The SPIEL '18 Games Convention
Index of all convention days
Lights on, Camera ready, Micro open...
"Full SPIEL ahead!"
Folks, here is Essen, the boardgaming capital of Germany !
Welcome back everybody!!! A year has passed, and once again we are back with our daily reports here from Essen. It's year 22 in the G@mebox calendar, and time doesn't stand still, neither in the world of games nor for the crew here at the G@mebox. Like in the last years, Ralf Togler and myself will bear the main part of the reporting, and we will also be supported occasionally by Lutz Wildt, a friend of ours who is as much a gamer as we are!
So, will our team be big enough to report on a good portion of all the new games released at the SPIEL 18? The answer is clear: absolutely not! If you look at Eric Martin's Essen SPIEL Preview at Boardgamegeek.com, you will discover that the number of new games announced for the SPIEL has not only surpassed 1,000 new games, but currently this list is at an amazing 1,200 novelties. And there are still some games coming!
Looking back at the humble beginnings of the SPIEL, this number is nearly incomprehensible for me. The SPIEL 17 is just a year away, and now we will have a possibility to look at so many more new games? Well, kudos to all these designers who still have ideas for interesting new playing mechanisms, but I somehow can't get rid of the feeling that so many nice ideas will fall wasted. It's just too many games to check out - even if we had 10 to 15 people at the G@mebox crew…
These things said, I have scanned the Essen SPIEL Preview quite thoroughly in the previous weeks, choosing games which I would like to check out. This pre-SPIEL preparation gets more and more complex each year, but it will be the backbone for the first days at the show, because otherwise some quite interesting new games might be missed. However, that doesn't mean that there will be no lucky finds! On the weekend my wife Nicole once again will join me, and I am sure that she will once again pick out some rather odd games which I would have missed otherwise!
Looking at the weather forecast, we are going to have rather fitting convention weather this week. For the next days it will be overcast and a bit chilly here at Essen, and there will be an occasional drizzle. Perfect weather to stay in the halls of Messe Essen, especially after a sheer endless summer here at Germany. We had a southern European summer with nearly endless sunshine from April to October, and today actually was the last sunny day. So my wife and I used this day for a bit of biking in the south of Essen, enjoying the sunshine and the air before the upcoming days in the convention halls.
To get you into the right mood for this year's SPIEL I have decided to feature a few new developments concerning one of my favourite game categories - strategic dice games. In recent years there have been some rather interesting new approaches for the use of the old cubic randomizers, and I keep a constant eye on this category of games because I rather like the combination of luck and strategy, provided there are some interesting mechanisms which connect both elements. So, for the next few days we will take a closer look at some games from this category.
A game which I took along on last year's SPIEL mostly for its marvelous looks is Dice Forge from LIBELLUD. Ahead of the SPIEL I have read a devastating review in the German games magazine Spielbox, downgrading the game especially for the fact that the reviewer considered the rulebook faulty and unreadable. However, I nonetheless really liked the game's artwork when I saw it in the news showroom, and so I decided to take it along to see whether it was really a washout, or whether something special could be found here.
As it turned out, Dice Forge really was a lucky find!!!
Let me begin right with the rulebook. The only thing which could have been carved out a bit more carefully was the first setup of the game, but otherwise the rules have been written quite well and understandable. I had no real problems to get into the game, and it was my impression that this would have been possible even if I had not read the Spielbox review in advance.
But now let's turn to the game itself. As I have written in today's intro, Dice Forge is a strategical dice game which brings together elements of luck and strategy. In a rough summary, players have to generate resources like gold, Sunstones and Moonstones by rolling their dice, and these resources can be spent on a large range of Mission cards which will provide victory points and in-game benefits. Looking at the background story, at least part of these mission cards originate in Greek mythology, so that the players can board the ship Argo, obtain Pandora's box or defeat monsters like the Minotaur or the Hydra.
The graphics on the cards and the design of all other components of the game is really nice, so it's quite an eyecatcher when setup is finished. But considering the fact that the main engine of the game can be summarized in one sentence, you may ask yourself what exactly is special about this game. Well, the specialty are the dice themselves, because Dice Forge actually is a dice crafting game. This unusual term means that the players will not add or remove dice from their dice pool during the course of the game, but they will actually manipulate the dice themselves.
Indeed, each player receives a permanent outfit of two dice at the beginning of the game, and the number of dice will never be increased. From afar these dice may look like normal D6, but when you examine them more closely you will discover that the faces of the dice are removable, making it possible to upgrade the dice with a large variety of new, improved faces. The faces are just clicked off and on, giving the players a possibility to customize their dice in order to suit their general strategy.
At the beginning of the game the two dice of each player offer just some meagre income in gold, Sunstones and Moonstones. However, the gold earned can be invested to purchase new faces, and the pool of improved faces contains a really broad choice of new faces, with their price increasing with their powers. So, there are faces which allow the players to harvest larger quantities of resources, whereas other faces may offer a choice or combination of different resources. Some faces offer plain victory points, whereas even others give a multiplication factor, meaning that the result rolled on the player's other dice will be multiplied accordingly. Some faces even can be used to steal the resources of other players, and so each of the players will quickly generate their very own pair of dice in the course of the game.
Played over a duration of 9 or 10 rounds, the players have very few time to build up their production engines based on improving their dice. Income is generated at the beginning of each player's turn, because all players roll their dice and gather resources at each turn. However, at the beginning the dice are not really powerful, and so the players have to chose carefully which faces they want to purchase during their turns. In addition, many of the advanced faces available for purchase are unique, so that the players have to compete for getting the desired new faces in time. This confronts them with the dilemma whether they go for one expensive new face, or several cheaper (albeit less powerful) faces.
The concept of clicking faces on a dice is not fully new - I have seen a similar type of dice in LEGO games. However, until now there has not been a game which actually focuses on constantly improving the powers (and faces) of a player's dice, and this fresh new approach has been implemented rather well in Dice Forge. From a player's perspective it's a rather interesting tactical task to think how the dice can be improved best, because it's not simply purchasing new faces to replace old (weaker) faces. Instead, the players also have to think on which of their dice they want to place new faces, because some of the advanced faces (like the multiplier) actually interact with the results shown on the player's other dice. In addition, some of the Mission cards can be completed with Moonstones, whereas other need Sunstones, and Sunstones can also be spent to play an additional turn. For these reasons it really matters where a player puts new faces, because the probabilities of specific combinations can be influenced by changing the dice in the right way.
Don't be afraid at this point - the weighting of probabilities doesn't go too deep, because a dice pool of constantly two dice can be monitored rather smoothly. However, it's the process of applying strategic thoughts to dice crafting which makes the game highly attractive, because the whole approach is very fresh and takes a new angle on strategic dice games.
So, if you come across a copy of Dice Forge, you should really check it out and consider taking it along. In my home this game has seen quite a few plays after the SPIEL '17, and looking at the database of Boardgamegeek I was rather happy to discover that a big new expansion will be released next year. This expansion will bring a lot of new options to the game - including new faces and Mission cards. So the design team at LIBELLUD has decided to continue the game, and I damn glad they did!
This brings me to the end of this first day of the SPIEL '18 warm-up. Once again, welcome back everybody! You are in for a great week of gaming!!!
See you tomorrow!!!
The weather change is here!
After yesterday's last rays of summer, the clouds, cold and rain have arrived, and after the long-lasting summer temperatures this weather will be a respite especially in the crowded convention halls. If we still would have the summer weather of the last months, staying inside the halls with up to 40,000 visitors on a convention day would have been a hot convention indeed!
But talking about the halls, let's have a look how the set-up is going! Already during the weekend I noticed quite a few trucks going in and out of the halls, and so the set-up must be going at full pace.
As could be expected, the set-up in Halls 1 and 3 was going on at a good pace, with the booths of the big publishers being readied for the show. When you visit the SPIEL, you will enter through either of these halls, and already on your first steps you will be overwhelmed by impressive graphic displays of the new games from the well-known publishers. Especially ASMODEE and PEGASUS have become giants on the games market, uniting many smaller publishing houses under their banners. Getting these publishers into the vicinity of their central booths, large parts of Halls 1 and 3 now are populated by these two distributors and their partners.
However, if you still want to enjoy a bit of the feeling of the old days of the SPIEL where many micro-publishers came to present their new games, do not forget to venture deeper into the convention area and seek out Halls 2, 4, 5 and 6!
At the moment these halls still are looking quite bare, but that's usual for Monday during the convention week. Being not blessed with a big distributor's budget, the teams of many small publishers arrive at Essen either Tuesday or Wednesday. However, as you can see above, the one or other odd booth is already prepared - like GAMELYN's tiny booth for Tiny Epic Games.
As the convention organizers of MERZ-VERLAG have announced before the show, the SPIEL will be growing once again. As the refurbishment of the older convention halls of MESSE ESSEN is progressing, new halls become available. This year with hall 6 a whole new hall is added, once again considerably enlarging the exhibition space. In this airy and light-flooded hall you will find the Comic Action, an annex for the SPIEL which is attractive for cosplayers and comic enthusiasts. However, a few small publishers like ECLIPSE EDITORIAL (publishers of Skull Tales: Full Sail!) will be hidden in this big hall, so check the hall plans not to miss the games at the far reaches of the show!
Looking at the official hall plan, the SPIEL now encompasses halls 1 to 6, and incredible story of success if you consider that it all started some decades ago just in hall 12. If you look closely, you will find no hall 12 on the hall plan, but nonetheless we are now on the brink of returning to the older halls. Peeking through a gateway, I was able to look into hall 7 - this are the former halls 10 and 11 where the SPIEL has been home for so many years.
But talking so much about small publishers and their games certainly will have triggered you appetite for some real gaming news. Just a few days ago I was able to check out one of the really interesting new games which will be released this year, and so I would like to share with you my experience of going out into the Monster Lands - equipped just with a handful of dice…
Actually Monster Lands by SECOND GATE GAMES has been one of the most anticipated games this year. The game had been financed through a very successful Kickstarter campaign, and this campaign once again has been a clear sign that strategic dice games are still in high demand for the boardgaming community.
So, what is special about Monster Lands? The general setting certainly is well known: The Queen's lands have been overrun by a horde of fantasy monsters, and in her need the Queen has turned to the clans of the land, asking them to thwart the threat and to win back the occupied provinces.
As you can see, it's once again up to the players to save the day by recruiting powerful clan members, purchasing useful equipment and by sending those fearless Heroes out into the wild. As can be expected, the game will be won by the player who accumulates most Victory points, and in the major part these can be gathered in form of Glory points which are awarded for killing or capturing monsters, by liberating lands and by defending the royal citadel against approaching monsters. However, during the course of the game the players also will recruit new Heroes for their tribes, and the reknown of each Hero adds to the player's total score of Reputation points. At the game's end both scores for Glory and Reputation are added up in order to determine a player's final score.
The prowess of each Hero is measured in the form of dice, and depending on a Hero's reputation and cost each Hero which is added to a clan will provide the player with new dice for his dice pool. Three different types of Hero dice exist in the game - red Strength dice, purple Magic dice and yellow Persuasion dice. The former two types of dice usually are used to fight monsters when venturing into the wilds, whereas the Persuasion dice are more useful for actions within the Citadel where the players have to hire and equip their clan members.
Speaking very roughly, Monster Lands operates on a dice placement mechanism with the players taking turns to assign dice to various positions on the gameboard, allowing them to take the action associated with each position. Dice placed at the locations within the Citadel give the players access to new Heroes and Equipment cards, and they can also purchase Traps and Potions/Venom which are useful for fighting monsters. In addition, Strength dice can also be dedicated to the Mines, increasing a player's treasury in case he is short on money.
Depending on the location, players can pay with Strength or Magic dice, but in most cases a player may also use Persuasion dice. The Persuasion dice are the only type of dice which are rolled in advance of the Dice Deployment phase, because they do not only allow the players to take an action, but the player also will receive a rebate for their purchase at the location where the dice is placed. This rebate is equal to the value of the dice, and it can be increased even further if there is already a Persuasion dice at this location. If the first placed dice has a higher value, the rebates of both dice are added together, making it an interesting consideration for the players to go for a late placement.
In contrast to the Persuasion dice, the Strength and Magic dice are usually placed in the lands outside the Citadel, taking their place in paths assigned leading to this round's monster(s). In order to fight a monster, a player has to send a Hero, and this Hero can be strengthened by a number of dice, traps and potions. Each monster (and the province which it occupies) can be approached on four different paths, and the dice which are required (and optional) for each path are depicted on a special tile which has been drawn together with the monster card at the beginning of the round. The requirements differ a bit from path to path, and so a player has to decide which path (and dice) he wants to use. However, in the following Adventure phase the paths will be evaluated from left to right, and so a player who possibly made a placement on a path to the right may come too late because a player who has made a placement more to the left may have already defeated the monster.
Regarding the structure of a game round, the aforementioned Adventure phase follows the Dice Deployment phase in which the players took turns to place their dice onto the gameboard. All actions within the Citadel (hiring heroes, buying equipment etc) already were performed during the Deployment phase, but the Adventure phase only starts when all deployments have finished. Now the paths leading to the monsters will be triggered one by one, with each assigned Hero rolling his dice to beat the monster's capture or slay values. However, before the Hero gets to attack, the monster first deals out a strike, trying to roll enough hits to defeat and remove the Hero. Only if the Hero survives the first onslaught his own dice will be rolled in order to see whether he defeats the monster (and thus receives the rewards for capturing or killing it).
If the monster is not defeated, the next path in board order will be activated, giving the next Hero in line a chance to prove his prowess. Once again the monster deals out an attack first, but if the Hero gets to carry out his own strike he may now add the results of the rolls of ALL previous Heroes to the results of his own roll, making it much more probable the he will succeed.
If the monster is slain, Heroes on the remaining path(s) still have a chance to perform a noble deed, because now the province associated with the monster will be open for conquest. So, the next Heroes in board order now may roll their dice to see whether they can reach the conquest value of the province, earning the player the corresponding Province card.
Indeed, the intricacies of the combat procedure do not stop here, but there are even more options available to the players to increase their chances in combat and conquest. So, apart from Equipment cards which may generate re-rolls or additional dice, Magic dice may be sacrificed to weaken a monster, Armour tokens give additional protection to the Hero, Venom can be used to generate additional hits and a Potion may keep a Hero alive during the monster's onslaught. Traps on the other hand can provide the player with additional dice, and the use of at least one Trap token also is necessary if the player wants to defeat the monster using the (lower) capture value.
As can be easily guessed, it is this combat procedure which unites elements of luck, timing and planning, thus forming the central element of Monster Lands. Here the game shows its true strength, since the strategical impact of this combat procedure is much more pronounced than in any other modern game using a dice placement mechanism. It's not just a place-and-roll kind of decision which the players have to take, but instead the players have to focus quite consequently on the timing of each of their actions in order to send well-prepared Heroes into the battle. All equipment must be purchased before sending out a Hero - there is unfortunately no mail delivery of swords or potions to Heroes out in the field. However, wasting too much time for gaining equipment may result in other players sending out their Heroes first, and this may mean that only unattractive monster paths may be left for the well-prepped Hero. Finding a balance is crucial, especially since a Hero who wastes equipment for an unsuccessful attack may strengthen the heroes following him on later paths.
The overall good impression of Monster Lands is amplified by a number of additional rules and options which underline the strategic potential even further. So, players can also send their Heroes to perform missions. These are easier to fulfil than defeating a monster, but on the other hand the rewards for fulfilling a mission are less attractive. In addition, a monster which is not defeated for a full round becomes infuriated, moving towards the Citadel gates and causing Citadel locations to close down. So, players may lose important resources until a monster at the gates finally is defeated.
There are also some interesting rules focused on the players' tribes. Each Hero available in the game belongs to one of four elemental affiliations (fire, water, wind and nature). Collecting Heroes of the same affiliation will give the players end-game bonuses, but it is even more important to build matching pairs of Heroes and Province cards (which also belong to the four affiliations). A Hero assigned to a matching Province card will settle the province, giving the player access to special dice actions associated with the province, and furthermore the player will not have to pay upkeep for that Hero anymore. Especially in later rounds it may become quite expensive to support a large group of Heroes, and so a content Hero on a settled land leaves the payroll and is immune against desertion.
Finally, regarding Heroes is should also be mentioned that the aggregated total of the Reputation of all of a player's Heroes may never exceed his Glory score. So, the game designers have put a very clever and realistic limit to recruitment, since a player who wants to assemble a large clan needs to be famous enough to attract all these well-known Heroes.
This list of specialities could be continued even further, but the details given here should be more than enough to convey a realistic impression of the astonishing playing depth which can be found in Monster Lands. Up to now my most popular strategic dice games were Nations - The Dice Game and Ancient Terrible Things, but with Monster Lands the team of SECOND GATE GAMES has succeeded in taking the whole combination of strategy and dice rolling to a much higher level of sophistication. The bandwidth of options available to the players successfully helps to mitigate the inevitable element of luck associated with the rolling of dice, but at the same time there remains a nagging element of uncertainty because you never know for sure. It's up to the players to go for high risks or safer variants, but in the end success in Monster Lands is all about taking the right degree of risks.
Finally, the game also can score with its lavish outfit, both in terms of graphics and optional rules. The strong-edged cartoon artwork is state of the art, and the rules feature variants both for solo play and for more player interaction. Taken together, all this makes Monster Lands an absolute MUST for checking it out here at the SPIEL!
But with the afternoon wearing on, the time had come for me to leave the halls - after all I had to start typing up this report for you!
However, on my way out I made a final stop at the booth of REPOS PRODUCTION from Belgium where I found my friend Cedrick of the 2 Sombreros. This year the team of REPOS will finally present 7 Wonders Armada, a new expansion for the 2010 smash-hit game 7 Wonders by Antoine Bauza.
I had to check my old SPIEL reports in order to find out when I first heard rumors of an upcoming Seafarers expansion for 7 Wonders, and I found the oldest mentioning of this expansion back in my SPIEL report in 2012. I will certainly tell you more details about this long-awaited expansion when I was able to check it out in the next few days, but nonetheless Cedrick and I chatted a bit about the origins of the Seafarers which have now turned into a full Armada.
