gifts of bananas to the boss of their troop. In return they hope to gain "benefits" such as a tyre, stilts or a cool drink with a straw...

Banana cards come in five different suits and you start with a hand of five, plus three banana chits. On your turn you can play a card, play a chit on a card, draw a card, exchange cards or draw a chit. The round ends after everyone has had four turns. You then divide up the five available benefits (one per suit). Repeat for nine rounds. To score points you must have more of a type of benefit than anyone else.

As often with Schacht there's a little bit of depth beneath the simple exterior. Hand management is quite important, as is a poker face when confronted by someone else playing the same suit, and a memory for what others are collecting.
 
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3. Board Game: Cavum [Average Rating:6.74 Overall Rank:1574]
Andy Parsons
United Kingdom
CHELMSFORD
Essex
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Imagine a network building game in which players spend a thinky 11/12ths of their turn building routes connecting seams of gems and claiming ownership of key sections of route with "station" cubes. Now give each player a stick of dynamite to blow up the route tile it is placed on and all surrounding it (except seams and tiles with station markers). Are you sensing the futility of this game?
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4. Board Game: Dominion [Average Rating:7.67 Overall Rank:72] [Average Rating:7.67 Unranked]
Andy Parsons
United Kingdom
CHELMSFORD
Essex
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As everyone says, Dominion takes the idea of deck construction from CCG's and turns it into a game. It really isn't my style of game, being about efficiency and optimisation and having low levels of player interaction, at least with the suggested first game set-up we used. Having said that, I can appreciate the cleverness of this design, it plays fast and I can see myself not objecting to playing it several times this year. I may even grow to like it.
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5. Board Game: Ghost Stories [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:191]
Andy Parsons
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CHELMSFORD
Essex
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Ghost Stories is a cooperative game in which the players are Chinese monks trying to defend a village against the Lord of the Nine Hells and his evil minions, with such unlikely weapons as sticky rice and incense. Top marks to Repos for the original theme and for some nice artwork to go with it (the image is of my favourite card).

Ghost Stories ratchets up the tension nicely from the very start and it is not long before the monks are fighting for their lives. This appears to be one tough system to beat. The down side is that turns feel very samey; maybe move, then take an action or fight a monster.
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6. Board Game: Heads of State [Average Rating:6.14 Overall Rank:3896]
Andy Parsons
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CHELMSFORD
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Imagine a game like Kardinal und Konig/Web of Power. Except that instead of a choice of three cards to draw from, you're given a choice of six. And one type of card is wild. And each type of card has multiple uses. Difficult decisions about card selection are all eliminated. Now increase the playing time from a snappy 45 minutes to a bloated 90 to 120 minutes. Oh dear.
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7. Board Game: Die Jagd nach dem Gral [Average Rating:5.41 Overall Rank:12914]
Andy Parsons
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CHELMSFORD
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This is last year's re-issue of an old Eric Solomon game that has previously appeared as Conspiracy, The Sigma File, Casablanca and Agent. Eight characters struggle for control of the Grail, while the players secretly invest influence in them. Should someone propose to move a character you've invested in in a way you don't approve of, you can challenge them to an influence bidding match. A character moved onto the same space as another is vulnerable to being eliminated if someone declares at least 10 influence in the other character.

Since I won our game, I'll not suggest that Jagd nach dem Gral is a bit of a luckfest.
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8. Board Game: Kraków 1325 AD [Average Rating:6.46 Overall Rank:3043]
Andy Parsons
United Kingdom
CHELMSFORD
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At heart, this is a partnership trick-taker for exactly four players. Add to that an area control game, with the placement of pieces (number and location) dictated by the card that wins the trick. Add to that secret identities, with each player wanting a different suit to win the most tricks. So there's a fair bit to think about. Krakow plays quite nicely, but there are a couple of problems.

The first is the shear amount of information on each card: its base value, its value in supporting a card of each suit, its value in opposing, how many cubes to place if it wins a trick and where to put them, possibly a special power, and finally how much it will score for its secret owner if it wins a trick. That's just too much.

The second problem is that if the game lasted a single game year - 28 tricks (about an hour with scoring) - it would be just fine. However, Krakow needs a second year to balance out the luck of the deal. There's even the option of a third. 84 tricks? Three hours?

Compliments are due for the jolly card artwork and the overall production quality of this first game from a new publisher.
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9. Board Game: Monuments: Wonders of Antiquity [Average Rating:6.41 Overall Rank:3581]
Andy Parsons
United Kingdom
CHELMSFORD
Essex
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A nice twist on Rummy, with players drawing cards and melding sets of the same suit (monument). There are 12 different suits.

The twist is that you also have three pieces representing historians. You can declare your turn a history turn rather than draw and play cards. When this happens, the player takes a card from every opponent's meld that has two or more cards. The total number of cards taken is marked on a track and vp's are awarded at the end of the game for taking the most. Failing to use all your historians draws a significant vp penalty. So you need to closely watch what other players are doing and how quickly the draw deck is diminishing.

