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Tour to the game fair in Essen 16-21 of October 2001

Tuesday 16th of October
I left work early to drive to drive to Gothenburg to meet my friends Magnus Lundgren (ML), his wife Sus (SL) and Tobias Bende (TB). We took a quick meal on a Malaysian restaurant before we went aboard the ferry to Kiel.

Of course had we brought a couple of small games this way as well, although we had planned to buy new ones.... We went to the library and café, which is a calm place with good tables.

"Mystic War" was first played. A pretty old and chaotic card game, where you mark your current status on a player mat. You try to reach your secret victory goal, buy playing resource cards as followers, mystic power and gold cards on yourself and dragons on your opponents. There are spell cards, event cards and deity cards, which gives give you advantages and protection. The different powers, which depends of how far you are on the mat makes it extra interesting. Although the chaos factor is high, I like this game quite much and rate it 7 (out of 10). ML=6, SL=6, TB=6 (mainly because they thought the game became a bit long.

"Family Business" was a card game that Tobias had brought with him. It’s a card game with a gangster theme. Each player starts with 9 (?) gangsters and you try to put contract on the other players gangsters to get them killed. There are some defence cards to play, as well as cards to start a mob war (the first on the contract list is killed automatically for each new players turn) etc. A really chaotic, luck-driven game but OK as a time-killer as the game is pretty quick. It has an apparent kingmaker problem. CGS=4, ML=5, TB=5.

Wednesday 17th of October
After breakfast did we roll off the ferry at 9 a.m. About 480 km to drive to Essen. We spent some time brainstorming around a game idea Sus have…. Maybe she brings a game prototype of her own next time? We learnt what the German word "Stau" means, as the traffic was veeeery slow during 8 km.

It was already about 4 p.m. when we had checked in and walked to the fair. There were a lot of activities among the exhibitors, but it gave an empty feeling walking around in the fair halls, which would be invaded in the morning. By Eurogames did we meet Bruno Faidutti and we found some of the Warfrog staff and spoke some with them and got a short walkthrough of their game "Liberté". We bought some games at the "used game" counters, as it was a lot of commerce there. I found "Odysseus" and "Drünter und Drüber" there. I also got a copy of "Das Amulet". We met Fréderic Taton and his Belgian friends. By the used game a Swede spoke to us a bit surprised, as he thought he knew most Swedes who went to the fair. This was Dan Glimne, the designer of Dungeonquest and Svea Rike among other good games!

We joined the Belgians plus Bruno Faidutti and Christophe Boelinger (designer of "A Dog’s life") and went to a noisy Mexican restaurant near the fair. It was very crowded and it took a long time to get food and pay afterwards, but we had a great time anyway.

Afterwards did we split up, as some were too tired after the trip for a long evening. We played a 4-player game of "Greyhounds" (Mattel), which is a dog racing game. You betted on the dogs, even those who aren’t your own. You could even decide to avoid betting on your own and play it badly… You can bet on win, place or double. Your cards which are from 2-20 are drawn in three piles after one card is randomly discarded. In each pile are there 3 low and 3 high cards. Each pile is used in each of the 3 races. First race is one lap and only the highest card moves a dog the difference between that card and the next card. If it’s a tie, both are moved compared to the third dog’s card. The second race is 2 laps and you use the 2 highest cards difference to the third card instead. The third race should be with 3 laps and using 3 cards compared to the fourth card, but according to Magnus this is a broken rule, so normally you should use the rules for the second lap again. Unfortunately we forgot to change the rules after the first race…. (CGS=6+, ML=8, SL=7, TB=7+).

Afterwards did Tobias and I join the Warfrog guys as spectators when they played "Liberté". It looks like an interesting game, but a bit too dry for my taste. The way of trying to get dominance in each region reminds me too much of "Web of Power", which I dislike but most people enjoy. Although it seems to be much more varied then "Web of Power" with some cards to give the game some chaos plus some different kind of scorings in the different rounds. If I had had time I wouldn’t mind to play it at least once. What scared me most is that you have to count the influence on the board quite a lot to play well, if you don’t do it intuitively. This might bog down the game with the wrong company.