Just like all the other expansions, 7 Wonders Armada is an expansion set which has been designed by Antoine Bauza, the creator of the original 7 Wonders game. As fate had it, Antoine wanted already the first expansion for 7 Wonders to be about travelling the seas, but back in 2011/12 the first tryouts of mechanisms either were not fitting properly, or they resulted in just too much player interaction with the players stealing resources and other items from each other. Antoine and the REPOS development team decided that this wasn't the direction in which they wanted to develop 7 Wonders, because it's much more a game of building a civilization than a game about warring city states. So, they focused on finalizing the much more advanced expansions of Leaders and Cities, and even though they never forgot about the Seafarers even the Babel expansion was finished first.
However, the expansion was never abandoned, and in the end Antoine finally started to design a set of rules which carefully expands the basic game without actually becoming too much of a game changer. This path was much more promising, and after a lot of finetuning (which lasted until May 2018!) the 7 Wonders Armada expansion was finally ready.
One thing which I also discussed with Cedrick was the compatibility with the already existing expansions. As Cedrick pointed out, the new expansion in theory can be used with all other expansions, but players should be careful not to use too many expansions at the same time. For example a simultaneous use with the Cities expansion results in the game being prolonged by two additional turns each age, and this may lead to a money shortage and a higher probability of a card returning during to a player during the draft. On the other hand, using Armada with Babel means that a player will have to focus either on building the tower or his fleet - keeping an eye on both during the same game is too difficult a feat to accomplish. However, the good news certainly is, that a combination of Armada with other expansion works if players are aware of these specifics.
And to ensure that his Armada stays afloat, Cedrick has brought lots of water to the SPIEL!!!
Hello, everybody! Welcome back to another day of our warm-up for world's biggest boardgame convention.
Today I am joining Frank to support him getting you in the right mood for the real days of the convention, packed full of boardgame sessions. I am still preparing the convention, reading rules and looking for games I haven't noticed up to now. Of course, we will miss a lot of games, but I still want to find the one or other gem and show this to you during the convention days. But for today, let us start with a game from last SPIEL.
10 minutes, 5 minutes for each of the two players, that's all the time you get in the real-time game Time Arena from the French publisher BLAM! Reminds you of speed chess? Well, you aren't too wrong. In fact, it is the players aim to break through the opponent's defence on a 8x10 grid game board. Each player has 4 fighters with three different attributes: move, attack and defence. Each fighter has its own attributes, so the one fighter is good in attacking, while another fighter is much faster than the rest of the team but not good in fighting.
All fighters can be activated in a turn of a player, but remember that you only have 5 minutes in total for the whole game. Thus, a turn immediately begins after the other player has finished his turn by pressing a timer on the Time Arena App that you can download for your mobile phone. This seems to be stressful, and indeed, it is!
Let's see what you can do in your turn. While a Fighter is activated (you choose him or her and hold it in your hand), you can summon it on spawn points on the board, move it or attack an opponent's fighter, if it is close to it. To attack, the active player just rolls a special fight die. Next to an automatic success and a critical failure, there are three modifiers to the fighter's attacking value. If the result is higher than the defence of the defending fighter, the enemy Fighter is knocked out, otherwise nothing happens.
Now we come to the most interesting element of the game: a knocked-out fighter immediately leaves the fighting arena (the board) and is placed on a corresponding gate next to the board. At the same time a sand-timer is turned over that corresponds to the fighters colour. This fighter must not enter the board again, before its hourglass is finished. Of course, the different coloured hourglasses have different durations to finish too. Basically you can say that a weaker fighter is faster on the board again. All that wouldn't be too worse, but remember: you only have five minutes for the whole game! So, a loss of your strongest fighter who, for example, must stay outside of the arena for 90 seconds, is difficult to compensate.
Let's go back to the breaking of the defence of your opponent. The aim of every player is to reach the edge of the enemy's side, because from this position a fighter can attack the enemy's Totem. The fight against the Totem follows the same structure as the fight against a fighter, and in case of a success, you remove energy from the Totem. If this energy reaches 0, you win the game.
But what happens, if you don't have enough time left? Well, quite simple: in case your time reaches 0, you loose the game, independent on how many energy you have stolen from your enemy...
In my opinion, Time Arena is a wonderful, charming and fast game. It does not only play quickly, but it also looks good on the table. In the full and expert game, each fighter has its own special ability like a shield or a ranged attack, and transporters can be used to move quickly from the one end to the other of the board. Both features make the game even interesting for the more tactical orientated gamer. But still there are only five minutes! As a result, you must often decide according to instinct. That probably is not to everyone's taste, but I love this quick and powerful game. And there is always time for a revenge! Remember, it is real-time: the game is definitely over after 10 minutes. And for those who want to have more variety: this year, you can even get more fighters. New expansions are announced for the convention, so stay tuned, I will find out if they are worth being bought....
OK, that's already all from me for today.
Sleep well, and see you tomorrow again!
Standing at the end of a rather long day - both inside and outside the halls of the SPIEL - I would like to take you onto a quick journey round the halls, showing you that the setup for the SPIEL '18 now really is going on full speed! So, without further ado, let's sneak right into the halls!
However, it's not just the booths which are set up, but also a sheer endless trail of pallets with games is transported in, waiting in long rows of boxes to be put onto the shelves.
What I really like on convention week tuesdays is the fact that my friends start to arrive from all over the world, giving us an opportunity to chat which usually isn't really possible on the days when the SPIEL is open. Coming from all corners of the world, the SPIEL has become a really international fair in the previous 20 years, and so I can pass from continent to continent just by a few steps. Today I begun my journey at the booth of ARTIPIA where Konstantinos Kokkinis, Vangelis Bagiartakis, Sotirios Tsantilas and the rest of their team from Greece were busy decorating their booth…
… and I continued with a visit to Scott Alden and his team from BOARDGAMEGEEK who had freshly arrived from the USA.
Here I also bumped my long-time friend Dale Yu from The Opinionated Gamers, and of course we had to do another photo to document that both of us had once again gotten a year older. Like every year Dale is doing his own SPIEL report, and tonight he and his brother Brian came for dinner and gaming to our home. But more about this later…
With so many games being released this year, I couldn't help but actually scheduling a first meeting today. Coming from far away Hong Kong, Patrick Lee and his wife Jan from PAT PIPER have made their second journey to Essen. They have been here already two years ago, demoing the prototype of their Wuxia theme game Crossroads of Heroes, and after a successful Kickstarter-project in 2017 they have now returned to Essen to present the finished game.
During my preparation it was especially the artwork which lured me to take a closer look at Crossroads of Heroes, and when Pat suggested an early meeting right after their arrival I instantly agreed. So, today I found Pat and Jan at their booth in hall 5, and indeed they had barely finished setting up - with the exception that the tables still were missing. However, that's no problem for a real gamer, and so we used the games storage boxes for our introduction to Crossroads of Heroes.
The aforementioned Wuxia is a genre in Chinese literature, telling about the adventures of martial arts heroes living in the Jianghu - the territory of rivers and lakes where there is lots of dangers outside the safe confines of civilized society. So, that's the backdrop for Crossroads of Heroes, and indeed the players take the roles of apprentice martial artists who strive to rise to the rank of Grand Master of Wulin.
How do I become a Grand Master? Of course by gathering reknown by performing outstanding deeds. Of course these deeds will have to do with a player's mastery of the martial arts, and so the players have to hone and improve their character's skills in the course of the game. At the beginning, the apprentices do not really have many skills apart from their special ability, but each character possesses his own set of (yet unlearned) fighting techniques, and these techniques can be activated through actions, provided the player gives up a number of Qi tokens. These tokens actually are the life energy of a character, so a player needs to be careful when spending them, and the players always have to be on the lookout to restore some of their lost tokens through adventuring.
At this point the love for detail in Crossroads of Heroes becomes visible. Not only does each character have his own special set of technique cards with individual drawings, but furthermore the characters also can find items and other cards which are unique for their character. Beginning with the characters themselves, all these playing components have been designed with much care for detail, and this shows the game's creators have invested much love into this game.
On their turn, the players can travel in the Jianghu, meeting different characters who either will be helpful or need to be faced in a fight. They may visit a sect guardian who may possibly join them on their quest, they may meet a peddler with rare equipment, or they may come upon events and situations in which their reknown can be increased. However, most difficult will be an encounter with a Wulin Master, a powerful adversary who is difficult to defeat but who will teach them new skills if defeated.
Another source of reknown is combat against the other players. Such a duel usually is not fought to the death, but instead the winner of a duel will gather reknown by being more powerful than his competitor. However, this only works once against each opposing hero - after all there would be no fame in defeating a weaker opponent twice.
But let's now look at the combat procedure. Combat is mostly based on the values of the cards which a player was able to assign to his character. These may be learned techniques or item cards, and a player adds up the values of all cards which he wants to use. A duel is fought over three rounds, so the player's must be careful not to use too many cards just for one round, since techniques and certain items may be used only once in a duel. However, there is also small bit of luck included, since many techniques can provide a bonus in combat which may be triggered through revealing a fitting element card from the general draw pile. So the outcome of a combat can be calculated to a high degree, but it may still not be safe.
A player who has gained enough reknown will be admitted to the rank of Grand Master, but if other players succeed in reaching this title in the same turn a final duel must be fought by all contestants. However, on his way to immortal fame many a character actually may be tempted to resort to dark means, and this is no different when travelling in the Jianghu. So a player may use poison darts or employ other unfair methods to gain the edge in combat, and these deeds will have change on his whole philosophy. If a character uses dark means too often, his character will turn from virtuous evil, losing the goal of becoming Grand Master and instead turning into an Evil Scum. It is the ultimate goal of an Evil Scum to kill a virtuous character, and so this player now will aim to reduce the Qi of other players through all possible means.
It is up to each player to chose which way his character will pursue in his adventures out in the Jianghu, and already the basic game of Crossroads of Heroes offers many possible options which the players may pursue. Even though today's the session with Pat in the halls didn't allow me to taste the game in full depth, already the introduction which I received convinced me that Crossroads of Heroes is a nicely finetuned strategy game in which elements of character development, combat and card management all fit well together. This is rather noteworthy since Crossroads of Heroes is the debut game of Pat and Jan, but I hope that they will be able to continue the so far successful story of Crossroads of Heroes here at the SPIEL!!!
This brings me to the end of the afternoon in the convention halls, but I actually made a final visit to Cedrick Caumont at REPOS. He was literally setting sails for 7 Wonders Armada, and kindly enough he equipped me with a copy of this new expansion. Just the game which I needed for tonight's guests!
So, equipped with this treasure I made my way home, getting everything ready for our guests later in the evening. When Dale and Brian arrived, we first enjoyed one of Nicole's fabulous steak pies, and afterwards we went out onto the high seas!
Is it really 8 years ago that REPOS PRODUCTION released their smash-hit game 7 Wonders? Sometimes I can't believe how quickly time is passing - for me it seems like yesterday when Antoine Bauza introduced his new game 7 Wonders here at the SPIEL, and during all those years the game certainly hasn't lost its attraction. With Leaders, Cities and Babel three major expansions have been released in the years since 2010, and for my gaming group a round including Leaders and Cities still is in high demand.
However, for the better part of those 8 years there also have been rumors about an upcoming naval expansion. I have hinted at it more than once in my reports of meetings with Cedrick from REPOS here at the SPIEL, but after all this time it seemed that this mysterious expansion somehow got lost at sea…
Well, after a time which seems like an odyssey, there is finally a sail at the horizon. Well, actually it's not just one sail, but a whole 7 Wonders Armada expansion now has come back from many adventures on the high seas! So, what's 7 Wonders Armada about, and how does it fit with the base game and the expansions?
Answering the latter question first, Armada indeed is compatible with the other expansions for 7 Wonders, and it can be played in combination with them. On this point the rules state that players shouldn't use more than 2 expansions at the same time, but I think that this is open to personal taste. Armada certainly introduces new mechanisms to the game, and this requires the players to think about new approaches for winning. However, due to the fact that it can be combined with Leaders, I don't see a reason why Cities shouldn't be included as well. After all Cities is an expansion which blends perfectly with the base game components, and so a complete game with these three expansions seems possible without overburdening the gameflow. The situation might be a bit different if you think about the expansions coming in the Babel box, since especially the Tower of Babel gives the game a rather new approach. Here I would guess that a combination with Babel doesn't really make sense, especially since no Babel upgrade kit is included in 7 Wonders Armada.
But enough of these compatibilities issues - what about the new expansion?
Well, as the name suggests, Armada takes the players out onto the high seas. Every player now receives a Fleet board, and on this board the players have development tracks for four different fleets. These fleets are military, commercial, civilian and scientific, and due to these fleet types seasoned players already will have come to the conclusion that the four fleets are somehow linked to a player's red, yellow, blue and green buildings. Indeed, it is these four types of buildings which form the docking point for the new action of "Naval construction". Every time a player builds one of these four types of buildings he will also be allowed to increase the size of the corresponding fleet, provided the player pays one or more extra resources as depicted on his Fleet board.
The size (or level) of each of the players fleets is recorded on the Fleet board, and whenever a player performs a naval construction the corresponding fleet will be increased by one step. Depending on the type of the fleet, the player will get new benefits:
To augment the integration of the Fleet board and its functions even further, a number of new Building cards also is mixed into the decks for each age. These new buildings are associated with naval functions, giving the players additional strength or free fleet constructions. There is even the possibility to launch an incursion against a non-neighboring player, meaning that an additional "ground" conflict between the two involved players will take place at the end of the age.
Incredibly enough, Antoine Bauza has given 7 Wonders Armada a degree of finetuning which assures that the whole expansion blends perfectly with the game. He has not only found fitting points to "dock" the new rules to the existing rules of the basic game, but in addition the whole naval concept seems to be naturally fitting. During play it just feels right to go for the naval construction option when constructing a building of the same colour, and so the general flow of the game is not disturbed.
However, this doesn't mean that the new rules and options will not be felt all over the game. Quite the opposite, the players now have a full new range of options for gaining money, resources and victory points. The possibilities offered by the four fleets considerably widen the scope for the individual production engine of each player, since they now have access to new resources and income even in the mid- to endgame phase. This means that the players need to think how far they can go in terms of diversification, because it is also very attractive to bring single fleets to a high level to gain considerable benefits.
In a way, the addition of the Fleet boards gives the players access to a new "micro"-game within the established concept of 7 Wonders. Unlike the Babel expansion which may turn the game upside down, Armada focuses on enlarging the scope of the existing scoring options by including new types of conflicts, economic possibilities and production capacities. The game loses a bit of it's high pace due to the new range of options which the players have to consider, but on the other hand Armada gives 7 Wonders a feeling of a much more substantial strategy game. For my taste that's a wonderful challenge!
What an evening! Dale has beaten the rest of us by a strong 80 points victory, and you can read his own thoughts on 7 Wonders Armada in his report on The Opinionated Gamers.
With such a start the SPIEL week now really has begun for all of us! See you back here tomorrow!
Ahhhh, welcome back again. Just one more day, and the convention begins with the officially press conference. Reading all that buzz on Twitter makes me really crazy. I do my best to keep calm and prepare the next days. But there is so much to see, so many to visit, so much to play and much more to miss. It is incredible where this convention has gone in the last ten years.
As you will know, we have been doing our job now for 22 years (well, at least Frank has done, I joined him some years later). And we always introduced ourselves as authors or editors of our Internet Magazine. And this is what we are still doing today, when talking to new publishers or marketing managers. But in the last years more and more answers were like this: Ah, you have your own blog, interesting? Or: So, you are bloggers, aren't you. I must confess that I am always a little bit wary about my answer...
Wikipedia describes a blog as a discussion website with diary-style text entries that are often displayed in chronological order. Well, that's what we are doing during the convention days, isn't it. But we are also still writing lots of extensive reviews (even during the convention days), although there is not at least the chance to approach a critical mass of the novelties. So, we just choose what we like, and that's also one of the reasons, why most games we discuss are rated in the upper third. But over the years we have written much more than 1000 reviews yet, and I still think that's quite a lot. We hope you appreciate that too. Is this also something a blogger is doing? Well, I just don't know.
Blogger or not. Call us what you want! But always remember that Kulkmann's G@mebox was there before anybody spoke about bloggers at all! We know that our website is quite traditional, and we want to gradually change that in the future. But we only recently spoke about how well you can read our magazine on smartphones, especially since they are getting bigger again in the last years. So give us the time, we definitely want to celebrate our 25th birthday with you with something special. It's only three years from now on...
But for today, that's enough talking philosophically! Let's go back to work and look what we still have to present you, before the show finally begins:
Today I want to attract your attention to a little card game from NÜRNBERGER SPIELEKARTEN VERLAG: The Mind. The game is no longer a hidden gem, since it was nominated for the DEUTSCHER SPIELPREIS and the SPIEL DES JAHRES award. But still a lot of gamers don't know much about the game. Thus, I think it is time to introduce you into the game.
But first let's discuss the question: how can it be that a simple card game attracts so much attention? Strictly speaking, The Mind is not even a game. You only get cards with numbers from 1 to 100 and you have to sort them in ascending order. That sounds silly, doesn't it? The clue is that you are not alone. 2-4 players are trying to sort together, and everyone has only a small part of the cards in his hand, hidden from the other players. Speaking, however, isn't aloud.
Whenever a player thinks it is time to play a card, he can do so. So, how does this work? How do the players know that its their turn to play a card? Well, I cannot say! I just don't know how it works. Some say, the solution is empathy. We are leaving the applied sciences at this point, but in the end, it often works. It is really amazing. You just look into the eyes of your fellow players, and you will know the right moment to play a card.
If you think that's too complex, or even think that it's pure magic, I can reassure you. The game starts easy. In the first level, every player just gets one hand card. Then the players look themselves straight in the eyes and without speaking, they determine the right moment to play the card. If all goes well, the next level is ahead of us. However, in case a player has played a card that does not fit to the ascending order (if another player still holds a card with a lower number in his or her hand), the players together loose a life (depending on the number of player, 2-4 lives is what we get at set-up).
In the next level, two cards are already dealt to every player. Again it is our task to play all cards in hand in ascending order on just one pile for all players. If you are successful, this continues up to level 12, in which 12 cards would be distributed to every player. If none of the players have any idea when the right moment would come to play a card, you can suggest to use a joker, a throwing star. If all players agree, each player discards the lowest card in their hands faced-up. As a result, all player know the lowest card that was still in play.
I really don't know how it works, but it does. Well, you won't reach level 12 in every game, in fact I have never reached this level up to now. But it is still amazing that you often find yourself in a situation in which one player plays a card after some heavy hesitation, and immediately after that another player plays a card with a deep sigh only one point higher than the card before.
