Essen Spiel 2007 PhotoJournal

Thursday at the Fair

Veteran intrepid Essen reporter Ken Tidwell of Ken's Game Cabinet fame is once again on the job! We who didn't get to go thank you for all the great views, Ken!

Readers, stay tuned for commentary at the end as well!

See the Friday report here.

An arsenal's worth of Bang! bullets

Schmidt Spiele under the protection of mighty Pikachu

Thursday crowds trend light.

Kurt Adam appears to enjoy Darjeeling ...

... but Mike Siggins already contemplates a negative review?

Gaming is active in Hall 5

More than one green-haired person this year
(role playing hall)

Phil Eklund hosts a playing of his new game, Origins

The Sierra Madre Games area


A closer look at Origins

Fragor's Antler Island


Antler Island detail

Antler Island's creator closes his eyes to it all (Gordon Lamont)

Promotional display for Golden Compass (by Kosmos) (B)

Ice bears they call them


Ken's Game Cabinet

Sierra Madre Games' Phil Eklund brought 250 copies of Origins (review) to Essen and, after the first day, has sold 150. And he was still thinking he had brought enough. Poor Phil isn't picturing the weekend hordes!

Assuming the hordes do, indeed, descend. There's a train strike on here in Deutschland and it kept the crowd wonderfully light on opening day. But I'm sure anyone selling games is hoping it all gets resolved soon.

We tried The Circle (B) on Essen Eve. This is a game about battling a pulp fiction, Victorian conspiracy – think The Shadow fighting the Yellow Claw or some such.

There are a number of tiles representing operatives grouped into four broad types (colors, suits – four suits are associated with a type of secret and the fifth is neutral) with four sub-types (identified by their abilities, their infiltration value which directly translates to victory point value, and time to mature). On each turn, you are given four secret points. These can either be spent to start an operative of your choice on the path to maturity (where they sit for a number of turns equal to their time to mature) or they can be stored as a particular type of secret for later use. Secrets are stored on one of four tracks numbered 1 to 13. When an operative matures if it is bound to a secret type then the player with a clear majority in that type gets the operative. If there is a tie then those players may bid secret points to take the operative. The winner lowers their marker on that track. If the operative is neutral then it is also marked with a secret type and all players may bid points of that type for the operative. Once you have the operative then you may use its abilities or go ahead and score it by infiltrating the secret society you are battling. The abilities allow you to raise or lower the secret points of any player by two, reduce the number of new secret points a player receives on their turn, etc. Some abilities caused the enemy to score, usually when capturing or killing enemy agents. If the enemy scored enough points then everyone would lose (incredibly unlikely as one would have to come much closer to finishing the game than I think most groups playing this game will bother with). Once an ability is used, however, the operative must once again be matured for 3 to 7 turns, depending on the type of operative. Most players just chose to score them immediately and we have extra hair here, as well. On the back of each operative there is one quarter of a picture of a moth, the symbol of the enemy. If you manage to complete a moth image then you score one extra point. Woo. Hoo. The entire game felt like it was going in slow motion. And the most interesting thing happening – using the operative abilities – was so slow to use due to the need to re-mature the operatives that no one was bothering. The game crashed and burned after about 45 minutes as all that remained was an odd auction game and there seems to be a heavy backlash against auctions.

On the stands we tried Patrizier, (review) which was a serviceable game about dominating regions by laying tiles. Cards control where and how many tiles you can lay. When you lay in a region you also collect a face up card waiting there. Cards may also include one of three faces with a bonus going to the holder of the majority in each at the end. The cards may also contain actions that allow you to grab a card from anywhere or shift tiles. Tiles are laid in one of two stacks in each region. The majority in the largest stack scores high points for the region and majority in smaller scores the smaller value. Region scores when total tiles in region equals a target. All cards for a region must be played in order to reach the target. It worked, but was not exciting. But it did work, which is turning out to be something of an oddity.

Darjeeling (review) was also tried on stand. This is a card melding game. Players collect cards from a tableau by moving their tea-cutter figure around on the tableau. Once they have a single-suited meld assembled, they score it using a clever mechanism that minor league penalizes frequent play of melds in the same suit. Players also start the meld moving down a scoring track. The first three spaces pay 3 points per card in the meld at the start of that players turn, the next three (?) pay 2 and the last 3 pay 1. Each time a new meld is scored the older ones are pushed down.

Lots of timing having to do with when you meld and whether or not your husband notices that he could meld and prevent you from winning the game. There were also complaints that the tableaus could get crowded (i.e. lots of tea-cutters cutting across each others path) which leads to an inability to plan (a theme at this Essen). Perhaps better with less than five?

Players who clump up in the collection process are at a disadvantage. The selection in the collection field is also completely random and there's not a lot that players can do if they get a bad deal up there. Finally, it is a win by waiting out the patience of the other players game. Never my favorite.

We tried the new Bohn game, Bohnröschen, (B) which is a Was Sticht-lite really, bolted on to Bonhanza. The goals are laid out in a track. First to reach the end scores five taler and causes all other players to lose one taler for every goal they are behind the finish. Good fun in the same light mold as the other bean games.

One tip: remember that you can pay to skip a goal. Not much in this box for English-only speakers except the cute wooden bean figures used to track progress on the goal track.

Amigo is also offering two books of Bohn-variants. I'll try to snag the smaller of the two. And a wooden bean-crate to hold all the official Amigo expansions.

We tried Fragor's Antler Island (review) on stand, as well. And it may be the best so far this run. Lots of good bits: sex theme, moose figures, pre-programmed moves that kept things hopping, lots of different paths to victory, and out in 45. Highly recommended, even with this larger print run of 2500. (Very different from Hameln! And the sheep game is now out from Zoch.)

In the evening we played two that didn't work for me: the Japanese Origin of Falling Water (B) and the Czech League of Six. (B)

Origin of Falling Water is a trick taking game where the tricks are played in reverse order (last first). Once all six tricks are played, you resolve them. Look at the first, consider cards played by lead player, high card in that suit wins that trick and is now lead, repeat. Trick winners get card with values 1 to 3 in blue or 1, 2 or 4 in red. Total red and subtract blue (could have this backwards) – because there isn't enough chaos here.

League of Six is another accountancy foobar. Lots of interesting mechanics, but the whole felt out of control to me. See on-line rules for how the heck it works (damned convoluted). But it really blew up once players had collected their resources and started buying on a Bazaar-like exchange track. One player could start a Bazaar-formula and later players were forced to complete. The completed formula paid the player who started it a bonus. Since your resources were being drawn out of your hand, only the first player could make much of a plan. How do you get to be the first player? Waaaay back in the bidding for lots phase one thing that could show up in a lot were the bits to determine player order. Except that we mostly tied on those so you also had to look at the region number. And somehow the minutes past the hour were factored in, but only once totalling the freckles on a random limb.

– Ken Tidwell, October 18, 2007

See the Friday report here.

Ken's Game Cabinet

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