Our Essen Adventure
Gareth
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Zürich
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With a spring in our step and our empty luggage in hand four intrepid geeks set forth for the mythical land of Essen. This GeekList chronicles the games we played on our little adventure. The heroes of our piece are (in no particular order):
Juho Snellman
Switzerland
Zurich
Zurich
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Richard Tucker
United States
New York
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Bruce Murphy
Australia
Pyrmont
NSW
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Gareth
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Supporting cast will be mentioned where appropriate.

The ratings given are more or less based on gut feel and shouldn't be taken as an absolute measure of how good a game is. Where a game was played multiple times, I'll provide the rating in the last one.
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1. Board Game: Age of Steam Expansion: Special 2008 Spiel Limited Edition – Essen Spiel & Secret Blueprints of Steam Plan #3 [Average Rating:7.21 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.21 Unranked]
Gareth
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Zürich
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With much trepidation we arrived at our hotel. The fates had not been kind to us thusfar: of the two apartments we had booked, one had been sold and the other flooded by a burst water pipe the day befor arrival. Fortunately our hotel was not struck down by a meteor strike nor beset by a giant lizard, and even actually seemed quite nice.

With ourt fears alleyed and our bellies filled with food, we sat down to our first game. Since the show had not begun yet, we were limited to playing Age of Steam with last year's Essen expansion which I had brought.

The Essen map is a curious beast with no cities on the board, rather, on each turn the players get to each urbanize one town in a single hall. The cities are removed at the end and the placement is repeated next turn. Each town starts with cubes and the production action simply allows you to place to of your choice where you like. Track costs are insane ($4 per track).

While the game was generally tense in terms of score, the actual board play was a little flat. Save for some early positional jostling between two players, most players simply kept to themselves. The new city placement each turn combined with the powerful production action meant that, once you had built a loop, you could usually ensure good shipments.

We all had fun while playing, but in doubt this map will see any more table-time (maybe next year).

Rating:
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2. Board Game: Tammany Hall [Average Rating:7.27 Overall Rank:577]
Gareth
Switzerland
Zürich
Zürich
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With the new day a-dawning we set off for the Messe. Our hotel was some way outside of Essen, but the comute was actually quite pleasant and surprisingly cheap. We split in two with two of us trying to collect Winsome Games stuff and two trying to get a game of Peloponnes. Unfotunately both plans met with disaster, with JB being held up in traffic and Peloponnes having enough hype to have people sprinting in to play it. Our plans thwarted we met back up and turned to find ourselves facing an empty table of Tammany Hall, a game we had been talking about the night before. With little hesitation we sat down for a play.

The game is largely area control by majority with a couple of twists. You are placing your gang bosses on areas of the board in order to try and control the space. In order to boost your score in a region, you can use influence to control the local imigrant population. The nice aspect of this is that you must pick your fights and spend your limited influence where it is most useful and least likely to be thwarted by a stronger opponent. The most fun mechanism is that of the mayor. The player who controls most areas in a year becomes mayor and must assign offices to the other players. The interesting twist is that each office carries with it a unique power which the player can use. Since these will often be used against the mayor, forcing him to make this choice is delightfully agonising.

Overall the game is well put together. It made sense for it to appear at the Warfrog stand as, were it not for the designer sitting at the top of the table explaining the rules, I could easily have mistaken this for a Wallace design. The game plays quickly, as long as you have no AP sufferers, and presents enough interesting decisions to warrant the playtime.

Rating:
5 
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3. Board Game: Samurai: The Card Game [Average Rating:6.25 Overall Rank:4042]
Gareth
Switzerland
Zürich
Zürich
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Reveling in our good fortune with Tammany Hall we began wandering some of the bigger booths in the hope of finding a table. Factory Manager, Colonia and Tobago were top of the list. We were dissaponted first by the 2F booth, then Cwali, then Queen Games before finally sulking over to the Rio Grande booth to try our luck.

Much to our surprise we found an empty table. The reason for this quickly became apparent when we approached the desk to get a game: almost everything worth playing was out! Disheartened, we prepared to abandon our table, but then one of our group realised he went to Uni with one of the guys playing Factory Manager at the next table. One quick reunion later and they agreed to give us their copy when they finished. Since we just had to pass the time until the game became free, we just took anything which was available which in this case happened to be Samurai: The Card Game.

Samurai: The Card Game is a light filler game based on the board game of the same name by the good Dr. Knizia. you each take turns to play a card from your hand beside a land tile which will already be on the table. Each land has one or more of the three types of resource on it (square, circle and triangle). Once a land is surrounded on all four sides (not diagnoally) it is scored. Player cards also have one of the types of resource (or Samurais which are wild) and a number. For each resource on the tile, the player with the highest score in that resource takes one from supply. Ties go to no player.