The Mind is not a typical game, the publisher itself calls it an experiment. But it is great to take part. And I can understand why it was nominated for all these awards. Maybe it is too small to win, but it is definitely worth to be taken along. With a maximum game duration of 20 minutes, I think that The Mind should find a way to a lot of game collections. So, if you don't have the game already, I recommend to visit the booth of the German publisher to take a closer look at the game.
Welcome to the press day, the first real day of the SPIEL '18!
The warm-up ends and the waiting is over, the official start of the SPIEL has come. Well, as a visitor you will still have to wait until tomorrow, but today the halls were not only bustling with exhibitors doing last minute preparations, but furthermore lots of games journalists from media around the world arrived.
Like every year the day begins with the official press conference of the MERZ VERLAG in the conference center, and once again Dominique Metzler, the responsible organizer for the SPIEL, opened the conference with a warm welcome to the attending audience.
Like every year, the room was crowded, and arriving a bit early I had the time for a second breakfast, strengthening myself for the upcoming day. I met a lot of friends and colleagues, including my long-time friend Dagmar de Cassan from Austria, and we agreed once again to join a table at the awards ceremony of DEUTSCHER SPIELE PREIS this evening.
However, let's start first with the news from the conference. The SPIEL '18 actually is the 36th SPIEL convention, and once again the total exhibition space has grown by considerable 11 percent in comparison to last year. This makes for a grant total of 80,000 square meters of SPIEL exhibition space, and this area will be shared by 1,150 exhibitors coming from more than 50 nations.
One of the trends this year seems to be that publishers from a country in part stick together to for country pavilions. This was something started years ago by publishers from Korea and Japan, but this year similar concentrations can be found also from French and English publishers. In addition, Mrs. Metzler was proud to announce that for the first time a group of 14 publishers from Indonesia now is present at the SPIEL, coming with the assistance of their government to represent the games culture in their country.
The growth of the SPIEL in recent years is not only reflected by the exhibition space, but also the number of visitors has seen quite a surge over the last few years. Whereas 162,000 visitors came during the four public days in 2015, this had increased by 20,000 to 182,000 visitors in 2017, and the MERZ VERLAG expects that these figures can be upheld with the SPIEL '18.
The press conference is also the place where Mr. Hutter, chairman of the association of German games producers, gives facts about the current status of the games industry. This year the German producers have started quite well, increasing their turnover by an average of 16 percent in the first nine months of 2018. Quite interestingly, the increase had not been driven by the typical cardgames and small takeaway games, but instead it is the games for families and grown-ups which have seen a considerable surge.
In fact, the trend of opening up Boardgame Cafes finally has arrived in Germany, bringing back the group of young adults to the gaming tables. Whereas boardgames have been considered "uncool" by this group for a long time, the view has changed, and I have heard more than once from friends and colleagues that their children actually play boardgames. Let's hope that this trend continues, bringing us lots of new and interesting games for the enlarged target group!
Regarding games themselves, a trend which has not increased is the combination of boardgames and apps. Whereas occasionally the one or other game needs an app or access to the internet, the proportion of these games has not grown, since many players still prefer to have all playing materials in front of them, using their imagination instead of watching a screen. As it seems, the electronic devices will keep their nice existence, although they might actually play a useful role as helpers. This afternoon I discussed this topic with Matthieu Bonin from DIZED, and they are actually releasing a tabletop gaming app which aims at offering a unified system for explaining boardgames online and offering lookup aids for rules. In this context apps may be really useful, but I am happy if combinations of apps and games remain a minor trend.
A trend which is increasing instead is cooperative games. More and more publishers are releasing this kind of games since the audience of players especially here in Germany is asking for them. For a lot of players it is not that popular anymore to sit around a table with each player plotting over his own strategy, but the discussion element in cooperative games is felt more and more as a nice enrichment of a gaming evening. In former times this would have triggered a discussion about the dangers of dominant players taking control in a cooperative game, but even though this may still happen today, nowadays these games are seeing an increased popularity for friends and families. And if I think of the dozens of games of Zombicide which I have played with my wife Nicole, discussing and plotting for hours how to turn the tides, I certainly approve this trend.
Mrs. Metzler also reminded the audience that for the first time a German / English SPIEL-guide is available for free downloading, containing the hall plans, new game lists and other useful information. I am actually using this guide for reference, and if you are planning to visit the SPIEL you should download a copy to your mobile!
Finally, on a sidenote there is also an impact of the US Trump-government on the games sector. Since President Trump has imposed the punitive customs tariffs on European steel, the EU reacted by putting punitive tariffs on certain US goods. The heaven knows why, but one of these tariffs actually is for US gaming cards, and so importing gaming cards from the US now will cause an additional 10 percent of import duties. I wonder whether this will cause a serious problem of games smuggling…
During the press conference I have been joined by Ralf, and together we now made our way into the basement of hall 1 where the newsshow was waiting for us. For the last two years this exhibition of new games has been moved down here, and looking at the sheer mass of new games this has certainly been a good idea in comparison to the small conference rooms where the newsshow was located before. Offering ample of space, hundreds of new games where on display there, giving us journalists and bloggers lots of opportunities to check out the novelties and to discuss with the publishers.
Like every year, a few of the publishers also have some really nice stalls for presenting their games, with people in costumes to add a bit of additional flavour. This certainly adds to the festival-feeling in the newsshow, and it gets us all even more into the mood to start with the show!
As indicated there are hundreds of games on display here, too many to give you an even an overview. However, let me show you just a few of the new games which I encountered down there, tickling my curiosity to learn more about them.
At the display of ASMODEE (booth 1B103) I came upon Discover: Lands Unknown, a game by Corey Konieczka in which the players find themselves marooned in the wilderness without knowing how they got there in the first place. In the curse of the the game players will have to learn how to survive in their plight, possibly finding a way out of this situation. However, this somewhat spooky plot is not the main asset of the game is the fact that it's a pioneer for a new genre of games - unique games. Indeed no two games of Discover: Lands Unknown will be alike, and that is because the characters, tokens events, land tiles etc. included in the game will be different in every game box. An interesting new approach indeed!
The team of GEEK ATTITUDE GAMES (booth 1D120) has come to the SPIEL with Dicium, a modern style games collection containing four different games which run on the same basic playing mechanism and part of the playing components. The games are Crazy Cup (racing game), Donjon (cooperative dungeon crawler), Shogun (combat game about Ninjas trying to kill the Shogun and Civilization (conquest and building game). This sounds quite ambitious, and indeed I will be very interested to see how much individuality each game possesses!
Finally, a game which is a real eyecatcher is Everdell from STARLING GAMES (3O107). The game is by far the most beautiful worker placement game which I have ever seen, focusing on a community of little forest animals which are building their city. All components feature outstanding artwork, making the whole very attractive. However, if you want to purchase a copy here at the SPIEL, you will have to rush to the booth of STARLING GAMES. They only have brought very few copies from the US, and only a few games will be put for sale each morning.
Well, as you can imagine there was a lot more to discover in the newsshow, but other games will have to wait until the next few days. I left this hall of treasures in the middle afternoon, taking a final stroll through the halls before returning home to get changed for the ceremony in the evening. On my way I came upon Dale and Brian, and they had just been taught how to properly eat a Bavarian Weisswurst - a rather challenging task!
The day has passed incredibly quick, and without much time to spare I found myself hurrying back to the halls, meeting Ralf and Dagmar de Cassan for our joint evening at the awards ceremony.
The evening was rather splendid, with Mrs. Metzler opening up with a rather entertaining speech about the peculiarities about this year's poll for the awards. The poll had to be ended a few days early because there had been a supposed attempt of manipulation by a Video-Blogger. In his blog this person claimed that SCHWERKRAFT VERLAG had promised him to print a special promo card if the game Klong! would have won the awards. So the blogger had asked his community to vote for that game in the public poll, and indeed there had been a shift of votes in the days afterwards - not enough to make Klong! the winner, but possibly having an impact on the final ranking of the other Top-10 games. The MERZ VERLAG stopped the voting upon learning about this, and they removed even all votes which had been cast after the publishing of the particular blog. Luckily this had been only very shortly before the end of the polling period, but nonetheless the whole affair caused quite a bit of ruckus…
Mrs. Metzler did rather well to discuss the issue tonight, and it could be felt that she was very annoyed by the whole affair. However, in the end the MERZ VERLAG decided that they don't want to abandon the awards, but the will be fleshing out some rules which they will put into effect for the voting next year.
However, over this whole affair let's not forget that there were some winners to be honored. The DEUTSCHER SPIELE PREIS 2018 was won by Azul from designer Michael Kiesling, getting him the rare double because the game had also won the Spiel des Jahres awards. The runners up were Gaia Project and Ganges, forming a very different trio of winners. The awards for the best childrens game went to Memoarrr!, and the Inno Spiel for the most innovative game was won by Cool Runnings, another children's game. Together these five games make up this year's phalanx of the most popular games, and I am especially happy for Gaia Projekt because the game is an improved and enlarged version of the already popular Terra Mystica from FEUERLAND SPIELE.
After a proper feast and some drinks the evening ended for me and Ralf, catapulting us back to our computers in order to bring this report to you!
Cheers! Tomorrow it's showtime!!!
Now, it has been done! We have waited long enough for the convention to open its gates. Today is the first official day, beginning with the press conference and ending with the ceremony for the Deutscher Spielepreis award. And it is a great day for the press to take a deep breath before the doors open for the public too. You have time to walk through the halls, conduct the one or other interview and make plans for the days to come. Especially the news show where a lot of publishers show their new games in the smallest spaces, is a good way to find the one or other still hidden gem. As a result, I always end with more appointments I had planned. I fear that the next nights won't be very long...
As Frank already tells you about the official parts of the day, let me take you along to the halls where I stopped by the one or other booth. Most publishers were still very busy, some even arrived yesterday and there was a lot construction and unpacking going on. Other booths were already in perfect order, a state that probably won't be seen in the next days again:
Coming over to the booth of NSKN GAMES, I found Blazej Kubacki, project manager and author of the various games in the Mistfall universe. Their small conference room had just been finished and so he could take a seat with me and introduce me in their two big new games for this convention:
Teotihuacan, that's an ancient city in Mexico (I must confess that I had to look that up, thanks be to Wikipedia). It was once one of the largest cities in South America and even in the world. A lot of Pyramids bordered the city's ways and places, as they still do today. Of course there was also a lot of worshipping and plotting in those old times, and so we have many ways to score in the game.
Like in many other games from NSKN GAMES there are a lot of variable action boards, benefits and minor option tiles that the players have to draw randomly during set-up. This will make sure that no game of Teotihuacan – City of Gods will ever be the same as the game before. The players seem to have to adjust their strategy to the drawn possibilities and the highly modular gameboard. However, there is also a standard set-up already printed on the game board. Blazej told me that this set-up should be OK for the first 6-7 games, before players want to adjust something. So, you can forget the more complex set-up and concentrate on starting the game.
But there is still a lot to learn, because the possible scoring mechanisms are manifold. The most impressive element on the board is definitely the Pyramid area. Depending on the number of players there are different patterns to build up the starting Pyramid, but in each and every case, the Pyramid tiles for that are drawn randomly. As said, there are a lot of different ways to score: players can earn victory points for further building up the Pyramid or by decorating it. The better the new tile fits to the existing ones, the more victory points are possible. Another possibility to score is to influence nobles by building them houses. And finally it is always good to worship to the gods (three of them in Teotihuacan, each with his or her own temple).
An interesting element of the game are the worker dice. Similar to last year's Dragonsgate College the value of a die determines what you can achieve with this worker. But in contrast to the other game, the dice in Teotihuacan – City of Gods are not rolled, but must be developed. And once they reach a power of 6, they ascend with the result that the player receives victory points and resources and the worker die comes back with a power of 1 again (a new worker is born). This mechanism we have also seen before in one of the earlier games from NSKN GAMES: Praetor.
Speaking of resources, I have to mention that Cocoa, a kind of currency in the game, is often needed and a limiting factor. As a result, you can not only go for victory points, but you must also care for maintaining supplies. And there is not only the Cacoa, there are also resources like wood, stone and gold, before you can reach to the top.
Basically, all you do in your turn is to take one of your unlocked workers (some actions lock the workers until they are unlocked again), move the worker die clockwise 1-3 action boards further and perform an action on the target action board. There are always several options to do so, some cost you cocoa, for some you need resources and still other are free. A lot depends also on how many dice you have on that board and how many other players have dice there. There are special action boards for collecting new resources, for moving up in the temples, for constructing the pyramide, for building the houses and for achieving new technologies. Some actions even can bring you new worker dice, so you have more options to choose from.
You can score by taking actions, but from time to time an eclipse is occurring. And this triggers an additional scoring phase. An eclipse happens exactly three times, before the game ends. Teotihuacan – City of Gods seems to be well done with a lot of different things going on. I think that it will take some time, before you find a strategy to win the game. But the game also seems to condone bad moves. There seems to be always a second best alternative.
It reminded me at once of Tzolk'in, and indeed, Daniele Tascini is one of the authors who is involved in both games. But I hope that it will be even better, because I think it can be played faster. I always hated those down times in Tzolk'in, when other players were calculating their best moves to score. The ranking and the scoring possibilities seem to be clearer in Teotihuacan – City of Gods, but the ways to score are manifold .
Confronting Blazej with my fears, he assured that they kept that fact in mind. As a result they designed the action phase of a player as simple as possible. As said, it is only one move to make with a worke die and performing the resulting one action. Not five actions in a row, but only this single action. Still the game is complex ant a game duration of approximately 90 minutes should be scheduled.
Anyhow, the size of the board and the components (especially the Pyramid tiles) are really impressive, maybe it is even a little bit overwhelmed with all those different areas to act, build and score. b>Tzolk'in once was our convention hit. And I am already quite sure that Teotihuacan – City of Gods will again easily stay up in the Top Ten of SPIEL 2018, although it was the first game I saw at the convention this year. What a great beginning!
Blazej also showed me the second new game from NSKN GAMES: Dice Settlers. In this game dice play a major roll too (of course, that's where the name comes from). But in contrast to Teotihuacan – City of Gods aren't the worker themself, but the dice are really used what they were invented for: rolling. However, there are some specials about the dice too.
Dice Settlers is a so called bag building game. How does that work exactly? Well, at set-up each player gets his or her own bag for the dice and equipped it with a specific number of basic dice. You must know that there are different kind of dice (6, if I remember it right) in the game. Although they are all six-sided, they differ in the faces. So there are more “valuable” dice that enable you to perform complex actions and the basic dice you start with that are quite limited in what you can do with the result.
Now, on their turns, the players draw a number of dice from their bags as indicated by their current level. You begin with only a few dice, but that can change during the game, so in the end you can take 6 dice or more. Then you roll the dice. Depending on the results, you have to choose actions that are possible for you (including re-rolls). Some results only guarantee you new resources, other can be used to acquire specific technologies, giving you victory points or improving your abilities. Still others will bring you new, better dice to your bag.
However, a lot of the actions can be found on a map you are building by adding new hexagonal landscape tiles to the existing ones. On this map the players place tents that can be used to gain more victory points and performing new actions.
So, you see that the game develops during the game, exposing new actions and gaining in richness and detail. Rolling dice and getting actions from the results is no new game concept, of course. So what seems to make this game interesting from the point of a reviewer, is the bag building mechanism. From what I have seen today, I would assume that luck plays a major role in the game. But there are mor tactical decisions to make and this seems to be quite interesting too. I'll definitely try this one out in the next weeks and tell you more about my thoughts.
After so much talking and explaining, I nearly missed the beginning of the press conference. Having all that information already from Frank, we can go directly to the news-show, where I met some really strange creatures:
Here at the news show I also met Frank Noack from Corax-Games. Frank has sent me his new Chronicles of Crime just last week, so I can now tell you from my first gaming experience:
Today, at the press conference we were told that a lot of publishers tried to integrate the smartphone in their games, thus wanting to participate from both worlds: the boardgame world and the world of electronic games. But they also said that most of these games failed. So, why the hell am I presenting you such a game at this very moment? For that's what it is! You can't play the game without an app that you must download onto your mobile phone.
The reason is that I think it really could work in this game. It is strange at the beginning, but after you have found out how to use it, it works fine. In contrast to most other games that use smartphones, Chronicles of Crime does not use the item for many game elements, for example stochastically. It is mostly used to look after text.
To understand what I mean, let us have a look at the main game concept. Chronicles of Crime is an investigating game, in which players cooperatively try to solve a criminal case. For this they can must explore the site, find out more about places and persons, and must search for the key hints. There are four characters in the team who have their own specialised fields. And these characters can be asked about what we have found any moment in the game. But apart from that we have little information at the beginning of a case. All cases are stored in the app on the mobile phone, some already come with the boardgame, more will be available in the future and still others can be bought additionally in the app.
After we have chosen a case, we get our first place that is added to the board from the supply and a victim or a hint or something to start with. And the mobile phone tells us what has happened. Each new person or item we find during the investigation is taken from the supply and added to our board. And then we can travel to the places, ask persons and our team members about hints, other places and persons.
All of this works with help of the mobile phone. Each game element we bring into the game has its own QRcode that can be scanned. Depending on the current case this will trigger new information, as well as introduce new persons and places. Hints are found by another interesting method: You go to a location where you heard that something happened and start a VRmode on your mobile phone. Then one player can either use the normal VRmode by the mobile phone or use additional 3dglasses to investigate the site. Everything suspicious he describes for his fellow players and they simultaneously search for the fitting cards in the hint deck. Of course, those hints have their own QRcode too, and can be investigated or used for interviews from that moment on.
Unfortunately everything we do in the game takes its time. Our mobile phone merciless moves the clock forward, whenever we use it to change locations, investigating or asking persons. As a result we are remembered from time to time by our chief inspector to hurry up and after a while we have to report what we have found out.
Then the time for solving the case has come. We must answer several question about the reasons and backgrounds of the case. Depending on our answers our victory points are added up. Again the smartphone takes us trough it.
Actually, Chronicles of Crime is quite a typical detective game of the traditional kind. I still remember my vain attempts to solve cases in Sherlock Holmes Consultive Detective back in the eighties of the last century. I spent hours and hours jumping from one number in a big scenario book to the other, reading what had happened and going to still another passage by searching the next number. And it was much more difficult to keep everything in your mind, you had to take your notes. What was really annoying to my mind, was the massive text you had to read and the jumping from one passage in the book to the next one.
