Essen 2008 - Strategic Gamer's review
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Hi there,

last year I was not able to attend the Spiel 2007 as I lived for one year in Australia. That was my first miss in almost 2 decades. However, I somehow participated when reading all your GeekLists covering the fair.

So now I return the favour to those that were not able to attend this year's fair.

To better understand my comments and thoughts, keep in mind that I have the following games in my Top10: AoR, Indonesia, R&B, T&E, 18XX, Imperial, TtA and Antiquity.

I discuss the games in the order that I played them, namely The Princes of Machu Picchu, Le Havre, Chicago Express, Confucius, Heads of State, Cavum, Comuni, Duck Dealer, Planet Steam and Diamonds Club.

Enjoy and feel free to comment or show your appreciation to my first GeekList.

Brokito

PS: Writing this GeekList requires more time than expected. Therefore, I issue it with some blank entries and will add them successivly.

PPS (Nov 4th): Finally I finished the list. Thank you for all your positive comments and ongoing reading ! Looking forward to next years Essen fair. meeple
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1. Board Game: The Princes of Machu Picchu [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:1071]
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You can imagine that I was keen to play the new Gerdts' as I am a big fan of Imperial. In the game you are set into the into the last days of the Inca Empire. Each player acts as an Inca tribe and needs to either collect special Inca resources or gold to win the game. The first option is enforced, when all players achieve to save Machu Picchu from Spanish discovery, the latter if we all fail and need to pay the invaders.
This time no rondel is used - instead the players move their meeple from one city area to an adjacent. Not all city areas are adjacent to each other. To reach a further farther area, the player has to pay - as in the rondel mechanism.
The city has several different types of areas. The resource areas allow to collect a resource for the active player and those who previously bought a factory on the area. resource fields can only be activated one every game turn. Factories can be constructed via 2 factory areas and then placed into the resource areas. Further areas contain temples at which the players can pray and sacrifice goods to avoid the Spanish discovery. A minimum number of total sacrifices is necessary to achieve this goal. A side efffect of these sacrifices is the drawing of VP-point cards. These explain which resources the players need to collect for an Inca victory or state the amount of gold for the Spanish victory option.

The mechanisms of walking through the city and the resource tree work really well. All players are always part of the game due to their factories that are activated during another player's turn. All are encouraged to sacrifice goods to collect VP cards. The players can influencethe winning option by acting more or less piously. These are at least my observations through to 2/3 of the game. I cannot confirm that it really works out or if one or the other option is more or less unavoidable.
Anyway, all in all this is a robust startegy game with well designed mechanisms. However it lacks the brilliance of an Imperial.

Action at Essen 2008: no buy.
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2. Board Game: Le Havre [Average Rating:7.91 Overall Rank:36]
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The new game of Uwe Rosenberg sets us into a harbour town. The players collect standard resources (6), convert them into advanced goods (10), buy town improvements (buildings) and ultimatly gain VP (aka money). Beside this, the players have to feed their workforce who move from one building in the town to another to convert resources. The player with the most VP wins. This sounds as yet another economical simulation - but it is quite a good one !!!

A player's turn:
1. add new resources: each turn the player moves his ship along the river to the next open supply tile. The tiles provide additional resources to one or two of the 7 resource fields (6 standard + gold).
2. main action of the player: choice between
- collecting all resources from one resource field
- moving the town workforce into one unocupied town building (neutral or owned by another player) to use the building's action (e.g. constructing a new building using resources, converting standard resources to advanced goods and/or money, building ships). Buildings have a face value which is equal to VP.
3. Beside the main action, players can also buy (at face value) or sell buildings (at 1/2 face value).

After 7 turns, the players need to feed their workforce. The amount of food needed, increases each round. Nutrition can be provided through money, fish (standard, advanced), bread/meat (advanced) or via ships (which provide food every round). Loans from the bank or selling buildings are possible to balance the lack of food - but this situation should be aavoided.

