Essen 2009 - Strategic Gamer's review
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Hi there,

Essen 2009 is history and lots of play-testing was done by me and my friends. With this GeekList, I want you to partake in my Essen 2009 experience.

This list is a sequel to my Essen 2008 list posted last year:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/36149.

To better understand my comments and thoughts on the games, please keep in mind that I have the following games in my Top10: AoR, Indonesia, R&B, T&E, 18XX, Imperial, TtA and Antiquity.
Please also consider that I am writing this list out of my memory without the possibility to review rule details.

I discuss the games in the order that I played them, namely
Thu: Tammany Hall, Koplopers & Dwarsliggers, Albion
Fr: Shipyard, Funkenschlag - Fabrikmanager, Assyria
Sat: Greed Incorporated, Vor den Toren von Loyang
Sun: Vasco da Gama, Egizia

Enjoy and feel free to comment or show your appreciation !

Brokito

PS: As last year, I realise that writing this GeekList requires much more time than expected. Therefore, I issue it with some blank entries and will fill them successively. Promised !
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1. Board Game: Tammany Hall [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:577]
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Essen 2009 started for me with a 2007 reprint: Tammany Hall in which the players try to get elected mayor of lower Manhattan (=> VP). In order to become mayor, it is necessary to be elected sub-mayor in the majority of the 15 regions of lower Manhattan (=> VP). Elections are held 4 times during the game. The player with the most cumulated VPs wins the game.

The game is set into the time of immigration. At the start of the game, each region is populated with one population cube from one immigrant group (Irish, English, German, Italian).

In-between elections, 4 turns/years are played. In each turn, the players can do the following main action:
- place 2 wards into a regions
- place 1 ward and 1 additional immigrant cube into a region (chosen from cubes that were randomly drawn). The player will thus receive also 1 support chip for the related immigrant group (counting 1 for this group).
On top, players can try to force opponent wards to leave a region by using their slender chips (limited, I do not remember the number of slender chips per player).

After the 4 turns, all regions are evaluated. The majority wins, whereas each ward will count 1 and the players are free to add secretly support chips (count also 1) of those immigrant groups that populate the region. After the evaluation only one ward of the winning player remains in the region. In case of a tie, no ward. Each ward is worth 1 VP.
Once all regions are evaluated, the new mayor is the player with the majority of wards on the field. This player gains 3 VP and has to appoint the Deputy Mayor, the Council President, Chief of Police and Precinct Chairman among the remaining players (one appointment per player). These roles offer the appointed players advantages in the upcoming 4 turns (more support chips, removal or move of immigrant cubes, locking a region).
Additional support cubes are then distributed for most controlled immigrant cubes per group

After the 4th election, an additional VP scoring for most support chips per group and unused slender chips is done. Winner is the player with the most VP.

So here we have another area control game. It is nicely designed by putting all typical ingredients in. All those mechanisms work well together (although it seems that some of the roles are much more powerful than others).
However, I am not sure to say that it is fun to play it and that it provides some additional mechanisms that other games do not have. Probably not. Hence, personally I will stay with the classic El Grande if I want to play an area control game.

Conclusion: No buy.
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2. Board Game: Koplopers & Dwarsliggers [Average Rating:6.27 Overall Rank:7658]
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I like train games very much - with 18xx and AoS in my list of favourites.

So here we have a game with tracks in the Netherlands. Each of the players can operate up to 3 trains of which each has a capacity of 500 passengers. Each turn the players have 5 points to spare. Building a train costs 3 points, changing direction of a train 1 and advancing the train 1 per space.
Trains can stop at cities and take up and deliver fares (similar to the MoV system). Fares have values/passengers between 100 and 300 depending on the distance they want to travel. At the beginning of the game each city is given one fare-marker which the players can pick-up with their trains.
Once a train has stopped in a city, it cannot be moved again in this turn. However, if 2 trains of one player stop at the same city they can be connected to build a combined train. This train will also just need 1 point per space movement.

The game is played a predefined number of turns. The player with the most delivered fares wins the game (while undelivered fares count negative).
In order to add a small interactive element, the designers give each player 3 cards. Each card shows one train station. For one action point, the player can select one card and place an obstacle token on this station. Now, no train can pass, approach or leave this station. Three of these obstacle tokens are in the game and they are placed and moved always in the same order. (except if using a special card of which the players get one each).