All that works much better in Chronicles of Crime, thanks to our mobile phone. I still think, it's not the best to combine boardgames with mobile phones, but at the moment I make an exception with this game. Maybe I am fed up in some weeks, but right now it helps me finding the information I am looking much better than the endless searchings in a book. So time is going on. There are new ways to try out. Only one thing seems to remain: I totally flopped in my first case:
This leads me to my final appointment for today, far away in the new hall 6. This hall is already full of booths, but it is the hall farthest away from the entrances. I am anxious about how many people will find this hall during the convention days. Hopefully they manage to reach the booth of CARVUS BELLI, where I once again was looking after Aristeia!
Those of you, who regularly read our coverages might remember that I took a closer look at Aristeia! in the last year. If not, you might check out my review about the game. I still think it is an excellent duel fighting game and had much fun testing and reviewing it. So, I wanted to know what had become out of the game and made an appointment in advance.
The first surprise was the booth of CORVUS BELLI itself. Last year they had barely a table and now this: approximately 8x6 metres. And still the same game... What had happened in the meantime? Well there are now 4 expansions, introducing 4 new characters each with their own card decks and tactics. The authors assured me that these characters feel and play totally different from the characters in the core game. Additionally, there is now a league, in which player can beat against others under an official, and send their results to CORVUS BELLI who analyse these and classify the registered people. That's an interesting way to go into e-sports, isn't it?
I further asked for the plans in the futere. They told me that, next to more character packs, there will definetely come a new standalone variant with a new map, new missions and much more tactics. So, the fights won't end soon, only my report for today will come to an end – and this is right now!
Cheers, see you tomorrow
Hooray! It's Thursday!!! The first day of the convention definitely has begun. And it was already a great day, I can say you! Crowded yes, but still bearable. I had very much to do this day, so I arrived early, several minutes before the opening of the gates. At the booth the last preparations were going on, a last look into the rules, assigning staff to the tables, punching game tokens out of the frames, and arranging games on the shelf. The lull before the storm:
But that changed dramatically only some moments later:
Soon there was no easy getting through. That's why I rapidly escaped and took shelter at the booth of BLACKROCK GAMES. The French distributor is growing. Every year a bigger booth and more small publishers to present their games. As usual, Caro from BLACKROCK lead me through the novelties, found places and marketing managers from the smaller publishers for me to explain their games and proudly presented her favourite release: Finding the Dragon, an adventure book for the youngest ones:
Maybe you still remember those fantasy books of your youth, in which you took the role of a hero and had to decide what you are heading for or how you react in a given situation. Depending on your answer you are asked to flip the book to a specific number or side where you continue your reading. Finding the Dragon is basically the same mechanism, but it is child-orientated and it is really beautiful done. No wonder that it's Caro's favourite...
After that first highlight, Francois from ACT IN GAMES introduced me to the puzzle game Globe Twister and we played some rounds for a first impression:
Globe Twister is a travelling game. I spent my holiday in Norway this year. Three weeks of driving, camping and sightseeing. The result: 2400 new pictures on my smartphone. All of them geotagged and automatically sorted by date and place. And my iPhone even suggests slide shows with the best photos. Although I can't remember if we visited the one or the other stave church first, my smartphone does. And so it is nowadays quite easy to reconstruct a journey and for example write a book about it.
But what would happen if your smartphone breaks? Would you still be able to share your anecdotes in the right order? Only a few years ago, many slides or pictures had to be developed, and only if you were fast enough to write your memories down, you would have been able to say where you took each picture. This is the story of Globe Twister. Or even worse: your whole travel log have become scrambled.
But, Justitia omnibus: every player has the same problem. In the game this is represented in form of a souvenir photo that must be reconstructed or better puzzled from 9 puzzle tiles. 9 puzzle tiles? This seems to be easy, doesn't it. But the difficulty is that we aren't allowed to simply take one tile of the puzzle and put it in the right position, we have to program it.
What still seems to be easy, turns out to be tricky and frantic, because we have to program our whole photo against our opponents. At set-up each player sets 9 puzzle tiles of a souvenir photo randomly in a frame and places a copy of the complete souvenir photo on top of this frame. Then it is time to change places, because players could have remembered some positions of the puzzle already. As a result, each player moves left one seat.
In front of the new souvenir photo, it is time to really begin the game: at a command, all players lift the souvenir photo and begin to program which puzzle tile should move to which place. There are 10 different programming cards, e.g. rotating a puzzle tile, or swapping to adjacent or diagonal puzzle tiles. But there is only limited time, because the first player who thinks he has finished, turns over a sand-timer, and after that there are only about 30 seconds left to come to an end to the programming phase.
I think you can imagine that the result is not always the intention of the player. Like in Robo Ralley you have to picture what will happen after each program step. But there is no way out. In the reconstruction phase you follow exactly the instructions in your programming area, whether it makes sense or not. And only players who have reconstructed their puzzle can win the game. Otherwise another phase of programming begins....
Globe Twister is a fast-paced, easy to learn game. Of course, it is no heavy brainer, it is more a family or maybe also a party game with its short game duration, the funny theme and the great appearance. I was not good in my first game, but I want to play it again after the fair. I was a great experience and I definitely want to reconstruct my travel log now...
Only one step further, Benjamin from Boite de Jeu, introduced me to the Hunnish card building and planning game Huns. He told me that the game is already quite successful in France, so let us find out more about the game:
Each round of the game begins with the rolling of five different coloured dice. The number of each dice determines how many cards or resources you can take in that turn of the matching colour. On their turns, each player takes one of these dice and performs a corresponding action. But, once a dice has been chosen by player, it is no longer available for the other players. So the last player of the round has only limited access to the available colours.
After the choice of one of the still available dice, we can choose if we want to use this die for taking resources (that's a pillage and you take as many of the matching coloured resources as the number of the die) or if be want to draw cards of that colour. Those cards differ in their functions and the colour of the card tells us how we can use it. You can distinguish equipment to improve your abilities for further turns, raid cards with a temporary effect, mercenary cards that firstly have to been filled by resources to gain their benefits, curse cards with negative effects for your opponents (again resources must be put on that card to get rid of them again) and treasure cards for the final scoring. I don't know if you can see it in the pictures I took, but all cards have extremely beautiful artwork, surly one of the tops of the game.
Resources on the other hand cannot only be used on the cards. They also are necessary to fill wagons on the player's boards. In contrast to the placing of resources on the cards, it is important to use the right colours. As soon a wagon is entirely full, it is dispatched and used for the final scoring again. Basically that's the game with one important exception: Each card has also its unique card effect. And this makes the game indeed interesting for the serious gamers, because you can build up combos and force your luck.
From what I can conclude from the introduction, I would guess that Huns is no heavy resource management game. But I think it will easily be possible to play it with the whole family. Of course resources are necessary, but it is much more important to use card effects and influence the luck element as far as you can. At the beginning of the game, you totally seem to be dependent on the luck, but you can do a lot of things to change it. Huns looks great on the table. This alone is worth to test the game intensively, during the convention or in the next months to come.
Last game I took a closer look at the booth of BLACKROCK was Nemeton from BLAM! It's an exploring game with a growing modular game board with some unique mechanics to build up the resources, a day and a moon phase and a lot of different tile actions. Although the rules are not complex, it is a more tactical game than the two games before. I am deeply sorry that I cannot cover this game in detail tonight, but I took some photos, so you might get an idea of how beautiful this game is designed again.
As said in many years ago, there seem to be really great designers and illustrators in France. Go on like that!
But now let us leave the French sector for a while. Two weeks ago, a colleague of mine draw my attention to a Kickstarter game that should be released in the next couple of weeks. He played the prototype last year and was deeply impressed by the intense game experience. It was derived from a computer game from passionate gamers who wanted to get the same feeling of the electronic game to have in the boardgame.
Although a finally production was announced for this SPIEL, the publisher still only held the prototype in his hand. Apparently, a messenger from China is heading for Germany, and probably tomorrow you can also see the final production. But for today you and I have still to live with the prototype.
When I arrived at the booth, a fight was already taken place, but the three other guys at the table kindly invited me to take part in their fight against the army of an evil dictator. My entry was quite easy to manage, because Jagged Alliance is a cooperative game with a lot of decisions made in the group. The game actually is following a campaign, but obviously we hadn't enough time today for this, and so we only played a first scenario. Each player takes the role of one of the Jagged Alliance mercenaries known from the electronic game. And of course, each character is equipped with weapons, some also with armour and other useful equipments right from the beginning. All characters differ in their stats like leadership, repair and help abilities.
In the game I joined, the other players had already cleared off half of the board. So there were only three sectors left that still had to be explored. Well, exploring is probably not the right expression, because once you enter a new sector, all enemies and other effects immediately are taking place, right after any player has entered the sector. What happens is determined by the set-up and by cards that are randomly drawn during set-up and placed face-down during set-up.
Jagged Alliance wouldn't be Jagged Alliance, if there weren't any fights. Quite to the contrary, enemies and fights are the main topic of the game. So let us have a closer look at that. On the character boards we find three sections to play the life points. Fatigue, stamina and wounds. We all start in the state of stamina. But during the game you must take life points from this sector to perform actions like moving or using your weapons and equipment. These life points are afterwards moved to the fatigue status and cannot be used any more for the rest of the round, if the character isn't healed before. For example, you might need two life points to activate your rifle, and these two lifepoints are then moved to the fatigue section right after the use.
At the beginning of each round, the characters can regain two of this fatigue life points to the stamina sector again. But two isn't much regarding the many enemies on the board. Now, you could say: just let us wait some rounds until we are fully healed again. Well, you could do so, but the game sets us under pressure and players have to hurry up, because an enemy track is continously moved forward at the end of each round. Also, enemies that were not eliminated, move towards us and attack us (also as a counter-attack) when they are within reach.
It was a hard fight we had, but in the end we were beaten. Jagged Alliance felt to be a good, intense game. Right from the beginning, the players have to choose wisely. One false decision might be the decisive factor to win or loose the game. But don't be afraid! Jagged Alliance seems to be a fast game and that's also necessary for that genre. It uses a similar, but a little bit simpler life point mechanism as the great Conan. I am anxious to see the final product, so I hopefully come back on the next day after the game has been flown in.
OK, now let's immediately go back to the French publishers and their great illustrators:
Last year I was taken by the beautiful tree-growing game Photosynthesis that was also published by BLUE ORANGE GAMES. So my expectations were high, when I heard that the French publisher announced a planet building game, simply called Planet for this SPIEL. Arriving at their booth, it seemed that I should not be met with disappointment. A lot of tables were crowded by people who were trying to paste colourful landscape tiles on an approximately fist-sized twelve-sided die. This not only seemed to be funny, considering all the gamers around, it also looked extremely splendid and different from all the boardgames at the other booths.
As it happens, there is no real board in Planet. The main action takes place on the dice, one for every player, as it is the player's task to form a planet out of this die. Each side of the die has a magnet, so you can place the pentagonal, magnetic planet tiles on the side. One can be chosen each of the 12nd rounds, so in the end the deed is done. The planet tiles consists of one or several different areas or landscape types. Areas of the same type that are adjacent form a region of these landscape tile, e.g. a desert.
But players don't have to wait till the end to score in the game. From the third round on, more and more animals come into the world that wants to find a place to live. Every animal has its own requirements and of course it will choose the planet that best fits to these requirements. As a result, the players compare the requirements on the different planets, and the player whose landscapes meets the requirements best, takes the animal. Three different requirement types can be distinguished: having the most of one kind, having the biggest region that touches a specific Habitat and having the biggest region that isn't in contact with a specific Habitat.
So, while composing your planet, you always should keep an eye on what your opponents are doing, and at the same time look ahead to what the animals are seeking. The first one seems to be not too easy, most players were concentrating on their own planets. However, the latter should be possible, because all animals are visible to all players from the beginning on. As a result, players exactly know in which round which animal is coming to score.
Fascinating, how BLUE ORANGE once again has created a comparable simple game with a lot of innovative material that looks good and seems to be a lot of fun. If you wanna play god, Planet seems to be a good choice. I would guess that it is a really entertaining and different family game that also can convince the one or other experienced gamer.
Blue Orange Games have come with a lot of other interesting games, once again I realized that there are so many interesting games out there, that I would like to cry. So, let us just take one more glimpse on Blue Lagoon by Reiner Knizia, an area control game that is easy to learn, but hard to win:
Let us still continue our French day at the booth of FUNFORGE where I took some photos of the almost pretty much developed prototype of Monumental. Lovely miniatures, much game material and a modular gameboard. That seems to be an interesting game. The Kickstarter campaign for the game is still running, so you might wanna check that out:
Let's go on with Elad Goldsteen and his newest game:
Steam Pirates is one of the big games from GOLDEN EGG GAMES. Elad made this game with Pini Shekter, the same alliance that already worked together in Edge of Humanity. In the game, the players take the role of pirates in a steam punk world. The pirates try to build up networks of pirate-trading. To do so, we have to sail our ships in the upper part of the board from one island to the next. Every thing we receive (or spend) is noted on our own pirate boards. There are four kinds of resources in the game and you need these to establish new trade houses on harboured islands.
These trade houses are important, because you can do a profit action, sending goods from you trade houses to the connected islands. In return you earn money, the real aim of the game. But there is also another possible action you can take: bribe an official. This is the easiest way to score, because once you have paid the costs, it will give you immediately victory points in return.
But players cannot freely choose between these actions. Special action dice determine what you can choose. As a result, you must adopt your strategy to the dice results. Let me just point out one more thing: All the time you are sailing, two factions are fighting on the main board too. On the one hand there is the queen pirate ship, on the other the Great British Empire. Both factions have their own ships that move around the map. And these ships prevent players doing their normal trades and moves (embargo and blackade).
There is a lot going on, so the game takes you about 90 minutes. Elad told me that they tried the game also with five people, but that resulted in three hour game and so they gave it up again. Steam Pirates is no Euro game, it is more the American style of game. I have not gone through all details yet, but I think that in your first 3-4 games you will have a lot of things to discover.
I must confess that I am now too tired to go into more details. And there are more games to talk about. But tomorrow is another day with many new games, so just stay tuned, I will definitely catch up in the next days again.
Last but not least, I can proudly say that Elad has spent one of his Steam Pirates for our prize draw. So, sign our guestbook and with a bit of luck, you can find out more about the game by yourself.
Cheers! See you tomorrow again!!!
This morning I entered the halls a bit before the official opening time, and it seemed like there was the quiet before the storm. The last preparations were finished, and now everyone just seemed tense and waiting for the show to begin.
And then it began…
The waiting is over and finally the SPIEL '18 has opened its gates for the public. The people started crowding into the halls, some of them running to be the first to obtain some highly wanted games. A sheer endless stream of people poured in, quickly taking over the so far empty booths. However, even though halls 1 and 3 with the big publishers' booths were rather crowded all day long, you could still move somewhat more freely in the other halls. This was a bit astonishing due to the fact that outside was fall weather and there are school holidays this week, but I put this observation down to the fact that the exhibition space had been enlarged considerably.
My first visit this morning took me to the booth of CZECH GAMES EDITION where I was waited for by Jana, CGE's press attendant. Like every year Jana showed me the new games by CGE, and even though they have not released a big box game this year, there are nonetheless some interesting novelties. On the one hand there is the new Adrenaline: Team Play DLC expansion for the arena combat game. This expansion brings the game cast up to a maximum of 6 players, and furthermore there are some additional rules tweaks, allowing team play and improved actions. From my perspective this seems to be an expansion which really deserves the name.
However, even more interesting for me was a small game about which I have read a few days before the SPIEL…
Have you ever fought your way through a dungeon by answering riddles? Well, if not you will now have a chance to do so in the new CGE game designed by Regis Torres and David Jablonovsky, but you will have to beware of the Trapwords!
Yes, you have read correctly - welcome to the world's first riddle dungeon crawler! Trapwords actually is a team game for four players or more, and the two teams of players have to compete to be the first the get their group of adventurers into the deep dungeon where the mighty dungeon keeper is waiting for the final battle. The way doesn't seem to be long - after all it's only 5 rooms which the team figures have to cross, but nonetheless the players have to use all their wits to get their first, lest they will be beaten by the other team.
So, how does the riddle contest work? During a round of play, one player in a team will be the cluegiver. That player is presented a word, and he will have a limited amount of time to describe this word to his fellow group members. If they are successful in finding the word, the group's team token will move forwards and will enter the next room of the dungeon?
Sounds like some kind of cheap Dungeon Taboo? Well, that's a wide miss, because the rules of Trapwords offer a range of specialties which give the whole riddling procedure a distinctly different approach. So, the cluegiver is not given a list of words which he may not use for describing the word his team members have to riddle, but instead the players of the other group will write down a list of Trapwords before the riddling begins. The cluegiver doesn't know these Trapwords, but the riddling round will still be lost if he uses one of these words?
This may sound weid, but the concept is easy and intriguing at the same time. Let's imagine the cluegiver would have to describe "bee". What would be easier than saying "a yellow-black insect which produces honey"? However, here the slyness of the team putting up the Trapwords will be put to a challenge, because they might anticipate that words like "yellow", "black" or "honey" may be used to by the cluegiver, and so they might consider putting these words onto the list. But one again, these words might be too easily avoided, and so the trappers might put another choice of words onto the list, guessing that the easier words will be avoided by the cluegiver anyhow.
So the general concept of Trapwords is easy enough, and the mechanism of multiple-layered guessing alone would put up an entertaining riddling game. However, Trapwords is a dungeon crawler after all, and so the players will have to observe some extra rules. the deeper their team gets into the dungeon, the more words can be put onto the list of Trapwords by the opposing team, so that it will become increasingly harder for the cluegiver to describe the keyword. In addition, the players shouldn't forget that they are in a dungeon, and so they may have to face a nasty curse of they are the first group to enter a new room. During setup two random Curse cards have been placed next to the rooms, and whenever a team figure enter a room with a Curse card, that curse card will be revealed and applied to the next riddling round of that team. The Curse cards put a variety of complications on the team's cluegiver, usually be restricting his way of speech in one way or another (speaking in echoes, taking one breath only etc.). Furthermore, the dungeon lord also has a special power, and like the curses this power also will have an impact on the speaking capacities of the cluegiver.
