On Thursday, the biggest game show in the world opens – Spiel, held annually in Essen, Germany. Every year, a ton of games get released, and it’s hard to sort them all out. So today, I’m providing you with my second annual ESSEN PREVIEW SPECTACULAR!!! I’ve combed through the Essen preview list at BGG, and picked out a select few games that I’m interested in. Actually, I have 55 games on my list. I’m not going to go into a lot of depth on these. I’m just going to mention most of them with a comment or two. I’ve picked out 11 that I want to talk about more, so I’ll provide some more background on those. So, let’s get started – this list is organized by publisher. (I will mention that there are several games not included on this list because I’ve already talked about them on the blog, such as Castles of Mad King Ludwig)
- 2F-Spiele: Friedemann Friese usually has some very interesting things to look at, but his company isn’t really putting anything new out this year. There’s a 10th anniversary edition of Power Grid, as well as a reprint of his 1997 game Fresh Fish. I don’t know much about Fresh Fish, but I know people have wanted a reprint for a while, and now they’ll be getting one.
- AEG: AEG is coming out with a couple of games I’m interested to know more about. Empire Engine is a pocket game from Matthew Dunstan and Chris Marling that uses gear cards as players try to collect resources and defend themselves from attacks. Planes (David Short) has an obvious graphical tie-in to AEG’s successful Trains from a couple of years ago, though it is a completely different game (you just know Automobiles is forthcoming). This one is all about boarding planes rather than route building.
- alea: alea usually does their big releases at Nüremburg, but this year, La Isla from Stefan Feld is coming out at Spiel. It looks like typical Feld – very busy, lots of ways to score, and probably a very good game.
Aporta Games: Doodle City is a game by Eilif Svensson and Kristian Amundsen Østby. It’s a city building game where players are building a network of roads on a map that is essentially a 5×5 grid. The catch is that they are drawing the roads and buildings in the game. This is done through dice rolling – you roll a blue die and some white dice, then everyone chooses one of the white dice. Using the white die for the row and the blue die for the column, you draw a road. You may score for crossing a hotel or shop. At the end of the game, the player who has scored the most points wins.
I really like when games use drawing and writing as mechanisms. This one looks like a very simple game to learn, and with good decisions to be made when choosing dice at the beginning of each round. There’s also a solo variant. This is definitely one I’m interested in learning more about.
- Aza Chen: Kaiju is being self-published by Aza Chen, a designer from Taiwan. It’s a dice rolling game that uses the box as a dice tower, has players doing silly actions, and tracks wounds by actually drawing them on the arms of the slowest players. Sounds fun.
- Beautiful Disaster Games: Assault on Doomrock is a game I’ve been watching since it was called D&D&D. It’s a cooperative adventure game that is kind of tongue in cheek, It looks fun. It was successfully funded on Indiegogo earlier this year.
- Blackrock Editions: Haru Ichiban is a Bruno Cathala design that pits rival gardeners against each other, both trying to use the wind to create patterns of lilypads. This is mostly on the list because it looks quite beautiful.
- Blue Orange: Blue Orange has a few cool looking games coming out, including Dragon Run from Ludovic Barbe and Bruno Cathala – it’s a push-your-luck treasure hunting game where you are trying to outrun the dragon you just robbed. Also, there’s Wakanda by Charles Chevallier, a 3D game where players are trying to build totem poles. Both look very nice.
- Bomba Games: Amber Route interests me simply because it was an app first. I have it on my iPad, and enjoy it, though it is fairly luck based. I originally thought the board game came first, so we’ll see how it translates to the physical realm.
Cranio Creations: Dungeon Bazaar is a game designed by Paolo Cecchetto, Simone Luciani, and Daniele Tascini. It’s a game for 2-5 players that is all about selling equipment to heroes about to go adventuring in a nearby dungeon. The twist is that you, the merchants, have a deal with the dragon and thus have a vested interest in keeping him alive. I haven’t read the rules yet, I just like that concept. I enjoy looking at standard themes in a new way – it’s kind of like what Dungeon Lords did by taking the perspective of the bad guys. The other thing that causes me to take notice of this game is that Luciani and Tascini were the designers of T’zolkin, a very popular and innovative game. The pair, plus Lorenzo Tucci Sorrentino, have another game coming out from Cranio called Soqquadro, which is a pick-up-and-deliver party game. Both look good, and I look forward to hearing more about them.
- Czech Board Games: McJohny’s is a cooperative party game about serving customers at a crab shack. It seems like a pretty funny little game from what I can tell.