I played the game twice. Once at the fair (for ~6 rounds of 20) and again in the evening with some friends. It is crucial to build up a functioning supply chain for food (either through cattle/meat and/or fish/smoked fish and/or grain/bread and/or ships. The mechanisms and the resource conversion tree is well designed. The river mechanism ensures elegantly that the round's starting player changes each round. Each game is slightly different, as the order that the buildings get into the game changes slightly. On top, a deck of special buildings which enter the game ~every 4/5th turn allow further strategy shifts. Based on their resources, the players can chose their strategy.

I am a big fan of "build and optimise your economy" games (e.g. R&B, Antiquity) and Le Havre provides another great one.

Action at Essen: buy.
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3. Board Game: Chicago Express [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:362]
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As a fan of 18xx games, share and railway construction games always draw my attention - as did the sequel of Wabash Cannonball.

4 share companies from the US East coast try to develop the most profitable railway line (the map shows an area similar to taht of 1830 with a finer hex scheme). The share companies have 3, 4, 5 and 6 shares and pay dividends equal to income devided by issued # of shares. The game ends after the round in which 3 of the companies are sold.

Each round allows a predesigned number of actions:
1. Issue share (3/round): the player who chooses this action selects one unsold share and issues it via an auction. The final bid becomes company's equity.
2. construct up to 3 tracks (5/round): The player can extend the railway of one company in which he is shareholder up to 3 fields. The cost varies depending on terrain and presence of another railway company. Mountain fields can only accessed by one company. The construction is paid from the company's equity. This creates a dilemma for the player when buying the share: he/she needs to find a balance between boosting development and own wealth.
3. develop infrastructure (4/round): city hexes can be developed with stations that increase the companies' revenues.

Once a railway reaches Chicago, the Wabash Cannonball company starts as a 5th company with 2 shares.
After each round, the companies generate revenue and pay it to the players as dividends.

CE is a simplified 18xx game that could be regarded as an excellent 18xx gateway game. The player actions are well balanced and provide the player with several strategic options (which railway, how many, which routes). Synergies between different lines are possible as infrastructure developments can provide benefits to several lines if they are buildin hexes in which both lines are present). The map allows diverse route planning (I saw very different tracks on different boards around me at the fair).

Action at Essen 2008: no buy, but CE is interesting as a 18xx gateway game.
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4. Board Game: Confucius [Average Rating:6.84 Overall Rank:1997]
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Confucius is a political game in which the players bribe politicians and make gifts to one another to gain favours and dependency.

Gifts: Players can make gifts to one-another. Gifts have values of 1 to 6. The reception of a gift cannot be rejected and requires the presentee to act in favour of the donor at certain occasions during the game. A received gift can be nullified by providing a higher valued gift to the original donor or by giving up a bribed politician in one of the ministeries to the donor.

Bribing: They can bribe politicians in 3 different Chinese ministeries. Each ministery has up to 9 members. 3 are available at the beginning, the others enter the game successivly after each round or via a player supported introduction). If a player has received a gift from one of the other players who have bribed politicens in that ministry, he cannot bribe more politiciens than the donor. Once all members are bribed, the player determine who has most influence in the ministry: The player with the least influence has to decide to which of the leading 2 players he gives his support (if he received a gift from one of the leaders, he has to support that player, if no gift/gift from both, he can decide freely). This process is repeated up to the player who has the 3rd most influence.

Introduction of new already bribed members into the ministeries: 2 players can decide to introduce new mambers into the ministeries. At the end of each round, the players will have to vote for one of the 2 players. Again received gifts require to support the donor at this vote.

Beside the collection of VP via the ministries, there are 2 other ways: sending armies to the borders of the empire and fighting wars or exploring the world with naval expeditions. Bribes in the naval or military ministry provide discounts for these actions. Furthermore they do not depend on gifts.

The VPs for majority in the ministeries, for the wars and the exploration change from one game to another as they are dealt randomly at the beginning. As such, the games require an adjusted strategy depending on the actual situation and can change the game drastically.