Thursday 18th of October
We entered the fair around 9 p.m., thanks to our exhibitors pass. First we made a call to Warfrog counter. Then we checked out Doris Matthäus and Frank Nestel’s counter and their new game "Urland", which Frank explained to us. It looked interesting and pretty simple. I had nothing to compare with, as I haven’t played Ursuppe. Then we got the free expansions of 12 flood tiles to "Carcassonne".

Our first gaming for the day was "Friends and Foes", which David Farquhar demonstrated the English copy. It was a pleasure to meet him again. We didn’t really know what to expect, but was surprised what a difference the expansion made to the game "Lord of the Ring". Except that there are two new scenarios – Brie and Isengard, there are also the Foes. Every time you draw the first tile in your turn and this happens to be a good tile (fighting, friendship, hiding or walking) you also turn over the upper card in the "foes" pile. You can ignore him and let someone else kill him if you want, but when you altogether has got 8 foes in a row you have lost the game. On the other hand if you have turned up all 30 enemy cards and defeated them you have won in another way! If you don’t have any foes at the beginning of some scenarios, you might skip them (2 of 3 scenarios) and in that way the game won’t be longer. For example you may go around Moria, but then you also miss Lothlórien. Every character has also an extra ability card, which may be used once per game and a few new Gandalf cards are added. You can destroy the foes in two ways, either through doing what’s written on each card, for example walk three steps nearer Sauron or sacrifice one or two life tokens. If you choose to not play a card in your turn, you before could either draw two cards or back one step from Sauron. Now you add the possibility to destroy one foe.

After a meagre start in Bree Dave was sure that we wouldn’t make it all the way, but we actually managed to go all the way through the game with Merry as the only one at the end of the last scenario, who put the ring into Mount Doom. We collected 8 shields and destroyed 20 foes, so we ended up with 88 points at the first try! My opinion is that Knizia has succeeded to make an already good game even better with a new dimension. (CGS=9, ML=7, SL=6, TB=7).

Then we met Ronald Hoekstra and Emanuel Soeding at the Cwali counter. It was too crowded there, so we went with Ronald to the Amigo area and tried their new game "Gargon", which also Rio Grande is going to publish. We find a friendly girl who talked good English. Unfortunately she seemed to have misunderstood most of the rules, which we discovered when we understood that the game didn’t work and we got a copy of the rules and started to translate them ourselves, thanks to Sus.

It’s a card game consisting of 6 colours numbered 0-15. The zeroes exist twice and gives doubled points at the end for each collected amulet in its colour. The colour of the cards is also shown at the back of the cards.

The game is played in two phases each turn. First the start player sets the playing-out system by playing out 1-3 cards facedown. The other players must play out the same number of cards and the same combination of colours (not the same colours), which can be 1:0, 2:0, 1:1, 2:1 or 1:1:1. The last player must play colours, which already are played by the other players. Each player may then choose to either play or pass. If he passes he draws 1-3 cards from the two piles in the middles (you see the coloured backs of all cards in both piles).

The battle phase are done by all players shows their played cards and the start player selects the colour to start the battle until his cards are exhausted and it continues until all colours has battled. The highest card in a colour defeats the highest card in the other player same colour. The defeated cards are placed in a discard pile and a card is drawn to the hand for these players. The won card is placed facedown beside the winner and its amulets are counted towards the victory at the end.

The start player changes clockwise between each round. When one pile in the middle is exhausted, then the game ends when the round is over and the scoring takes place. The player who has most cards in each colour get 10 points bonus in the colour, if it’s shared all get 5 points instead. All amulets on the cards are counted as points and doubled (or even quadrupled) for those player who has got a zero in the colour. (CGS=8, ML=7, SL=4, TB=8, Ronald=7).