The game lasted 1 hr and we were not very impressed. The game play is very repetitive and nearly the whole game is predetermined as an optimisation problem based on the fares on the board. The player is left with very limited options. Sudden interruptions by the obstacles are random and soon again removed.

Koplopers & Dwarsliggers is certainly not a strategy game. However for families with young kids it might be an initial start into a career as a director of an 18xx railway company.

Conclusion: No buy.
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3. Board Game: Albion [Average Rating:6.10 Overall Rank:4954]
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In Albion, the players represent the Roman Empire and try to gain influence in England. Their first settlers were shipped to South-England and now the remainder of the country has to be colonised. The 1st player who has build and developed 3 cities to the 4th stage wins.

In Albion, England is divided into 13 regions:
- 4 resource regions (4 different resource types)
- 2 Roman Empire friendly regions (starting regions)
- 7 native regions: inhabited by the friendly or unfriendly "Pikten" - tokens placed face down in each region at the beginning of the game placed (also well known from AH's Britannia).

Per Roman Empire friendly and native region the players can build one type of development:
- cities: ultimately leading to victory, but also providing settlers and soldiers
- fortifications: increasing the defensive strength of developments
- castles: increases the movements per turn
Per resource region, the players can build a resource supply centre.

All buildings are initially build at stage 1 and can be developed successively up to stage 4. Stage 1 buildings cost any 1 resource. Stage 2 costs 2 different resources, up to stage 4 which costs 4 different resources.

Each player starts with 2 settlers and 2 resource centres.

In the player's turn, he can decide to either take resources (amount per resource type equivalent to the stage of the resource centre) or to move his settlers (or later soldiers).
If a settler reaches a region in which the player wants to build/develop, he selects the type of development (if stage 1), pays the related resources and has to return the settler to the staring region (why ?).

If the development is built in a native region, in which another/other player/s has/have already build a development, then those receive each 1 of the resources which were used for building. Further the unrest of the "Pikten" is determined by flipping over one or of the Pikten tokens. If it is a friendly tribe, it is removed, if unfriendly, then it stays and all players in the region have to defend themselves against the unrest. If their defensive strength (overall fortifications level plus local soldiers) in the respective region is equal or higher than the unrest level, all is fine, if not, they need to reduce the stage of their development by 1.

We played the game for several rounds with 3 players (haven't finished it). The game play is easy and intuitive:
- do I have enough resources to build another development ?
- yes: I move my settlers to the respective region and build.
- no: I take resources.

The decisions to be taken are related to
- the order of developments and
- the appropriate selection of a development for a respective region (some regions ahve more hidden Pikten tokens than others.
Once this optimisation problem was solved, the game plan is written.

Ok, ok, I forgot to consider that being first in a region also provides additional resources - but in fact in our game the benefit was well distributed, as each player had one of these regions where he was ahead of the others.

So the game is a kind of never-ending movement of the settlers plus building and resource collection. Interaction is really limited (well ok, I forgot that soldiers can move a hidden Pikten token from one field to another... wow).

We finally decided to abort the game. It really provides too few strategic options and is too repetitive. Could be interesting as a family game. But is it really fun to play - I have my doubt.

Conclusion: No buy.

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4. Board Game: Shipyard [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:438]
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In Shipyard the players become the manager of a ship construction company. They have to build ships and let them sail on a Shakedown Cruise. The manager with the most successful constructions wins.

Shipyard can be considered as a rondel driven game. Marc Gerdt's inventions was used several times.
First and most important usage is the so-called action track, which drives the decisions and actions of the game in a very innovative way.
The action track consists of 22 fields which are arranged in a circle. On 8 of the fields, the so-called action cards are placed next to each other. In the 1st round, the players decide which action they want to play and place a token on this action card and perform the action. The token remains up to the next round and indicates that this action is not available for the other players. After the first round each player has a token on the action track. In his next round, the player will have to select one of the available actions on the track and moves his token to that field. Simultaneously, the former action card is moved to the front of the action cards. In that way, the action cards "crawl" around the action track. The game finishes, once the action cards circled the action track 4 times.

