Essen 2008 - Shipping Cubes for Martin Wallace and other Highlights!
ian smith
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Okay - so we got back last night - exhausted and elated in equal measures. Over the course of the 4 days our group played in excess of 100 games, drank a similar quantity of beer and uncovered some new classics, hidden gems and discovered a few much hyped disappointments.
<p>
We experienced many highs, some lows and much frustration. We found ourselves playing real life age of steam as we shipped cubes for Martin Wallace, did our best to find something redeeming in Le Havre and discovered that when Orks meet Knights - much rubber sword violence ensues.
<p>
Listed below is the chronological list of games that I personally played and my reasoned view of each.
<p>
Other games played by the group but missed by me would include:
<p>
Galaxy Trucker - "Fun and Silly"
<p>
Chicago Express - "Beautiful and Challenging" Game of the Week for some
<p>
Municipium - "Elegant"
<p>
Ghost Stories - "Good for a Cooperative Game"
<p>
Sylla - "Abstract and Enjoyable"
<p>
Cavum - "Too Drunk to Understand the Rules"
<p>
Le Havre - "Huge Disappointment"
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1. Board Game: Snow Tails [Average Rating:6.99 Overall Rank:600]
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The first game I played, I found myself at the Ghost Stories stand, glad to be unable to play the latest cooperative hype. I myself have never been a fan of cooperative games, thus three of our group were delighted to find it only played four. We looked left and saw the Lamont Brothers.

I had actually play tested this game some months ago and been utterly frustrated by the complexities in maneuvering my sled. The completed version solved all my concerns.

The game involves players trying to race their Husky led sled around a track, navigating corners, each other and speed limits. The drive mechanism is nice, as players are required to play cards of one type onto either or both of the husky dogs pulling the sled. Only cards of equal value can be played, thus in order to have a balanced sled you need to manage your hand sensibly. By applying weight to one dog, you can drift across lances and around corners, herein lies the skill.

The game play was fast and fluid, unlike the playtest which lasted several hours, we were complete a 5 sled race in less than 25 mins, sadly I lost out to a mildly devious german lady who actually miscounted her last hand and sneaked a victory by one place, It was the first day and I graciously congratulated her success.

From what i could see the game had proved immensely popular and I believe had sold out by the end of the show.

I would award it a solid 6 out of 10 but it wasnt enough to make me buy it!
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2. Board Game: Kamisado [Average Rating:6.97 Overall Rank:1088]
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Now this was an interesting one, I had the opportunity of playing the games creator whilst waiting for my friends to finish off at Ghost Story. I love classic games and this falls somewhere between Go and Checkers. The game involves forcing moves on your opponent by activating their coloured pieces, in the hope they will activate those that you have positioned into winning spaces. It was an unmitigated joy, I almost won my debut game, losing out at the last minute after I failed to notice an unprotected space. I decided to hold off on buying it as I felt the box and build was frankly twice the size it should have been. If you think of the LoftR Confrontation and then think about the deluxe version, you'll see what I mean. This should have been pitched as a kosmos 2 player sized game, if it had been I imagine they would have poured off the shelves. It is a cracking mind melting 2 player affair but utterly un-portable.

I popped back on the last day to play with one of my group, he loved it too but neither of us could bring ourselves to buy the garish big box beast - we will undoubtedly rush for the travel edition if/when it comes out!

A Solid 7.7 for me. Great Stuff, shame it was so big, fat and ugly!
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3. Board Game: Wasabi! [Average Rating:6.55 Overall Rank:1185]
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It was a mere Hop Step and a Jump over to Z-Man games to play test the much hyped Wasabi.

First off the components are as gorgeous in real life as they appeared to be in the pictures, shame the game isn't really up to much. Imagine Alhambra with hidden set collection. It's a nice game n'all but really didnt tax any of us, the fun was really in watching the board fill up with tasty sushi concoctions.

It played quickly and was very easy to pick up, alas it left no lasting impression. That said, I did decide on the last day to grab a copy as I imagined that my step kids would have loved it, if only because they all love sushi - alas I was too late as Z-Man sold out on the Saturday. Expect this to fly high in the charts until the serious gamers start rating it as it deserves.

Its a 5/10 I'm afraid!
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4. Board Game: After the Flood [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:1653]
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The highlight of Day One for Me .... having already sent my press passed friend off first thing in the morning to grab me both of the new Wallace releases, I had also popped along first thing to try and get a table, alas Martin's stand was a disaster, games everywhere, no space and noone seeming able or willing to sort it out. I tried to convince one chap to let me play this on a table earmarked for a game that noone wanted to play, alas game designer ego prevailed and I was refused. Martin asked me to return later ... we did, it was still a nightmare.