If, after placing the tile, there are two cards from different players on two adjacent sides, a new land tile will be placed between them from the supply. The top card of the supply is always face up giving the players some advance notice of what will be coming into play. Play continues until all player cards are player or any single resource has run out. The game-end scoring is identical to the board game - if any player has the majority in 2+ resources, you win, otherwise, any player with a majority in something counts his non-majority pieces and the player with the most wins (with various levels of tiebreaker).

If you've played Samurai you know exactly what to expect here. In fact this has to be one of Knizia's laziest releases ever as he didn't really bother to come up with anything new for this game. However, for a game aiming to be more portable (once you get rid of the over sized box) we found it ironic that Samurai: The Card Game actually takes up more space than the board game and we were forced to adjust the cards on the table several times. If you haven't completely tired of Knizia's convoluted scoring mechanism and bland gameplay, then this may be worth a look, although, even then, I'd only recommend if you can't find the original board game which has nicer pieces.

Rating:
6 
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4. Board Game: Shipyard [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:437]
Gareth
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Zürich
Zürich
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Still waiting for the adjacent table to finish their game of Factory Manager (45 mins my butt) we noticed that a copy of Shipyard had been returned and decided to grab it, hoping to get in a couple of turns and a feel for the game before became available.

The setup for the game was horrifically fiddly (not helped at all by the "dump it all in the box" cleanup method always employed at these stands) featuring many vaguely similar chips which had to be sorted and placed on the board. With much referring to the manual, we eventually managed to get it all set up and began the rules explanation.

Now it's worth noting that our game group tend towards the heavier side of gaming and we regularly play the likes of 18xx, Age of Steam or various Splotter games. As such, complicated rules hold no fear for us. Nonetheless, by the time the game introduced its third (and, sadly, not final) rondel like device, it lost all interest to me, not to mention the member of our group who was actually falling asleep at the table. We slogged through the remaining rules and braced ourselves for actual play but were spared the horror by the conclusion of Factory Manager at the next table.

This game might be interesting but there are just way too many randomly overcomplicated mechanisms. There's no elegance to their inclusion and it feels much more like complication for the sake of complication. Needless to say, I won't be playing this game anytime soon.

Rating (based only on rules, so take with a pinch of salt):
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5. Board Game: Power Grid: Factory Manager [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:691]
Gareth
Switzerland
Zürich
Zürich
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With Factory Manager now in hand, we breathed a sigh of relief and set about absorbing the rules. Halfway through a game explainer came over and we asked her to take over. This turned out to be a mistake as she wound up repeating much of what we had already discussed.

Rules re-explained we started playing. The game played well, but it was clear we hadn't quite gotten the hang of managing what was available in the market as we experienced huge surges in production without associated storage (at one point I was running with about a third of the items in the factory shut down). This was then vastly over compensated for in the next turn with almost the entire column of storage being dumped onto the market. Overall most people enjoyed playing the game although there was some feeling that the auction was a little redundant. Nonetheless, it was interesting enough for one of our group to pick up a copy which allowed us to play it again later in the trip.

Rating: (later)
3 
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6. Board Game: Koplopers & Dwarsliggers [Average Rating:6.27 Overall Rank:7659]
Gareth
Switzerland
Zürich
Zürich
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With two of our "must plays" crossed off our list, we set off for pastures new, wandering around halls 4 & 5 to check out some of the smaller designers. Somewhere in the midst of hall 5 we came accross Koplopers & Dwarsliggers. Somehow this game had managed to wind up on our collective radars, although we were hazy about how and since we are all suckers for a good train game, we decided to give it a whirl.

Koplopers & Dwarsliggers is light passenger delivery game. Each turn you get 5 actions which you can use to move your trains, block stations on the network (which can trap other trains) or even build new trains, which, while giving you more space to play with, sap you action points as each train must be moved every turn if it can. Picking up and dropping off passengers is free, but end the movement of the train involved. We played the "advanced game" in which picking up passengers was optional, and undelivered passengers counted negative at the end of the game.

This game is pretty bland, offering little in the way of meaningful decision making. It might be okay as a family game, but there's little compelling gameplay to keep heavier players interested. You run around, hoovering up as many passengers as you can and then attempt to deliver them all before the game ends. You could try to pick stuff up later in the game to increase your earnings, but the risk is high since it's far too easy to get blocked by other players, and by that time, most quick or easy deliveries have already been made. This makes the tail end of the game rather tedious. Fittingly, it's as tough to recommend Koplopers & Dwarsliggers as it is to pronounce it.

Rating:
2 
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7. Board Game: At the Gates of Loyang [Average Rating:7.39 Overall Rank:239]
Gareth
Switzerland
Zürich
Zürich
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With the day drawing to a close we started hovering around the Heidelberger stand to try and play either Dungeon Lords or At the Gates of Loyang. Most games were progressing slowly and although one table of Dungeon Lords did empty, some people jumped on from the other side (where we were blocked by the people getting out) and so we lost out. We remembered at some point that At the Gates of Loyang had an easy way of telling how long the game had left thanks to the home field and we hovered around the table with the fewest turns remaining. Unfortunately, the players seemed to be playing incredibly slowly and we only finally got to sit down 45 mins before the Messe was due to close.