Each turn, the player can generally choose one of the following actions (if not occupied by another player):
- take one fright train: 5 trains are available for selection (1 for free, 2 for 1 coins, 2 for 2 coins). Each card depicts 3 wagons. The wagons are filled with 3 types of commodities (gold, stones or coal)
- take 1 shipping canal which depicts the route for the shakedown cruise.
- recruit crew / get propeller: in a 4 space rondel, the propeller and 3 "crew" (captain, soldier, businessmen) are shown. If this action is selected, the rondel token is moved one space and the players receives the respective part. Or the player pays additional 1 coin/space to move the token further and to receive that crew.
- buy equipment: in the same manner as crew rondel, the equipment rondel allows the player to receive one equipment (sail, chimney, cannon, crane).
- exchange commodities: in another rondel, the player can exchange commodities to either crew, equipment of money.
- hire employees: This rondel has 8 fields which each offer 3 employee cards: these cards provide powerful additional features to the player and last the whole game (e.g. receive an additional crew/equipment when choosing this action, allows to put more equipment on the ships, allows to move a rondel marker further steps for free, etc). This action is typically picked at the beginning of the game. In total 48 cards are available.
- take up to 3 ship cards: ship cards can be distinguished between bow, middle and stern cards. 5/10/5 cards are openly available for selection and can each cost 0/1/2 coins. Once selected, the player has to put them on his own shipyard (9 fields available). If a ship was completed (includes a bow, stern and at least one middle section). it will sail for its shakedown cruise. Each ship card can be equipped with 1 or 2 equipment and/or crew (based on the chosen card). Generally, the longer the ship and the more equipment/crew, the more VP. On top, based on the selected canal/s, additional VP can be generated, if the ship is adequately equipped.

After this action, the players can choose to play 1 additional action for 6 coins. They can choose any action (also occupied actions but except the one they already played). For this additional action, no action card or token is moved.

Once the action track is circled 4 times, bonus VP are given for so-called "government contract" cards which are chosen by each player during the game (2 each). At the beginning of the game, each player has 6 of these contracts and successively will reduce them to 2.

Shipyard is a well designed strategy game. The players need to have a long-term strategy: which type of ships shall I build ! A first direction is given by the government contracts.
In order to successfully sail a ship, several actions are required: hire the appropriate crew, equip the ship, select the right shipping canal for my ship, buy the right ship cards that allow to attach the selected equipment/crew and select the right equipment cards.
In this game, the players usually want to do everything at once and usually an action, which is already occupied by another player. So, the key to success is to adjust the short term strategy to the current situation - and eventually perform an additional action if the preferred action was not available - but this costs more money... In our game of 4, each player sailed ~3 ships).

Due to its complex "economy" and mechanisms, Shipyard requires lots of decisions and constant adjustments to the strategy. The players are always part of the game, as they have to follow, what the other players are doing and hence their next options are changing. They can somehow plan ahead, as for most actions, the upcoming options are always visible.
I assume a high level of re-playability as the government contracts change each game leading to different strategies. Beside this, the material is excellent and the theme works very well.

Conclusion: Buy.
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5. Board Game: Power Grid: Factory Manager [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:691]
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If organising efficient and effective factory operations is one of your secret dreams, you should give Power Grid - Factory Manager a try ! But not only...
In short, you are managing the production of goods using resources as human capital, manufacturing machines, manufacturing technology, electricity and robots. Further you store your goods and sell them at the market. Optimizing equipment can increase the efficiency of your production or manage your electricity requirements. In the end, the manager who has the most cash wins.

Every player starts with a factory that has space for 10 manufacturing or storage units. 4 of the spaces are already occupied with 2 simple machines and 2 simple storage compartments. Further each player has 7 employees. The factory can additionally house 2 optimizing equipments.

Each turn, the manager/player needs to decide, which machines are producing. In order to do so, the machines will require electricity and employees. Further the produced goods have to be stored. Hence the maximum number of marketed goods is min(produced goods, storage capacity). The unused employees can be used to set-up newly acquired machinery (1 per unused employee).

