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Essen Game fair report 2002-10-15—20

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Tuesday 15th of October
My common law wife Christina, Peter Hagbok from Stockholm (owner of the second Swedish board game site “Baldor Games”) and Sus Lundgren took a ferry from Gothenburg to Kiel. There were also 4 other Swedish guys on the way to the game fair. Tobias Bende, who went with me last year plus his friends Sanny Gustavsson, Anders Mårtensson and Henrik. They also had brought their car. After coming onto the ferry we went straight to the library, where it is a calm place for gaming.

Finally I got the chance to play the print-and-cut game version of “Murder at the Abbey”. All of us managed quite well to put questions, which didn’t reveal too much to the other players, but sometimes it didn’t give even yourself any new information. The vow of silence was only used a couple of times at the end of the game and the were bad at using the scriptorium, which might have helped us a lot and it was only Anders who get the chance to use the scriptorium. Finally I succeeded to reveal that brother Ubertin was the murderer. Although it’s a chaotic deduction game, I found it to work really well and I’m looking forward for the re-edition of Bruno Faidutti’s game. It’s said to be good even with more players, without getting too long. This play took about 1 hour.
Rating:  Carl=7, Peter=7, Anders=6, Christina=6

Hellrail” was our next game. I choose to avoid the circle effect tokens, as they make the game even more random. Anyway the most important was to “fan the flames” with a card of a high brimstone value, so you got many cards for the next turn. After ¾ hour Sanny won it with 28 delivered souls and me with 17 and Tobias with 16. Peter was very disappointed that he only had the chance to make 3 turns. Probably the game is better with 3 players. But everyone thought the theme made it a better game than the game play.
Rating: Carl=6, Sanny=6, Tobias=6, Peter=4 

Wednesday 16th of October
A tough drive in the sunshine the 460 km down to Essen. But we didn’t get into any “Stau”, which is German for traffic jam. First we let Sus check-in at hotel Korn in the center, before we dropped off Peter at a Private Room nearby hotel Jung, where we stayed. Together we all went to the fair and came in for a preview plus shopping at the dealer’s stands. I got copies of “Nautilus” €27 (very cheap!), “Krieg und Frieden” €17 (I had hesitated about it last year) and “Expedition” €17. Fortunately Richard Breese already was preparing his stand, so I could get my pre-ordered copy of “Keythedral” €35. We met the other guys and they had shopped a lot more than we, maybe because it was the first fair for them (except Tobias).

Back at the hotel we met 3 other Swedes in the lounge: Fredrik Thid (from last year), Oskar and Stefan. All from Stockholm. We played “Autoscooter”, a game of car bumpers, where you had to write down and simultaneously reveal your draw. Every time you expended one of your initiative numbers, which told the moving order. Not bad, but it didn’t catch me much. It reminded me of a simple version of “Blue Max” – a flight battle simulation game.
Result: Carl=20, Fredrik=8, Oskar=34 and Stefan=18
Rating: Carl=5, Fredrik Thid=7, Oskar=6, Stefan=7 

After a dinner with a large schnitzel menu at a pub nearby we went back to the lounge. There we tested the my new game “Keythedral”, which I later on realised was the best game of the one I tested.

First of all it’s a new set-up of the boards for every new game, where everyone lay out a field tile (large octagons) plus a cottage tile (small quadratics) in order, until all is placed on the board. The used tiles depends on the number of players, so the scalability of the games seems to be good. You have to get a good mix of resources to spend, so the set-up is really important and can be difficult the first time.

The game has several rounds, which may vary and consists of the following phases:
1)      Place worker counters
2)      Collect resource cubes
3)      Spend resource cubes
4)      Retrieve worker counters
5)      Change start player

When the last building tile on the cathedral mat has been taken, then the game finishes.

You have 5 different resources you have to retrieve on the fields: Timber, Stone, Wine, Food crops and Water. With these resources you can also trade to craft cubes: Ironwork, Stained glass and Gold. These are important for the building tiles higher up. If you don’t get one of needed resource cubes, you can use your action to trade 2 of any resources for 1 resource.

You can do any number of actions, until you make your first pass or until you take one of the two law cards, which can give you different kind of advantages later on like “choosing the work order”, “unexpected harvest” or “double production”. In total 20 different cards.