Czech Games Edition: CGE always has great games coming out, even when Vlaada Chvátil’s name isn’t attached. This year’s offering is Alchemists, a game designed by Matúš Kotry. This game is currently my most anticipated for the show, partly because of CGE, and partly because it just sounds cool. The basic idea is that you are mixing ingredients to find new potions. This is done via a smartphone app – it scans the items, mixes them, and shows you the result. The rules of alchemy are randomized each time so you won’t be able to “solve” the game by memorizing combos. You are trying to figure out the rules of alchemy as you go so you can make the best combos later. As the game goes on, you will be foraging, transmuting, and testing through the use of action cubes. After six rounds, the player with the most points wins.
There has been a bit of a flap about needing a smartphone app to play this game. I think it’s a silly argument – if board games don’t embrace digital technology now, they will be crushed by it later. This is not like something like Golem Arcana, where the smartphone app pretty much plays the game for you. This is just a randomization tool. A moderator can also be used instead of the app, but they aren’t playing so it’s not ideal. So I’m looking forward to hearing more about this…hopefully rules will be uploaded soon.
- Deinko Games: Korean company Deinko has a couple of games I’m interested in. 7 Kingdoms is a pocket game where players are trying to claim different cards to score points – the theme doesn’t look terribly in depth, but it does seem like fun. DoReMi is a music game that has a speed element – we need more music games, so I’m definitely interested in this one.
Feuerland Spiele: The publishers of Terra Mystica and Glass Road are back with another title from Uwe Rosenberg (also to be published by Filosfia and ZMan). Arler Erde (aka Fields of Arle) is a 1-2 player worker placement game that is kind of autobiographical for Rosenberg – it’s set in the region his parents came from. The game lasts for nine half-years (summer and winter), and each half-year has three phases – preparations, where you set up the round; work, where you place four workers on the game board; and inventory, where you take stock of your belongings. There are fifteen different action spaces to use when placing workers, and they are different for each half year. After the ninth half-year, add up your points to see who won.
I’ve been more and more interested in Rosenberg’s games in recent months. I wrote him off for a while because I didn’t really care for Agricola. Since then, I’ve played Bohnanza, Mamma Mia, Space Beans, Le Havre, and At the Gates of Loyang, and loved all of them. So he’s someone I want to keep an eye on. This game looks like it has potential to be a good push-and-pull two player battle – from what I hear, it’s pretty tough. Looking forward to learning more.
Fragor Games: The Lamont Brothers always have some cool game coming out at Spiel, and they are always extraordinarily popular, selling out of their limited supplies very quickly. Dragonscroll is this year’s offering, and the first thing they released about the game (other than the title) is this picture of Fundor the Fiery. The game itself is a pick-up-and-deliver tile laying game where dragons are competing to write the most illustrious story through completing tasks. Throughout the game, you’ll also be raining fireballs down on your opponents using the “flaming tower of death” to determine where they land.
Fragor Games are nothing if not creative. The games overall have been kind of hit or miss, but they have such high quality bits and are such limited productions, they are extremely popular. They’re always worth a look, especially since most of them never make it past their Essen run. Some exceptions to that include Shear Panic, Snow Tails, and the recently Kickstarted second edition of Poseidon’s Kingdom. The bits alone make these game worth checking out, and they’re always unique, so I am always interested to see what is there.
- Granna: Ufofarmer is a memory set collection game where you are trying to abduct farm animals in identical sets of three, or sets of three unique animals. It’s a kid’s game to be sure, but it looks like good silly fun.
- Grublin Games: I talked a bit about Waggle Dance in Kickstarter Blitz #6, but it’s coming out at Essen. As a recap, it’s a worker placement game with bees. Sounds like a lot of fun.
- Homosapiens Lab: Blood of the Werewolf is a Werewolf style game where no one knows who they are, but others do. It’s like Werewolf meets Hanabi. Sounds interesting.
- Horrible Games: Co-Mix is a storytelling game where you are dealt some cards that are different panels and have to arrange them into a comic page, following a plot. I don’t know how much of a game it is, but I like the concept as an activity.
- HUCH! & Friends: Kamisado Max and Kamisado Pocket are two new editions of Kamisado, one of my favorite abstracts. Max is obviously a big version of the game, with a 10×10 instead of 8×8 grid. Pocket is the travel version. I still don’t have the original – need to get that.
- Japon Brand: There’s some great stuff always coming out of Japan, and Japon Brand is bringing it to Essen. This year, here are some of the titles I’ve been interested in: Colors of Kasane (Hinata Origuchi) is all about trying to make the most beautiful kimono possible. Kaleido (also Hinata Origuchi) is all about designing a kaleidoscope. Rolling Japan (Hisashi Hayashi) is about filling the prefectures of Japan with different colored dice. Looking forward to hearing more about all of these.
- Kanai Factory: Seiji Kanai is world famous for Love Letter, so there’s always interest in his stuff. Secret Moon is a sequel to Love Letter, but more of a Werewolf-style game in a short time frame (10 minutes). We’ll see if it takes off.