The acquisition of new equipment is the heart of the game:
1. Bidding for player's order.

2. Picking equipment which will be available for purchase this turn
In the new order, each player can pick as many equipment as he has unused employees (except the last player who can pick up to 3 more).
Equipment is available in 6 types:
- machines (producing goods, requiring electricity and workers)
- manufacturing technology (reducing the number of workers needed for production, requiring electricity)
- robots (producing goods, requiring electricity)
- storage
- electricity management equipment (reducing electricity requirements, reducing the number of workers needed for production)
- production optimisation equipment (producing goods, reducing electricity requirements, reducing the number of workers needed for production).

Different technology levels per type will become available during the game (increasing generally the efficiency per equipment). However, picking equipments always starts with the equipment, which has the lowest technology level per type. Once all equipment of one level have been picked, the next hight technology level can be selected.

3. Purchase of equipment
Once all players picked equipment, equipment from this pool can be purchased in player's order.

Players will then set-up the new equipment. They can also dismantle equipment, if all their factory spaces are already used. Further they can purchase additional factory spaces (up to 2 in total) or hire temporary workers for the next turn (up to 2 per turn).

Now the production commences and the products are sold and the electricity payed. The price of electricity is adapted each turn. It can either stay constant or increase (randomly drawn card). Hence, a proper electricity management is essential.

Factory Manager requires lots of decisions from the players:
Which machines do I use in a turn ? Only those machines that are used also consume electricity and require workers.
Which machines do I pick ? Picking is really a gamble, because, the better machines I pick, the higher the possibility for the starting player to pick good machinery. But if I am the starting player, I can just pick old machinery and have to hope that the other players pick the right type of equipment in their picking phase.
How do I manage my equipment: do I only buy cheap equipment (thus pay low purchase prizes) and hope for low electricity prizes ? Or do I try to purchase always the high-end equipment for high prices ? But will this equipment be worth its investment ?
How do I balance the producing machines with production technology and robots ? Do I have enough space for storage left ? Sure, high tech machinery require less space, but having high-tech machinery and high storage capacity is difficult to achieve at equal high technology levels.

Factory Manager is a well designed game and seems to have lots of strategic options. The interaction of the players is indirect, but very important and requires tactical decisions. The material and graphics are excellent. The theme is nicely implemented. If it attracts all player segments is questionable (although the same could be said for Power Grid).

Conclusion at Essen: Despite the fact that I liked Factory Manager, I opted to pass on buying it.
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6. Board Game: Assyria [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:1291]
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In Assyria we are put in the country of the 2 streams a good couple of centuries ago. Each player expands and develops his tribe in this fertile land - but beware of the two streams which will flood away all cities build at their shores. After 3 eras/floods (after 2nd, 5th and 8th round), the player with the most VP wins.

The players start at predetermined spaces outside the 2 rivers with the foundation of a temple as their home base.

Each round all players (n) start with collecting resource cards (5 different resource types). n+1 card couples are sorted by number of resources (1-3 resources on each card of the same type plus a joker card worth 1 resource). The players pick each one couple of cards. This will determine in the following phases the player order (the player with the least valuable resources goes first).

Now the players expand their tribes from their temples. They can expand their tribe by building a number of cities adjacent to any of their buildings. The amount of expansion is determined randomly by a card which is drawn each round. The players will expand towards the region in-between the rivers, as they gain 2VP after expansion per city whereas cities outside just gain 1 VP. On top, VP are gained for temples dependent on their completeness (3 stages to complete). But also cities on rivers are important, as they will gain each 3 camels (but no VP). But beware, each city has to be supplied with resources. Equivalent to the resource indicated on each region, the player has to discard resource cards - otherwise the concerned cities are removed after the expansion phase.

Camels can then be converted to temple extensions, used to buy extra resources or to support one of 3 statesmen (plus there are some additional other minor options).

Then the next round begins unless an era ends. In latter case, all cities from the rivers are removed. On top, the statesmen support is evaluated. The majority holder gains some additional VPs and bonuses.