Quite nice is the fact that the game includes two different types of keywords. type are normal words, whereas others are fantasy-related, so that the dungeoneer feeling is enhanced this way. Furthermore, the game scales quite well, because groups with keen minds can be challenged with rooms allowing even more keywords or tougher dungeon keepers.
In summary, Trapwords is a really charming riddling game, combining a very tricky new riddling mechanism with a tiny bit of an adventure feeling. The game comes to full bloom if the players know each other at least a little bit, because this knowledge will make the whole task of putting up Trapwords even more enjoyable. If you like riddling games - go for this one!!!
Finally, Jana also showed me the newly resized version of Pictomania, and together these three boxes form CGE's major releases this year.
Taking a stroll through the vast halls before my next scheduled meeting, I actually came upon a vast game - Vast: The Crystal Caverns!
Being released already in 2016, Vast: The Crystal Caverns is an asymmetrical adventure game about a bunch of different characters being enclosed in a cave, with each of the players taking over a specific character with its own aims and attributes. There is the Knight and the Thief, entering the cave to find glory or loot, and there are the cave's denizens, the Goblins and the Dragon who want to thwarten the intruders and - in case of the dragon - to get out to wreak mayhem on the borderlands.
The game scales with different numbers of players, and the rules provide the necessary details to play with all possible combinations of characters if there is no full cast of players. However, apart from the aforementioned characters, the game can even host of 5th player, taking the role of the dark and brooding cave itself. The cave wants nothing but collapse to destroy all those unwanted intruders, and so the case also has its own special powers to hamper all the living characters.
For me this game is one of the cute little chance discoveries which you can make here at the SPIEL. Coming with nice and unsual graphics, the whole setting makes for a rather special take on the whole adventure game genre, and to my mind it's certainly a game which needs some closer examination.
Returning to hall 3 for my next meeting, I made my way to the quiet of the ASMODEE lounge, getting a closer look at some of the games which I had seen yesterday at the newsshow.
One of these games which I also mentioned in yesterday's report is Discover: Lands Unknown, an adventure game which features a unique combination of cards, characters and landscapes in each gamebox, thus ensuring that no two copies of the game are alike. So, each game contains only 2 of 6 available territories to explore, 12 of 36 different characters and a load of individual playing cards and paths to explore.
All those games share only the basic setting of the players being marooned in the wilderness without knowing anything of their whereabouts. The ASMODEE staff had left the cards packs of the display game wrapped in order npot to spoil any of the game's contents, and so I could only look at the bottom cards of each pack, spying at possible contents of the game. What I saw were locations like a remote shack or an abandoned hospital, and it all contributed to a general feeling that the plot of the game might be a bit of a combination of a mystery movie and dark adventure games like Luna Llena - Full Moon.
The other game which I examined a bit more closely was Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr. The game had been mentioned yesterday in the press conference as a representative of a new game genre - serious games. Indeed the theme of the game couldn't be any more serious - the players are hospital nurses looking after a mortally injured elderly patient. During the course of the 10 scenarios in the game they will have to prevent the death of the patient, but that's actually not the main focus of the game. Instead, the players will slowly win the patient's trust, and they will start to uncover facts about his life, ending up in helping him to set right some things which had gone wrong.
Is this really a necessary topic for the gaming table? Discussing the game with Nicole we were both certain that this game is only for very specific groups of players, but it seems to offer a kind of borderline experience which on the one hand will give you goosebumps and which on the other hand may be quite fulfilling - if all components and mechanics can carry the topic with enough seriousness to accommodate this unsual plot.
After learning these facts I couldn't resist but bagged both games, and so the visit to the ASMODEE lounge certainly had been quite a discovery for me.
Returning to hall 4 to continue my stroll, it seemed like this was my very personal Day of Dungeons. I thus came to the booth of DMZ GAMES where I found another dungeon crawler.
The game High Score actually is a very light push your luck game in which different characters try to be the first to move through a 3-level dungeon. The game wants to remind of old arcade games, and so the gameplay is quite straightforward, with dice being the main driver for the player mechanism.
In effect, each player character possesses a different handful of dice, allowing him to take rolls against the creatures which can be found in each room. Each player dice may only be used once during a player turn, and so it's up to the player to decide which dice he wants to use for each step, possibly keeping back some dice for making additional movements in order to keep the pace. Further dice and special powers can be acquired through item cards, but in the end it all comes down to taking just the right degree of risks. Failed checks may result in a character being eliminated, but this doesn't automatically mean a full game over, but a character still may have lives to resume the crawl from a previous saving point.
Easy and straightforward, High Score has a kind of retro charme which makes the game likeable despite its somewhat outmoded approach. However, it has to be given that the whole experience really reminds of arcade classics like Gauntlet (anyone here still remembers this Atari game from 1985?), and in this respect the game totally matches its creators' intents.
I still had a bit of time left, and at the booth of GEN X GAMES from Spain I met Enrique Duenas, designer of my 2017 convention hit Hexcalibur. He told me that the game had been well received especially in their home country Spain after my report last year, but nonetheless Hexcalibur is a game which either is liked or disliked by players. Some players had told Enrique that the game is too intricate for a dice roller and that he should get rid of a good portion of rules to make it more streamlined, but from my perspective the rules apart from the dicerolling make the game really interesting. Both the rules for Magic and the way in which players had to set up their armies and sort them into ranks gives the game a very unique flair, and it seems downright destructive to rob Hexcalibur of these elements, making it a flat diceroller in the true sense.
However, the game which Enrique has brought to this year's SPIEL truly falls into the category of dicerollers, and it doesn't take itself too serious in this category. In Macbeth! the players are competing stage writers who want their favourite characters to end the play of Macbeth! becoming King, and for this the other characters in the play either have to be pushed into less prominent roles or killed on stage. So, each player is secretly dealt a hand of three different characters which he wants to foster, and rolling dice the players collect money, swords and monologues which may be spent to increase the characters' position in the play's cast or to remove unwanted competitors from the play.
Actually Macbeth! ended up being my second push your luck game in a row, since the players have to decide when to stop rolling for more resources. A player who is too greedy may end up rolling three or more skulls, loosing him all his money which would be needed to move characters up in the play's cast. So, better stop in time to keep the money and possibly get some swords which may be used to remove characters in an unfriendly fashion…
The progress of the play is driven by a diceroll at the end of each round, moving relentless towards the final curtain. Until then lots of characters will have died due to bad skripts, and a certain degree of frustration and gloating is certain to have developed among the players. Macbeth! is mainly an entertainment game with elements of bluffing and speculation about the character cards held by each player, and there is also a bit of timing regarding the question at which point a character possibly should be moved to become king. However, the fun aspect always is in front, and as such the game certainly has its merits.
But there was more to see today, and my next meeting on schedule brought me to the booth of MATAGOT. However, here I had to find out that the person whom I had scheduled my meeting with had left the company about two weeks ago without telling anyone about the SPIEL schedule, and so MATAGOT was hard pushed to make up for the absence of my friend Fabien Conus who was unable to attend and help this year. However, in the end I was able to join at least a game of the new 2-player game Princess Jing, and this turned out to be a rather cute find.
Looking at the gameboard of Princess Jing, I felt reminded of the old PARKER classic Stratego. All spaces on the gameboard are completely filled with playing pieces resembling Asian paper screens, and behind those screens the players will hide their playing pieces from the view of their opponents.
Princess Jing is a 2-player game in which the players take the role of Imperial Princesses. Being promised to two malicious allies of the Emperor for marriage, each of the Princesses try to flee from the royal palace with their true love, a captain for the Imperial guard. For this reason the princesses must cross the fabled Chamber of Screens, with each princess starting at one side of the board and trying to reach the opposing side where the captains are waiting to take them away. However, probably only the first couple can sneak out of the palace, and so it's each player's aim to get out his princess first.
In contrast to Stratego, the Screen playing pieces are double sided and all identical. Instead of each player having his own Screens, the players instead place their playing figures behind the screens so that they are hidden from the view of the opposing player. In the basic game each player hides three different figures behind the screens on his base line - the princess, her maiden and a magic mirror holder. In the advanced game one more magic mirror holder and two legendary animals will be added, but let's first examine the basic game.
Taking turns, a player may move one screen on the gameboard horizontally, vertically or diagonally. A move can only be made into a space with an other screen, and the move results in both screens switching their positions. As indicated above, a player will try to move the screen hiding his princess towards the guard captain waiting at the opponent's baseline, and and it will be the opposing player's task to discover the princess and set her back to her base line, giving him time to win with his own princess.
But how can a princess be discovered? Well that's the reason why the players have the magic mirror holders. Instead of naming certain screens to be revealed, the players have to keep an eye on their mirror holder figure(s), because the mirrors actually will show them the backside of the screen in front of them. So they players do not only have to focus on moving their own princess forward, but they also have to get the mirrors in place to keep an eye out for the opposing princess. And to complicate things even further, the princess' loyal maidens have also joined this game of hide and seek, dressing up like the princesses in order to allow some bluffing.
Actually the magic mirrors are quite tricky, showing the players only a tiny portion of the space behind the opposing screens. The players have to position themselves quite prominently in order to get a clear view of a figure's head (to distinguish the princess and the maid), and this action of checking actually may be a hint to the other player where a magic mirror holder may be hidden. So it's not enough to watch just the gameboard, but keeping an eye on the opposing player also may be helpful.
If a player is sure that he has located the opposing princess, he can point to her screen to unmask her. If he is correct, the player gets an additional turn and the princess is returned to her base line, whereas an incorrect unmasking will give the opposing player two turns in a row.
This game of bluffing and guessing can be complicated even more through the use of the additional figures. Now three different guard captains will be waiting for the princesses at the opposing base lines, and a player first has to discover the two legendary animals which were hidden by his opponent to correctly identify which captain is the correct one. The legendary animals stand for the captain's qualities - crane for honesty, fox for wisdom and owl for clairvoyance - and a Mission card lists which captain is associated with which qualities. However, in order to avoid an endless game, each player gets a second magic mirror holder in the advanced game, making it easier to spot the required figures.
Princess Jing is a charming little deduction game which cleverly adapts the old playing mechanism of hidden playing pieces to a new challenge. The fact that the screen playing pieces are identical from both sides is causing an additional challenge for the players' memory, because they only know where their own figures are hidden, whereas all other playing pieces may possibly hide an opponent's figure. Whereas the basic game will be quickly mastered by the players, especially the advanced game causes a considerable challenge because each player will have a grand total of 6 playing pieces hiding behind the screens: princess, maiden, 2 magic mirror holders, 2 legendary animals. Coming with artwork from none less than Naiade, Princess Jing is one of those rare games which forms a perfect combination between an abstract playing mechanism and a nice implementation of the overall background story. Well done Roberto Fraga!!!
Talking about friends, I had a very special encounter while queueing at the booth of SCHWERKRAFT to purchase a copy of Raiders of the North Sea and its expansions. In the last few years game designer Ryan Laukat from RED RAVEN GAMES in the US had kindly provided printable promos for my SPIEL report on several occasions, but so far I have never met him. Well, as it turned out, sometimes my BGG jersey is really helpful, because Ryan is attending the SPIEL for the first time in the last 10 years, and seeing my name he came over to greet me. This was a typical SPIEL chance meeting indeed!
After all those meetings I really needed something lighter to get into the last stages of this SPIEL day, and so I went and found my friend Michael Kanellos at the booth of Greek designer DESYLLAS GAMES from Athens.
This year DESYLLAS hadn't released a family game like in previous years, but instead they had focused on the finalization of a childrens game about hungry monsters. Yummy Monster is a crazy dexterity game in which the little players have to throw food into the wide open mouths of the monsters, but they may not move freely but instead have to observe order cards which tell them how to perform the throw: over the head, blindfolded our even wearing monsterous claws, that's all possible in a monster restaurant, and certainly there was a good degree of mischievous mayhem on the tables at the DESYLLAS booth.
A typical childrens' game indeed, but as Michael told me the game had been really well received not only be the public, but also the awards jury had become aware of the game yesterday in the newsshow. Indeed the children on the other tables were really enjoying themselves, and as it seems DESYLLAS may have found a potential award nominee. Sometimes a game doesn't need to be highly sophisticated - in the end it all depends on the playing fun of the intended audience!
Finished for the day? Not quite!
Like every year, there is another SPIEL-tradition here at the G@mebox which you don't want to miss: it's the annual PRIZE DRAW!
For this reason I made my way back to hall 4 to the booth of SECOND GATE GAMES, publishers of awesome Monster Lands which I had reviewed for Monday's warm up report. Here I was greeted by Daniel Schloesser, one of the co-designers of Monster Lands.
Before the SPIEL Daniel had told me that I should come for a visit, because they have prepared a big demo copy of Monster Lands. When he told me this I couldn't really imagine how big this game would be, and so I was astonished to find a true XXL version of the game. It's fully playable because all parts have been resized accordingly, and a lot of handwork must have gone into the creation of this Monster game.
Daniel and I also went through the contents of the Monster Lands: Heavy Weapons & 5th Player expansion set, and once again this little box shows how much love for detail the team of SECOND GATE GAMES has put into the creation of Monster Lands. So , the box doesn't just feature playing materials for a fifth player, but it features some additional materials which are needed for adding enough components for a 5th player without tweaking too much on the game's well balanced probability scales. So, when playing with a fifth player each player gets a "Second Gate" card, a backdoor giving him access to one show in the Citadel even if all action spaces there are occupied. Furthermore, there now is a possibility to link a hero to an conquered land even if their affinity is not matching, but this benefit can only be used once by each playing during a game. Small changes indeed, but they keep the game in balance!
Furthermore, the expansion box also contains heavy weapons, a new kin dof trap tiles which are double sized and much higher in price. However, these tiles really are worth their money, since they are much more powerful in monster combat, they can be used twice, and unlike normal traps a hero even can take them home again if he didn't use them after all. Coming with a whole new clan of blacksmiths, these heavy weapons add another interesting level of consideration to the game, making it especially interesting to go for a strategy of yellow Persuasion dice in order to get massive rebated while buying equipment.
But finally, there is also something to announce at this point!
I am very happy to announce that SECOND GATE GAMES has sponsored a copy of Monster Lands for this year's prize draw!
So, if you want to win this game, all you need to do is go ahead and sign the SPIEL Guestbook !
Good luck to everyone!!!
Well, with this announcement the first public day of the SPIEL is truly over! It was a long day, but it was really worth it!
Board an airplane or hop into your car and come to Essen! We will meet you in the halls tomorrow!!!
Hello, back again!
It has a long night of typing yesterday. So my day was a little bit crazy today. On the one hand I wanted to see more and more games again, on the other hand my body cried for sleep. But appointments had been scheduled, and so I was back in the convention halls right before the doors opened. Essen is Essen and it is only once in a year. So let's sustain the killing pace! But before the rush begins, let us still enjoy one last moment of silence:
Since I have played and reviewed Perdition's Mouth – Abyssal Rift I regularly stop by the booth of DRAGON DAWN PRODUCTIONS. Thomas Klausner always introduces me to the novelties. This year it was a trick-taking game with an interesting usage of the cards for the winner of the trick.
Evolving species has been a popular game theme as long as I am a gamer. I still remember those long gaming nights beginning with Ursuppe from DORIS UND FRANK SPIELE about 20 years ago. And only last year, we found the hidden gem Biosphere from DDD here in Essen and covered it in our coverage.
Darwinning! is of the same kind, as long the evolving of species is concerned. But in contrast to the other two games, it is no game of area control. The main mechanism is a simple trick-taking game. Each of the rounds of the game, the players get 10 trait cards to play the tricks. It is allowed to play one or several cards, and, of course, each player tries to beat the strongest combination for taking the trick. The strength of a combination is quite easy to determine. It's a little bit like Poker, but much easier to understand, because there are only seven different combinations like a pair, four of a kind and a straight flush. I was told that even children from 8 year old on had no problems understanding that.
However, what's more complex are the results from the cards. The winner of a trick may always choose one of the cards he had played to that trick to improve his or her species. Yes! It is still an evolution game. Every player is equipped with a species at the beginning of the game, each of them with its own abilities, likes and dislikes. Some already have a starting bonus for collecting their food, others may be immune to attacks from specific kinds and still others can for example have special attacking abilities.
Every player begins the game with just one of its kind. And it's the players task to grow and adopt these species to the changing environment and the more aggressive species during the game. Only the fittest can survive, that's what Darwin (who should be the name giver for Darwinning!) once told us. And growing and adjusting our species will only become possible, if we win a trick. Ah, wait! That's not completely true: The last winner of each round cannot choose a card for his own. Instead all other players (the looser in that trick) may choose a card. And the last trick of each round is the trick after at least one player doesn't have any cards left in his hand. So, clever hand management is an important thing in the game.
A new card is placed at a free location on the player board. So a species can grow, improve its ingestion ability and become more resistant against the other species.
At the end of each era (round), it's time to survive. Next to the adjustment to the environment, we must have enough food for our species, and we must survive attacks from the stronger species. So, it is quite useful for example to become a poisonous species or getting a hard shell.
In the end, Darwinning! is much more than a simple trick-taking game. The trick-taking mechanism is only means to an end. Choosing the right cards to adopt and grow your species in the tricks you have won, is where the action is. Although, this can also be solved by children, I bet that even serious gamers might take some time to find a strategy to win the game. Maybe some players think the trick-taking mechanism is a little bit pasted on. And maybe they are right. But on the other hand, what is better in rolling the dice? I found the game to be quite entertaining, and I will definitely have a closer look on it after the convention. If you are interested, you either just take the game along, or you wait for my full review.
By the way, Darwinning! is a game, designed by the whole Multamäki family as you can see in the picture (just ignore me in the picture...):
Let's go on with something totally different. HORRIBLE GAMES announced the release of their Alone for this fair, definitely a must-go for me.
I think it was three years ago, when I first heard a rumour that the Italian publisher planned to create a dungeon crawling game. No, not just a new expansion for the crazy dice throwing Dungeon Fighter, but a real tactical dungeon crawler. Last year the buzz was already very strong, but none I've met had seen the game. There was only a small reminder, more a postcard for all Kickstarters and the press. So, Alone was one of my most anticipated game for this convention (as it was for many other gamers).
And, finally, it is here. All is black at HORRIBLE GAMES and we all are very, very Alone. For that's what we are! If you still think that you are entering a dungeon with a whole party of fellow players, I must disappoint you. It is just you, ALONE!