Having watched the guys at the warfrog/jklm stand make an utter arse of resolving the play area, my friend Andy and I found ourselves taking charge of the situation by actually reorganizing the entire "shop". I spent about an hour lugging games to and from storage areas, My wife coordinated the table clearing and Andy was actually found to be moving furniture onto Vans.

As this was at the height of the busiest day, on some occasions we had to take secuitous routes to our destinations, I myself detouring through Valley Games to get to a storage facility that was a mere 10 feet from my starting position. On these various journeys we could not work out why occasional cheers or howls were to be heard, as we used routes belonging to other companies ... Andy pointed out that we were clearly pawns in a giant game of Age of Steam - and these stall holders were merely celebrating the income they were gaining, or mourning there losses as we Shipped Goods for Martin Wallace!

By the end of this we were all exhausted and frustrated, the hall was heaving and even Martin's own rules explanation couldnt help us, we struggled to come to terms with the games complexities, I had a disaster of a game losing by some 60 points to a winner scoring a mere 74.

Most of the game was elegant and challenging, we found the battles a little clunky but that may have been down to our own flawed strategy. my first impression would be that this was a 7 pointer but I may change my mind on that upwards!

7/10
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5. Board Game: Sushizock im Gockelwok [Average Rating:6.48 Overall Rank:1671]
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We returned to our hotel and cracked open this blind purchase - all I can say is ...... It's a belter. 9 of us played the game over the course of 2 hours and all of us purchased at least one copy.

It's fast, silly, filled with screwage and fun.

For what it is, and that is a fun filler, its as good as they come.

8/10
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6. Board Game: Steel Driver [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:957]
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Now this one had me moist in anticipation, I had purchased it earlier and cracked it in the hotel after dinner. It took us all of 5 minutes to realise that he had done it again. It immediately reminds you of both Brass and AoS, however the early bidding round adds a much needed fun and competitive edge which when married with the final resource collection stage, provides much tension and excitement.

It plays quickly and competitievly, 5 of us played 2 games in under 2 hours and we all loved it.

Clearly the game of the Show for me and a solid 9/10.
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7. Board Game: The Princes of Machu Picchu [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:1071]
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As we left Essen this one appeared to be winning the fair play award ...... I don't know how.

We had decided to spend the Friday camped at Rio Grande and play as many of their new games as possible, we started here. We popped the box, set up two tables of four and set off on what we thought would be 2 hours of intense resource collection and llama sacrifices.

At table 1 three of our group were quite excited, suggesting that if the game were a girl, they would definitely be thinking of inviting her back for coffee, our table were less impressed most of the opinion that, whilst she looked tasty, she was a bit of a clumsy bimbo.

The prince placement was clunky and the route to victory was unclear, you needed to be able to predict the outcome of random cards in order to be able to guarantee any success, movement around the board was slow and the game seemed to suffer from being fundamentally dull.

By the half way stage, table 1 had realised that she was a bit of a minger and were trying to find a bathroom window to escape through ... at our table we made our excuses and left early.

It's going to be another Agricola for me, looks great but has no intensity or excitement, I'm sure most will disagree.

5/10
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8. Board Game: Fast Flowing Forest Fellers [Average Rating:6.52 Overall Rank:1780]
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Low expectations for this one, chosen merely because our 5th player guest from Machu Pichu seemed reluctant to leave the table and we were left seeking a 5 player game, when we all fancied four player action.

We set up this very simple river rapids race game, our expectations lowered as we began tabling cards and raced down the river. We hit some rapids and had a few collisions, laughed a little then guffawed like children as we began screwing each over. 15 minutes in and we were having a ball, 10 minutes later we were tiring of being pushed around but still loving it every time we pushed an opponent into the rapids!

This is undoubtedly a fun filler which should not be taken remotely serious - it's no great shakes but certainly worth having in a game group library

6/10
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9. Board Game: A Castle for All Seasons [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:1035]
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Our 5th player had hated the river rapids so much he left our table and we grabbed this beautiful resource management game. we set up and compared it to both Caylus and Pillars. We enjoyed a concise rules explanation from Rio Grande and started playing, by round 3 we stopped, we had it appeared completed 1/4 of the game in less than 10 minutes .... shurely shome mishtake we thought!

Nope! This is meant to play in 30 minutes ... we couldnt believe it, it looks like it should take at least 90 ... we reconsidered our view, is it possible that someone has managed to cram Pillars of the Earth into 30 minutes and thrown in worker selection not dissimilar to Citadels .... yes it is true!

This game packs more punch for playtime than many I have experienced ... it had great simultaneous card play - each card able to cooperate or screw with opponents choices (hence the citadels comparison), multiple route to victory and it's gorgeous to boot.

We loved it, We Bought It

7.8/10
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10. Board Game: Master Builder [Average Rating:6.14 Overall Rank:4884]
 
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Day Three and we headed straight to Valley Games, we had hoped to grab a table at Super Nova but had to settle for Wolfgang Kramer's new game.

