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Subject: Essen - Reflections on New Releases rss

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T. Rosen
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Another Essen Spiel has come and gone, meaning that it's time to flood the Internet with innumerable post-Essen reports on all the new game releases. This is only the second Essen since my obsession with eurogames began, but I've read so much coverage of the convention that I figured I might as well jot down my thoughts. I've read anything and everything about Essen on BoardGameGeek (see the 122 threads and geeklists at http://www.boardgamegeek.com/user/Thommy8/tag/essen). I've read and re-read Rick Thornquist's coverage at BoardgameNews (http://www.boardgamenews.com/index.php/boardgamenews/C92/). I've enjoyed the report by Mike Siggins as usual (http://www.funagain.com/control/viewblogpost?contentBlogPost...), and scoured more blogs than you can shake a stick at (http://coljenngamer.blogspot.com/ and http://thegameshelf.blogspot.com/2006/10/feeding-essen-hype-... and http://www.jamesongames.com/?p=1010 and of course the masterful Kulkmann's G@mebox at http://www.boardgame.de/specials/messe/essen06/essen06.html), not to mention monitoring the constantly fluctuating, and constantly dubious Fairplay rankings (http://www.fairplay-online.de/Scout06.pdf).

Last year's Essen was singularly defined by Caylus. Essen was Caylus and Caylus was Essen. This year seems, at least from the other side of the pond, to have a very different tenor, as numerous games are fighting for the spotlight, and none yet stands head and shoulders above the rest. So it can be difficult to figure out what to be hopeful about, what to look forward to, and what to avoid or make sure to try before buying. So what am I looking forward to now and what am I planning to avoid:

GHEOS is certainly my most anticipated game now and the game that I am most likely to buy without trying first. As evidenced by my personal Top 20 list, Tigris & Euphrates and Carcassonne are my two favorite games, so the innumerable comparisons between Gheos and those two games do nothing but bolster my desire to play the game.

Side Note: Are many of the games really re-workings of older games or is it just easier to explain what a game is like by comparing it to an existing game? Gheos is supposedly a combination of Carcassonne and Tigris, Taluva is apparently a simpler Java, and Die Saulen der Erde is apparently a simplified Caylus. BattleLore is obviously a reworking of Memoir '44 and Shogun is simply a reworking of Wallenstein. What's going on here? I don't know. There are certainly lots of games that are similar to or reminiscent of previous games, but it seems like most of the most popular Essen games this year bear significant similarity to existing games. But then again maybe it just easiest to explain these games by comparing them to familiar games.

Back to Gheos, so I've read the rules PDF for Gheos (http://www.zmangames.com/cardgames/files/gheos/Gheos_Rules.p...) and it looks very promising. Tile-laying games are often very good in my book as they present a lot of decision-making, but straightforward and streamlined rules. They have luck, but it is often mitigated by considering probabilities. They are very different every time, with high replayability. But there are certainly a few pitfalls that Gheos needs to avoid. First, it needs to not be too chaotic. If the continents reform too quickly, easily, or frequently then players won't have enough control to make the game interesting. This seems like one of those games that might be best with the fewest number of players allowed in order to minimize chaos (e.g., Through the Desert, Carcassonne, China, Samurai, Hansa), as opposed to games that are best with the maximum number of players (e.g., El Grande, Princes of Florence, Santiago, Amun-Re). Second, the game needs to avoid being too much of a stock game like Acquire, which is a game that falls very flat with me. If the civilizations in Gheos might as well be the Hydra and Sackson corporations in Acquire that merge just like in Acquire, then it's not going to be what I'm looking for.

On the plus side, it's a cheap game at only $16.24 on Thought Hammer. Moreover, it's a Z-Man game and they put out the magnificent Reef Encounter. On the potential down side, Rene Wiersma is not a proven designer... yet. But then again William Attia came out of the blue last year, and Knizia and Wolfgang Kramer aren't exactly infallible. In the end, I'll just have to wait and see how it plays out, but this certainly has the potential to be a 10 for me on BoardGameGeek, but I won't hesitate to give it a 6 if it belongs there.

NOTRE DAME was only a prototype at Essen, and won't actually be released until Nurnberg next year at the earliest, but it's still near the top of my list of upcoming releases to look forward to. The name ALEA may not mean anything to most people around the world, and may not mean much to most gamers after Mammoth Hunters, Fifth Avenue, and Rum & Pirates, the name ALEA still carries a lot of weight with me. Ra is fantastic, Princes of Florence and Puerto Rico are instant classics, Traders of Genoa is THE premiere negotiation game (at least until I find a reasonably priced Chinatown), Louis XIV is a top-tier area control game, San Juan is one of the best card games (even if I'm not a huge card game fan), and Taj Mahal is my most anticipated reprint now that El Grande Decennial has finally been released. So any new Alea game will certainly catch my eye and get me interested, especially when Rick Thornquist says "Notre Dame harkened back to the glory days of Alea." That statement alone makes me very optimistic about this game. It certainly doesn't hurt that the theme is the traditional, bland Alea theme, which makes me think that this really might be back to the good ol' days of reliable Alea hits. Only time will tell, but this is definitely one to go on the watch list and to keep an eye on over the next few months. It certainly doesn't hurt that this got the best rating out of everything on the Fairplay rankings.

TALUVA is apparently a lighter Java, which piques my interest for the same reason that Gheos tops my list, which is that Java is the #4 game on my personal Top 10. If Marcel-Andre Casasola Merkle has managed to create a shorter, 2-player version of Java then I'm definitely on board. As you already know, tile-laying sits well with me, but what doesn't sit well with me is Attika. Now I don't know if Taluva will bear any relationship to Attika, but that being Merkle's highest rated game on BGG, and one of my least favorite eurogames of all time, gives me more than a little trepidation. Taluva looks like a fabulous middle-weight game from everything I've read, but the memories of Attika are making me wary, and keeping it from the top of my wishlist for at least the time being, and perhaps will make this a try-before-buying game.