The turn order is very important and every player choose which village number (1-5) and each one place a worker adjacent to his village with the chosen number. If there is no place, he has to pass the placement. (During the set-up you probably has to think of where the player before may lock your resources in this phase.) During your spending phase, you may buy fences to stop your opponents to place their workers in a certain direction, although they may bribe the fence builders with 2 wine resources, to remove it later on…

The game rolled smoothly and was enough varied to keep up the interest and everyone enjoyed it. The only drawback was when someone wanted to upgrade the cottage to a house, as you had to hold the tiles around the tile, when you tried to turn it over. I would have preferred to lay another tile upon it instead. Christina spontaneously called it Settlers without trading. Neither of us have played his former games Keydom and Keytown.
Result: Carl 9, Christina 9, Oskar 13, Fredrik 6 and John 9.
Rating: Carl=8, Christina=8, Oskar=8, Fredrik=7, John=7. 

Then it was time to test “Trias” from Gecko Games, with Mik Svellov, John and Christina. It has a lovely graphic by Doris Matthäus. It’s about creatures, which propagates meanwhile the continent is expanding outwards. The player tries to dominate each continent with his own creatures. There are 3 different terrain types (desert, jungle and mountain), which are represented by 3 different types of hex tiles. The game is simple and gives several tricky moves to choose from. Every turn you play a card from your hand or draw one at random and let a corresponding tile slide outwards, then you have 4 action points. Move creature = 1 AP, rescue up to 3 creatures = 1 AP (someone else might have drifted a tile where your creatures are), reproduction of one creature = 1 AP and drift of a tile = 3 AP. Then you end your turn by returning swimmers and creatures from overpopulated tiles (no of creatures depends of terrain type) plus refilling your hand. It plays nicely, but I missed that they at least had supplied tokens, which looked like something from pre-history and not just wooden cubes. The game ends when the meteorite card appears in the draw pile among the 9 last cards.
Result:  Carl=26 (tie win), Mik=18, John=26, Christina=7
Rating: Carl=7, Mik=7, John=7, Christina=7

Thursday 17th of October
There were a lot of people at the entrance when we arrived before 10 am when it opened. We met up with the other Swedes just outside. Sus had a couple of interviews with designers for her work and the other guys from Gothenburg went by themselves, so Christina, Peter and I hurried to get a table at Ravensburger, where we had decided to start.

First game of the day was “Mexica”. The last game in the Tikal trilogy. It started up with quite quick moves with pretty solitaire playing. The only thing we thought of was counting number of squares to take new districts, but soon it became more tense with not only building of canals and move in your mexica, but also to compete within the existing districts. I made the error to try to dominate one of Christinas districts, when I could get as many points by be a shared first, so she took the district back later on. Actually I missed the “Knizia type scoring”, with a shared place, which put both players down a step in the scoring. The 6 action points made the game quicker than Tikal and if I hadn’t had this game before, I probably would have bought it, but it had too much feeling of Tikal to be bought by me, although I thinks it’s a slight better game. Luckily, I had printed the rules to the game, as the girl in the stand wasn’t really good at the rules. We asked her something about the end scoring and she answered “I don’t know, as most people quit the game halfway through it”….
Result: Carl=109, Christina=105, Peter=121
Rating: Carl=7, Christina=7, Peter=7 

Just after the game I was away for an appointment, which I unfortunately missed, but instead I met the 3 French game designers Bruno Faidutti, Sergé Laget and Bruno Cathala, so I got a few minutes to talk with Sergé about his “Mare Nostrum”, which he only had brought as a prototype to the game fair.

Next game at their stand was “Die Sieben Weisen”. A fantasy-themed card game, which looked very promising. The girl in the stand said it’s better with 5 players, so Peter went up and found two German guys who spoke good English. Each round in the game starts with one player choosing on which of the 3 places the competition of some crystals will take place and than each player chooses one of seven characters. As you only may play cards of your own character, then you need to find 1-2 partners to exchange cards with, so you start dealing with the others, particularly with players(s) who has a character, to whom you have card(s). It’s not a bad game, but something was missing. It felt a bit unbalanced with 5 player’s as mostly was it the 3-player team who won.
Result: Carl=20, Christina=2, Peter=26, Oliver=17, Raoul=23
Rating: Carl=6, Christina=6, Peter=6, Oliver=7, Raoul=7 

After some fat snack lunch we went to the Clementoni stand to try out their game “Wildlife”. The stand was terrible, as just behind it they were demonstrating a PC game on a large screen and someone was commenting at the same time as you heard the sound from the game. It was difficult to go through the rules in the noise. We had picked Lutz, another German to game with us. First we wanted an overview of the game, although I had English rules, but every time we tried to get it, the girl from Clementoni started to read and translate directly from the rulebook, so we soon realised it was easier to go through them by ourselves.