The game is easily played and allows some limited planning. Decisions whether to go for river regions or in-between regions seem obvious. But they are often 100% dependent on the resources that were collected. On top, it is unlikely to collect the same resources in subsequent turns. Hence, the kingdom is always in flux and leaves the players with a strange game feeling.
The options for using the camels are vast compared to the limited number of camels gained each turn (remember also that the cities are removed with each flood). Especially at the beginning the players tend to use the camels for building pyramids (as they provide constant VP). In our game, some of the camel options were not used at all (or did we not understand their value ?). Hence, the last player prior to the flood was the lucky winner in the statesmen evaluation.
The map is unbalanced as some players have more land to expand to then others.

Conclusion: No buy.
Assyria is a nicely designed game with several deficiencies like limited strategic options and an unbalanced set-up.
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7. Board Game: Greed Incorporated [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:1586]
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I am a fan of Splotter Spellen. I like most of their games and rate them very high. After Duck Dealer last year which was not too well received by all strategy game fans, here another offer:

Greed, Incorporated is the new "big" game from Splotter Spellen. Each player starts as the CEO of a company and zero private money. It shall be the aim of the CEO to increase the company's profit each year. If he fails to do so, he might lose his job - and in that case will probably receive a big bonus. The player can spend this bonus on luxury goods (aka victory points) or open a new company. After 10 rounds (years) the player with the most victory points wins.

So far, the overall frame of this economic simulation - but now to the details:

The economy of Greed is centered around 11 goods (primary goods like land, sand, cotton, processed goods like railroads, microprocessors or textiles and finally marketing aka BlaBla). The companies produce these goods with their company assets (resources or processors). Each asset can just be used once during a round. Companies can freely trade any good and service with other companies - for the good or bad of the company. The CEO decides what the company is doing. The management of the company has 2 further executive positions (CFO & COO) and also middle management. The prices for goods are indicated at the stock market. Primary good's prices can range between 15 and 100M, processed goods between 60 and 310 based on market forces.

Each round is divided into several phases. In phase 1, each player chooses one of their 2 asset cards (drawn randomly). These cards either depict a resource (producer of a primary good e.g. land, sand, coal, etc) or a process (converting one/several good/s into another e.g. 1 land into one house). These asset cards are then auctioned by the companies. The company CEOs bid secretly and the highest bidding company chooses one asset and adds it to the company's assets - in return the CEO appoints the donating player to the highest available position in the company's management.

Based on the new available assets , the market forces change and the prices for all goods are adjusted accordingly (e.g. availability of new goods or producers lead to increased demand and hence higher prices of the goods).

After the companies have produced their primary goods, the core game of Greed begins. All CEOs can trade and process goods as they want.
Goods can be traded for other goods, money, promises (in this or a following round). Processing assets can be used once a turn.
There is one important restriction to the trading: the CEOs can use only the free cash flow of their company. Any revenue is considered as new income and will determine this years company's profit and cannot be used again for trades.

Once all trades are done, the companies can sell their goods at the stock market for the indicated price.

Now this round's income is compared to last year's income. Is the income higher, the company will continue operation with the same management team. Otherwise, each of the chief executives of the company will blame either himself or one of the other chiefs for the situation. Each accused chief has to leave the company - with a bonus based on the current free cash flow of the company (CEO: 40%, CFO/COO: 20%). New CEO is the highest ranked manager that had not to leave the company. Is no further manager available, the company seizes to exist.

Now 2 luxury goods are auctioned by the players (worth VP). Prices for these goods and amount of victory points are constantly increasing during the game. Hence, the earlier I get the chance to buy, the cheaper the luxury goods / VP.
Afterwards, those players who are just CEO of 1 company can bid for becoming CEO of a new company which will start operating during the next round.

We played a 4 player game for 6 rounds at the Splotter stand (then we had to stop to allow the next group to learn the game).
We had our first CEOs dismissed, started new companies or took over the position of the CEO of another company. All mechanisms work well and leave the players with lots of decisions, options and never-ending possibilities for game play.

The market forces are well simulated by the predetermined construction of the asset pile (groups of asset cards are shuffled and then the groups are stacked in a predetermined order). Early in the game, primary good prices rise and fall as soon as processed goods can become available.