Losing cards that have been melded is not all bad because for every card lost, the game end vp's for most cards in that suit melded are increased.

I liked this game, but baulked at paying E25 for a card game with poor quality cards and a set of score tracks.
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10. Board Game: The Name of the Rose [Average Rating:6.76 Overall Rank:1514]
Andy Parsons
United Kingdom
CHELMSFORD
Essex
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Name of the Rose reminded me somewhat of the classic Heimlich and Co. In both games players have secret identities and try to manoeuvre their character into a winning position without giving away who they are. Having made that comparison, it must be said that Name of the Rose is a rather more complex game.

On your turn you play a card to move a monk from one building in the monastery to another. If a task awaits him in his new location, represented by a chit of his colour, suspicion in that monk reduces. If there is no reason for him to be there, suspicion increases. A number on each card tells you how many hours pass when it is played. At the end of each of seven days, suspicion converts into evidence. The character with the least evidence against him at game end is the winner. There is a bit more to the game than that, but that's the core of it. I quite enjoyed my game, but felt it ran a bit long. We found the 75 minutes quoted on the game page a very conservative estimate.

I liked the artwork in this one, particularly the images of the monks. However, we did have some difficulty distinguishing grey cards from white. There is German text on some event tiles, but a crib sheet and a rules translation would make the Ravensburger edition perfectly playable by non-German speakers.
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11. Board Game: Powerboats [Average Rating:6.72 Overall Rank:1325]
Andy Parsons
United Kingdom
CHELMSFORD
Essex
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Dicey boat racing game with islands to avoid, buoys to round, and opponents' boats always seeming to get in the way. There's a significant chunk of luck in hitting just the right space, but some degree of control over the number of dice you use and how many of them you (re-)roll. It seemed to me that the most distinctive thing about this game was the three-sided dice (which aren't).
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12. Board Game: Snow Tails [Average Rating:6.99 Overall Rank:600]
Andy Parsons
United Kingdom
CHELMSFORD
Essex
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A sled racing game in which cards are played to alter the speed of your two dogs or to apply or release your break. Steering is by drift, achieved by playing a higher value card on one dog than on the other. A generous set of track tiles allows for set ups of variable shapes and difficulties. A solid effort from the Lamonts, albeit a bit prone to the luck of the draw.
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13. Board Game: Strozzi [Average Rating:6.75 Overall Rank:1691]
Andy Parsons
United Kingdom
CHELMSFORD
Essex
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Knizia remodels ideas from Medici. The result is a perfectly OK game, but as someone who owns and loves Medici, I didn't feel the need to own this one too. Apparently a fourth in the Medici/Medici v Strozzi/ Strozzi series (to be called Bardi) is planned.

The components are all serviceable, though the board is quite ugly.
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14. Board Game: Sutter's Mill [Average Rating:6.17 Overall Rank:4512]
Andy Parsons
United Kingdom
CHELMSFORD
Essex
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The theme of this one is prospecting and mining for gold during the California gold rush. The gold nuggets you unearth are both vp's and the currency you need to spend to take actions (with cost escalating a la Amun-Re the more actions you wish to take). As important as getting those nuggets is gaining influence in various businesses in town. This not only gives you special powers, but increases the effectiveness of your mining efforts. So far, so-so. The interesting element of Sutter's Mill is that the game changes when about two thirds of the gold seam has been mined. You need to remove your prospectors and that influence in businesses to score vp's and avoid penalty points at the end. Overall, we had some fun with this. Not a bad game at all.
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15. Board Game: Sylla [Average Rating:6.78 Overall Rank:1218]
Andy Parsons
United Kingdom
CHELMSFORD
Essex
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There's a lot going on in Sylla; a consular election, auctions of stuff, character drafting, threats to be defeated, famine rising, and monuments to build. Essentially, this is a series of rounds of bidding using a variety of methods (in the fist, once round etc.) and currencies (character influence alone or combined with money). Yet for our group it didn't seem to gel and added up to considerably less than the sum of its parts. Hard to put a finger on exactly why we found this one no fun, so I'll be interested to read others' comments.
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16. Board Game: Witch of Salem [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:1543]
Andy Parsons
United Kingdom
CHELMSFORD
Essex
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Imagine Arkham Horror so streamlined as to cut its playing time in half, with artwork and production up to the usual Kosmos standards.

This one falls down where Ghost Stories excels; in turning up the tension. Perhaps we were lucky, but at no point in our game did we feel in serious danger of defeat. And defeating Great Cthulhu really ought to be more difficult than presenting him with a set of three identical objects. In summary quite fun, fairly thematic, but too easy.

Non-German speakers should note that there's lots of text in this game. If you can't find a German to play with as we did, it might be best to wait for the English language edition.
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