We had help from a friendly Lookout person who explained the rules and we were quickly underway. Since only one person spoke German competently, and we were playing with a German set, we played a sort of family game where none of us really used helpers at all. We were racing through the game and may even have managed to finish before closing, but a decision was made that the game was good enough to warrant a proper play, so we abandoned the game early and rushed to the Hall Games booth to grab copies for playing back in the hotel.

Rating: (later)
3 
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8. Board Game: Eine gegen Eine [Average Rating:5.08 Overall Rank:13507]
Gareth
Switzerland
Zürich
Zürich
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Having made our commute home and once again filled our bellies. We sat down for some more gaming.
First on the menu was Eine gegen Eine. For those of you who don't know, this game is the result of a group of designers trying to make a game which required no up-front rules explanation, you would simply open the package and revel in the experience. With such a premise we opened the package in eager anticipation.

For obvious reasons, I won't go into too much detail about the contents of the package. Suffice it to say that I learned two important lessons about how to make a game with no rules: first make a game which is so bland and uninspired as to require no thought to play; second, print the most important rules on the components. This is a "game" which tries to be more clever than it is, and fails miserably. I'm not sure what we were expecting, really, but this definitely left us unsatisfied and even a little bored. When a game plays on your imagination, it needs to be able to rise and meet the challenge - Eine gegen Eine, couldn't even get out of its armchair.

Rating: (half star only for novelty value)
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9. Board Game: At the Gates of Loyang [Average Rating:7.39 Overall Rank:239]
Gareth
Switzerland
Zürich
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Putting aside the bitter disappointment of Eine gegen Eine, we settled down to a proper game of At the Gates of Loyang with our newly purchased English copies. At the Gates of Loyang is the third in Uwe Rosenberg's Harvest Trilogy after Agricola and Le Havre. It's a far more accessible and streamlined game than either of its predecessors in which you play a farmer growing and selling different kinds of vegetables to various customers. There are two types of customer: regular customers who must be satisfied every round or else the will become unhappy and demand compensation; and casual customers, who are more flexible and can be served whenever it suits you. The trick is that you must balance the two types for the most gain, the more burden you take on, in the form of regular customers, the more money you can earn from the few casuals you will be able to serve.

It's a game populated with nice clean mechanics which work well together. Its accessibilty belies its depth and I suspect this may become my favorite of the series.

Rating:
6 
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10. Board Game: Peloponnes [Average Rating:7.16 Overall Rank:677]
Gareth
Switzerland
Zürich
Zürich
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Time was pressing onward and a couple of members of our group succumbed to the powerful force of fatigue. Fortunately, we were not the only gamers in the hotel and we managed to interest a couple of people in trying out Peloponnes. More fortunately still, there was also a gamer present who had played and was willing to teach us the game which made things go much smoother.

Peleponnes bills itself as a light civ game playable in 30-45 mins and it succeeds on most counts. You take the part of an ancient Greek civilization striving for glory. Each turn you conduct a kind of auction for tiles which will either be lands or buildings which will improve your civilisation. The auction is cute since you can only place one bid. If you are outbid, you may take your bid and move it to another tile (possible outbidding someone else) but you may not change the amount of your bid. This presents an interesting decision where you may have to choose to overbid something if you are early in the turn as much to ensure you have options when you are outbid as to jack up the price. The more you bid in a round, the earlier you will go in the next, which provides a nice balance mechanism.

The tiles are fairly simple abstractions of what they represent and will usually provide you with some resources when you buy them as well as some income each turn. Buildings must also be paid for, but you can delay payment if you don't have the resources although this carries some risks. Complicating matters are the random disasters which are guaranteed to occur during the game and are often devestating.

The game plays well, and the auction is interesting, forcing you to consider not just what a tile is worth to you, but also what your options will be if someone wants it more than you. Fundamentally, though, that's the only really meaningful decision you'll face each round. The disasters are brutal and it's tricky to escape the feeling that the timing and order of their occurance has almost as much impact on the outcome of the game as the players actions. However, if you're looking for a game capable of scratching that civ itch in 30-45 mins, Peloponnes is tough to beat.

After a busy and action packed day, we hit the hay and dreamt of what we would be playing tomorrow.

Rating: (later)
2 
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11. Board Game: Shop 'Til You Drop [Average Rating:3.00 Unranked]
Gareth
Switzerland
Zürich
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Morning broke and we headed once more to our gaming mecca. The queue to get in the door was more furious than it had been on Thursday. We had hoped to get a game of Dungeon Lords, but we had been piped to the post at all the tables. Realising it would be a while before any became free, we wandered off to do some shopping. We swang by the Splotter stand to pick up copies of Greed Incorporated and get a rules explanation in preparation for playing it that evening. The guy at the stand seemed confused as to why we would want a demo when we were already holding three copies of the game, but he obliged anyway and gave a clear and succinct explanation of the rules with a little Splotter humour thrown in for good measure.