The game is had a some interesting aspects, as that different players had different levels in different terrain. All creatures had two terrain types without any action, two with wandering, one with expansion and one with attacking. These are upgradeable with adaptation cards.  You do your turn by playing 3 cards and one of these cards must be auctioned to the other. Food is “money” in the auction.  If you bid too high, you may get food buy converting every victory points to 3 food. You may migrate (move) one of your tiles for free on the board, use your abilities (which you get through playing an ability card). The most important cards are the 6 different terrain cards (plus a few joker cards), which you use for wandering, expanding or attacking (only possible if the area is filled up with creatures) in the special terrain type. Every time someone fills up an area, there is either a small or a big scoring. When 11 of the 12 areas are filled up, then the game ends. After the initial rounds we got a better tempo and everyone found the game interesting.
Result: Carl=108, Peter=86, Lutz=85, Christina=103
Rating: Carl=8, Peter=8, Lutz=7, Christina=7 

There was less than an hour left of the fair after this game and we went around shopping a few games. I bought of course Wildlife plus I decided to take the chance and buy Wallenstein, although I hadn’t tested it. It had got good reviews and I liked the theme, which is connected to the Swedish history. Afterwards we 3 went to a restaurant for dinner.

There wasn’t many in the lounge when we returned. Peter and I decided that we wanted to try  “Nautilus” and started to read the rules and set it up. Meanwhile Christina preferred lighter games and played Formula 1, StreetSoccer, Kingdoms and TransAmerica. Particularly she was surprised that StreetSoccer was so good. She never thought a football game could be any fun. Both Kingdoms and TransAmerica was really bad and she convinced me that I particularly should avoid TransAmerica, as the game gives no interesting choices, but you have to be lucky and get random help from the others to have a chance to win.

When all was set-up for the exploration game “Nautilus” and we had found a couple of other players it was 10.30 pm. In the beginning it was a bit slow, before we got a feeling for the mechanics and phases, although in the first rounds we mostly only made the first and soon the second phase. Shortly it has 3 phases: Building the Undersea City, Deploying the Researchers and Exploring the Ocean floor. I found it quite interesting, although a bit slow. You had to utilise the other players research stations, to get enough active stations, but none of us realised before it was to late the importance of having most number of research stations before it was too late. It’s a game which you need to play twice at least. All of us probably gave it one rating lower than it could have had because of it was slighter longer than it was worth, but also because it’s quite a lot of a solitaire game with few interactions. I wanted to love the game, as I’m fond of both the exploration and the theme, but I just like it.
Result: Carl=14x9=126, Peter=6x6=36, Stefan=5x6=30, Fredrik=16x3
Rating: Carl=7, Peter=6, Stefan=6, Fredrik=7 

I finished the evening with a short game of “Kingdoms”, which Peter had bought. The theme is very beautiful, but it was too random with too little control for my taste, so I pass on this. It didn’t even make me happy to win such a game.
Result: Carl=265, Peter=170, Stefan=150
Rating: Carl=4, Peter=6, Stefan=4 

Friday 18th of October
We met up with Peter just before 10 am again. Today we took aim at Goldsieber to test “Goldland”. A German guy asked us to join and he knew the rules pretty well, as he had started to play yesterday, but the game had been cancelled halfway through it. As I like exploration games, this game went to my heart, although its simple and light. Still it gives several interesting choices. Probably it’s good with both non-gamers and children.
Result: Carl=6, Peter=17, Christina=13, Bernhard=19
Rating: Carl=7, Peter=7, Christina=7 

We had heard a lot of the new Winning Moves prototype game “Clans” and went to test it. The rules were quickly teached by a lady in the stand. Unfortunately it’s a game where you move around all other colours as well as your own, which you try to conceal. I really dislike this type of game (like Heimlich & Co), and although the game isn’t bad it felt like a pain for me and actually its simplicity was an advantage.
Rating: Carl=5, Peter=5, Christina=5 

We strolled around for a while and ate a bratwurst for lunch. It was fun to see all the dresses they had in the live roleplaying stands. Particularly Christina was exalted about it. After having found a copy of Santa Fe Rails, which I decided to buy unseen as there were no place to test it for the moment.