Confucius is an innovative political game. The unique gift mechanism is powerful and changes the outcome of the votes and majority determination drastically. Once a costly "6" gift is received, there is no chance to escape the dependency without giving up a bribed politician. At the beginning of the first game it is difficult to think through the games inter-dependencies, but after one game that should be no problem. The re-playability is high due to the flexible VP set-up. The players have always too many things to do with their limited number of actions and need to decide for the best option considering the current gift situation. Several different strategies are possible. The game experience is not comparable to other games that I know.

Action at Essen 2008: no buy, but I regret it now.
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5. Board Game: Heads of State [Average Rating:6.14 Overall Rank:3895]
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Heads of the State was quite popular at Essen. There were at least 10 desks that offered to become head of a state in either Spain, France, England or the German States. The game plays between the 16th and 18th century. The aim of the game is to send Barons, Counts, Dukes, Princes, ... and ultimatly Kings to these states (in total 7 different types). Each state consists of one capital area and 3 to 5 provinces, into which one or two nobles can be sent. The type of noble that can occupy such a field is predefined. At the beginning of the game, all fields are empty. Occupying fields for the first time provides VP.

How to get the nobles onto the board ? Each turn, usually the player collect 3 resource cards. They have the choice between 6 open cards and a hidden deck. 8 different types of cards exist. 7 regular (like gold, castle, troops, bishop, palace) and one joker card (the prostitute). In order to send nobles onto the board, the players need to collect a set of cards. The cheapest noble is the baron, which requires only one card, namely Gold. The most expensive is the king, which requires a set of all 7 cards.
In essence, in the 1st half of the game all players try to occupy empty spaces to gain the respective VP that are granted for initial occupation. Beside these VP, there are bonus points for having a noble in each region of one state or having all types of nobles on the board. Additionally, when the card deck is exhausted, each state is evaluated and the players with the most and second most influence gain VP. Then the card deck is reshuffled and played 2 more times.

Sometimes in the middle of the game, all areas are occupied. Now the dark side of the game starts. In order to empty a field, the respective noble needs to be murdered. If the player has such intentions, instead of drawing 3 cards, he can choose to draw one from the "murder" card deck (here 2 are open) and 2 from the general deck. The murder cards usually state one or two states in which they can be used. The player simply plays this card and immediatly one noble of his choice is removed from the board in the respective state (capital nobles require 2 cards). Afterwards, he can choose to replace the noble with one of his - if he has the required cards - but that is how to play it.
After 3 rounds, the game is over and the Head-Head of the States is found.

So here you are about 2hr later. Having drawn endlessly cards and played them again. Having tried to distinguish the nobles that were required on the empty fields by looking at hear-colour and robe-colour, having tried to understand which card is required for which noble and having tried to collect them accordingly. Having drawn "murder" cards and having drawn the wrong states...
Well, the game itself, is long, the cards and board are confusing, the actions are repetitive (draw cards, play cards, remove noble, place noble) and at the end, you are happy that the game is over. There is no long term strategy to be followed. You need to decide during your turn, which cards are the best to complement your hand cards and allow to place a noble in an open fields. OK, you can think about the bonus VP and try to act accordingly.
We were all quite frustrated by this game. It looked good, lots of people were playing it and they seemed to have fun. But obviously, strategy gamers are not the target group of this game !!!

Action at Essen 2008: no buy !!!
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6. Board Game: Cavum [Average Rating:6.74 Overall Rank:1573]
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After the ordeal with Heads of the State we looked at playing a game that at least looked "strategic". The board of Cavum is devided into hexes and requires to lay tiles quite similar to the track tiles of 18xx. Then, the players put kind of stations and then collect income by using their track. Ok, we thought, that this is another rail game - but no, we were actually digging through a mountain and collecting gems.

We were lucky, when we came to the QWG stand. Wolfgang Kramer himself explained his game to those who were interested. Soon after, we started a game.