Afterwards did we spend some time to buy games before we went back to our hotel. We also found a Swedish friend to Tobias who was at the fair by himself. We had got the wrong time for dinner. Anyway we found out that it was an hour later. About 50 gamers, among them Americans, Frenchmen, Belgians, Danes, Englishmen and Swedes had a great time at steakhouse Istra. I tried to join the Belgians in a game of "Werewolf", but it was difficult, as I don’t speak French fluently, anyway I’ve tried it. My friends played the card game "Don". They seemed to have joined it, as they bought a copy each of it later on. But maybe we should have mixed a bit better among the different nationalities and groups of people? Their food was as good as it was last year. We didn’t return to the hotel before 10 p.m., when it was pretty full. We were lucky to get the last table and later people had unfortunately go and find other gaming places.

Finally I had the chance to play "Drachengold" (Dragons Gold). I was afraid that the stress moment in the negotiations would make the game collapse, but I was really surprised how good it was in its simplicity, so I decided to buy a copy. Magnus had made paste-ups in Swedish, which made it easier to play. (CGS=7, ML=7, SL=8, TB=8, Fredrik Thid=7).

Sus decided that she had got enough of gaming for the day and Fredrik had to go back to his hotel, so we found an Englishman, John, with whom we played "Hellrail 3rd perdition". He had already played it once, so he was in charge to explain the game for us. It’s a nice little game with several options to use the cards as laying rails or upgrading them, moving your train and loading your train. Each station has also its particular function, like moving a guard to a station or discarding or rotating the rail. Although it’s very luck-driven through the draw of the cards I found it really interesting. Later on I’ve found out that we’ve played with a wrong rule, as the number of souls decides the movement and not the brimstone value. We also later in the game understood that you might do as many actions you wanted, as long you have cards. (CGS=8, ML=5, TB=6). Later play sank my rating to 6, as it can be very chaotic. Still worth to play now and then.

Friday 19th of October
After speaking a lot with Christophe Boelinger on the dinner the night before, I was curious to start with his game "So ein Hundeleben" (A Dog’s life). We went to Eurogames counter and tried it out. The theme is really good and I really wanted to love this game, particularly with those lovely plastic dogs as counters. Each dog had his own attributes. Some had more action points and other was more aggressive in attacking. I missed a tactic description for each kind of dog, but maybe it existed, as Sus was the one to translate the rules for us again. This was simulated with a deck of card for each dog, which you draw from for each action. Your actions was moving (no card drawing), begging food at a restaurant (sometimes you got a bone instead), drinking water at a fountain (to be able to pee twice), pee at a light-pole (which forced other dogs to stop at this square and end their movement), avoid dogcatcher, flee from animals home, search through a trash bin (to find either a bone or food). After you had done your actions you had to throw a die for the dogcatchers car and maybe catch one of the other dogs and sending him to the animals home for a while. The aim of the game was to find 4 bones and bring them back to your home place. You also had to keep trace of how much your dog had eaten. Maximum you could have 4 turns without eating and if you come to zero you fall asleep and goes to the animals’ home. The game had one major problem, it’s too easy to "die", particularly after coming out of the animals’ home. According to some of the Belgian playtesters, there’s a bug in the rules. You should leave the animals’ home with 3 food and not 2 food as written in the rules. With a house rule to only stay there maximum 2 turns (drawing 2 plus 3 cards to try to flee), it might be a much better game. Magnus really hated the game after being out of game 6 out of 7 turns in a row, without having any possibility to affect the game (CGS=6, ML=2, SL=3, TB=6). The Frenchmen said the game mechanism is identical to a French popular game called "Supergang".

We wanted to try "Draco & Co" as well, but there are too much text in English on the cards to make it playable without some paste-ups. I wanted to buy an English version of "The Mammoth Valley" as well, but the few copies they had brought had disappeared immediately the first day.

Sus went to the town centre during the afternoon and we got a table at Kosmos and tried "Die Neuen Entdecker". It’s both very similar and different from "Entdecker". If I hadn’t had the old game, I probably had bought it.