Negotiating is the core part of the game and ultimately will determine the winner. The players can really be creative in their negotiations - and shall be !!!
However, all other decisions taken by the CEO are not less important: which asset do I add to the company, how much do I bid for the asset, at what time do I bust the company to get a big bonus and leave the lower ranks with a less interesting company. But is the bonus big enough to buy some luxury goods ? Do I try to leave the executive position early to buy cheap luxury goods or do I stay longer to increase my bonus. But I have to remember, that each round a maximum of 2 luxury goods is sold. I shall not end up having a lot of private money, but too few rounds or too many opponents to buy luxury goods.

With Greed, Splotter have really delivered. A brilliant 1st class and very unforgivable economic simulation requiring lots of brain work and interaction between the players. All games will probably be different, because the companies have a different asset base and due to the clever mechanism of becoming a chief executive in other companies. There seem to be endless strategies possible - all requiring lots of "Incorporated Greed" from the CEOs !

Conclusion: Buy.
For me, the best game of Essen 2009 and hence the Winner of Brokito's Essen 2009 Award !!!
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8. Board Game: At the Gates of Loyang [Average Rating:7.39 Overall Rank:239]
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So, this is the 3rd opus of Uwe Rosenberg's "harvest" games. After the incredible success of Agricola and last years not less appraised Le Havre, this year we are set into Asian agriculture !

Each player will grow different type of vegetables in his fields and sell them to occasional or regular customers. The more money is earned the further the players can advance on the VP track. After 8 rounds/years the game ends and the player who advanced the most on the VP track wins.

All players start with buying one vegetable which they can plant immediately on their 9 spaces big home field (once planted, all spaces are filled with the same crop and one of them can be harvested each round. Empty fields can be planted again). 6 types of vegetables are available (cheapest: wheat => most expensive: leek).

Each round has 4 turns:

1 - harvest
Each player can harvest 1 vegetable per field (put to the storage). Further, each player adds one additional field in front of him and can use it for planting vegetables. These fields have 3 to 6 spaces. A general rule is that the more expensive the vegetables, the smaller the required field on which it is allowed to be planted.

2 - Card drawing phase
At the end of this phase, each player will have selected 2 cards which he can then play. However, first each player draws 4 cards. The starting player discards one of his cards to the center of the table. The cards in the centre are open to all other players. The next player can now decide to either also discard one card to the centre or take one from the centre and one from his hand. Discarded cards always stock up the centre. The last player to select his cards becomes the new staring player. Selected cards will typically be placed in front of the players for usage in the action phase.

There are several type of cards:
- regular customers: they want to receive a defined combination of vegetables for several rounds. They pay on delivery. The player can afford not to deliver for one round - any further round will lead to a penalty payment.
- occasional customers: these customers want to be served once with an indicated combination of vegetables. Once served, the cards are discarded.
- market stands: at the market stands, vegetables can be exchanged (1 for 1 or 1 for 2). Each stand offers 3 indicated vegetables.
- event cards: these allow to have specific additional actions. The actions can be used once. Afterwards, the cards are discarded.
- additional fields (which can be planted once)

3 - action phase
In order, the players can plant empty fields, buy (expensive) or sell (little profitable) vegetables from the open market, deliver vegetables to regular or occasional customers (profitable), exchange vegetables and use event cards. Further 2 additional event cards can be bought and drawn from the card pile. The player can select to play/place 2, one or none.

4 - advancing on the VP track
Each player can advance 1 field for free. Each further step requires paying as much cash as labeled on the field (fields are labeled 1-15).


We played a 3 player game at the Lookout stand in Essen. Unfortunately we had to stop our game after turn 5 due to the next reservation. However, we got a good idea of the mechanics of the game.
The card selection mechanism is tricky. Which card to discard if I have several good cards in my hand. With some luck, the card is not valuable for the other players and will reach me after one round. Or do I first discard my less interesting cards and wait what other cards are discarded from my fellow players.
Selecting cards is also difficult. Regular customers allow to make the most profit - but they have to be served. This requires some good planning for planting the right plants on the fields plus availability of the right fields at the right time. But the plants have to be obtained in the first place - through market stands or the open market.
Event cards are generally providing good advantages - but the adequate card for the current strategy is required !