But how this? Isn't this a multiplayer game? Yes, it is! But in contrast to nearly all other dungeon crawling games, the good guy is the one who is playing alone. After a crash of a spaceship some centuries in the future, only one crew member has survived. But he or she does not know where he is and it is dark. Only equipped with the absolute basics and a tiny torch, it is the hero's task to find a way out of this mess. So the player of the good guy places his miniature in a small part of the labyrinth he is in. That's also where the action, all the searching, fulfilling of missions and fighting takes place.
But it's only a small part, a zoomed in view of the whole map, a two storey labyrinth with stairs, rooms, creatures and other dangers. This map is controlled by all other players, the evil guys. So it is all against one, but in this game, the good guy is the solo player. The map is hidden from him or her behind a screen. While he is walking around, the evil players follow the path on the whole map, and add new labyrinth parts, events and encounters to the other side of the screen as soon as the hero comes into view of these. So, step by step, our hero fights his way through the labyrinth and his side of the screen is growing too. However, his Holowatch seems not to be the newest one. As a result, older labyrinth parts are removed again from time to time, lucky be the player with an excellent memory.
From what I have seen today, Alone is a totally new experience, even for dungeon crawling experts. Especially the hero player is put under pressure from the beginning of the game on. It is definitely not easy for him to find a way out. The other players on the other hand, must co-ordinate a strategy against the stronger hero player. Attacking is a good idea to prevent the hero fulfilling his missions, but they have to coordinate, without speaking about it. Because otherwise the hero player would hear their plans and the game would be much easier for him.
However, in spite of the size of the box and the dimension of the game material, Alone took only part in one third of the big HORRILBLE GAMES booth. On the rest of the tables there was a heavy activity of scribbling. Railroad ink is kind of a puzzle game, in which players take the results of dice to connect the exits of a town centre by streets and railroads. Every player has his or her own erasable board where he can draw his routes. The game seems to be very entertaining, because at the whole time I was at the booth, none of the many tables was free.
Although the Galeria was already crowded again, it was no problem for the 7 Wonder Armada to get through. People from all corners of the convention were collected to come back to the booth of Seven Wonders. Because Frank has already covered the game in detail on Tuesday, I hurried to get out of the way and found myself running right into the big booth of GAME BREWER.
The Belgian based game publisher is comparable new at SPIEL. But this year's Gugong was really a hit and many people wanted to know more about their games. They shared the booth with TMC who also organized the things before, during and after the fair.
Although Gugong was the most anticipated game from GAME BREWER, I wanted to see another game, because I was in a celebratory mood:
First thing I learnt about Festo was that it is now the perfect time to play the game. Celebrating the beginning of autumn, that's what we are doing in the game. Well, not exactly... It is more the preparation for this big event than the feast in itself. I further learnt that it is well known that all the halflings in this world really love this feast, and want to outdo each other in producing the heartiest and tastiest meals. It is a real competition among those small people.
Now you have three guesses what's our task in the game. No, we are not the restaurant reviewers who only have to eat the meal and make whimsical comments. Of course, we take the role of the cooks and must prepare the meals.
But, like in all other good cooking games, we must buy the right ingredients to do so first. In Festo these ingredients can be bought from a market of strange characters: a troll advertises his goods next to a pixie and a dwarf. Whatever! Things are odd sometimes, not only here at the convention...
So, on our turns we are sending our helpers to the different characters or we go directly to the grocery, because that's the place where the next starting player is determined. There are two different phases each round for sending the helpers, the morning and the afternoon. And the one or other shop has also its closing time. Or perhaps the one or other character has not waked up in time for opening, that could happen to me in one of the next days too...
Anyway, after all players have placed their helpers, the majority is determined for every character. And the winner takes it all! Only in case of a tie, there can be ingredients left for the second player in turn order, depending on the number of helpers. So, why should a player send a helper to a character outnumbered? The reason is that each character has special abilities that players with helpers can use during their turn.
After the buying phase there is time to cook. In this phase players simply take from the available dishes that they can prepare (they have all the necessary ingredients to do so). And these dishes are already the victory points. The game is played over four rounds and each round ingredients are refilled again. Nevertheless there will often be shortages and so, it seems to be useful to plan ahead and keep some of the ingredients for the next round.
A lot of people were playing Festo, so the author, Arve Fühler looked quite happy this afternoon:
After Kitchen Rush in the last year, Festo is the next cooking game in the huge boardgame market. The game is very colourful, the rules are simple and the gameplay is fast. . And for all of you who want more, you can spice the game with magical dishes.
Invigorated by the halflings' feast and inspired by all the scribbling at HORRIBLE GAMES, I decided that it would be time to scribble myself. This was not too difficult, because there were a lot of other scribbling games this year. So I met with nearly the rest of the Kulkmann's crew (with the exception of Kulkmann himself) and we began a heavy competition. First of all we tried Tag City from Runes Editions (Lutz will take you to this publisher later that day again).
And after that, we went over to HOBBY WORLD from Russia to play Sunflower Valley.
Railroad ink, Tag City and Sunflower Valley are all scribbling games in which you roll dice, choose one die and draw the result on your personal player board. Although the complexity and the details differ, the main mechanism in all games basically is the same. So you can choose if you prefer drawing streets and railroads, abstract figures like in Tetris or sheep, flowers and houses in a valley. Aren't we lucky to be in Essen to have such a wide choice? If you ask me, you should go for Sunflower Valley to play with the kids, Railroad ink for a party game (up to 14 persons can take part in the game) and Tag City for the Tetris maniacs.
As we already sat at the HOBBY WORLD booth, let's quickly have a look at their other new game, Architectura. At HOBBY WORLD, the game was already sold out, but of course, you can still play it. And if you are lucky, GAME BREWER will still have some copies left, as the two publishers are cooperating in this game.
Back in the nineties of the last century, when Frank has started this Internet magazine, I was studying civil engineering (and did my degree in 1999). Although my main job has only little to do with the building of houses, I am still fascinated by this discipline. As a result, games with architecture as a background story always have my attention. So it's no wonder that Architectura came to my list while preparing the SPIEL.
In the game, we build up a more or less magnificent city together. But, of course, we also compete against our fellow player, because everyone wants to be most respected architect of the city. As a consequence, each player gets his own set of buildings that is shuffled during setup.
On their turns, the players take the top building of their decks and add the building to the city. This city consists of 8 columns and as many rows as there are players. A building can only be placed adjacent to an existing building. Immediately after the placing, the building's value is compared with the value of the building to its left. If the value of the card to the left is at least two times lower, it is destroyed and flipped to its back. If the value is just lower, the card to the left is rotated, so a new (lower) value of the building comes to the top of the card (each corner of the card has a value printed on).
Additionally, each card has its own effect that is resolved after the values have been compared. Effects are manifold, e.g. destroying all cards in the row with lower values or rotating two of your own cards. Other cards can also be played on top of others or help to excavate destroyed (flipped) buildings again.
So, the city changes a lot during the game with each player trying to position their own buildings safely, while at the same attacking the other players' houses. A nice, simple game with good artwork. I think the replayability will be quite high, because a lot depends on the position of the buildings. And this changes dramatically from game to game. There are also 6 more buildings for every player to modify the starting deck even more. A game you shouldn't miss, if you are looking for fast games in the architecture genre.
Like the Armada, Kulkmann's G@mebox crew moved on. Next stop was the booth of VESUVIUS MEDIA:
Dwar7s – Winter> is the newest offspring in the series of dwarf based games from Vesuvius Media. Of course, it's a game about dwarves and their enemies. In this game the dwarves have to defend their city from 16 different monsters that attack from all sides of the city wall. The city is divided in several sections with 5 different zone types. This zone type is important for acquiring resources and money in the game.
But the inner of the city is also a fighting zone, because the city wall not really keeps the monsters away. Each round a monster moves one step closer to the innermost of the city, where the castle is located. And once a monster is inside the castle, the game is lost for all players. So, it's a cooperative game you might think. But it isn't. A dwarf is a dwarf and when there is a chance to be richer and stronger than your friends, a dwarf will take it. So, semi-cooperative would be the better word.
Unfortunately, moving is not the only thing a monster does. There are different monster abilities that hinder the dwarves in the same zone, for example stealing them a resource. Now, what can the dwarves do against this threat? First of all, they have to be on the map. Each round a player has five actions, and one of them is to place a new dwarf in one section of the board. Of course you can also move your dwarves.
If they are strong enough (most threats demand more than one dwarf in a zone), they can fight monsters or overcome a disaster (another annoyance of Dar7s Winter. And often resources are needed too. We already start with a few resources, but these will be spent soon. To get new resources, we have to play music, and for that, we have our hand cards. We start with comparable weak cards, but we can acquire new cards for an action too. Each card has one music symbol that is connected with a specific landscape type. And when you play a card, all of your dwarves in the matching landscape are joining in. As a result, you get the reward from every matching zone with at least one of your dwarves.
That's more or less how Dar7s Winter is played. I must confess that we had some problems to find into the game first. I think you should plan in a little bit more time for your first game too. After that the game went on fluently, only the number of actions already taken was a point of discuss. The artwork of the game is really funny. However, funny or not, to win the game you must carefully choose new hand cards, and that's hard indeed in your first game. And the threats and monsters are moving forward quickly. Anyway, a city has to be defended. Let's go on, dwarves.
A much faster game from the same publisher is Zoar, a game about tribe leaders who guide their tribes through different landscapes, only to return a sacred relic. The author Andreas Katelanos explained his game so enthusiastically to me that I must play it in the following weeks to come.
I would like to end this day with a small two player fighting card game from a new German publisher. Interestingly, the two authors and publishers have named company and game the same: CRIMSON COMPANY. At the moment there is a limited number of games from their first print left, but they plan to do a KS campaign next year to further develop the game. Now, let's see how the game works:
The game was not on my list before Essen, but I saw the game at the news show and spoke about the author about some aspects of the game. Dario firstly explained that they wanted to create a game with strong combos like in Magic, but without the need to buy more and more game packages (I hope that remains true during and after the KS campaign...).
In the game the players fight at three lanes for the highest strength. To do so, each player plays cards from his side in a lane and once a player has 4 or more cards in a lane, it is scored. Both sides sum up the strength of their cards. Then the player with the higher strength in this lane wins the tower. The first player with two towers wins the game.
But how do they player get those cards? Every round four new cards are drawn. Then, in the recruitment phase, player bet for the drawn cards as long as they still have coins left. The betting mechanism is quite simple, but effective. The first player chooses a card and places as many of his or her coins on the card as he wants. Then the opponent can choose: either he matches. In this case the first player gets all the money on the card and the opponent gets the card. Or he passes, then the money goes back into the supply and the first player gets the card.
All of that is not just yet something special, that's true. What's interesting about the game are the 30 unique cards with a lot of options to swap cards in the lanes, strengthen or weaken cards and create combos. This is no complex game, but it's great to take along and I really like the art of the cards (the towers that you can see in the picture are not included). I cannot say anything about the balance right now, so again stay tuned, a review will come in the next weeks.
Cheers! See you tomorrow again!!!
Hello everybody! It's half time of the SPIEL, but somehow I fell like I have been reporting all week long…
But anyhow - the day has been long indeed, so let's look right away at the most interesting things which I have experienced today. For the morning I had scheduled a meeting at the booth of ARTIPIA GAMES, finally getting a possibility to look at the new game A Thief's Fortune designed by Konstantinos Kokkinis and Sotirios Tsantilas.
Having read the game rules in advance of the show, Konstantinos gave a short reminder on the central playing mechanisms, getting me ready to join a round of players who was about to being.
Sometimes a time machine would come really handy for all kinds of professions, but a thief trying to steal from the Sultan's treasure chamber certainly is someone who profits most from owning a time device. Indeed, the main actor in ARTIPIA's new game A Thief's Fortune has found a magic hourglass, and it will be up to the players to make most of it, manipulating the locations, characters and events which the thief will meet in order to give him access to the most valuable objects.
This does sound challenging for a boardgame, doesn't it? However, Konstantinos Kokkinis and his co-designers have found a quite unique mechanism for keeping track of each players' thief PAST, PRESENCE and FUTURE, and the player who manipultates time with the most skill certainly will also influence his own future of winning this game.
At the beginning of each round of play, each player receives a mixed hand of Location, Character and Event cards. Even though a drafting mechanism is used, it is a more controlled way of drafting because the players fill their hand partly with card types of their choice, and in addition only two cards are passed from player to player with each drafting step. This way the players gain a much higher degree of control during the drafting procedure, but at the same time the general tension and surprise of drafting isn't lost.
The cards drafted by the players are placed in into the FUTURE part of their thief's playing area, and on these cards a number of resources will be placed as listed on the card. In the following phase the players may loot these cards, taking resources from them in order to increase their own stockpiles. However, once a card has been emptied, the card is moved into the PRESENT area of their thief's playing area, moving into the back of the row designated for this type of cards.
Here the game becomes tricky, because it will be up to the players to decide how quickly they want a card from the FUTURE to move into the PRESENCE. In the FUTURE a card is helpful for keeping and storing additional resources, whereas a card in a player's PRESENCE can be used for its abilities. The card abilities consist of a wide range of actions, some of them centered on generating and using resources, whereas other abilities offer player interaction (e.g. stealing resources) or deal with the Danger Tokens which the players can accumulate by even other actions.
In effect, the players are trying to construct powerful combos of card abilities which allow them to gain and use resources in the most effective way. However, it is the players' ultimate goal to perform some spectacular burglaries with their thieves, and a thief's career gets more and more spectacular by accumulating Location, Character and Event cards in their PAST. Cards are pushed from the PRESENCE into the PAST by adding new cards from the FUTURE, because each card row in the PRESENCE can contain at most 4 cards of the designated type. If a fifth card is added, the leftmost card is pushed into the PAST, losing its ability but counting Fortune Points (Victory Points) for the player.
Handling this dilemma of constantly shifting cards is the main task which the players have to face in A Thief's Fortune. As indicated, the card abilities of cards in a player's PRESENCE area often offer interesting possibilities for combos and successive actions, but no card can be kept forever because otherwise the player wouldn't accumulate enough cards in the his PAST area. However, it's exactly this constant element of change which makes A Thief's Fortune highly interesting. Whereas many games focus on building and maintaining powerful production chains, the situation is totally different in this game. Here the players always have to find new ways to combine their current cards in the most fruitful way, and this keeps the game highly competitive right until the end.
In summary, the image of the magic hourglass couldn't be more fitting for the central playing mechanism of this game, because the cards in the players' playing areas just keep moving like sand in an hourglass! During this introductory session it took me quite a bit to gain used to the shifting production engine of my cards, clinging to good combos to gain a fair share of victory points and resources. However, in the final scoring I had only about half the victory points in my PAST as the winning player, and so it is really important to keep your card display moving all game long.
I have been curious for playing my first game of A Thief's Fortune for some time now, and this game here at the SPIEL certainly was enough to convince me that ARTIPIA once again has released a very strong game for serious gamers. I had been joined for this game by a group of gaming enthusiasts from the Netherlands, amongst them Michiel Hendriks, designer of Legacy - Testimony of Duke de Crecy. WE all agreed that the game has a high replay value, and so I am looking forward to spend some more time with it when the SPIEL is over.
Such a great game shouldn't be missing in this year's prize draw here at the G@mebox. So I am happy to announce the Konstantinos has sponsored a complete Kickstarter copy of A Thief's Fortune with all extras for the prize draw!
So, if you want to win this game, all you need to do is go ahead and sign the SPIEL Guestbook !
The next meeting I had scheduled with my friend Ignacy Trezewiczek from Poland. I first met Ignacy 9 years ago at the SPIEL 09, and in that period of time his booth has grown quite considerably. Due to the success of his games PORTAL has turned into a big publishing house.
Today I chatted with Ignacy about his new release Monolith Arena. The game is actually based on Ignacy's first game which he released as a publisher, the post-apocalyptic Neuroshima Hex. Over the last year's it become apparent that games with this theme certainly have an audience of fans, but on the other hand more mainstream themes often lead to a rise of popularity of good games. So, in order to make the good playing mechnanism of Neuroshima Hex more attractive for a broader target group, the game had been redesigned to fit a fantasy background of Elves, Dwarves, Orcs and Humans warring in an area.
However, a simple re-skinning was not was Ignacy had in mind, and so the new game Monolith Arena features a tricky new playing mechanism around the players headquarters - their Banners. These now actually a formed as a stack of three unit tiles, and a player can move out with these units to defend the Banner against the attackers. However, after such an attack the units move back into the Banner tile if they are still alive at the end of the round, thus effectively protecting them from the other players' attacks. Due to this new (optional) mechanism of a military sally, the game wins a lot of dynamics since the players actually need space for these maneuvers, thus going for a different way of defending their headquarters than in Neuroshima Hex.
A second new game which needs to be mentioned here is also the new faction box of Imperial Settlers Amazons. As Ignacy explained to me, there is a central new playing mechanism for this faction, and this is connected with a deckbuilding mechanism. The Amazons actually get victory points for many of their buildings, but overbuilt structures actually go back into their deck, thus allowing the Amazon player to reuse his destroyed buildings. This effectively offers a whole new approach for the player, giving him a possibility to gain victory points several times by putting the same building onto the table.
I nearly lost track of time while talking to Ignacy, so I had to hurry over to hall 5 for the awards ceremony of the International Gamers Awards
Once a year our many members of our jury find the way to the SPIEL, and so that's also the place where we are holding the awards ceremony, getting everybody together at the booth of Boardgamegeek. This year the awards in the multiplayer category was won by Rajas of the Ganges, and it was collected by representatives of the designers Inka and Markus Brandt and of the publisher HUCH.
In the 2-player category the awards went to Codenames Duet, and here once again designer Vlaada Chvatil and Petr Murmak from CZECH GAMES EDITION were proud to collect the prize.
With the afternoon continuing, the time had come to get a look at some more new releases, and so I went to the booth of IELLO in order to take a look at their new boardgaming system - the 8Bit Box.
At my age of 45 years I still remember the golden age of the old homecomputers. Yes, there were indeed times when games like Pacman, Pitfall or Decathlon could fascinate for hours, and this actually was the time when the gaming consoles were born. These ages are long past, but now the IELLO design team actually has made an effort to bring back these fondly remembered times, releasing with 8Bit Box the first board game console.