The game is played in 3 rounds. In each round each player has 12 actions. Each turn he/she can choose to make 1-4 actions. The most typical action is to lay a tile. These tiles have 2, 3, 4 or 6 exits (of which each player can use one each per turn). Instead of laying a tile on an empty hex, the players can also opt to put a superior tile on an existing one (i.e. with more exits). Existing connections need to be maintained. Then, the player can build on top of a tile a mine. He/She chooses which type of diamonds the mine produces and puts up to 6 of those on the mine. In order to collect diamonds, the players also need to place stations inbetween each mine that they want to exploit. The players have also joker tiles, with which they can either build additional tiles, mines or stations. Then there are explosion tiles. These act as normal tracks up to the end of a round, when they explode and remove all blank tiles adjacent to them (i.e. no stations or mines). The last action of each player will be to collect the diamonds. To do so, the player will collect all those diamonds that are along the players longest route.

But how to gain VP and mark them at the Kramer-Leiste ? Well, I forgot to mention that prior to each round, the players choose orders which require to provide e.g. 2 red, one green and a yellow gem for 25 points. If the players cannot fulfil an order, some VP are substracted. Beside the orders, the players can also sell gems to the bank after each round. The bank will only buy once per gem colour, namely from the player with the lowest offer. The other players are not able to sell the gems. At the end, the player with the most VP wins.

The playing experience of the game is similar to 18xx when it comes to tile placing, putting stations on the board and collecting gems. However, the explosion field and the orders add new twists to that experience. Here we do not hunt for cheap shares and try to ruin other shareholders by selling shares and requireing them to by trains out of their own capital - no, we try to fulfill our orders and have fun bombing away part of the mountain. The game somehow combines serious, aka strategic, tile laying with family game components. I think that works quite well. Like in an 18xx, where you can screw other players by laying a track which is not replacable, similar actions are possible in Cavum.
In conclusion, I would rate Cavum as a strategic family game. If you haven't played 18xx for some time because of lack of time or players, you can ease your pain by playing Cavum in a more family oriented environment and have some fun.

Action at Essen 2008: no buy (I stay with 18xx)
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7. Board Game: Comuni [Average Rating:6.71 Overall Rank:1840]
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Saturday morning saw us running towards the Tengkigames stand to grap a table with Comuni. The day before, Comuni was ranked 2nd in the Fairplay list - so, were we about to play the contender for the strategic game of Essen 2008 ? Here is the story:

5 cities (players) were developing their Italian towns in medieval Italy. The game is played in 4 rounds in which at least 15 town developments (i.e. buildings) are offered to the players (4 predefined piles of cards). There are 4 types of buildings that produce respective resources (cubes): commercial (=> gold), churches (=> faith), manufacturing (=> builders) and military (=> armies). The buildings have values of 1 to 4 and are placed in predefined groups of 1-3 cards on the board for auction.

In their turn, the player has to choose one major action. This could either be
- bidding for one of the building card groups by marking the group in the player's colour. The bid can be supported by gold cubes. If the bid is for a group for which another player has already made his bid, the bid needs to be at least one gold cube higher. The displaced player can immediatly choose to switch his bid to another group for the fee of one faith cube.
- collecting card groups: If at the players turn, there are still open bids on one or more groups, the player can decide to collect the cards.
The emptied group is then refilled from the card pile.
- collecting income: for those buildings that were newly built/extended in previous rounds, resource cubes can be collected.

After this phase, the building phase starts. The player can build for free 1 town building plus one city wall. Town buildings can reach a maximum height of 4. Ideally, the building sequence is increasing (e.g. from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4 => a 4 storey building with a value of 1+2+3+4=10. This value is marked immediatly as VP). However, the players can also place lower valued buildings at higher levels - but then they need to pay the difference in builder cubes (e.g. to build a type 2 building on the 4th level, 2 additional builder cubes have to be paid).
The city wall is build from unused buildings by turning them to the back side.
If the player wants to build/extend more than one city building, he can do so for 1 builder cube fro each additional building.

Once the card pile is exhausted when filling up the card groups on the board, an invasion occurs, i.e. Italy is attacked. The strenght of the attack per player depends on each player's current VP and an adjustment based on the last player's VPs. In general, the more development a player has, the stronger the attack on him. There are 2 ways to fight back the invasion: each player can choose to send armies for the combined Italian army or keep the armies for the defence of the own city. The players decide hidden and simultaniously. Those players, providing the most and second most armies for the Italian army, gain VP.
Invasion resulution: First the strength of the Italian army is evaluated and substracted from each players invasion attack value. If this value is greater than 0, the player can still defend himself with the armies which he left at the city (city walss add bonuses). Is the attack value still greater than 0, the player receives malus VP. He can subsequently diminish the malus by paying faith cubes in subsequent turns.