Compared to the other "harvest" games, "Gates" is the one which is the most suited for families. There are several tricky decisions, some long term planning and mostly short term planning. The complexity of the "economy" is much lower than in the other games. Further, much less long-term planning is required and the players are much less in the position of "not knowing what to do first". So "Gates" is less a brain game and the atmosphere while playing it is much lighter.

Anyway, it is a good gateway strategy game with very nice material (all vegetables are nice wooden pieces).

Decision at Essen 2009: No buy
(I thought the price of 37Euro was a bit to much - hence I will wait a bit for it to decrease)
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9. Board Game: Vasco da Gama [Average Rating:7.30 Overall Rank:441]
Brokito
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The Fairplay list indicated on the first 3 days of the fair, that Vasco da Gama would be worth playing. We were lucky to get seats on Sunday morning:

Vasco da Gama is a game in which the players buy ships, get a captain and an appropriate crew to sail towards India. The player with the most successful ships will win the game. This sounds all easy, but the players put some obstacles in one another's way !

The game is played in 5 rounds with several phases. All players start with 10 money.

In the first phase, the players assign their 4 actions. The players can chose between the following action categories:
- buying crew (crew is available in 4 types/colours) and/or captain
- buying a ship (the ships differ in range (4 to 11) - the more range, the more sophisticated the crew has to be, i.e. requires 2 to 5 different crew types/colours)
- embarking a ship (if it has crew and captain)
- choosing a special character/ability for at least 1 round or money (4 characters are available: King - one extra action, navigator - send a trading ship, priest - provides missioners (5th colour), starting player +2VP).
Each category can be selected 5-6 times each turn.

The assignment is done clockwise from the starting player in a very innovative mechanism:
In total 20 actions are possible for all players (21st for the king). Tokens from 1 to 20 indicate the order. One by one, each player selects one token and assigns it to one of the action categories until all actions are assigned.
OK, this sounds as if the starting player starts with token 1 and all others follow. But it is not that easy: each round one of the tokens is marked (depending on a drawn card). Usually it is a token between 4 and 8. After all players have assigned their action tokens, a new card is drawn and will move the marker +3 to -3. As a result, all actions that have a number equal or higher to the new marking are free. All other cost the difference of the action number to the new marking.

Now the actions are resolved from 1 to 20 or 21. If a player is not able or willing to pay for the right to take the action, he can forfeit the action and take money instead.

In order to make VP and hence ultimately win the game, the players have to sail their ships. If they chose the action, they can select an empty spot on the sailing chart. This chart consists of 6 cities with 1 to 6 sailing spaces with different range requirements. The nearer the cities are located to India, the higher the range requirement to the ships. The player will get immediately as many VPs as the space is indicating. The number on the space has to be equal or lower to the ship range. Hence the players will be eager to choose the highest available field, but might opt to select a lower one, because on top of the immediate VPs, each city provides an extra bonus (new ship, VP, captain, crew) and all fully occupied cities will be evaluated in a special manner after each round.
Here the navigator also has his influence: once a turn, he is allowed to send a neutral trading ship to one of the cities. The player will receive the city bonus and might occupy with this neutral ship the last spot of one city and trigger hence an evaluation at the end of the round - or he simply blocks the spot for other players.

After all actions were resolved, the evaluation phase starts:
starting from the city closest to India each city is evaluated one by one:
- first the players with ships in the city get VP or money depending on the type of ship they sent
- if all spaces are occupied in one city, extra VP or money is given per ship. On top, starting with the highest ranged ship, the ships can sail to the next city towards India - if there are still empty spaces and the ship fulfills the range requirement. All other ships are discarded and the captains return to the player for use on a new ship.

After 5 rounds the player with the most VP wins.

Vasco da Gama is a very well designed strategy game, in which all components and mechanisms are well balanced and nicely knitted together. Due to the innovative mechanism of the action assignment, all players are always part of the game. They will have their long term strategy, but often need to adjust it or take some risk due to other player moves. The theme works properly and the parts and artwork is excellent.

The complexity of Vasco da Gama is comparable to Puerto Rico, El Grande or Caylus but is lower than that of Agricola or all "big" Splotter games.