Already the technical equipment of this innovation is considerable:
A gaming console for boardgames? You may ask yourself how this may work, and the answer is pretty simple. Decades back there used to be big game boxes containing whole game collections, featuring games like Chess, Checkers, Nine-men Morris or Backgammon. These game collections where based on the fact that the playing pieces could be used for more than one game, and the same idea had been adopted by IELLO for their 8Bit Box. The console box contains a basic collection of playing materials which can be used for several different games, and these games can be purchased as small modules included only some additional game-specific equipment.
So, the cartridges of the old gaming consoles have been replaced by small gameboxes with boards, bits and pieces, but in total 8Bit Box is a great homage to these old computers. So the main console box does not only contain dice and playing pieces, but a very important part actually are the controllers with dials which the players will use to play the different games. In addition, the basic box of 8Bit Box does not only contain the console gamebox, but actually three different games are included as well, with each of these games featuring a variant of some classic computer games. So, you can send little Pixoid to flee from the bugs in the computer maze, you can Outspeed your opponents in a space ship race, and you can send your team to the Stadium to compete against the other team in classic sports events!
One thing which all three of these games have in common is that they run on a variant of the classic programming playing mechanism. The players actually use the dials on their game controllers to determine their next actions, and when everybody has chosen their actions all controllers will be revealed and the gameboard will be adjusted accordingly. However, each of the three included game modules takes a different take on the programming, so that the games are sufficiently different to be enjoyed on their own merits.
The most classic game is Pixoid. In this game for 3 or 4 players one player takes the role of Pixoid, whereas the others take the roles of bugs which try to hunt Pixoid in a maze. Using their controllers, the players determine the direction and range in which they want their figures to move, and it will be the aim of the Pixoid player to avoid the bugs as long as possible, collecting bonus tokens along the way. A game runs for a maximum of 12 rounds, and in the end the Pixoid player will score according to the number of round he has survided plus the number of collected bonus tokens. If Pixoid is caught before the game is over the bug players will score points for each remaining round, and after the scoring the role of Pixoid switches to the next player. In the end each player has a go as Pixoid, and the game will be won by the player who scored best. In the end, this is a nice, straightforward entertainment game which perhaps may feel a bit outmoded, but due to the strong reminiscence of classic Pacman this game couldn't possibly miss in the 8Bit Box.
A bit more tricky is Outspeed in which the players maneuver their space ships to win the most prestigious race in the Galaxy. Staring with all space ships in the same space, the players move their ships forward, trying to outdistance other ships in order to remove them from the game. So, the racetrack in this game is rolling over, consisting of two gameboards which will be alternatingly put in front of each other. Whenever a ship moves forward onto a new board, the rearward board will be moved forward, possibly removing any players still left on this board.
The programming mechanism used in Outspeed makes the players look at the Track cards which are revealed during each round of the game. These track cards normally feature three different paths, each with its own costs (fuel), benefits and maximum player number. The players secretly use their controllers to determine which path they want to use for the current turn, and then the controllers are revealed. As long as the maximum player number for a path is not surpassed, all players will receive the benefits associated with the path their ships have taken. These benefits mainly are moves forward on the main track, but they may also be Bonus tokens like Nitro, a Flamethrower or a Power field which may later be used to hamper the opposing players' ships. However, if too many players have chosen a path, none of the players receives anything, effectively losing these players the turn by keeping their ships in place.
Of course it is the most attractive paths which offer the grandest benefits, and so Outspeed is a game of high speculation. Will there be too many greedy players to chosen an attractive track, or will all the others play it safe, leaving you the most profitable path all for you alone. Just like old computer games, this is a game of player elimination, but due to the fact that a maximum of 13 rounds played, the timeout for the eliminated players is tolerable. Quite positive also is the fact that the game scales nicely from 3 to 6 players, including double sided Track cards fitting different numbers of players.
Stadium, the third game of the collection included in 8Bit Box, actually is a team game for 4 or 6 players, with the players forming two teams of athletes competing in a total of 10 different sports events. Each of the players controls his own athlete, and each athlete possesses his own contingent of energy which he may spend in the hope of winning as many events as possible.
Already the graphic design of this game module is rather cute, with the gameboard being constructed of different sport event tiles to form a big stadium with running tracks and scorekeeping tables. During the course of the game the sports events will be revealed one by one, with the players moving from one event to the next like in a real decathlon.
16 different sports events are included in Stadium, ranging from classic track and field athletics like relay race or pole jumping to other disciplines like fencing, riding, swimming or beach volleyball. In effect, each of these disciplines is a little microgame, following its own set of rules on which the medals will be distributed. However, all the disciplines have more or less in common that once again a programming mechanism is employed, this time with the players using their their controllers to program how much energy they want their athletes to spend. In some disciplines the results of the team players are added, whereas in other disciplines other player materials like dice may be needed. However, in the end always a winning athlete or team will be determined, scoring points for the team in view of the total victory.
Even though the disciplines are pretty straightforward, the team at IELLO managed to create a collection of 16 different sports events which are different enough in order not to feel too repetitive. In some disciplines the players in a team even have to discuss a strategy how they want to approach the task, whereas other disciplines give an opportunity for some athletes to pause in order to gain back some energy. Due to the rather quick solution of each sports event the game keeps going at a good pace, and so the atmosphere of participating in a very special kind of decathlon is created. Once again a nice homage game, this time in view of the very early sports games in which computer players used to scrap their joysticks…
So, what are my thoughts of the grand total? Taken together, the basic pack of 8Bit Box with the three included games must be seen as a unique tribute to the old age computer consoles, not only relying on a modular system but actually taking up the whole spirit of the old console games in the included boardgame modules. As indicated above, the games can mostly be seen as an homage of the old computer age, and in a way it also feels this way during the gameplay. The decisions for the players are easy and quick, and downtime is kept at a minimum. The game modules are sufficiently different to offer enough variety regarding the application of the programming mechanism, catering for different tastes among the players. If you do not take the whole project too seriously, this effort to make a fusion of boardgames with the long-past first era of playing consoles certainly is an interesting experiment.
IELLO is planning to continue it's line with 3 new console games next year. The first of them will be the two player cooperative game Double Rumble, a reminder of the old Streetfighter game.
The rest of the afternoon I spent in halls 4, 5 and 6, looking especially among smaller publishers to see whether they have brought some interesting games along. Here I made a rather interesting find at the booth of ECLIPSE EDITORIAL, a Spanish company which had run a successful Kickstarter for the second edition of the piracy game Skull Tales: Full Sail!
The game Skull Tales: Full Sail! actually is more than just a "nomal" pirate-themed boardgame, but it is actually a whole piracy experience since each mission the players undertake will face them with many details of a pirate's life. There is a phase in which the players move with their ship among the high seas, there are land adventures with combat and exploring, and there are ports to visit with many thematic fitting events and actions.
I cannot comment here on the details of gameplay, but with all game elements coming together, a game may well run for 4 to 5 hours. As it seems the designers have put a real high degree of care into the game to make the different game components work together, giving each of the game phases its own meaning during the game. Of course the centerpiece are the land adventures which will confront the players with combat and many different scenarios, but the sailing and port phases also have their impact on the outcome of an adventure. Furthermore, games of Skull Tales: Full Sail! are intended to be played in a campaign, and so the game comes with a detailed campaign book featuring 10 missions which are linked by an overarching story.
Quite interesting is also the fact that Skull Tales: Full Sail! is a semi-cooperative game. On the one hand the players will have to stick together because many of the adventures on sea and during land exploration will be much easier to solve if they cooperate. However, just like real pirates, the players will have to watch their backs because there will aways be someone who may be envious if a player is particularly successful. For example, one player will assume the role of captain, but it is possible for other players to confront that player in a duel, thus initiating a mutiny and - if succesful - assuming the role of the captain. The captain's position gives a player the power to make certain decisions, and of course the captain also gets a larger part of the spoils, so that there are really some benefits associated with this title.
I have rarely seen a boardgame which seems to have so much playing depth regarding the implementation of the theme, and so the Kickstarter backers can be really looking forward to receive the final product. Talking about the Kickstarter, it is still possible to late-pledge to get the expanded game content with over 50 missions and over 100 finely detailed miniatures, and I was told that the production is well on time so that the delivery for Spring 2019 is still on schedule. From my perspective that's a real feat for a Kickstarter project of this size.
For the final landing of this day I chose the booth of MEDUSA games, taking a closer look at a game which I had seen in the newsshow.
Some of you may still remember the old adventure movie Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes. A long title indeed, but it is an unforgettable movie of my south because it was one of these humorous epic adventure films in which many characters came together for an airplane race in the year 1910. Now finally two boardgame designers have discovered this background story to be a good theme for a game, and so Magnificent Flying Machines puts 2 to 6 players into the dangerous pilot seats of air pioneers.
The game itself operates on the players rolling special-crafted to make checks for taking off, flying and landing, but there are a lot of ways in which the players can mitigate the results if some fitting symbols may be missing. There are spare parts to be taken along, special action cards, pilot skills and plane characteristics which all can be taken into consideration, and it is exactly this love for detail which makes Magnificent Flying Machines a rather entertaining air-racing game. The players really have to do the best to keep their machines together, and just in the spirit of the old move there even are some possibilities for sabotage among the flying gentlemen - provided the players are inclined to use these optional playing materials.
Instead of being a one flight race, the game gets really interesting by the fact that the players will have to make stopovers all along the racing route, taking along and delivering passengers and cargo and repairing and refueling their planes. There are also the changing weather conditions which need to be considered, and in the end the game will not automatically be won by the first player to reach the last space of the route, but instead by the player who was able to collect most victory points along the way.
To my mind this is a rather charming air-racing game with a high entertainment value!
Many greetings from the whole G@mebox team! See you back here tomorrow!!!
Here we go. And here I am. As last year, I am joining Frank and Ralf for at least two days. And help is needed, I heard that too.
With the benefit of hindsight, I have to admit that my plans for just one day at SPIEL18 were a little bit - how shall I put it - too ambitious! If you would like to take a quick look at my event badger map for today you can easily understand what I mean.
Looking it the other way around I have to state, that the creativity of the game authors seems to be apparently endless. They invent lots of fascinating new boardgame ideas and mechanics year after year. Luckily a large part of them is presented here in Essen at the SPIEL and I am able to regard these novelties with curiosity. You may understand, that I was not able to overcome temptation, when I scrolled through the BGG Essen Preview with more than 1200 new boardgames.
Strolling through the halls it's like time travelling and changing the plane of reality at the same time. At one booth you find yourselves in medieval times waving a laser sword and around the corner It is the year 2849, and humanity has harnessed the power of the pulsars. Disturbing and fascinating likewise!
At my first stop I found myself in the year 783 AD as a jarl of a Viking Clan.
In Lindisfarne players control the fate of a Viking clan. They try to bring the most prestige to their clans to win the game. Well, known as raiders of the sea the Viking clans attack the countries of western Europe in order to gain this prestige. The game is made of 6 expeditions, each one is composed of several rounds and each player may choose one of two actions in every round: Prepare to depart and return to the village. The gameboard is composed of three parts and represents a nautical map. A player who wants to prepare to depart will roll as many dice as he has Viking tokens and attributes at least one die to one of the three boards by placing a Viking token on this board below the corresponding die value.
If he is the first player to do so, he places his token on the open line that is the furthest north. If he is already present on the board new tokens are added to the same line, if a die value is already occupied, the following token is stacked on the previous one. When the first player has finished adding tokens to the chosen board, the next player will roll the dice, and so on.
Every player only owns 6 Viking tokens at the beginning of the game, so the more tokens he uses in one round, the fewer dice he is able to roll in his next turn. Adding the tokens is a struggle for supremacy on the three boards. The evaluation of the boards takes place, when all players are returned to the village and an expedition ends. There are two returning options. Either a player can decide to return freely, gaining one rune token (these tokens may modify a die result by +/-1) for every Viking token he has left this round (the first player to do so will be the new fist player), or a player is forced to return, because he has no Viking tokens left.
For each board the player with the lead will be determined in various ways. On the first board the player with the highest total becomes the leader, on the second board the player with the longest suit in the same line and on the third board the one with the highest stack of tokens. Players will harvest the fruits of their labour at the end of an expedition by choosing one of the corresponding two destination cards of the board or drawing two objective cards, picking one of them instead. These cards are the ones bringing prestige to the clans. Sometimes they have multiple ways to support the Vikings during a turn or when they are taken. Otherwhiles, some cards have special effects at the end of the game or a certain set of cards score prestige points by creating a fresco or fulfilling an objective. The game ends after the 6th expedition and the player with the most prestige points win the game.
I like Lindisfarne a lot. It catches my attention because of the great graphics. But when I realised that this game is an awesome mixture of a dice rolling and set collection game, I was very curious about the gameplay. As far as I can judge now, I have to say the RUNES EDITIONS did a perfect job presenting this great game in such a little box.
Leaving the booth of RUNES EDITIONS with some seawater left in the boots my way through the halls leads me along fields of green, dragons and dwarfs. The arrangement of the booth´ in the several halls of the Spiel18 sometimes seems to me like a magic maze. Trying to find a quit place to take a rest after my exhausting raid guides me to a new neon-clad challenge.
Sleep well and see you tomorrow!
Day 3: We are still here, tired, but we are here! And we will take you with us for another crazy day at SPIEL 2018. After all that years, I still cannot understand, why people are beginning their day with queuing for bargains. But it is true. Right after the doors have opened, a queue is beginning to form in front of the entrances of all the bargain booths. ASMODEE continues the tradition of HEIDELBERGER in former years and always has the biggest queue.
But why are people doing this right after they have entered? Do they like to carry heavy bags all day long? Do they fear they might miss a bargain? I mean there are 1400 new games here in Essen this year, and people are queuing for bargains right from the start? But let's leave this bargain discussion and move forward to the first meeting of today. The Italian publisher CRANIO CREATIONS came to Essen with two large boxes for the family and serious gamers and two smaller funny games. The most anticipated one was Newton. When I arrived at the booth I learnt that the game was already sold out on Friday morning. So I thought it would be a good idea, to cover their second large box Walls of York today:
Walls of York is a city building game for the whole family. Each player has their own modular player board, consisting of 4 4x4 map tiles. At set-up this map is assembled in a way that every player has the same map.
It's the players' aim to build up a city wall to protect the most precious parts of the city. On their turns players roll a special die that shows us how many wall pieces can be placed and how they have to be arranged. For example a die could demand to place all wall pieces in one line or to build up a corner. Before closing a city, players have to make sure that within the selected perimeter there are at least the buildings of the Kings Decree.
Kings decree sounds good, but how do player know what their king is asking for them? Do determine the wish of the king there is a cool Kings Tower in the game. At set-up 3 normal D6 dice are put into the tower, one in each of the three grooves. Each groove represents on building type, so a result of a 3 in the church groove, demands the players to include 3 churches within the city walls.
The Kings Decree is the minimum requirement, but players can expand the city to their wishes. Two more symbols on the map are important for us: coins and Vikings. As soon as a city wall is closed, the player takes as many coins and Viking tokens as there are symbols within his or her city wall. However, it is not always the best strategy to make the city as large as possible. And there are two reasons for that:
Firstly, a player, who declared his city enclosed, is no longer in need of new city walls. But he takes on rolling the die. Instead of city walls, he receives coins from the supply. If you know that the player with the most coins wins the game, there is a good reason to enclose a city as soon as possible. The second reason is that the player with the most Viking tokens will be invaded, resulting in a loss of victory points in the final scoring.
Two ages are to be played and in between an invasion takes place. Unfortunately, that invasion ends with all wall pieces torn down in pieces, so we must start at the beginning. There is a slight change with the Viking tokens, because in the second age the player with least Viking tokens gets additional victory points.
Walls of York is a family game with easy rules. A lot of players played it at the convention and started the game after just a few minutes of explaining. The highlight for the children is undoubtedly the tower for the King's decree. Actually it isn't necessary. You could just roll the dice. But it is a nice feature and really upgrade the game. The game itself plays fluently. Although there are some tactical decisions to be made, it is more a game for gut feelings. In other words: a good family game.
But next to Newton CRANIO CREATIONS had something else present. In a special booth they presented the prototype for their current Kickstarter campaign, ending in this year's November. Barrage is the name for this game, and it's a heavy gamers game. Unfortunately I had no time to play the game, but I took some pictures for you, so you might have a better impression of the game, it's really huge:
A family game is good, but today I was here without my children, so I changed the genre and wanted to play something more challenging for me. A jailbreak, that would be something good. Thus I took seat on a table at JUMPING TURTLE to find the plans, discover a snitch and escape from the prison:
The Snitch is in the same line as The Resistance. A game in which you must identify a snitch among the other players. Or maybe you are the snitch yourself. The problem is that you cannot know at the beginning of the game. You can't even be sure that there is a snitch at all. But while the game is processing you must draw new cards from a draw pile and you might draw the snitch card from that pile too. However, at setup a part of the cards are shuffled together with the snitch. After that two cards are set aside. So it might be the snitch, or it isn't. No one knows for sure.
If there is a snitch, the cards is taken in the hand like any other card. And from now on, this player plays against the other players. Of course, the snitch card is never played, because that would identify the snitch immediately. Instead the player with the snitch tries to sabotage the schemes of the other players.
Five of those schemes we have to successfully complete, before we come to the end game, the jailbreak itself. Let's see how that works. A scheme is simply a card from the hand of a player that is played face up on the table. A small icon in a corner tells us how many helpers in form of cards are needed to fulfil the scheme. Now, on their turns players play exactly one card face down from their hand underneath the scheme of one of their direct neighbours and say the name of the person, or to be more precisely a prison contact, on the card. They can give hints to other player, spread rumours about the snitch and even lie about the name. Of course, this makes only sense, if the player is the snitch in person.
When there are enough helpers, another card is drawn from the supply, all cards are shuffled and then one by one the cards are revealed. The scheme is fulfilled, if there are not two cards with the same person among the cards and a maximum of one backstab. Backstabs can also be found on the cards, but in contrary to the name of the persons, the players aren't allowed to talk about it.
If the scheme was a failure, the players got caught and the owner of the failed scheme take the scheme as an item. You see the cards are multifunctional. Items can be quite useful for the further play, for example there is an item you can play for preventing adding a random card to the completed scheme. In that case it might be possible to identify the snitch, because in case of a failure it should be one of the neighbours of the owner of the scheme (because no one else can play cards underneath that scheme and only the snitch would have an interest in that). However, if the scheme failed because of too many backstabs, you can only identify the snitch, if only one player had played the cards. And even then it might be a mistake, because it is difficult to keep all names and cards you have played in your mind.