YSPAHAN is the fourth and final game that has been added to my wishlist from the new Essen releases (the other three being Gheos, Notre Dame, and Taluva of course). I still haven't managed to really understand the gameplay of Yspahan because the only really recurring comment about the game across all the blogs and posts is the fact that there are dice, but don't worry, they're not used the way dice are normally used. So at least I'm properly forewarned about the dice (which is funny because I'm finally beginning to re-learn an appreciation for dice, at least in Can't Stop, Liar's Dice, StreetSoccer, and Nexus Ops). But the biggest selling point for this game is obviously the Ystari label. Caylus is still fabulous after 30 plays, and even though Mayfair, Rio Grande, and yes even Alea have managed to release plenty of stinkers, I have a good feeling about Ystari. I've already got Mykerinos in my cart for my next order, and am still contemplating Ys despite the significant criticism it has garnered, so Yspahan is definitely one that I want to know more about.

BATTLELORE certainly deserves a mention since it was one of the stars of the show, and maybe THE star of the show for at least a certain crowd. Personally I am just not at all interested in BatteLore. The $70 price tag doesn't help, but it's much more than just that. The biggest turn off is that Days of Wonder has already said they're planning to release many expansions for this game, and while I'm certainly partial to the occasional expansion or two, I'm definitely not looking to get back into collectible gaming. I'm a recovering Magic addict, having sunk countless dollars into the CCG back between 1995 and 2000, purchasing many thousands of cards. I already know that if there's an expansion for a game I own then I almost have to have it, as evidenced by my Carcassonne addiction (although I'm proud to say I've put Princess & Dragon on my trade list, and have managed to delete The Tower from my wishlist), including ordering Spielbox magazine specifically to get Die Katharer (not to mention Die Fischer von Catan, St. Petersburg - The Banquet, and TtR Mystery Train). I'm an admitted expansion-a-holic, so I need to keep well away from BattleLore for that reason alone, otherwise my budget for all the other future Knizia and Alea games will be severely hampered. This is the exact same reason I've avoided games like HeroScape. On top of all that, I've heard such negative comments on Memoir '44 from people whose game opinions align closely with mine that I'm very wary of the Commands & Colors system. I'm also just not a wargamer at heart I guess. I'm fine with multiplayer-solitaire, that's just not a criticism in my book, Princes of Florence sits very well with me. Confrontational games have a time and a place, but it's rarely that time or place for me, and you really need the right group/opponents to make them work. A Game of Thrones is interesting, but primarily because the Song of Ice and Fire books are so fabulous, and the characters/houses are so interesting. Indirect conflict is fine for me (e.g., competing for scarce resources), and the fantasy-theme of BattleLore is actually a plus for me, but direct conflict isn't something I feel a strong need to play. However, I wish Mark and Eric the best of luck with this new release of theirs because I’ve recently listened to two podcast interviews with them (Garrett’s Games & Geekiness Episode 33 and BoardGameSpeak 10/5/04), and they seem like great guys, who have really earned their TtR-driven success.

SHOGUN is definitely another star of the Essen show, countering the debacle that seemingly is the Alhambra Dice Game (wow that sounds simply awful). But personally I'm not interested in Shogun, yet at least, because Wallenstein is on the way, and I've got to play that a few times before I figure out if it's worth owning two copies of the game with different maps. I'm really excited about Wallenstein (despite all my criticism above of direct conflict), and despite my not-particularly-enjoyable play of it on SpielByWeb (http://www.spielbyweb.com/). I actually got very lucky because someone on BoardGameGeek actually wrote a GeekMail to me to let me know that they had recently seen one last new copy of Wallenstein sitting in the Valley Games FLGS in Canada. So I wrote to Valley Games and asked them if they would hold Wallenstein for me, and ship it to me when the Die Macher reprint was ready, and they graciously agreed. So now I'm eagerly awaiting Die Macher and Wallenstein, thus checking off two of the top games that have been on my wishlist for a long time now. But with my fortune in acquiring an affordable copy of Wallenstein, I've lost any interest in the Asian-retheme Shogun for the time being. After settling for the Asian-retheme in China, despite hoping to find Web of Power (and I'm actually glad I did, as China occupies the #19 spot on my personal Top 20, at least for the time being), I really didn't want to settle for another Asian-retheme. I was lucky to not have to, at least I hope I was lucky, I guess I'll find out soon enough when Wallenstein arrives, and get to experience the wonder of the cube tower for myself finally.

REEF ENCOUNTERS OF THE SECOND KIND & FOWL PLAY were two games that I definitely had my eye on, but did not get a lot of coverage during the fair. I figure this is because everyone who got them had to preorder them a long time ago, so no one really played them during the 4 days of Essen because they'd either already purchased them or didn't, so no one needed to figure out whether they were worth buying. But I'm interested in both of these games. I was able to playtest Reef Encounters of the Second Kind back on March 23, 2006 when Richard Breese visited my games club at Columbia in New York City (http://www.columbia.edu/cu/csss/). Reef Encounter is my #11 game, so while the game is already complex enough, an expansion was sure to be on my radar, and this expansion was fantastic! I really enjoyed everything that the expansion added to the game, from the cards to the new tiles to the blue shrimples. Richard Breese was also nice enough to bring a prototype of Fowl Play with him when he visited my club, but I was nice enough to bow out and let three other people in the club try that one out (of course I regret that decision now). They all seemed to enjoy it, and I almost sprung the 40 Euro to pre-order it and have it sent across the pond, but decided that if it was good enough then hopefully it would be reprinted (plus I’d just caved in and went for Nexus Ops in the Toys ‘R Us Sale, and Mammoth Hunters and Fifth Avenue in the Amazon Sale, thanks to BGG users sharing those sales). I also didn't pre-order the Reef Encounter expansion, hoping very much that Z-Man prints a version of the expansion with art that matches the 2nd Edition of the game. While the expansion is playable with my edition, it will look much better if I can get a version of the expansion that actually matches my edition of Reef Encounter. If Z-Man drops the ball on this one though I will be severely disappointed!