- Korea Boardgames Co: Abraca…what? is a spellcasting deduction game where everyone knows what you can cast except you. This hidden-to-you mechanism is becoming more and more prevalent, and this one looks like a pretty good family game.
- KOSMOS: KOSMOS is a pretty big German publisher that usually has good stuff. There are a couple of their games I’m looking at this year: 7 Steps is a 3-D abstract that has players placing discs to block columns. Jäger und Späher is one of the company’s famous two-player games, this one about being hunters in the Stone Age. Both look nice, and I want to know more.
- La Mame: From the original creator of Coup comes Melee, a micro-wargame where players are trying to capture opposing castles. With the popularity of Coup, I’m sure this will get lots of attention.
- Legend Express: Age of Soccer combines ancient mythology with soccer. You’re trying to build a team with help from the gods, and defeating other teams in the game. I like the concept, we’ll see how it does.
- Libellud: In addition to another Dixit expansion and Lords of Xidit, Libellus is coming out with Loony Quest. This game uses drawing as players are trying to replicate outlines to avoid obstacles. It sounds fun.
Lookout Games: Lookout has been a force in the gaming market since the release of Agricola back in 2008. The company made news last year at Spiel when it was announced that they had been purchased by Mayfair. They’ve got several games coming out this year, but the one I am most interested in is Patchwork, a two-player title from Uwe Rosenberg. The idea is that players are trying to build the most aesthetic patchwork quilt. Patches are randomly placed in a circle, and each player has buttons to spend on them. On your turn, you can purchase one of the next three patches or pass. There’s a time track mechanism in place – this means that, depending on the size of the patch, you may take multiple turns in a row. Passing places you in front of your opponent on the time track, but also gains you buttons. You also gain buttons when you pass certain points on the time track. When a player reaches the end of the time track, they are finished. You lose two buttons per blank square on your board, and the player with the most remaining buttons wins.
This is kind of an abstract game, but one with a very good theme. Quilting is not a theme that gets used very much, and that in itself makes the game attractive. I also really like time tracks in games, and that elevates this above what might otherwise just be multiplayer solitaire. So this is one I very much want to hear more about.
Ludonaute: The European fascination with the Old West continues in Christophe Raimbault’s Colt Express, a 2-6 player train robbery game. This is an programmed action game where players take turns either putting cards into a shared action pile or drawing new cards to their hand. Once a preset number of turns have occurred, the deck is flipped over and the cards are resolved in the order they were played. You could move your bandit, change floors, move the marshal, shoot an opponent, rob the car you’re in, or punch another nearby bandit. After the fifth round, the player with the most money from loot and shooting others is the winner.
The coolest thing about this game, I think, is that you are playing on a 3-D train. Not a board, an actual cardboard train with two levels that you move around. I like the idea of how actions are played into a common deck and then resolved in order – it’s a little like a time track in that order of resolution will get shifted around. Also, as with most programmed games, I’m sure there’s going to be some mass chaos involved. This game looks like a blast.
- Matagot: Matagot always has interesting stuff, and this year, I’m most interested in Korrigans, a game about trying to access a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. It looks beautiful, and the theme really catches my eye.
- Mercury Games: The Walled City: Londonderry & Borderlands is a city building game where players are building neighborhoods on one of two maps. It looks very nice, and is something I’d like to check out.
Mindwarrior Games: Realm of Wonder is a 2-6 player game about taking a journey through a world with spinning continents. The board is made up of three spinning discs, each smaller than the other to create a circle on the board. In each round, you will collect magic points based on stuff you have. Everyone will then simultaneously play a movement card, then will individually (starting with the slowest player) cast spells. Then you move. During the game, you will be battling monsters and other characters, building forts, rotating the board, and trying to carry out the King’s quest. If you are the first to enter the castle with a Victory disc for completing the quest, you win.
Most of my interest in this game is purely superficial. The art looks great, and I love that the board actually rotates. I haven’t read deeply into how the game plays, but it has simultaneous action selection, which I tend to enjoy. Definitely one I’m looking forward to hearing more about.
- Moonster Games: Chosŏn is a thematic sequel to Koryŏ, a game from last year I quite enjoyed. Apparently gameplay is similar – play characters with special abilities and try to achieve majorities to gain access to those special abilities. Looking forward to learning more.
- PD Verlag: Antike II is basically a new edition of Mac Gerdts’ Antike, which is a game I really like. Some rules have changed, but I’m glad to see the game coming back.
- Pearl Games: Deus is a new game from Sébastien Dujardin, who previously co-designed Troyes and Tournay. This one is a civilization building game where you’ll be constructing buildings as you try to receive the help of the gods. It has a really nice look to it.