Greed Incorporated in hand and a quick trip to the Queen stand later, we wandered back to see how the games of Dungeon Lords were progressing. Sadly all were still in progress and hadn't made much progress. Not wanting to keep dragging the group back here to see if any were free I resolved to just buy a copy and count on Vlaada maintaining his batting average. Bruce ran off to meet people for lunch, Richard broke off to peruse the puzzle stands and Juho and I hit the second hand stalls agreeing to meet Richard again for lunch. Juho hit the motherload in a second-hand shop with a nice little collection of 18xx titles. He picked up an 1844: Switzerland and an 1830: Variant Box #1, while I grabbed a kit copy of 18GL. Pleased with our discoveries, we wandered the stands for a while. We noticed Power $truggle being played in Hall 12 and resolved to swing back after lunch to see if we could give it a try.
 
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12. Board Game: Power Struggle [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:877]
Gareth
Switzerland
Zürich
Zürich
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Following an ample lunch, we headed back to the eggertspiele stand to see Power $truggle. Our timing was perfect and we arrived just as table was being vacated. We sat down and the nice lady from the stand began explaining the rules.

In Power $truggle you each play a rather unscrupulous employee of a large company trying to worm your way to the top through getting those managers loyal to you into the right departments with each department giving a benefit to the person who controls it. If all else fails, you can even resort to bribing your opponents giving you access to a more powerful version of the benefit, but with the added threat of costing them employees if they refuse. Your goal is to advance up different tracks for influence, corruption and the like until the point where you gain a victory point for that track. You can also gain a victory point by being better than your arch nemesis - one of the other players assigned to you randomly and in secret at the beginning of the game - in three different areas. If someone reaches four or more victory points, then the game ends and the player with the most victory points will win.

Power $truggle is a really interesting game. The theme may not sound the most interesting, but it's carried off well and perfectly fits the mechanisms employed in the game. At its heart, it's mostly about area control and influence, but the set of options open to you each turn as well as the interesting powers and bribery mechanism, gives you more than enough interesting decision points. For example, the director of Communications, gets to see and order the event cards which control the length and tempo of the turn, making it a very powerful position to hold. Despite that fact that our rules explainer was ambushed by some other gamers and we wound up incorrectly playing large parts of the game, we still all had fun playing and agreed that the game was very interesting, so I didn't hesitate in grabbing a copy.

Rating: (later)
4 
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13. Board Game: BasketBoss [Average Rating:6.47 Overall Rank:2971]
Gareth
Switzerland
Zürich
Zürich
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With Power $truggle tucked tightly into my GeekDo bag, we set off to find our next adventure. As we wandered past the Cwali booth, we noticed that one game of BasketBoss was coming to a close soon. Although we were a little sceptical of the game, we are fans of Factory Fun and Powerboats, so it seemed worth giving it a try. As the rules explanation began, we were joined by a couple of French passers-by whom we allowed to join our game.

In BasketBoss, you play the manager of a basket ball team trying to collect the best players to make the strongest team and win trophies. Players have three different attributes: strength, which varies over time and can go up or down (or both); income, which determines how much money having that player in your team will generate; colour, which gives you a bonus for variety; and height, which is used as a tie breaker where the team with the tallest player winning ties. Each round, the players auction off a bunch of players, then, the players compare strengths and win trophies baced on their relative rankings. They then select a special power for the following round. The powers vary in terms of usefulness, from the agent who let's you equal another players bid in the auction and gives you a discount on the players, to the referee who just helps you win ties. Since the special powers are chosen starting with the player in last place, this imbalance is almost certainly intended as a catchup mechanism. The game playes for six round and at the end of the game each trophy is worth some number of victory points (the better the trophy, the more it's worth) which you add to your team's strength to get your final score.

Ugh. This game is pretty dull, bringing little innovation to the auction genre. While the player stats seem interesting, they are essentially one-dimensional and there are never any interesting situations arising in the auctions. I realised during the second turn that this wasn't the game for me, and could sense the same from my companions. Unfortunately, we had made the fatal error of allowing to other people to join us for the game and were now bound by social contract to see it through.

Rating:
2 
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14. Board Game: Tobago [Average Rating:7.13 Overall Rank:389]
Gareth
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With BasketBoss behind us we contemplated just heading back to the hotel to explore some of our purchases, but before heading off, we decided to take one last pass of the big stands to see if anything interesting was available to play. As luck would have it, we found a free table with a copy of Tobago already set up. We hurried through the rules and began play.

In Tobago you play explorers in search of various treasures on a small island. Each turn you can either move your jeep or add a clue to a treasure. The movement mechanism is quite neat, although a little confusing on first reading. Basically, you get to move three legs where a leg is either covering any distance within the terrain block you are in or transitioning from one terrain to the other. Adding clues however is where the real game lies. Each clue has a constraint depicted on it, for example, must be next to a stream or may not be in the largest lake which you can apply to any of the four treasures in the game as long as it provides some new information and doesn't contradict any existing clues. This means that with each clue played, you eliminate some possibilities of where the treasure could be. When a particular treasure's location becomes specific enough, you place cubes on the possible locations as a visual aid. This greatly helps the players in deciding which clues they can/should play on a particular treasure. When a treasure is narrowed down to a single hex, you can finally dig it up. At this point you divide up the treasure.