The game ends after the 4th invasion. The player with the most VP wins(from buildings, bonuses for highest/most buildings per type, bonuses for Italian armies, bonus for the most remaining cubes of one type at the end of the game and maluses from lost invasions).

The game offers some interesting game mechanisms: the city building construction (considering the levels), the income of only those types of buildings that were recently built/extended, the communal vs. the individual defence against the invasion and the triggering of the invasion by number of buildings drawn. All these mechanisms are well sewn into each other. There might be different strategies for building city developments, although armies are kind of important - unless you keep for some rounds a low profile and have only few city developments that are ideally saved by the Italian army provided by the other players...
Interestingly in our game, the 3rd invasion came somehow unexpected. We all had to draw at least 15 malus VP...

I rate Comuni as a good mid-complex and easy accessible strategy game with an acceptable playing duration (~2hr).

Action at Essen 2008: no buy. I would like to play it some more times to see, if the strategies and game experience differs from game to game.
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8. Board Game: Duck Dealer [Average Rating:6.39 Overall Rank:3454]
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Considering my "Splotter Spellen" microbadge you can imagine how delighted I was, when I heard that 3 years after Indonesia finally another Splotter game was issued. I bought my copy on Thursday morning prior to game testing on Saturday. Anyway, by Thursday late morning, the few copies were already sold out. On Saturday I found out, if I made the right choice:

In Duck Dealer, each player becomes a space merchant. He/she is equipped with a spaceship and an initial crew (2-3 crew and 1 or 3 cargo holds). The players can then move around the galaxy which contains 16 planets. At the beginning of the game each planet has a mine which produces one type of primary good (assigned randomly - except for 5 starting planets). The 5 starting planets are also equipped with spaceyards, which produce spaceship components (either crew or cargo holds). The remaining planets have each two open fields for one factory and one demand marker.

In the player's turn, the player can either
- collect energy markers depending on his crew (one for each crew plus one free of choice. There are 3 types of crew, namely red (movement), blue (trade) and yellow (build).
- or he/she can take action and use up the collected energy markers

After 25 turns, the game ends. The winner is the player with the most VP.

What can be done during the action turn:
- red: the players can move the ships from one planet to another. The distance between the planets ranges between 4 and 14. Per energy the ship can move 8 (scout), 5 (cruiser) or 2 (freighter) spaces depending on the size of the ship. All players start with a scout and can extend the ship's hull by adding crew or cargo hull. Once a ship is upgraded, it cannot be downgraded.
- blue: per energy, the players can make one trade, e.g. buy a primary good from a planet or produce an intermediate (in exchange of 2 primary goods => worth 3 VP), produce cargo hull/crew (in exchange of 2 primary goods), produce a final good (in exchange of 1 primary/1 intermediate => worth 10VP or in exchange of 2 intermediate => worth 30VP) at a planet's factory or sell a good that is demanded at a planet for VP.
- yellow => per energy, the players can build on a planet's free field either a demand markers in exchange of specific goods (for 10, 25 or 50 VP) or build a factory in exchange of specific goods (for 3, 10, 30 VP).
- yellow => for 3 energy, the player can build a privelage marker on a specific mine, factory, spaceyard or demand marker. In subsequent actions, he/she can trade there as much as he likes for just one blue energy. Just one privelage marker per field is allowed.

The rules of the game are rather easy: collect energy markers during several turns and then use them. But the execution is pretty complex and requires a lot of planning ahead - in your mind. Usually you end up with about 30 markers in front of you and need to optimally use them (the number increases to these extends, because there are just 25 actions in total in the game for all players). When collecting them over the turns, a strategy is required of what to achieve ultimatly with the next action.