HAMELN pretty much has to be mentioned in the same breath as Fowl Play and Reef Encounters of the Second Kind since it’s the other game that sold out long before the doors of the Essen halls even opened. The Fragor Brothers managed to sell out all 1,000 copies before the show again, so lightning apparently can strike twice! I still haven't managed to pick up Shear Panic, although it sits side by side with Mykerinos in my cart for my next order. So I'm sure it'll be a while before I ever try Hameln, if I ever do, but the gameplay sounds very interesting and unique, and of course the components look fabulous. Who could have though that rats could be as cute as sheep? Just like the two new Richard Breese releases, not much has been reported on the gameplay of Hameln, but that's obviously because no one needs to play the game during the 4 days of Essen to figure out whether or not to buy it because they've all already either bought it or not bought it, so there's no time pressure to try it out right away. I guess we'll have to wait a bit to get all the reports on how Hameln plays, in order to see whether it avoids the Cleopatra-pitfall of relying too much on chrome.

IMPERIAL and PERIKLES are two games that have been talked about a lot in Essen coverage around the Internet, but don't seem to have gotten much play yet, probably due to their complexity and long play times. First, everyone seems to agree that IMPERIAL is a close sibling to Antike, so that's kept me from being too interested in it. While the Rondel seems like a fascinating and unique mechanic that I'd love to try, the video review of Antike at Board Games with Scott (http://www.boardgameswithscott.com/ ) thoroughly convinced me that Antike is not a game for me. Scott's video reviews have got me very interested in many games, not least of which was Die Macher, but thankfully they've also helped me to actually remove some things from my wishlist. Antike tops that list because I have a strong dislike for games that allow conflict and fighting, but strongly discourage it by making it too difficult and unrewarding. Twilight Imperium is a good example of this because it strongly encourages sitting in your own corner and building up, rather than actually fighting, and thus punishing anyone who goes out to be confrontational. This kind of empire-building game where it's a fatal mistake to actually be confrontational is very frustrating to me, and is why Antike has fallen off my list, and Imperial doesn't get a spot to begin with. Second, PERIKLES is another game on which very little has been reported, but it's one I'll keep an eye on. This is because I'm a budding Steam-addict, and even though Tempus fell flat with me, Martin Wallace games are always worth a look. I'm not sure if Perikles will be my cup of tea, especially since all the Age of Steam expansion maps are keeping me very busy lately. Speaking of which, Korea is fabulous, and Germany and Scandinavia seem very interesting indeed, Italy intrigues me very much, and even Western US deserves a shot, and I'm not even up on all the brand new maps released over the last few days.

FIJI and FORMIDABLE FOES are Friedemann Friese's two newest releases this year, and have generated a lot of buzz on that basis alone. However, with Power Grid being my biggest eurogame disappointment of all time, I haven't paid much mind to either Fiji or Formidable Foes. The attention I have paid to these two games has convinced me that they're not even worth the little attention that I have paid them, as no one seems particularly enamored with either. The dungeon-crawl Formidable Foes has been criticized as very repetitive, and Fiji is a blind bidding game that hasn't sparked any praise that I'm aware of. Mr. Friese seems very nice from his appearance on Board Games with Scott, and I wish him well, but it's pretty clear to me that his games just aren't for me. You can decide for yourself, but I'll steer clear of these. I might as well mention Power Grid - Benelux/Central Europe here too. It's certainly an Essen release that will be high on many people's list, with Power Grid occupying the #4 spot on the BGG Rankings, but Power Grid is a 6 in my book (and that's being generous), so neither this expansion map nor the previous France/Italy one are on my list. I'll stick to Age of Steam expansion maps instead.

ANASAZI and JUSTINIAN were the exciting new Phalanx releases of the show, and I was excited about them not only because Maharaja and Pingvinas (i.e., Hey That's My Fish) are fabulous, but also because Jurgen-Wrede did Anasazi and Colovini did Justinian (and unlike the general masses I'm actually a fan of Clans and Cartagena). However, just about everything I've read about both Anasazi and Justinian has been extremely negative, which is a shame for this promising publisher, especially after their GoldenGeek-hopeful no-luck filler from last year with the best pasted-on theme possible: penguins! Anyway, Anasazi is a path-building game, but it's free form so you spread out the targets on the table and build paths however you want with little cardboard roads. This game has been roundly criticized because it's subject to significant interpretation and disagreement about whether the paths reach their destination. It apparently boils down to a game of millimeters, which doesn't sound like much fun at all. Justinian is another blind bidding game that has actually managed to garner less praise than Fiji it would seem. While everyone seems to agree that the artwork and components in Justinian look absolutely fabulous, it would seem that there is almost no control in the game, and if there's one thing I want in a eurogame it's decisions that matter and control over the outcome. I don’t mind some luck (although I'm always happy when there's no luck, like in Through the Desert or Caylus), but the luck can't dominate the result, or it just won't fly with me. Hopefully Phalanx will rebound from these flops in the near future!

SPACE DEALER and FACTORY FUN are the strangest games of the fair that have received a lot of attention. Factory Fun is a Cwali puzzle game that apparently defines the multiplayer-solitaire genre, aside from the mad rush to grab the parts you need. While StreetSoccer is one of my most played games, I won't be rushing out to get Factory Fun any time soon despite many people being pleasantly surprised by it at the fair. Space Dealer is the crazy new game from Eggert-Spiele that apparently plays off the integration of sand timers into TAMSK by also using sand timers as an integral part of the game. The simultaneous action selection of Space Dealer, eliminating all down time, is certainly appealing, but the game just sounds very stressful, making me wary. I've read some reports that it's a blast to play, but others have written that they found the game stressful, and that's not something I'm eager to shell out the limited funds for. These are both games that I love reading about because they're very unexpected and seem very unique (especially in a year of close comparisons, see above for Gheos=T&E/Carc, Taluva=Java, Die Saulen der Erde=Caylus), but neither is a game I'm running out to buy for that very same reason, they're unexpected and unique, so there's definitely a bigger risk in springing for them without having tried them first. I'm pretty risk-averse, so I'll sit back and be content just reading about them for the time being. I’m also wary of any game that seems to rely too much on a gimmick to stand out because I was already burned by Niagara on this front, and games with gimmicks tend to lack the replayability of games with solid mechanics and gameplay.