Whenever a player added a clue to a treasure, they also added a compass of their colour. A final compass is added by the player who found the treasure. Both the order and number of these compasses is important, with the treasure finder at the head of the queue followed by the clues from most to least recently played. For each compass you have, you get to draw one treasure card and look at them. The treasure cards each have an amount of treasure between 2 and 6 on them aside from the two dreaded curse cards. All the treasure cards are then mixed together to form a single pile. The pile of cards is then distributed one at a time by offering the card to the players in the compass queue. Each player can either accept the treasure, at which point their compass is removed, or pass in which case it's offered to the next player. This continues until either the treasure runs out or a curse card appears (curses also force any players in the draw to discard their highest treasure). The last person to take a treasure card then kicks off the next treasure hunt. The game ends when all the treasure cards run out.

The final point of interest in the game is amulets. These appear whenever a treasure is found through a mechanism which is cute but a little fiddly. Ending a movement leg on an amulet will allow you to collect it. Amulets can be exchanged in return for various bonuses, for example, removing one treasure cube (not the last) from the board to help narrow down where the treasure is, to make extra movement, or even to avoid the bad effects of a curse card etc.

So, how does it play? Well, we all had fun playing, but ultimately this is much more of a family game. The game board and pieces are gorgeous and really do the game justice. By and large, each action you take will generate one treasure card in hand (barring curses and game end) although quality can trump quality to an extent. Getting hit by curses is really bad, although if they both come out early (and they did in our game), the amulets become largely useless, with the cost to get them (one turn) far outweighing their benefit. You also need to be careful who gets the free placement on the next treasure since this is essentially a free treasure card.

In general, the game is lacking in decisions. All of the treasures are equivalent (except towards game end, when they wont all necessarily be found) so there's no trade-offs to be made there. Movement is largely a waste of time unless you are getting a treasure. The constraint mechanism is really nice and fits the theme perfectly. The iconography on the cards takes a little getting used to, but you'll have most of it down by the end of your first play. Ultimately though, the cool mechanism can't carry what is, at the end of the day, fairly mechanical game play. I can see families enjoying this game, but for these four gamers, it just didn't offer enough to grab our interest.

Rating:
6 
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15. Board Game: Monopoly: Essen [Average Rating:5.00 Unranked]
Gareth
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With the day coming to a close and some new games in tow, we set off for our hotel. We decided to see at least some of Essen and went for a wander around the city center to get something to eat. I must say that Essen didn't do much for me. Given the shops on display and the general atmosphere, you could have been wandering round any of a hundred small European cities. We eventually settled on a small Italian restaurant and then, after some hilarity with the bill, we headed back to the hotel for some gaming.

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16. Board Game: Greed Incorporated [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:1588]
Gareth
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Our friends from the hotel had rented a conference room and so we decided to settle in there for the evening. First on the menu was Greed Incorporated, which was also being played at another table. Getting the rules explanation earlier in the day really paid off and we were off to a running start and soon over took our friends who had started about an hour earlier.

In Greed Incorporated you play a family or group trying to exert your influence in various different companies. Unlike many games, the goal here is to get kicked out of the company at just the right time to get a nice golden parachute. Each turn the players put a bunch of assets up for sale. Each company makes a single, secret bid and then companies choose assets in order from highest bid to lowest bid (ties are broken in favour of the company currently holding the biggest asset). Each asset represents a small company started by your uncle, nephew or some other crony. When the players get the asset, they also get to "benefit" from your considerable experience and have to give you a place on the board. There are three main places available, CEO (who operates the company), CFO, and COO although there is also space for any number of middle-managers. When you are added to a company you take the next available position. Purchasing the asset you put up for auction costs double your original bid.

Once assets are bought, the companies operate. Each asset produces goods either just on its own (a primary producer) or by requiring some other goods as input (a secondary producer). The only goods available in a turn will be those which come from primary producers, while there is a market available to sell to, you cannot purchase goods from it. As such, deals between companies are allowed at any price agreeable to both CEOs (minimum $1). Getting your goods from other players' companies is risky as you may find supply dries up at inappropriate moments, but, since each company can have at most four assets, a single company will probably be unable to go it alone for long. Companies can hold goods between turns at a cost, but most goods will wind up being sold into the open market for profit. The open market has two values for each good, a price and a modifier. The price is the amount the good is worth. The modifier is an indication of how much that price will change next turn. Each asset card played (i.e. put up for auction) or company started will change the modifier for a given good either positively or negatively. In general the market will begin buoyant, but will start to drop as the game progresses.