- Do you want to enhance the ship (but please all the enhancement in one turn to change thinking towards other strategies afterwards) ?
- Do you want to explore the planets and build factories or demand markers (this requires goods and building energy and a fast ship) ?
- Do you want to establish demands at the planets (again building energies and goods are required) ?
- Do you want to establish a trade route (place lots of privilege markers and acquire lots of cargo hull) ?
- Do you...

Moreover, it is important to adjust the strategy, once the other players have had their turn. Suddenly, planet field might be blocked with unexpected factories or demands. Sudden opportunities might arise...

Duck Dealer is a simple but highly complex strategy and trading game. If you love building up economies, planning ahead and flexible strategies, this game is for you !!! Certainly one of the few highlights of Essen 2008 !!!

Action at Essen 2008: buy (I think I was lucky to get one)

PS: If you know "Merchant of Venus", you have most likely found some similarities between the two games: moving with adjustable spaceships around a galaxy, one planet system builds one good and pays for others. However, there are also lots of differences: a resource tree for adding value to the goods, no dice (=> no pilot numbers and unplanned journeys), no discovery (=> not finding the wrong planets at the wrong side of the galaxy), a much leaner and simpler mechanism.
As such, I could call Duck Dealer a grown up, enhanced and no more luck dependent "Merchant of Venus" with much more emphasis on the logistical and "building a trade route" aspects. Now you can choose...
 
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9. Board Game: Planet Steam [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:663]
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In Planet Steam all plyers develop a mining business on a gas planet. They place robots on the planet's surface to generate resources, expand their mining facilities and sell the resources for their company's profit. So far so easy - but Planet Steam is all but easy.

The economy in Planet Steam is driven by 4 resources, namely water (required for taking action), iron ore (required for extending storage and robots improvements), energy (powering the robots during production) and quarz (required for robot improvements, additional robots and shares). Beside using the resources for actions or building, the players can also buy and sell them at the resource market. Depending on supply and demand, the resource price varies significantly throughout the game (by applying an efficient and simple mechanism).

At the beginning of the game, all players start with 4 storage ships for the different resources, a starter package of resources and some money. On top - each player is already granted 2 mining fields on the surface of the planet. The surface consists of 35 fields in 7 rows and 5 columns. Mining fiels are either owned by a player, open (free for exploration) of closed (exploration only possible with mining rights). After a predefined number of rounds (depending on # of players), the wealthiest player wins.

Each round starts with the auction of characters. The players can choose from 5 different, which they play during this round:
1. Lady Steam: she has the valuable privilage of always being first
2. C2 (I do not remember the names): selects a non-assigned mining field and offer it for auction. The C2 player has just to pay half the price if he/she wins the auction.
3. C3: Selects one row on the planet's surface in which production increases.
4. C4: takes additional resources (I think 1) or increases the storage capacity of one ship
5. C5: gets one mining right to be used in the building phase

Once the characters are selected, the exploration phase starts. Here, players can add 1 new mining field to their assets. They select an open mining field and throw a dice (this is the only "luck" part of the game - 50:50). Either they get the field or they need to switch to another open field in the row or column of the intended field. If there is no open field, the exploration fails. To avoid the risk, mining rights can be used to claim open or closed fields. The players will in any case try to claim adjacent field to their existing fields, to benefit from synergy effects during production.
Afterwards, C2 and C3 ability is exercised.

After exploration, the operation round follows:
The players can buy or build robots, enhance robots (to increase production), modify robots (i.e. select which resources will be mined) and increase the storage capacity. All this needs to be paid by resources and money. Finally, the robots can be moved and placed freely on the player's owned mining fields (i.e. they can change positions).
It is worth noting that only at the beginning of the game, a huge number of robots is available - at increasing prices. Further on, the number af additional robots depends on the available resources left in the market - in our game, not a lot of resources were left at the end of the rounds and hence no new robots were offered for sale and had to be built instead).

Next is the production phase in which the powered robots produce resources.

After this, per resource, the resource market is exercised. Starting with Lady Steam, all players are asked if they want to buy or sell resources of that type. Depending on the supply of the specific good in the market after the player's action (buy, sell, pass), the price is adjusted upward or downward. This can lead to quite some price changes. It is also worth noting that the number of goods in the market is strictly limited to those which are bought and sold and the starting supply. Resources used for building items are not put back into the market !