- R & R Games: Spike is a new game from Balloon Cup designer Stephen Glenn. It’s a pick-up-and-deliver train game where you’re trying to expand your rail network. My interest in this is mostly due to the designer – I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do with what on the surface sounds like a standard train game.
- Ragnar Brothers: Steam Donkey is a game I know next to nothing about, other than the title is awesome.
Repos Productions: 7 Wonders: Babel is the latest expansion for Antoine Bauza’s 2010 hit 7 Wonders. It’s actually two modules, the Tower of Babel and the Great Projects of Babel. In Tower of Babel, players begin the game by drafting laws that change the rules of the game. As a fourth action during the game, you can discard your card to place one of these tiles to put the rule into effect. It will stay in effect until covered. In Great Projects, players are trying to construct buildings, with a random one chosen at the beginning of each age. These buildings are the same colors as the cards you play, and when you play a matching card, you can also pay a participation cost to work on the building. If all participation tokens have been taken at the end of the age, the project was a success and everyone gains rewards based on how much they helped. If participation tokens are not all taken, the project fails, and anyone who did NOT participate takes a penalty.
7 Wonders was a game I thought got a lot better with the Leaders expansion. I’ve played with Cities once, and liked it, but I didn’t think it was as big of a boon to the game as Leaders. This one looks like it will do a lot for the game – the Babel tiles in the tower version and participation costs of the Great Projects both look like they will add something pretty new to the system. So I’m looking forward to giving it a try.
- Schmidt Spiele: Adventure Tours is a game from Seiji Kanai where players are playing cards to try and gain the right equipment and explorers to go on an adventure. Sounds fun.
- Stronghold: Kanban: Automotive Revolution is a new game from Vital Lacerda, designer of Vinhos and CO2. You are a manager of an automobile assembly line, and are trying to improve parts to secure your future with the company. It looks fun.
- TF Verlag UF: Canopy Walk is tile laying game where players are trying to cross over a treacherous jungle to get to a rare source of red diamonds. Kind of abstract, sure, but I think it looks like a fun two-player game.
TIKI Editions: Gaia is game designed by Olivier Rolko that is all about creating a world. It’s a tile-laying game where players are taking turns playing or drawing a card. If you play a nature card, you’ll take a corresponding land tile and place it. If you fulfill an objective, you’ll be able to place a meeple. If you play a life card, you’ll either be able to place animals or a city. Cities must be fed with animals, and can contain one of your meeples. If you place all five of your meeples, you win.
This looks like a very simple game. I’m not exactly sure how well it will play, how much randomness will come into it, or how the objectives will change things. The advanced game adds some player interaction as you can steal cities or play power cards like lightning or earthquake. I was initially attracted to this game because of the cover which has a very cool art style. And I still think it is worth a look, I just don’t know if it will grab me once in play.
- Treefrog Games: Martin Wallace games are always worth a look. He’s got a couple coming out this year. Mythotopia is a deck-building game set in a medieval fantasy world that draws its mechanisms from A Few Acres of Snow. Onward to Venus is an empire building game set in the world of the Doctor Grordbrot graphic novels.
- Ystari: Witness is a deduction game based on a Belgian comic strip called Blake and Mortimer. It’s cooperative and each player has some of the information. They share it via whisper with a neighbor, who then must share their own information plus the other person’s information with the next person. Sound inefficient? That’s the point. Each player will individually answer questions about the case, and you’re ideally trying to get 12 points. Sounds chaotic and not very replayable, but I love the idea of the game and it’s probably a good party experience.
Z-Man: Pandemic: The Cure is a dice game based on the popular Pandemic board game, a franchise Z-Man seems to be determined to milk for all it’s worth. This one was designed by Pandemic designer Matt Leacock, so it’s got that going for it. On your turn, you roll the player dice that go with your pawn. This will result in an action symbol or a biohazard symbol If it’s an action symbol, you can reroll it or take the action. You can’t reroll biohazards. Possible actions include flying to any location, sailing to an adjacent location, treating diseases, or collecting samples. Biohazards increase the infection rate. You can give samples to any other player in your region, and try to find a cure by rolling collected samples to try to get a result of 13 or more. If you do, the disease is cured. At the end of your turn, you draw, roll, and place infection dice. If you discover all four cures, you win. If the infection track reaches zero, or you have eight or more outbreaks, or if you run out of infection dice, you lose.
The Cure seems like a very good dice-based implementation of Pandemic. It is going to add even more randomness to the game, but in a way, that’s thematic since it’s difficult to predict what viruses will do. I like that this isn’t just Pandemic Yahtzee, but really seems to be working hard to make the game feel like Pandemic. So it’s one I’m very interested in playing.
And that’s the preview! Spiel is going to be fun this year…wish I was going to be there. Thanks for reading!