Some more new games and I also got a demo copy of the tile game "Vortex" from Fantasy Flight Games. I’ve been a bit a bit curious about it before, although by principle, I’m trying to avoid all collectible games.

After dinner at a pub did we go back to the hotel to play a few more games. Sus had bought the game "Hexenrennen", which she had loved when she tried it at Gulf Games. To much luck with the die to appeal to me, although you could control some through some cards you got on your hand and discarded after use (CGS=4, ML=6, SL=6, TB=6).

It had been really crowded in the room when we finally took the time to try Frank & Doris’ game "Urland". Nice-looking game with funny drawn cards, although a bit abstract. Some people call it Ursuppe light, but I can’t make the comparison. You had to plan so you get point during the rounds you’re passive. The starting player chooses which region should be scored during the round and the player to the left of him his doing nothing, meanwhile the other can move ichtos (the name of the small creeps in the games) or breed new ones. Three times during the game, when the first person has reached certain points on the scoring tracks, everyone are bidding for new genes, which appeared to be important for the rest of the game. Beware that you must have ichtos in your store in front of you with which you make you make your blind bidding, but you pay the bid through removing the same number of ichtos from the board! It’s an interesting mechanism. You have to plan ahead and it’s sometimes a brain-killer. The pretty high abstraction level probably requires several plays to get around with good playing (CGS=7, SL=4+, TB=7, Fredrik=7, Magnus didn’t want to give a rate before more plays).

We finished the evening with "Royal Turf", which mainly is a game of bidding on the right horse and try to move your horse(s) as good as possibly, without revealing which bet you’ve made before the race. Has a lot of similarities with "Greyhounds" and is not a bad game, but I didn’t really take it to my heart (CGS=6, ML=7, SL=7, TB=7).

Saturday 20th of October
We sent Sus and Tobias to the fair for some last shopping. Still hadn’t "Starship of Catan card" game arrived, so I was a bit sorry for that, but they found the games they wanted. Magnus and I managed to fill the car trunk up to the top with all the games and a few other luggage pieces as well….

About 5 hours drive back to Kiel, which among other things spent to translate the rules of "Gargon" to English. We visited their favourite Mexican restaurant before we went on the ferry.

Up to the library again for playing some games. My new copy of "Die Magier of Pangea" got the first chance. We all really liked the game mechanism and it flowed quickly in the beginning, but when a few of us was on the edge to win, we started to analyse the game more and more and it appeared to have a troublesome kingmaker problem. Still I really want to like this game! Later I’ve read that the game is really good with just two players, so I’m looking forward to try this (CGS=6, ML=3, SL=5, TB=3).

Sus put her dexterity/puzzle game "Laguna" on the table. Each player have a raft to move around on the map and collect marbles in their colours by the edges and move them to the middle. Each raft had 2x3 holes and you had to move the marbles before during each turn to conceal all reefs, which might be seen through the holes during the movements. If you saw an arrow in a hole, you had to move in its direction immediately without moving a marble. You moved as long as possible during 30 seconds, which was controlled by a sand timer. If you rammed a reef you had to stop your movement and the next player got the remaining time plus his own time. It was a very stressful game, but still interesting (CGS=6, ML=7, SL=8, TB=9) (6 is very high rating by me for a dexterity or puzzle game). The backside of the reef map is even worse and there is also a pure puzzle variant without time stress, for those who prefers this.

We finished the evening with a second play of "Gargon", which all appreciated more. But Tobias and I decreased the rating a step because of the too much randomness in the drawings of cards and Sus increased her rating. (CGS=7, ML=7, SL=5, TB=7).

We arrived home during Sunday morning to start unpack our games, but that’s another story. In summary I can say my Essen tour this years was very different. Less playing at the fair, but more games during the evenings. Also did we meet a lot more friends from internet, not least some of those I met last year.

Carl-Gustaf Samuelsson
accompanied by Magnus & Sus Lundgren and Tobias Bende

 

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