After the resource market, players can use resources to buy shares (face value of 50 at the end of the game) or additional mining rights. Afterwards, a new round begins.

Planet Steam is a ruthless economy game. It is crucial to plan production ahead and consider the mechanics of the resource market. In our game, in the 2nd round several players had only produced quartz (as it is the most valuable resource) and water and forgot to produce any energy. Hence in the next round they were not able to power all their robots - as no energy was available on the market...
A balanced business and a view for demand and supply can make the player wealthy. But that is really tricky, as Planet Steam's economy is notoriously scarce and unforgivable. The players need by all means to get their own economy running - otherwise they head towards bankrupcy.

Understanding the different characters, the playing order and aligning the own strategy accordingly is very important in the game. However, without an effective money management the best strategy will fail. In our "rookie" round, we certainly bid too much for the characters as the value of the different characters was unclear. Anyhow, after the 2nd round we were all short of money and were hardly able to pay for additional robots (there were at least 2 available).

The game mechanisms (specifically the resource market) work all well together. It was intersting to see different strategies unfold in our game. Due to the resource market mechanism, it might be possible to play against the flow and benefit from the other player needs (if you are sitting at the right position with regard to playing order and the market price changes in your favour).

Planet Steam is a tough but rewarding economy game. The learning curve is important in the game and a game with experienced and inexperienced players is potentially unbalanced.

Anyway, based on what I played at the fair, I vote for Planet Steam as the Strategic Board Game of Essen 2008 !!!

Action at Essen: no buy (the game was already sold out on Friday, I played it just on Sunday. Now I eagerly await the re-print)
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10. Board Game: Diamonds Club [Average Rating:7.08 Overall Rank:972]
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Diamonds Club by Ravensburger - honestly, I was not excited by the prospect of playing a Ravensburger game. I cannot remember having played a strategic game from Ravensburger for ages - however, this one is not too bad.

We are gem dealer in good old England of 1899 and try to create a magnificent estate of our own. To do so, we are exploring the world and sell the collected gems to build park improvements. The building of at least 12 of these improvements will end the game and the player with the most valuable park will win. The value of the improvements ranges between 2 and 4 plus bonus points for most or first improvements of one type or all...

Motor of the game is the placing of (plastic) silver coins on a variable map which is devided into rows and columns. At the beginning, the players have 10 coins each round (but the number can increase to 14 during the game). Each field symbolises a specific action. In the players turn she/he selects one field and pays for the respective action by placing the coins on the field. If no vertically or horizontally adjacent field was used before (i.e. no coin on the adjacent field), the cost is 1. In case of adjacent coins, the cost is one higher than the sum of the coins on the adjacent fields. The field selection is continued until no player has any money left or do not want to select more fields.
The mechanism is innovative, quite elegant and works excellent. After each round, the map is re-shuffled and set-up again with a totally new distribution of fields.

For the players it is important to collect sets of 3 cards, namely ships, mining rights and mines (which have 4 different colours). These 3 cards are then exchanged for gems.
Beginning with the "starting" player (which is dependent on the fields selected during the map round), the players can buy park improvements from their gems. 7 types of improvements are available and one of each type can be bought per turn by each player (naturally, they do not collect that many gems). The player, who chooses to buy one type first pays the face value. Subsequent players have to pay one additional gem per player having bought the specific improvement prior to him/her.

If one player has completely filled his park with monuments, the game ends and the winner is determined. Otherwise another round starts with placing of coins.

I was certainly positivly surprised by Diamonds Club. I expected a family game, but was playing a light strategy game that can be a good introduction to more strategic gaming experiences. The players need to develop their strategy for the improvements (just monuments, parks, same monument, diverse monument or park animal) and adjust their placing of the coins accordingly. It is also necessary to consider the other players' strategy, the cost of the fields and the turn order. The nice playing material completes the good experience.

Action at Essen 2008: no buy.
 
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