While the companies are operating, their money is kept in two separate boxes on their sheets. Free money money that is available to spend that turn. Income, on the other hand, whether from selling to the market or dealing with other companies, goes in a separate box and will not be available to spend again straight away. In the next phase, bookkeeping, the companies compare this year's earnings to the previous year (there is a separate box for this on the sheet also). If this year's earnings were not better than the previous year's then someone will be getting fired and the company gets a nice big red wooden boot to signify this. Either way, all the money is shuffled along to the next box, so the previous year's earnings become free money and this year's earnings become the previous year's earnings.

Now each company with a boot gets to fire people. Only the main three managers (CEO, CFO and COO) can be blamed for the companies failure and only those three get to do any blaming (i.e. middle-managers are irrelevant at this point). Each person gets to blame one other and anyone who is blamed at least once will be fired. On their way out, they grab an amount of the companies free cash based on their position (40% for the CEO, 20% each for the other two). Then all managers move up to fill up any now vacant slots, and one asset is discarded from the company. If a company has no managers at all left, then it goes bankrupt and leaves the game, also discarding all its assets.

Once all firings are done, there are three auctions which the players (not the companies) participate in. The first two are for status symbols, which are the victory points in the game. There are two types, gold and silver, and one of each is auctioned off. The auction has an interesting "ratchet" mechanism where the high bid for this year becomes the minimum bid for the next years auction. Each status symbol has a number on it and the decks are arranged in increasing order. Finally, there is an auction to start a new company. The minimum bid is 50 and the highest bid gets to found a new company with that player as CEO. This new company may take any immediately assets discarded by other companies for free. There is only one company started each round. The game continues in this fashion until all of the asset cards have been played.

Greed is good. It's an interesting game with some typically nice interlocking Splotter mechanisms. The game flows well and the simultaneous operating of all the companies helps keeps things at a brisk pace. It's important to try and get two companies under your control as soon as possible, both to allow you to control a single supply chain rather than be dependent on the whims of others and to let you perform financial manipulations to control when exactly your executives get the boot. This also means you have to be careful not to hand a company to another player in the firing phase. Giving up your golden parachute as a CFO or COO is not a huge loss (you'll wind up getting 16% of the free money rather than 20%) if you'll get to be CEO instead, so the order of firing can be very important. In our game, I benefited greatly from just such a move, giving me a totally secure and lucrative flow of goods between two companies.

The game certainly prompted much discussion, even the following day. Most felt it was an interesting game and wanted to play again, although there were some concerns about the game. Specifically one player felt that the strategy in the game was a little flat. Basically you just had to cash out and start a second company as quickly as possible. Also, there was a feeling that the cost for buying your own asset wasn't a large enough deterrant given the extra control it offered during the firing phase. Only repeated play will determine whether there is any grounds for these concerns.

Rating:
6 
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17. Board Game: Power Grid: Factory Manager [Average Rating:6.89 Overall Rank:691]
Gareth
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With Greed Incorporated still on our minds we sat down for our second game of Factory Manager. This time an early rise in power prices sent everyone scrabbling for the power and control rooms. When the dust settled we all realised our foolishness as few of us had any storage/production capacity and many were generating more power than we could consume. We were playing a couple of rules wrong (we didn't apply the discount to seasonal workers and we conducted the turn order auctions in the previous turn order rather than reversing it) which meant that once a player was early in turn order he stayed there continually getting access to the best machines. This created something of a runaway leader problem and, at the end of the game we all felt a little dissatisfied with the game.

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18. Board Game: Peloponnes [Average Rating:7.16 Overall Rank:677]
Gareth
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It was getting quite late after Factory Manager and so we decided to play something short. Since Peloponnes was the only game which really fit the bill, we gave it another whirl, this time with 5. The game went well again, and the neat little auction held its charm. The repeat play, however, made me more aware of how sparse the decision making is in this game, and how much can hang on the whimsy of the harvests and disasters. Once again, however, the speed of the game won through, and everyone agreed that it was a fun little Civ-esque game.

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19. Board Game: Mr. Jack in New York [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:609]
Gareth
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On the Saturday, we made a decision to avoid the chaos of the Messe and just take full advantage of the Conference Room we had rented. Crawling from our slumber at a leisurely pace Juho and I hit the local Penny Markt for some breakfast items before settling down to play. Upon arriving at the conference room, we found a game of Horse Fever already in full swing tying up all the available players. Spotting a copy of Mr. Jack in New York on a nearby table, I suggested to Juho we give it a try while we waited for others.