We tried to get a place to test Amigos new game Bohn Hansa, but you had to book in advance and it was already filled up, so we continued to Hans im Glück, where we soon got a table and got the rules explained by a really competent guy called Alex in the stand.

First we tried “Kampf der Gladiatoren” (Clash of the Gladiators), which I knew is a real dice feast, but I like the theme, so I wanted to test it. But it is worse than I had anticipated, although you could make some decision how to fill up each platform with different kind of warriors. It’s only the swordsman you can get extra attacks with, except the default die for the platform. The spearman gives you the initiative, the shield man protects you from one single-hit, the net caster start the combat by neutralising one of the opponent characters. If your eliminated, you still may choose one of the animals, although with less probability to win. Each killed character gives 1 point and each killed animal gives 2 points. Still it’s a bit fun, but more like a children’s game.
Result: Carl=13, Christina=13, Peter=22
Rating: Carl=5, Christina=5, Peter=6 

Then we choose another game I’ve been curious about: “Magellan” (Pizarro & Co). Would a game, which only depends on auction work well. The answer is YES! We all were amazed that it could be so good. There are 6 well-known explorers on the board and you want to put your 6 ships on them all, but if you choose fewer, you may put more ships on them. All explorers give different advantages for the next phase or gives scores at the end. (These are varied with 4 different set-ups of the board). If you pay too much, then you won’t be able to win future auctions, but still you want the best positions. Maybe you should wait to get cheaper positions and pay more later on, but you might risk to not get more than a few on the board then, particularly if there are 4-5 players (3 is too few to make the auctions intense). During the second phase it’s only two ships, which continues to the next level after bidding among those. If you happen to be the only one a certain explorer, you may pay really cheap, so don’t let your opponents get into this situation… and for the last phase your bidding to get one of the remaining ship to the highest level. Everyone liked this game.
Result: Carl=56, Christina=68, Peter=108
Rating: Carl=7+, Christina=7+, Peter=8 

We ended the fair with a test of  Carcassonne – Die Jäger und Sammler” (Hunters and Gatherers). In this version you have forests with champions (gives an extra point for the forest meeple) and gold (gives a better bonus tile for the player, who concludes the forest). On the savannas are there animals, which gives the hunter meeple points, but beware of the tigers, which gives minus points! You connect lakes with rivers and with a hut you collect points from all fishes in the connecting lakes. The game is more spread out than the original game and we had to invent a house rule that it was disallowed to put a tile outside the edge of the table… The game is better and quite different from the original, but I wouldn’t buy it when I have the other one.
Result: Carl=124, Peter=104, Christina=81
Rating: Carl=7, Peter=7, Christina=7 

After some shopping, it was time to go back to the hotel. At 8 o’clock we met up with several other gamers for a dinner at restaurant Jstra. We had a pleasant time talking with gamers from several countries and it was late when we returned to the hotel. All the tables were filled up, so Christina and I went with Mik Svellov and Henning Kröpke to Hotel Savoy, where several of the game designers use to stay.

In the pub we found Leo Colovini, with whom we played a prototype, which is ready for publishing as soon as he find someone who wants it. All I can say is that it’s a card game called “Space Crew” and it was light and nice to play.

Finally we got a chance to play “Bang!”, which Mik had praised so much. Normally this kind of card game wouldn’t be my type of card game, as it’s quite random and chaotic but the theme fits perfect in for a funny little filler. It’s best with 5-7 players, as you can’t shoot longer than 1 person away (left or right) from the beginning (you get better guns later on). You get a random character. The sheriff is the only one who is revealed and he is the starting player. 1-2 vice deputies helps him and they win if all outlaws and renegades are killed. The outlaws wins together if the sheriff is killed and the renegade has to be last man standing to win.

Result:  Sheriff Carl and deputy Christina killed the outlaws Mik and Harold and the renegade Hans (crokinole stand).