Conclusion: Buy.
If the game were not sold out, I certainly would have bought one !!!
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10. Board Game: Egizia [Average Rating:7.45 Overall Rank:282]
Brokito
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Hamburg
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Egizia - a game about monument building in ancient Egypt

Each player manages a building company with 3 building squads. These can support the construction of the sphinx, tombs, the obelisk, a temple and the pyramid and will be awarded with VP by doing so. The game is played in 5 rounds. The player with the highest amount of collected VPs wins.

The board depicts the Nile and the different construction sites. During each round the players sail the Nile downstream and will stop at its shores to take actions. In order to do so, the Nile is divided into 20 sections. Each section is assigned with one action. Half of the actions are standard actions and they are available each turn (they are marked on the board). The other actions are assigned semi-randomly by drawing cards and putting those face-up next to the shore (semi, because the deck is semi-randomly constructed based on the round). Except for the construction sites, the actions can just be selected by one player each round. In this clever mechanism, the players can chose to stop at any unoccupied shore downstream. They can pass as many shores as they want (e.g. to reach a specific action first) - but will never be able to get back to one of the shores that they passed.

The actions can generally be divided into the following categories:
- agriculture: the players can select agricultural land cards. These depict a number of food resources that are available to them each turn to feed the squads. 3 different terrains are available: grassland (produces always), irrigated land (produces only if irrigated), highland (produces only at high tide)
- quarry: the players can select quarry cards which allow them to produce the indicated amount of stones each round
- squad development: additional workers are added to one squad (thus this squad can add more stones at once to a monument). However, the more people in the squads, the more food is required.
- construction sites: 3 construction sites are available and several players can stop at them (one less then players in the game). Here the players can claim to add stones during the construction phase.
- weather field: the player can change the weather/water condition by one increment and thus changing the type of terrains which are fertile.
- 2 different development tracks (stone, VP): the further developed on these tracks, the players will be able to exchange VP to food or stones to VPs)

Once all players reached the Nile delta, they have to feed their squads. Unfed squads will lead to VP reduction.

Now the quarries produce stones which can be used for construction afterwards. Construction is then done site by site in claim order.
The 1st construction site allows to add stones to the sphinx. For each stone, the player draws a sphinx card. These cards will provide bonus VP at the end of the game if the indicated requirements are fulfilled (e.g. most stones in the obelisk). The player can select to keep one of the cards. The remaining cards are converted to immediate VPs. The second site allows to add stones to the obelisk or to construct tombs. These constructions are directly converted to VPs. The 3rd site allows to add stones to the pyramid or the temple => VP.

After 5 rounds and the settlement of the bonus points from the sphinx cards, the player with the most VP wins.

Egizia is a nicely composed strategy game. All ingredients are well woven into one another and require an elaborated action selection by the players regarding size of squads, feeding of squads, collection of stones, selection of construction sites, achieving bonus VPs. The "Nile"-action selection process is innovative, effective and greatly incorporated into the theme. All in all a very sound design !

However, except for the innovative action selection process, it seems that all other ingredients were somehow recycled from other games and newly mixed together. Hence, I felt that playing the game was slightly boring and not adding a really new gaming experience.

Conclusion: No buy.
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11. Board Game Publisher: Friedhelm Merz Verlag
Brokito
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Hamburg
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Conclusion from Spiel 2009:

From my pov Greed, Inc. will become a classic economic game which mirrors very well the rules and misled incentive schemes of 1990s and 2000s capitalism. Therefore it is awarded with Brokito's Essen 2009 Award !

Vasco da Gama is my contender for the the 2010 Spiel des Jahres Kritikerpreis and Deutscher Spielepreis - although I would certainly vote for Greed, Inc.

At the Gates of Loyang could become a good successor of Dominion as the 2010 Spiel des Jahres.

In the respect of being a play-testing fair, Essen 2009 was certainly much more difficult then in recent years - mainly due to the simultaneous school holidays and therefore the higher turnout of people on Thursday and Friday. Hence, there are still some games that I would have liked to play-test (in the order of personal preference)
Dungeon Lords
Endeavor
Last Train to Wensleydale
Macao
Carson City
Stronghold

See you in Essen 2010 and keep on gaming !
meeple
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