DIE SAULEN DER ERDE probably should have come up earlier in this summary because it's definitely one of the most talked about games from Essen this year, but it fits in well hear, in stark contrast to Space Dealer and Factory Fun. Unlike either of those, it falls into the Gheos and Taluva camp of apparently having a close parallel to an existing eurogame. Many, if not all, have compared Die Saulen der Erde to the much revered/reviled Caylus. It appears that this game is the answer to everyone's prayers for a shorter and more accessible version of Caylus, but that's the very same reason I have little to no interest in Die Saulen der Erde. I love Caylus. I was skeptical at first of all the hype last year, but I couldn't help but preorder it anyway last October just to see what everyone was getting so worked up about. While many people have begun to criticize Caylus over the past year for taking too long and being unbalanced, instead I've simply grown to like it more and more over the year. I've now played it 30 times, and can say that it will almost surely remain in my Top 10 for a long time to come. It has fallen slightly from #3 to #9 for me, but everything in the Top 10 is pretty interchangeable, and a 10 rating on BGG is definitely deserved for Caylus in my mind. It's great both in person and on BrettspielWelt (http://www.brettspielwelt.de/), and has stood up to numerous plays. It probably falls into the camp of games that plays best with the fewest number of players (i.e., Through the Desert, Louis XIV, Samurai, Carcassonne), but it scales remarkably well. Anyway, this is not a report about Caylus, this is a report about new Essen releases, so I'll get back to that now. Because of my respect for and enjoyment of Caylus, I'm wary of getting a game that is simply a watered-down version, especially one that introduces luck into the mix. That's not to say that I wouldn't like a game that plays similar to Caylus but quicker, but at this point I can play Caylus rather quickly, and the game is even more rewarding after many plays, so I'm not particularly eager to move on to another similar game. Now it's definitely possible that the similarities between Die Saulen der Erde and Caylus have been blown out of proportion over the past week, but this is a case where the similarities don't make me want the game (as opposed to Gheos or Taluva). I don't think Caylus needs to be watered-down, whereas I do think Gheos could find the right balance between Carcassone and Tigris, and Taluva could potentially fill a middle-weight 2-player niche that Java doesn't.

DIE BAUMEISTER VON ARKADIA is Rudiger Dorn's annual contribution to the Essen fair, which certainly draws my interest right away. With Louis XIV and Goa both taking spots in my personal Top 20, and Traders of Genoa not far behind, Mr. Dorn is a designer that always merits a look. This is another game that has garnered itself some very favorable comments in the past few days. The gameplay itself is not entirely clear to me yet, although it appears to be yet another novel twist on area control, as you try to surround Blokus-shaped buildings with your workers. I'm very partial to novel twists on area control, as evidenced by my love of El Grande, San Marco, and Louis XIV. The re-use of the Torres towers in this game certainly won't turn me off, as I found that Kramer/Kiesling SDJ-winner to be a fabulous implementation of the action-point system, but it may turn off many of the people I game with. I'll have to convince them that this is nothing like Torres if they're even going to try it because no one else seems to like Torres at all who I've taught it to. This is definitely one I'll have to find out more about before buying (as opposed to Gheos, and maybe Yspahan or Taluva), but it's not one I can cross off the list right away (like Fiji, Anasazi, Imperial, or Justinian), so it'll be interesting to keep an eye on this one over the next few months, just like with Notre Dame, although that one will get both eyes for sure.

HERMAGOR was Mind the Move's entry into the Essen craziness, but early comparisons to Thurn & Taxis have left me very skeptical about this one. It's not just from a designer and publisher that have not proved themselves to me (I still haven't had a chance to try either Oltremare or Il Principe, but would not be averse to trying either of them if given the opportunity), but it's got some similarities (although it remains to see how close the similarity is) to the most recent SDJ-winner, which is a decent game but nothing great in my book. Thurn & Taxis is the classic "okay" game, there's nothing really wrong with it (aside from the complete lack of interaction), but there's nothing really compelling about it, nothing to hold your interest. It's also not quite light enough or straightforward enough to be a good gateway game like Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne. If Hermagor bears any similarity to Thurn & Taxis (which may just make it's way onto my trade list soon) then it won't be earning a spot in my collection.

KHRONOS was definitely the mystery of the show. The publisher appears to have done a great job of drumming up buzz/hype without anyone really knowing much about the game (as with Perikles and Imperial, it appears as if this one is also too long/involved to play during the convention). From everything that's been said about this one, especially by Mike Siggins in his report, it sounds like the publisher of Khronos was very sneaky about constantly appearing as if they were about to sell out, so everyone would buy the game just in case, simply based on word of mouth, even though no one had actually tried it out. I suppose they've accomplished their goal, with the game eventually selling out, and not everyone who wanted the game being able to come away with it, but I can't say I understand this marketing strategy. It's oddly reminiscent of Microsoft (intentionally?) undersupplying the Xbox 360 in the first few months in order to build up buzz, but I won't get into all my gripes about the new generation of consoles, and how badly the transition has been botched by all three of the leading companies. All that being said, Khronos remains a mystery. The concept sounds interesting, the box art isn't bad, and tile-laying that bears any resemblance to Tigris is a big plus in my book, but more will have to be revealed about this one before it breaks onto my wishlist. Speaking of tile-laying that bears any resemblance to Tigris…

GENESIS was supposed to be Knizia's exciting new tile-laying game, but somehow managed to come in dead last in the Fairplay rankings. I'm not quite sure how that happened, as people have seemed hopeful and excited about this game over the past few months, but something must have gone awry in the design process, which I suppose is inevitable with all those designs coming from one man. There hasn't been much said about this game, so I don't know much more than the black and white Fairplay data, but that's enough to convince me to stay away. When a game does well in Fairplay, it doesn't necessarily mean it will be good (although it's probably worth a look), but when a game does this poorly, then there's probably something wrong. I'm even more wary of Genesis now than I am of Fiji, Justinian, Anasazi, and Hermagor, which is a sad state of affairs for the next big Knizia title.