Mr. Jack in New York is the sequal to 2006's Mr. Jack. One player takes the role of 8 detectives hunting for Jack the Ripper, the other plays Jack himself secretly disguised as one of the detectives, except the detective player somehow doesn't know which one. Wacky theme aside, this is a nice little deduction game and the original is one of the best 2p games I own. Each turn 4 of the available 8 characters will move, with a deck of character cards deciding exactly which characters will be available. On odd numbered turns, the detective chooses and moves character first, then Jack chooses and moves two characters, and finally the detective moves the last character. On even turns this is switched, with Jack choosing first and last and the detective in between. The deck of characters is only reshuffled when it runs out, so all the characters will be moved over the course of two turns. At the beginning of the game, Jack is assigned a random character and, at the end of each turn, Jack announces whether he is currently seen (adjacent to any other character or a street lamp) or unseen. This allows the detective to gradually narrow down which characters can/cannot be Jack. Each character can be flipped over to indicate that he has been eliminated so there is no memory element to this. Jack wins if he can go eight turns without being identified by the detective or if he can escape the board. The detective wins if he can identify Jack and move another character onto him to accuse him.

The simple premise is made more interesting by the characters. Each character has a unique power which can be used either in addition to or instead of their movement as appropriate. For example, one character can lay down metro exits which allow fast movement around the board while another can move police cordons which block off areas of the board. The crux of the game is in picking the right character for your needs while not allowing your opponent any good opportunities. Jack's best bet is to remain hidden, but he should be willing to threaten to escape when the need or opportunity arises. The detective must contain Jack closing off escape opportunites while trying to gradually whittle down the number of possibilities for who Jack can be.

Juho had never played Mr. Jack before and, as such, the game ended fairly abruptly with a third turn escape by me thanks to a lucky draw and a small mistake on Juho's part. Overall, I don't think Juho enjoyed it and I didn't really get much of a feel for the new game in such a short play. Fortunately, this wasn't the last opportunity I would get.

Rating: (later)
 
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20. Board Game: Dungeon Lords [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:182]
Gareth
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While Mr. Jack in New York didn't last long, it lasted long enough for some new players to become free. We split into two groups with one table playing At the Gates of Loyang and my table taking on Dungeon Lords.

Dungeon Lords was this year's release from Czech wunderkind Vlaada Chvátil. I'm a big fan of Space Alert and Galaxy Trucker, and, while I don't particularly enjoy it, I still admire the elegance of Through the Ages, so, having been a big fan of Dungeon Keeper on the PC, I had high hopes for his latest release.

You play a Dungeon Lord trying to build up the most glorious dungeon in the land while keeping those pesky adventurers from ruining your plans. The game takes place over two years, with each year involving four turns of, essentially, resource gathering and concluding with some brave/stupid adventurers trying to break into your dungeon. The resource gathering involves choosing three acitons in secret which are then revealed one by one. Generally, the actions get more beneficial if you can manage to choose them after the other players, for example, when gathering food, the first player simply pays the locals for some food so he gives on gold and gets two food. The second player to choose to gather food finds that the villagers have none to sell so he just takes them, gaining on the evil track (a mixed blessing) and gaining two food. The final player to come along simply slaughters all the villagers taking the last of their food and the gold paid by the original player at a cost of gaining two spaces on the evil track. Adding a complication to matters is the fact that, after each turn, two of the actions you chose will become unavailable, so you can't just chose the same action over and over again. Also, each action only has space for three players, so someone may be left out.

Over the course of the year you'll use the various actions to build tunnels and rooms in your dungeons, buy traps and hire monsters. You'll also attract the attention of adventurers along the way (and perhaps even the dreaded paladin, if you are evil enough) as well as being taxed by the Ministry of Dungeons or having to pay your monsters for their diligence and hard work. Finally, at the end of the year, you'll have to repel the adventurers who have come to destroy your dungeon. Combat is tricky to get the hang of, but simple in principal. There are four rounds and the adventurers will attack a single space in your dungeon on each round. If they attack a tunnel, you can set one trap and send one monster to fight them. If they attack a room you can send two monsters and may elect to spend a gold to place a trap (you need bait to lure them into it). Traps are triggered first, although their damage may be reduced if there are thieves present in the party. Then your monsters will attack. Generally the monsters will attack the first adventurer in the party although some abilities may change this. Monsters are one-use and are knocked out by the party after their attack (although again, some monsters may have abilities which prevent this). If the party survives, then any priests will first do some healing before the party takes fatigue (damage caused by the stressed of plundering the dungeon and arguing over who gets the best loot) before conquering the tile. There may also be spell casters who will have a different spell available to them each turn. Lather, rinse, repeat four times or until all the adventurers are knocked out. Adventurers you knock out are taken prisoner and are worth victory points at the end of the game. (I've glossed over a lot for the sake of brevity, I'd highly recommend taking a look at the rules for more details.)

At the end of the second year, you score points for prisoners and rooms, lose points for having portions of your dungeon conquered and compete for titles (largely of the "have the most X" variety) also worth points. Whoever has the highest score wins.

As suggested by the rule book, I began the rules explanation with Combat using the helpful, pre-printed examples on the player boards. These are interesting little puzzles because they can all be done with the loss of only a single tile and the solutions are non-obvious. Much delight was had trying to find the optimal solutions before we finally proceeded with the rest of the rules. The game played well, although interaction was totally flat. The competition for actions is just not that interesting and the fact that missing players (the game is designed for 4) can be adequately replaced with a random draw of action cards is telling. The resource gathering phases were slow and fiddly and seemed to detract rather than add to the fun. At least we knew we would have the payoff of the combat at the end, right?