This was the most beautiful game I encountered at Essen, it is essentially a worker management game, where in players take control of a group of workers, each with an increasing number of skills and corresponding salary, furthermore each is disabled by one or more personally traits. Players bid for contracts, attempt to avoid the impact of worker strikes, fall outs and sickness and complete contracts for set prices, pay their workforce and start again.

The game is hysterical, the bidding competitive and the end result glorious, as each player actually uses the building components to create finished structures. Probably the funniest moment being when my friend Nick popped in to see how we were doing at precisely the same point as a German lady earwigged on what she thought was a rules explanation.

She stood at my right shoulder listening intently, as I grasping the Master Builder Guide began chatting to Nick about any number of things before finally finding myself explaining the rules to Hai Alarm, a bluffing game that three of us had played earlier.

I didn't witness the response, but am assured that her bemused look turned to one of utter disbelief as she began studying the game components and rule sheets to try and establish, where the bloody sharks were, how I intended to "Not Panic" and what on earth any of this had to do with Dolphins!

We played in 60 minutes, had a riot and bought the game. I must add that valley were by far the best organised of the companies we visited, they were tremendously helpful and well staffed .. hats off to all of them!

8/10
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11. Board Game: Confucius [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:1997]
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We played this because we couldnt grab a table get a seat at ascendancy. We had the pleasure of a Designer Tuition and started playing at 5pm on the penultimate day, this was not enough time to complete the game but was sufficient to allow us to establish that it was both elegant and challenging.

Players take the roles of Chinese Families attempting to glean influence in various parliamentary positions, in order to stage wars and carry out voyages for victory points. It is a rather abstract game and undoubtedly vicious, as players are able to gain influence - by means of gift giving - with other players. This can result in players being forced to vote for their opponents in areas they themselves are competing. This is not one for the faint hearted - my wife hated the game, I'm not sure if it was the abstract nature, slow progression or the fact that she felt slighted by her opponents choice of gift recipients. After one particularly nasty round, my friend actually refused to shake my hand after I forced him to fund my nephew at college, when he had spent his own resources gaining a college place for his own nephew.

4 of us loved it, 1 of us bought it!

8/10
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12. Board Game: Shark Alarm!!! [Average Rating:5.60 Overall Rank:11802]
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Bought this on spec, our group loves Cockroach Poker and as it was a mere 5 euros, we could hardly go wrong. We didn't. This filler involves players tabling one of two types of card (Sharks or Dolphins) face down, then trying to secure specific combos face up. You win the game by securing 3 more face up sharks than any opponent - "Shark Alarm", 7 face up dolphins "Dolphins at Sea", or by revealing 5 consecutive dolphins after someone has raised the "Shark Alarm!" - "Don't Panic!"

Cards are played face down and turned up by both the card player or opponent, resulting in cards being swapped, stolen or replaced randomly. This game was played repeatedly in groups of 3,4,5 and 6 and we all loved it.

Yet another simple bluffing game, well worth a look if your group is into such interaction

It doesnt score highly because it isn't terribly complex, that said for what it is, its fantastic

7/10
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13. Board Game: Kakerlakensuppe [Average Rating:6.10 Overall Rank:3946] [Average Rating:6.10 Unranked]
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Onion, Leek, Slurp, Mmmmhh, Slurp, Leek, Mushroom ..... BANANA!

What more can I say ... it's a drinking game and it was played drunk!

6/10
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14. Board Game: Tulipmania 1637 [Average Rating:6.17 Overall Rank:3507]
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This is a prototype of a game from BGwithScott.

The components were poor and the game area cramped, that said we all found it be a joy to play.

Players take the roll of Tulip investors, attempting to buy and sell tulips and influence the value of tulips on a stock market. In a bidding/action round - much like Knizia's bucket brigade, players have to spend the very action cards they want to push up the tulip's they like, thus whilst their favoured tulips become more valuable, their own investment therein diminishes.

We had a blast and would all have grabbed a copy had it been available.

We strongly recommend that the company consider a change to the cash used, as early round require small denominations whilst later rounds trade in 1000's. Scott if you read this, we suggest coins for the early stages and big notes for the latter!

A lovely little find

8/10

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15. Board Game: Go/Stop [Average Rating:6.19 Overall Rank:9087]
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Our group loves second guessing games and this simple little filler proved immensely popular, we actually played 7 rounds, having intended to only sit down for 5 minutes. It's quite old having been published in 2005 and is the simplest of concepts.

Players simultaneously play cards in order to secure points ranging from 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, unless someone wins 10, in which case 1 wins if secured. If players make identical moves, they are discounted and the bidding continues.

We loved it and we all bought a copy ... well I bought everyone a copy!

7/10
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