THROUGH THE AGES: A STORY OF CIVILIZATION deserves a quick mention, but only because everyone else seems so excited about it. I'm just not looking for the holy grail "civ-lite" game like everyone else, so I don't feel compelled to check this one out. I'm not even sure "civ-lite" is possible in 2 hours, and I don't have any nostalgia for Civlization that I need to recapture in a reasonable number of hours. They can keep trying to make the perfect "civ-lite" game, but I'm not really going to bother trying to pick it out of all the contenders. I'm just fine with a pasted-on theme; I'd rather go with Tigris, El Grande, Through the Desert, Ra, and Caylus any day.

Well, that's that. I didn't cover nearly all the important Essen releases, but tried to mention most of the ones that seem to be getting the most attention over the past few days, whether they look particularly promising to me or particularly bad or somewhere in the middle. I actually think there look to be a bunch of great games to look forward to over the next few months as the Essen releases reach their way across the pond. While there's nothing that makes me need to place an order with adam-spielt right now, I'm not as down on the new releases as my previous few paragraphs would suggest. I stacked the most promising games near the top, so my summary seems more pessimistic near the end than I meant it to be. I'm most looking forward to Gheos, followed by Notre Dame, Yspahan, and Taluva.

This year's Essen coverage convinced me of one thing for sure though, which is that I really truly want to go to Essen some day. It may not be next year, or the year after, but eventually when I have the means, I simply must find my way there. The video produced by Rick Thornquist was marvelous, and really helped to spur my desire to attend the convention. I can't believe attendance was over 150,000! I've got to check it out for myself one of these years, but until then, I'm very glad that there's such great coverage of the convention online, so that I can feel like I'm there, and manage to form opinions on the games from thousands of miles away, pretty amazing, don't you think?
 
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Mary Weisbeck
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Very nice summary, Tom.

Like you, I spent 4 days following all the internet reports and, strangely enough, came away with Gheos, Taluva, Notre Dame and Thief of Bagdad as my favorites. I think it's time to add you as a GeekBuddy! meeple
 
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T. Rosen
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Thanks Mary, I'm glad you liked it. I'd add you as GeekBuddy now if you weren't already one, heh

Glad to hear I wasn't the only one who spent the last 4 days following all the internet reports, and also glad to hear I'm not the only one whose interest was piqued by Gheos, Taluva, and Notre Dame. Although I hope they're not so popular that they sell out on preorders like Caylus did last year.

P.S. If anyone who actually went to Essen and played any of these games want to correct any misconceptions I might have about any of them or just disagree with my impressions altogether then that would be great because these are just my random thoughts, and I'd rather hear what you all have to say then just listen to myself babble on.
 
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T. Rosen
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Hi Drew,

I haven't had a chance to read the rules of Genesis yet, but from your description, it doesn't sound like I really need to any time soon.

I know you're definitely on the Dorn-bandwagon, so I'm guessing I can wait to get Arkadia until after hearing your thoughts on whether it measures up to Dorn's other great games.

I know what you mean about wanting to like Anasazi. I mean I'm a huge Jurgen-Wrede fan, more so than most people around here I would guess, but from all the descriptions of his newest game, it sounds like he may want to just stick to the world of Carcassonne, especially since I found Mesopotamia pretty uninspired as well. He peaked early in his career apparently laugh
 
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Alfred Wallace
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What I find interesting is that I can't wait for Factory Fun and Space Dealer for the very same reasons you're hesitating!
 
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Shawn Low
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Thanks for the time spent writing up your thoughts on the games.

Our watchlist and interests are pretty similar! I fear that my wallet will suffer a huge blow (I've already spent too much on RE2, Fowl Play and Hamelyn pre-orders).

A quick comment: your formatting make it a little hard to read. There are large chunks of text. But it's a small niggle!
 
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Thommy8 wrote:

First, everyone seems to agree that IMPERIAL is a close sibling to Antike, so that's kept me from being too interested in it. While the Rondel seems like a fascinating and unique mechanic that I'd love to try, the video review of Antike at Board Games with Scott (http://www.boardgameswithscott.com/ ) thoroughly convinced me that Antike is not a game for me. Scott's video reviews have got me very interested in many games, not least of which was Die Macher, but thankfully they've also helped me to actually remove some things from my wishlist. Antike tops that list because I have a strong dislike for games that allow conflict and fighting, but strongly discourage it by making it too difficult and unrewarding.


I'm hoping Imperial solves this problem. You summed up the exact reason I dislike Antike too. I love the combat and rondel though so I'm hoping Imperial takes those elements and fixes the combat as to encourage it. We'll see but so far the early reports don't look good.
 
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Drew1365 wrote:
Excellent! So when is that copy coming to me?
By the way, I'm also anxiously awaiting news that Z-Man is doing the Reef Encounter expansion . . . a no-brainer to end up in my shopping cart.


Hehe, I'll send you a copy of Arkadia just as soon as you convince Stefan Feld to send me a pre-production copy of Notre Dame, sounds fair, no?

Maybe we should start a petition to convince Z-Man to reprint the Reef Encounter expansion with the 2nd Edition artwork?

alfredhw wrote:
What I find interesting is that I can't wait for Factory Fun and Space Dealer for the very same reasons you're hesitating!