Saturday 19th of October
After breakfast and packing, we went to a book store nearby, as Christina was looking for some books. Peter called us and said that he had to check-out already at 10 o’clock, so I fetch him. We decided that it was better to drive as soon as possible, so we fetch some luggage for Sus and plus some of the game of Henrik, as the other hadn’t enough place in their car. We departed the city nearly 11:30 am, which was good luck as we twice got stuck in a “Stau” this time, even if we had taken another way to avoid one we already knew about. We arrived to Kiel just over an hour before the ferry left and even if we hadn’t drove together with the other guys, we arrived just behind them on the ferry!

After a snack dinner at the ferry we went up to the library to play some of our new games. First out was “Muscat”, which was has a nice mechanic like rock-paper-scissors, but instead it is piper-snakecharmer-elephanttrainer-fireeater. Every player has 4 tokens of each kind. Each turn you have 3 choices, but you may only execute one of them:
-          Bring a new token (either the one face-up in front of you or a randomly drawn) into action on a marketplace of the first level.
-          Activate the cycle of power (if there are 3 tokens in on marketplace), to throw the “losing token” on the street below the marketplace and move up the other 2 to different marketplaces on the next level.
-          Activate the never-do-well
   o       Re-employment of a token on a street.
   o       Transfer a tile to another marketplace with 2 tiles on  the same level, which automatically activates the cycle of power.
   o       Exchange a token with another player’s token of the same type and same level. On one of the marketplaces the cycle of power must be executed, which requires 3 tokens there.
   o       Transformation may be executed if one of your tokens are in the weakest position of 3 and you have a token corresponding to the empty position in one of the streets. You may take this into the marketplace and take the other token out of the game. The cycle of power is activated immediately.

The game ends when there are a certain number of tokens (depending of the number of players) at the safe palace level. Then the palace and every marketplace gives plus points and all streets give minus points. These are of course more for higher levels.

Although it is more abstract than I had anticipated, it’s an interesting game. It gets less rating by me for being so abstract.
Result: Carl=13, Christina=52, Peter=32
Rating: Carl=6, Christina=6, Peter=5+ 

Meanwhile a Tobias and Sanny a game of “Hive”, which fascinated these two chess players. I just though it looked extremely dry and theme-less, so I wasn’t even inclined to try it. Afterwards we played a game of “Bang!”, which is perfect with 7 players. The first game, I was the sheriff again. Peter more or less revealed immediately that he was the renegade, by activating the dynamite card. Which other character would do such a thing at the start? Some were a bit frustrated, like Henrik who was a Deputy between the Sheriff and the other deputy in the second game and he only had the default +1 gun, which he didn’t want to shoot at his “friends” with. Most seemed to enjoy the game.

I had heard a lot of the card game “Von Kap bis Kairo” and was looking forward to try it now. You start the game with a certain amount of money, which you use to make blind bids on the tracks with. I thought it was a pity that you had to have pen and paper to write down your bid, but it was a pretty ok game, although not so good as I had thought. Ok as a game to carry with you on travels anyway. Christina said that the combination of a train theme and the blind bidding made it a bad game.
Rating: Carl=6, Christina=4, Henrik=6 

It was getting late when Peter and I finally got the chance to play “Babel”, which he had brought from Sweden on my request. I had been looking at this game for a while, without being able to decide if I wanted it or not. After a test of Hera & Zeus earlier during the , I had realised that I should be more careful in buying 2-player games. It’s very mean and became more and interesting, as we understood and got more and more interesting combinations, but the luck in the draw of both the cards on your hand and the temple cards, made the game swing a bit too much, which made it less good. After I had a lead of 10-4, which changed to 6-12 after over half an hour of play, we decided to abandon the game. It’s nice, but not a must buy game for me. I also realised that Christina wouldn’t like this so much.
Rating: Carl=7, Peter=7 

Sunday 20th of October
The ferry arrived at 9 am and it had snowed quite a bit in Sweden the last days. We first went to Magnus to get rid of Sus’ and Henrik’s games at Magnus & Sus. After dropping off Peter at the station we went home to Borås. Maybe we would have time for some sleep during the nights again….

My list of new games:
-          Keythedral €35
-          Krieg und Frieden €17
-          Nautilus €27
-          Expedition €17
-          Wildlife €22
-          Wallenstein €30
-          Santa Fe Rails €34
-          Magellan (Pizarro & Co) €12
-          Goldland €20
-          Muscat €16
-          Von Kap bis Kairo €6 (card game)
-          Lord of the Ring – Sauron (expansion) €30

Carl-Gustaf Samuelsson
Christina Arrindell


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Carl-Gustaf Samuelsson