Wrong! While the combat examples are fun little puzzles, the situations which arise during actual play are generally much less interesting and much more straightforward. Combat resolution is usually a mechanical, by the numbers affair, rather than having any interesting decision making. Also, while the combat mechanism used in the examples is completely deterministic, the actual combat isn't thanks to the addition of the spell cards. Not only to these allow the wizards to cast random spells, but they also change the fatigue on any given round. While it is possible to get sneak previews of the cards during resource gathering, it still destroys the elegance of the mechanism.

While no one hated the game, none of us were particularly impressed either. We had played one rule wrong however (we weren't paying for monsters at the point we hired them) so we admitted we should try it again.

Rating: (later)
 
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21. Board Game: Mr. Jack in New York [Average Rating:7.29 Overall Rank:609]
Gareth
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Richard and I decided to grab some fresh air and went for a wander while the others began a game of 1870: Railroading across the Trans Mississippi from 1870. Upon our return we found that everyone was playing something and so I introduced Richard to Mr. Jack in New York. We played twice in total, although not back to back, changing sides in between. I let Richard go Jack first while I went the detective. Richard found the game agonising at first due to the large number of options open to him each turn, but towards the end he was starting to get the hang of it. He was mostly conservative in his play, preferring to keep Jack in the light than risk putting him in the dark. As such it was slow going for me as the detective and I was struggling to eliminate candidates. Towards the end of the game, I realised I wasn't going to be able to narrow it down sufficiently and began using the informant as much as possible (the informant is a tile in NY where you can go to get an alibi card once per turn, after using he moves around). Sadly , I didn't gain any new information and was forced to make a 50:50 guess on the last move of the last turn. I guessed correctly, but it didn't really feel like a victory.

In the second game, Richard, had his revenge. Play was much quicker and a few turns in I saw an opportunity. I put my plan into action and, at the beginning of the 4th turn I had three characters poised to escape, one of whom was Jack. Richard thought carefully about his options, and while he could prevent one or two from escaping, he couldn't cover them all. Figuring that it was better to end the game on his terms than on mine, he made an accusation and guessed correctly.

Mr. Jack in New York is a very different game from Mr. Jack. The board state is much more volatile with many more characters having powers which add things to the board. This makes it tougher to plan ahead since the set of possible changes to the board between now and your next action is very large. The high degree of board flux is probably in Jacks favour and I suspect this game has tilted things somewhat to his advantage. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. The high mobility of many characters, however, has probably removed the opportunity for Jack to be discovered but to remain out of reach of the detective. The addition of parks (areas where you can neither see nor be seen) also probably increases the likelihood of Jack being able to escape.

The new character powers and board make for an interesting variation on the theme for veterans. The changeability of the board and the difficulty of planning ahead probably makes it not such a good choice for beginners though. I think for fans of the original, this is a must have (if only so that Jack can finally have his day), but I'd recommend newcomers to start with the original game.

Rating:
3 
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22. Board Game: Power Struggle [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:877]
Gareth
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While the 1870: Railroading across the Trans Mississippi from 1870 was still in full swing, some new players had shown up in the meantime. I explained the rules to Power $truggle to the newcomers while Richard pondered his moves in Mr. Jack in New York. Having had the chance to read the rules in the mean time, we now played the correct version of the game and found that our intuitions were correct. The game played quickly and had a fantastic pace. Bribery was rampant this time where it had been almost totally absent in the previous game and the play was much tighter and more cutthroat than before. Thanks to some incredibly aggressive play, Hubert, sprinted up the score tracks and quickly triumphed. It took many of us by surprise, but highlighted the inefficiencies in our strategies. Overall the game was liked and we agreed it was a worthy purchase.

Rating:
3 
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23. Board Game: Dungeon Lords [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:182]
Gareth
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With the night drawing to a close we decided to give Dungeon Lords its second run. The new play, with the correct rules, dismissed some fears but introduced others. Since 2 of the 3 players had played before and the 3rd had read the rules, the game flowed much better. The resource gathering phases were dramatically quicker and less fiddly since everyone knew what had to be done and what their options were. On that side the game improved. However, by the end of the first year, thanks to some misfortune, Richard was suffering. He had few monsters and fewer traps and was totally dry on resources. After the first combat round he had lost most of his dungeon to the adventurers. He admitted at this point that he wanted to just leave the game as he could see that the second year wasn't going to go any better given his current predicament. To his credit he ploughed on, but his frustration was palpable and did nothing to enhance the feel of the game. He was able to make some approximation of a comeback, but, as was predicted, he finished dead last by some margin.

The second play clocked in at little over an hour, which was fortunate since there isn't really enough game here to justify any longer. I will play Dungeon Lords again, but it's sadly not a great game and I'd definitely rather play Space Alert or Galaxy Trucker instead.

Rating:
2 
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