That's funny Alred, I guess to each his own, de gustibus non disputandum est, and all that jazz.

They certainly seem like interesting and promising games, full of potential, but I may just be a little too risk-averse to jump in the deep end head first quite yet. They seem like perfect try-before-buying games to me, but unfortunately I'm the one who does the vast majority of the buying around these parts, so there isn't a lot of trying first unfortunately. This is exactly why I really should have signed up for BGG.CON, hmph!

shawn_low wrote:
Thanks for the time spent writing up your thoughts on the games.
Our watchlist and interests are pretty similar! I fear that my wallet will suffer a huge blow (I've already spent too much on RE2, Fowl Play and Hamelyn pre-orders).
A quick comment: your formatting make it a little hard to read. There are large chunks of text. But it's a small niggle!


You're very welcome Shawn, I enjoyed writing it up, and am glad you liked it. Those are some nice pre-orders though because if it turns out you don't like any of them then you can probably resell them and recoup your entire cost, if not more! That was sort of my feeling with ordering Wallenstein from Valley Games because I fully expect to love it, but it's not a huge risk if I don't since I should be able to recoup my costs (although Shogun will probably drive the price of Wallenstein down slightly I would think, although maybe it would increase demand since it's not exactly like Uberplay reprinting Ra or anything).

Sorry the formatting is difficult to read, I guess I do tend to ramble on a lot. If you want to see a version with pictures interspersed then check out http://www.columbia.edu/~tir2101/nycgamer.html

mrbass wrote:
I'm hoping Imperial solves this problem. You summed up the exact reason I dislike Antike too. I love the combat and rondel though so I'm hoping Imperial takes those elements and fixes the combat as to encourage it. We'll see but so far the early reports don't look good.


Glad to hear my negative impressions of Antike based on the BoardGamesWithScott video review weren't unjustified. Although I'm not so glad that it doesn't like Imperial solves these problems. The Rondel looked like a very interesting mechanic from the BGWS video review, and one that I'd love to try in a game that did match my tastes, but it's not quite enough to carry a game all on its own, it doesn't seem. Anyway, I'd still love to give either or both of these games a try, but thankfully my wishlist can be shortened by removing these two without much hesitation.
 
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Jonathan Takagi
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Thommy8 wrote:

Maybe we should start a petition to convince Z-Man to reprint the Reef Encounter expansion with the 2nd Edition artwork?



As far as I know, on the Dice Tower, Zev said that he wanted to do the Reef Encounter expansion. He said that it was, however, up to the people at Mind the Move, who hold the rights. They were the ones that had redone all the artwork and stuff for the 2nd version that Z-Man licensed. They were supposed to have discussed it at Essen, so maybe there will be some sort of forthcoming announcement.
 
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I think this year's Essen releases make this a very good year for gaming. Some outstanding games will hit the stores before x-mas
 
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You've certainly done your homework, Tom! Very nice write-up.

I am obviously in the minority, but I liked GENESIS. Of course it's not a remake of E&T, and if people expect a new heavy-weight Knizia title they are bound to be disappointed. After all, he hasn't really done heavy-weights since, what, AMUN-RE, has he, and the trend for the big companies and designers certainly seems to be away from the very complex, "heavy" games.

But viewed on its own terms, as a light/medium-weight tile-laying/majority game with more than a little bit of nasty blocking tactics thrown in, it's a very nice game. It's quick, there is a lot to think about and while the graphics might not be the most inspired, they are not a hindrance to actually playing the game.

Of course, the non-complexity of the rules makes the game feel like an abstract exercise, so one musn't approach the game expecting to see prehistory come alive before one's eyes.
 
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People wo describe Imperial as being a close sibling to antrike are people who presumably say the same of chequers & chess. In both pairs, there is some key part that is common (the rondel & combat mechanics in the first pairing, the board in the second).

Yet they are *very* different games in play. The layout of the board, rondel, and formatting of the rulebook might make Imperial seem similar to Antike at first glance; but it's the worst kind of snap-judgement. Play only a turn (which are usually a bit longer than Antike turns) and it's evident that the game has few similarities with its predecessor.

Instead, the playersd hold "shares" in the countries. These shares score VPs at the end of the game, depending upon how well the country was managed. The country is "played" by the player with the largest shareholding when the country's turn rolls around, and it's possible for a player to control one, several or even no countries for several turns in a row.

Military expansion increases a country's *potential* revenue; *actual* revenue is used to drive the country's shares up the VP track.

In our one game so far, the country that managed the biggest standing army, the most aggression and the most fighting did indeed end up worth the least in VPs. Yet the player who controlled that country from start to finish ended up with the most VPs overall, because the country had been used as leverage on other situations. Another country which had been very active in the military stakes, with a large permanent army and frequent raids, *was* worth a lot of VPs at the end (but with those VPs split between two players who ultimately missed out in investing in the "best" shares in the final two rounds as they were locked in a struggle for control of one country and didn't see the end of the game approaching.

Imperial is to Antike what El Grande is to Magalon. To concentrate on the points of commonality between them does the heavier game no favours at all.
 
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Interesting report. Your thoughts about Imperial, though, are quite unfair. It was designed by the same person that designed Antike and it features the rondel feature. But that is where the similarity ends. Imperial is a VERY different game from Antike. Both are good games in my opinion. Imperial has some mechanics of Diplomacy (e.g. Convoying armies by fleets) and, indeed, the board is similar to Diplomacy. Players only run a country if they have the largest bond in that country, but ownership of countries can change hands. So the game has a different feel from Antike. Don't dismiss it out of hand. Give it a try. You might even like it !
 
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One other point: No one yet has mentioned "Galactic Destiny" from a new company - Golden Laurel Entertainment. This game (Due to go on sale January 2007) was a delight to play. It features politics, diplomacy, battles, back-stabbing etc. You may have missed this game at Essen as it was tucked away near the back of the exhibition building (next to the hall with the bouncey castles etc), but do check it out: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/25937
 
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I agree, mostly, with the above two posters. Antike and Imperial are two different games.

Antike never really made a strong impression with me. It felt incomplete and I never felt the need to buy it.

I was lucky enough to have been taught by Scott at the Rio Games Gaming area (Thanks for all the help, Scott) and really enjoyed the game. After playing, I hopped in line and picked up a copy right away and then went back to the hotel and played after dinner.

I think this one is going to hit the sweet spot for quite a few geeks.

As much as I have been thinking about it. This is probably the game of Essen for me.

 
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Now, check out this the picture link that Andreas submitted.....

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/1140113#1140113

272 pictures of the new games.....and we can all start to drool
 
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This is a great post, but you made me want Caylus more than any of the essen games!
 
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Nice report. It's nice to read something from someone in the same boat as me. I too have been scouring the reports trying to figure out what I would like.

At this point my top game is by far Yspahan. Ystari has the rules posted on their website if you want to check them out. Next would probably be Leonardo da Vinci and Medici vs. Strozzi.

Gheos: When the hype started on this game I got excited. I don't know exactly why, but after reading the rules I've pretty much taken it off of my want list. It just didn't seem all that exciting to me. It seemed like a fiddlyd™ up Carcassonne. I don't know. I haven't completely given up on it, but it's on hold for now. I'll look into it again and read through the rules again, but right now I'm not on the bandwagon.

One that I don't think you mentioned that caught my eye was Walhalla. It got pretty good reviews and it seems like an interesting twist on area control. I hope someone picks this up and puts out an English version.

I wonder if part of the problem with Genesis is that people (again) are expecting the next big heavy Knizia game. I haven't played it, but I've read the rules, and that certainly isn't the case. Genesis seems more like a light/middle weight tile placement game with wacky Knizia scoring rules. Despite being a Knizia freak, I'm not all that excited about it though. It seems fairly abstract and dry. Honestly I get a Clans vibe from it. Not that they are similar at all...just that fans of Clans (Clans Fans?) would like it. Again, this isn't off my list...it's just not at the top.

Tavula and Arkadia are both watch and see for me. They both look good, but I still don't know much about them. I wish every publisher would put the rules online. It's just so helpful when picking out new games.

Oh, and 'On the Underground' looks like it might be good too. Need more info.
 
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YSPAHAN is the fourth and final game that has been added to my wishlist from the new Essen releases (the other three being Gheos, Notre Dame, and Taluva of course). I still haven't managed to really understand the gameplay of Yspahan because the only really recurring comment about the game across all the blogs and posts is the fact that there are dice, but don't worry, they're not used the way dice are normally used. So at least I'm properly forewarned about the dice (which is funny because I'm finally beginning to re-learn an appreciation for dice, at least in Can't Stop, Liar's Dice, StreetSoccer, and Nexus Ops). But the biggest selling point for this game is obviously the Ystari label. Caylus is still fabulous after 30 plays, and even though Mayfair, Rio Grande, and yes even Alea have managed to release plenty of stinkers, I have a good feeling about Ystari. I've already got Mykerinos in my cart for my next order, and am still contemplating Ys despite the significant criticism it has garnered, so Yspahan is definitely one that I want to know more about.


Quick summary:

There's a board with 6 slots (representing 6 actions) on it.

The bottom one is "get camels"
The middle four are "add cubes to different areas on the board"
The top one is "get gold"

You roll 9 dice.

All of the lowest dice (normally 1's) go in the "take camels" slot at the bottom.

All of the highest dice (normally 6's) go in the "take gold" slot at the top.

The other results fill the middle actions from bottom to top.

Everyone then chooses an action in turn.

When you choose an action, you remove those dice and get as many actions as there are dice, so if you rolled three 1's, you get three camels. If there were two dice in the second slot, you place two cubes in the corresponding area of the board.

A couple of interesting points:

The fifth slot is unlikely to come in, because you need to roll all 6 different numbers to activate it.

The first player can pay up to three gold for three more (yellow) dice. This gives him a better chance of rolling all the numbers, and these dice are removed when he's had his turn, possibly leaving gaps.


There's more to it than that, but that was a quick summary


N.

 
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I love reading these kinds of reports almost as much as the Essen reports, mostly because things like Tom's report are much more slowly and carefully planned. Many of the Essen reports are written between meal and bedtime, or between games.

Tom, I agree and disagree with most everything! Heh. I'm skeptical of Gheos for the same reasons you're looking forward to it. I hate Carc, and T&E is a game I can only play a few times a year. But, like you said, it's likely to be fairly cheap, so I'll probably pick it up. I've become less interested in Taluva for the reasons you're interested in it! Again, I hate Java (a white hot, burning hatred, at that...), and if Taluva is too reminiscent, then forget it. Now Yspahan, on the other hand, is high on my watch list as well. I've been looking forward to this game ever since it was rumored about a long time ago. I'm leery of BattleLore for the EXACT same reason you are - I'm just not sure how interested I am in getting into another expandable game. I'll keep my eye on it, though I love the Command & Colors system, as opposed to yourself - maybe I'll get rid of some of the redundant games to pay for BattleLore...hmmm... Anyway, I have nothing to say about your observations on Shogun, Reef Encounters 2, and Fowl Play, since you echo my thoughts so similarly. Hameln, however, will likely never grace my gaming shelves. I dislike Shear Panic pretty strongly, and I see no reason to spring for what's little more (in my opinion) than Precious Memories game pieces, just 'cause they're cute. Feh. I am interested in Imperial, though. Initially, I didn't care that much - I've got Antike, and thought it was not bad. But, I've read enough to convince me (as has been stated here) that Imperial is at least a bit different, so I'll keep my eye on it as well. The new Friese games? Forget them. They sound lame to me; I'll skip them. Sorry Friedemann, but so far, I like exactly 2 of your games I've played, and one is barely hanging on. The reports on Anasazi and Justinian struck me exactly the same as yourself. So that's two great minds (well, one great mind, and one mind) that agree. Ditto Space Dealer and Factory Fun, with one major exception - I've played Factory Fun. Hmmm...I am not the target audience for that game. I would rate it a 5 right now, with the major caveat that I need to play again, as I was not listening well to the rule instruction, and was ignoring a few options the entire game. Still, the mad grab for pieces, and then using what you're often stuck with didn't sit too well for me - and, to be honest, that's what I expected going in. I disagree with essentially your entire opinion on Caylus, so it's no great surprise that I disagree with most of your thoughts regarding Die Saulen. However, I'm not dying to buy it or play it - but I am going to keep my eye on it (uh oh, that's more eyes than I have...). I have the same feelings you do on Arkadia, for essentially the same reasons, so that's cool. Same with Khronos, though I think I'm a little more interested than you are. I hope a US distributor picks it up, so I have a better chance of trying it. I had never heard of Genesis before Essen, so I can say nothing about it, except meh. Another Knizia tile laying abstract doesn't fill me with giddy excitement no matter the buzz about it. I actually had a friend pick up Through the Ages and Greanland for me, so I'm really excited about playing those. As for Hermagor, I played it, and I can assuage your fears about its similarity to T&T. Yes, there are houses in Hermagor, and you do sort of place them in specific cities, but that's about it. The game is VERY good, in my opinion. There is some luck, because the "resources" are randomly drawn every turn from a bag (you're sort of competing with other players every turn for these "resources" - things to sell, which can be sold only at specific cities), but they go back into the bag for the next turn, but it's actually pretty minimal in the long run. There are really a lot more important decisions to make every turn than in T&T. I actually found it had quite a bit in common with Ys and Mykerinos, since you're placing your influence markers in strategically different places. One spot might cost more and influence more resource tiles, but another place would be cheaper, influence fewer, but have stronger influence. It's good - try it, at the very least. And, finally, I just can't get excited about Notre Dame yet - it's not even in production form yet! I'll wait until more than a handful of people the world over have had a chance to play.

Dang, that was a long response. Sorry if I've hijacked your thread...I like your report, though.
 
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Side Note: Are many of the games really re-workings of older games or is it just easier to explain what a game is like by comparing it to an existing game? Gheos is supposedly a combination of Carcassonne and Tigris, Taluva is apparently a simpler Java, and Die Saulen der Erde is apparently a simplified Caylus. BattleLore is obviously a reworking of Memoir '44 and Shogun is simply a reworking of Wallenstein. What's going on here? I don't know. There are certainly lots of games that are similar to or reminiscent of previous games, but it seems like most of the most popular Essen games this year bear significant similarity to existing games. But then again maybe it just easiest to explain these games by comparing them to familiar games.


In the early years of video games, it was pretty easy to make something truly innovative. The first racing games, the first platform games, the first space shooters... those felt innovative because the field was relatively unexplored. As time goes by, it's easy to see how most modern video games are just natural evolutions of previous games: Aren't modern first person shooters just a mix of space invaders and pitfall with better graphics? We'd have given up on video games many years ago if technology advancements hadn't made the field progress.

In the same manner, making a novel eurogame is harder and harder every time, just because more designers have already come up with most key innovations. In more than one occasion I've seen game designers show me a prototype where one innovative mechanic they had come up with was already being used in a game they hadn't heard of. Other times, a game with the same mechanic gets published one month later by someone else.

Are the games worse because you've seen the mechanics before? Not necessarily. The game might be just as fun, or even better. All that recycled mechanics can do is make people outgrow the hobby.
 
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I do not like Antike because I think they flubbed the combat system. If you are going to design a multiplayer wargame, there are several automatic questions you need to answer. One of those questions is why shouldn't I sit back and let others fight, and then scavage their remains for the win? Well, Antike did not bother with this question. And as a result, that is exactly what you should do in Antike.

Mercifully Imperial is a totally different game. The big change is player perspective. You are not wedded to any particular country in this game. Rather you invest in them like a broker (or like a Banker, as the game asserts). Austria and Russia both weakened by intercene conflict -- better start investing in England.

Of course, you also want the countries where you have invested to WIN wars, so its not like you are totally neutral in all of this. Its just that the change in perspective greatly frees the players and makes a rudimentary combat system something of an asset.
 
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JasonMatthews wrote:
I do not like Antike because I think they flubbed the combat system. If you are going to design a multiplayer wargame, there are several automatic questions you need to answer. One of those questions is why shouldn't I sit back and let others fight, and then scavage their remains for the win? Well, Antike did not bother with this question. And as a result, that is exactly what you should do in Antike.


Of course I have to object Jason. Sitting and waiting won´t win you the game in Antike. At least that is my experience.

And yes Imperial is different and really a big winner in my book.

Just one informational point regarding Reef Encounter. Richard Breese also sold an upgrade kit of the Z-Man Edition. For 10 Euros a bargain with 9 sheets of counters (If I remember the amount correctly)

Klaus
 
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JasonMatthews wrote:
I do not like Antike because I think they flubbed the combat system. If you are going to design a multiplayer wargame, there are several automatic questions you need to answer. One of those questions is why shouldn't I sit back and let others fight, and then scavage their remains for the win? Well, Antike did not bother with this question. And as a result, that is exactly what you should do in Antike.
.


Wow, I've never seen that happen. Antike isn't a war game, battles happen for one or two goals and that's it. Expansion VP and Temple sacking VP. If an attacker is going to attack he is sure to take all those temples and expansion spots. No one cares much about loss after the attack, he's done. Sure you can pick off the remains, but by that time, there are no temples and usually the expansion cards (they tend to always go early) are gone. So where's the turtling gain again?


Antike is a great game, and I can't wait to see what imperial has to offer.
 
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I also heard that DIE BAUMEISTER VON ARKADIA is similar to AUSTRALIA but with less luck involved. Not sure if this is a re-working but hope to read a comparison post before I decide which one to go for.
 
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