In the end game, there is a countdown in which it might be possible to keep off the snitch from sabotage. But what might happen, if it isn't the snitch? If you play cleverly, you'll never know for sure. The Snitch is slightly more complex than The Resistance. And there might be more hints to identify the snitch. But I think especially if players aren't familiar with the game, they won't see this and use the items unwisely. Most certainly we did, because we terribly lost the game and the snitch (we had one) had an easy job.
After my failure, I went over to met Tom Delmé, owner of JUMPING TURTLE to talk with him about the balance in the game. Indeed he explained that the balance in The Snitch was the biggest problem. But after the snitch won all games at the beginning of the design process, they did a lot of balancing and are now proud that they found the right balance. But, as assumed, there is a learning curve for all players. When all players have played the game a few times, the winning chance for the snitch decreases significantly.
OK, I will try that in the future, but I wanted a success immediately. That said, Tom invited me to a game of Fast Shot, a tiny flicking game. In contrast to the bulky and expensive flicking games already on the market, the flicking mechanism in Fast Shot is reduced to its basic. No western saloons, trees or weird sorcerers. Just a few wooden cylinders, two discs and a goal, and multiple scenarios and game variants. But, although Tom assured that he wouldn't be good I lost this game too. Probably not my day...
After two defeats I thought it would better to just look and talk for a while. So I went over to hall 2 where I wanted to talk with Marcin Svierkot, CEO of AWAKEN REALMS and designer himself.
Maybe you already read my review about Lords of Hellas, a great miniature area control game by Adam Kwapinski. The game was released in the last year, but here in Essen it was presented for the first time. But that was not what I was heading for, because I already know the game and wrote the review. But Adam Kwapinski also designed the next release of AWAKEN REALMS, Nemesis, in cooperation with REBEL.
I played the prototype with Adam two years ago at the convention and I also let you take part in my experiences in our coverage of that year. So you maybe wanna check this too to know more about the game. It was a good Kickstarter campaign a year ago, and Marcin told me that they are now just before shipping and the game would be released in December. Since I played the prototype they changed the game a lot. First and foremost this can be seen in the material, the great miniatures and the cards. But Marcin also told me that they slightly changed mechanisms of the game, so it is now perfectly balanced. Here in Essen they already showed the final production, so I took some pictures for you to take part in the visible changes:
Finally, Marcin showed me their newest project, Tainted Grail, a gloomy game of survive and develop with a unique, dice-less fighting mechanism. It is played over several centuries with developing characters. The character traits unlock new skills and let you find new deckbuilding strategies. Also there is a strong story, written up by one of the best Polish fantasy authors. And the pre-Kickstarter prototype is already awesome, isn't it. If you wanna take part in the campaign, you only have to wait a short time, it will start in late 2018 or early 2019:
As tonight is the switch to winter time, I have one more hour to write. So let's quickly carry on and have a look at the new releases from ARES GAMES:
As usual, Roberto Di Meglio was leading me through the novelties for this year. The first game was already sold out yesterday, so it was quite a success. Master of the Galaxy is a space colonization game with kind of deckbuilding or better bagbuilding mechanic. At setup each player receives a bag and puts 5 different coloured cubes into the bag. These cubes are resources that can be used to move in space and to improve the abilities of the players. On their turns, players just draw three resources from their bag and place them either on a planet to colonize, on routes between two planets to expand in the space or on cards to activate abilities. Of course, the colour of the resource must match the requirement of the card or route.
There are three winning conditions in the game: colonization by placing bases on the planets, technology success by reaching the max on one of the technology tracks and winning a conflict against an opponent's home planet. So players can follow different strategies, but in the end the luck while drawing from the bag really determines what you can do in your turn. But, of course you can force your luck. Especially the actions on the cards let you adjust the bag, or better what you put into the bag. So you can build up a bag that is stronger in one and weaker in another resource. An interesting game concept, especially with so many cards to be developed.
The second game Roberto showed me was Battlestar Gallactica – Starship Battles. The game uses the same core mechanism as the quite successful Wings of Glory and Sails of Glory. But in space you can do some things, you cannot do on earth. As a result, there are new options in Battlestar Gallactica – Starship Battles like flying backwards. The core box is a starter deck, but it is already a complete game with different scenarios. The box comes with 4 ships, but of course more ships are already in process of planning. The ships are already painted, that's good for me, because there are still so many miniatures to be painted that I can't do any more.
Finally, we have a new game for the prize draw. Roberto gave us a copy of last year's Divinity Derby. Many thanks to Roberto and ARES GAMES.
But now, let's get some sleep for the final day and one last daily report tomorrow!
It's Ladies' Day!!!
Like in many years before my wife Nicole loves to accompany me into the halls during the last days of the SPIEL, and I am always looking forwards to her company because she is sure to pick out games which I might not even have noticed. So, let's see what happened today, and just like me you will be in for some surprising finds!
The first game our eyes fell upon right in the morning was The Tales of Ki-pataw, produced by MIZO GAMES in Taiwan. All I knew was that it was about different time travelers visiting a city to fulfil their individual missions, and looking at the artwork Nicole and I were strongly reminded of the anime movie The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. We liked that film, and seeing an empty table we instantly decided to sit down for our first gaming session.
To point it out right away, the game does not feature any fancy mechanism for time travelling, and indeed a first look at the gameboard with its different places and the actions available at each place may provoke the conclusion that it is a simple game of movement and collection.
However, sometimes there is more to discover than what might be assumed on first sight, and so the problems for the players already start with the way in which they can move their characters. Each character in the game possesses its own individual deck of cards, being made up from Healthy, Cold, Hungry and Mission cards. At the beginning of the game and at the end of each round a player refills his hand of cards to three with cards from his characters deck, trying to use these cards in the most efficient way during his next upcoming turn.
The Health, Cold and Hungry cards all can be used to move a player's playing piece, but only the Health cards actually allow for two movement steps, whereas the other two cards only allow for one step each. So, a player actually may wish to remove the slower cards and get more Health cards to move quicker on the gameboard, and he may do so by visiting certain places, for example a restaurant in which a Hungry card can be remove from a player's deck and is replaced with a Healthy card.
However, while many places offer possibilities for card replacements, these places often also offer an alternative action. These actions may be the taking of food cards or resource cubes, and all these may be needed by the players to fulfil a Mission card which they may have in their hand, bringing together the required at one specific place on the gameboard in order to solve the mission card.
The collecting of two fulfilled Mission cards is part of each player's game goal, along with the individual goal of each of the characters in the game. So, an individual goal may be to gather a full collection of different resource cubes, whereas an other goal may be to visit a certain amount of places and leave a marker there.
A player who first fulfills all his goals will have won the game, but an other player actually may share in his victory if he has come upon the playing piece of the winner's character several times during the game. At each of these instances the players the active player may give the other player one of his character tokens to be placed at the other player's character sheet, and the player with most tokens on another player's sheet actually will be that character's ally who will join in case of victory.
However, getting rid of a player's character tokens also reveals special power spaces on his own character sheet. If a player spends a resource, he may cover one of his revealed special power symbols with it in order to perform a special action, and these special actions usually are tuned to stand in line with the character. So, the witch is able to teleport etc.
Nicole and I were taken by surprise just how much thinking this game requires. I had noticed the game during my preparations for the SPIEL, but nonetheless I was surprised when Nicole went for a playtesting right away. It turned out to be a quite interesting race challenge which offers a nice combination of deckbuilding, movement and resource management, and due to the player characters and their abilities there is also a nicely thematic overarching story.
Game bagged - it was one of the last 7 copies remaining! But was this race at the beginning of the day an omen for the whole convention day?
Well, the convention halls were quite full, but nonetheless we first did quite a bit of walking, checking out the one or other game but with no luck regarding a free gaming table. However, we were lucky at the booth of HURRICAN GAMES, and here Nicole once again showed quite a diversified taste regarding game themes.
At the SPIEL '17 I have been able to play a game of Kero, designed by Prospero Hall and scheduled for release about one year later in summer 2018. As a matter of fact, this playtesting session back in 2017 had left me craving for the release of the game, and so I didn't object at all when Nicole sat down for a round of this post-apocalyptic dice chucker.
In contrast to games like Dice Forge or Monster Lands, Kero is a game of real-time dice rolling, with the players trying to get to the desired combination of results without wasting too much precious sand in their sandtimer. Sand? Well, in Kero we better talk about fuel, because the sandtimers actually are armoured tank trucks which keep the most precious commodity of the year 2471: Kerosene.
This doesn't just remind of the Mad Max II movie, but the whole setting of the game actually seems to be closely connected to the post-apocalyptic scenario of the movie. Well, there is one difference, the game doesn't feature any combat or brutality, but otherwise the plot is similar: each player is the head of one of two opposing clans, and the players send their clan members out on missions to gather Kero, Mission Cards and Tuarek tiles and to explore new territories in the hope of finding a new home for their clan.
Taking turns, the players roll a hand of 5 Resource dice, showing the basic resources of the game: food, bricks, metal, recruits and jerrycans with Kero. As soon as a player starts rolling the dice, his truck with the sandtimer needs to be put upright to allow the sand to flow. The player may continue rolling some or all of his dice as long as he wishes, or until his sand runs out. However, that's a result which should be avoided, because getting stranded without fuel in this hostile world means that the whole turn is lost and that the sandtimer will get only a minimum refill for the player's next turn.
So, it's better to stop rolling in time, keeping as much Kero in the truck as possible. However, even if a player has enough Kero left, things do not always go as planned, and so a dice which lands on a fire result actually is useless and gets locked. Depending on how long the player continues rolling his dice, this may happen to several or even all of a player's dice - so much about handling fuel with some care!
But what are the resources used for? Most importantly they can be used for purchasing Mission cards from a row of 6 cards which is constantly available. These cards list different combinations of resources, and a player can use fitting dice results to purchase one or more of these cards during his turn. Some of these cards will provide Victory Points, whereas others may provide a variety of benefits, ranging from jerrycans or Tuarek tiles to permanenent abilities or the possibility to place a clan member on a Territory tile.
Especially the permanent abilities are quite handy, because they offer the players possibilities to enhance their dice rolls even further. Some of these abilities give the players additional resource symbols, whereas others even may provide one of the three special dice. These dice show higher quantities of resources and are more focused on individual resource types, so they are quite handy when a player wants to generate specific resources. It's very neat to have one or more of these dice permanently in your dicepool, because otherwise a player has to discard a jerrycan for purchasing a special dice just for one turn. But beware - even these special dice feature the dreaded fire symbol, locking them without providing any resources.
In this terms the Tuarek tokens are a safe bet. Living as nomads of the Wasteland, a player may acquire Tuarek tokens which grant him a one-time benefit. Once again, these benefits can be quite helpful for many different occasions, e.g. granting additional special dice for rolling, additional resources or even a refill for the player's sandtimer truck. Even though the tokens must be discarded after use, they can give the player a real edge regarding his action phase, and so the players will strive for gathering these tokens either through Mission cards or by spending jerrycans.
Talking about jerrycans, these are the most important source of Kero for the players' trucks. At the beginning of his turn, a player may spend one or two jerrycans for refueling his sandtimer truck, and the refueling procedure is handled by the opposing player rolling all 8 normal and special resource dice which are available in the game. The player now will try to get fire results on all 8 dice, and for as long as he takes the refueling player may hold his truck upside down, giving him back precious time.
Actually there is one more rule associated to the fire results. If a player actually ended up rolling two or more fire symbols during his turn, he will have to discard the rightmost Mission card from the cardrow after spending his resources on purchasing cards. Afterwards the cardrow will be replaced with new cards from the deck, giving the opposing player a fresh choice of six available Mission cards for his turn.
However, a total of 3 hidden Scoring cards have been shuffled into each third of the playing deck, and whenever a Scoring card appears the game is stopped to evaluate the four available Territory tiles. Using Mission cards and resources, the players should have placed some Clan Member tokens onto the available Territory tiles, because during the scoring these tiles will be assigned to the player with the highest amount of clan members on each individual tile. The territories will count for Victory Points when the game is over, some of them for a fixed amount, whereas others will give the player points depending on the type of Mission cards he has collected. Furthermore, the territories of the Wastelands may contain ruins from the ancient civilization, and in these ruins the players can find jerrycans and Tuarek tokens.
The game ends all too quick with the 3rd and final Scoring card, coming to a more or less expected end of the road. Now the players have to add up their Victory Points from Mission cards and Territory tiles, and the clan with most Victory Points will be declared the winner.
Despite being a real-time game, Kero doesn't turn into a hectic rush. The flow of time (and sand) is easily manageable by the players, especially if a player first has checked the row of Mission cards to see which resources he will need to roll to obtain the desired cards. But of course luck is inevitable in a dice rolling game, and so even the best-laid plans may fail.
However, a fact which I really like in Kero is the way in which the game offers some balancing for the luck connected with the dice rolling. Card abilities, Tuarek tokens and additional dice effectively increase a player's control over his clan's fate, and so the players can mitigate the risks they are taking. For my mind this balancing is very well done, perhaps apart from the fact that the appearance of the Scoring cards may be at some very unlucky moments. Especially if the third and last Scoring card is way up in the cardpile, the game can be over much quicker than expected by the players, and so a player who had been trying to follow a larger strategy may end up empty handed.
Still, the rules associated with the consumption and refilling of Kero work quite well, putting just the right amount of pressure onto the players without forcing them to make rash decisions. This gives Kero a different take on real-time gaming in comparison to the group experiences which can be found in games like Escape or Zombie 15, and in it's way Kero is quite charming because of its light-footed pace.
So, let's continue our stroll after this cool game. Changing from the post-apocalyptic plains of hall 3 once again into the artic zone of hall 5, let's meet some Plucky Penguins, Nicole's next find of the day.
Well, during our game with these cute black and white flippers Nicole and I have come to the conclusion that the penguins in this game by MAGIC WORKS GAMES from Italy are also rather cheeky - striving to feed their colleagues to an orca or the fearsome hungry walrus in order to become the Last Peng Standing (or paddling)…
So, the cute Plucky Penguins indeed is an arena-style game of player elimination, with the players trying to avoid their two arch enemies by neither staying in the water nor moving too close towards the land-bound walrus. However, the penguins here seem to be really resourceful, and so the players do not not only move their penguins around, but instead they will have to use a wide range of rather cutely illustrated Action cards which allow them to conduct all kinds of mischief like moving opposing penguins, initiating a walrus attack or stealing someone else's fish.
Fish can be collected at four holes in the ices, but there is always a danger that the walrus will approach, since the walrus always moves towards the player with most fish at the end of each round. So why bother about fish? Well, at the end of each round the walrus does not only move, but each penguin being either in the walrus influence sphere (spaces neighbouring the walrus) or in the water will have to draw a Walrus or Orca card respectively, telling him what the large mouthed menace is up to. Sometimes the penguins may get away being lucky, but sometimes the unlucky penguins will be eaten, effectively removing the player from the game.
The effects of such a card sometimes can be avoided by paying a tribute in fish, and there are also instant action cards which may be played at any time, possibly allowing a player to save his penguin in the last possible instant…
As can be guessed, Plucky Penguins is highly depended especially on the Action cards and in which way they are used by the players. Using them in the right way may move unlucky competitors right into the grasp of the two killing machines, provided the timing is right so that these players do not get a turn before the end round phase. In this aspect Plucky Penguins is a typical arena game, putting a player quite a bit up to his drawing luck if he wants to keep his penguin alive.
The sometimes hilarious artwork of Chiara Vian certainly is the biggest asset of this cute game. Like most arena-style games Plucky Penguins has no solution for the player elimination and the resulting downtime for the inactive players, but on the other hand the game is not intended as a serious challenge. Instead it stands for changing alliances and funny moments, and with these attributes it's certainly quite entertaining.
Resuming our round, a good adventure game certainly is something neither Nicole nor I can skip, especially if it comes with cute graphics. Right upon entering hall 2 today Nicole had been keen on getting a closer look at Tales of Glory by ANKAMA, and luckily I had been able to arrange for a demo session with Pierre-Henri this afternoon.
Tales of Glory is a tile laying game in which the players acquire different sorts of Adventure tiles from a common display. Each player starts with his own individual Hero tile, and the newly acquired tile must be arranged around him, always fitting with their exits to the already placed tiles.
However, the fitting of the tiles to the existing outlay is not just a question of the exits, but furthermore the players have to decide where the connection is made, since there may be the possibility to get resources like potions, gold or a key from the connecting points when the connection is made.
These resources are actually needed to pay for the placement of tiles, along with fulfilling minimum requirements regarding the Strength or Magic Skills of the player's hero which also must be fulfilled. In total, 4 different types of Adventure tiles exist, and the requirements for getting the individual tiles may differ quite considerably depending on its type and content. Places and Treasures often will bolster a player's resource stockpile upon placement, whereas a tile with a Character often will serve as a trainer, allowing a player to increase his hero's Strength of Magic skill level, provided he can pay for the placement. However, the ultimate goal of the players is the placement of Monster tiles, since these are the ones which provide Glory points, the victory points of this game. Since three different stacks of Adventure tiles will be used one after the other during the game, the monsters' difficulty will scale according with the heroes increasing their skill levels, this keeping a challenge for the whole duration of the game.
A quite nice extra also are the Chest symbols which can be found on some tiles. When a player completes a Key symbol on one of the tile's exists by placing a fitting adjacent tile, the chest will be opened, providing the player with extra resources. There are also possibilities to get extra key tokens during the game, thus giving a player a nice opportunity to open a chest even if a tile has been placed much earlier.
Some of the Characters which can be found on the tile actually provide end game bonuses for earning additional glory points, allowing the players to count specific types of tiles like Monsters or Places which they may have added to their outlay in the course of the game. In addition, the game contains a set of additional Quest tiles which will be used in the advanced rules, allowing each player to get two secret tiles are the beginning of the game. These tiles also may provide end game bonuses or other interesting benefits, but a player may keep them secret until he decides to play them, thus leaving his competitors some uncertainty which kinds of bonuses he may still have up his sleeve.
Tales of Glory is a light adventure game which can convince with its versatile mechanism of tile placement, giving the players an interesting challenge how to develop his character in the best way in the 10 rounds of play. Since the Adventure tiles are acquired from an open display instead of a draft or random draw, the players have a very high degree of control regarding the tiles they want to acquire, giving them the possibility to plan ahead if no other player intervenes by purchasing the tile before. The game plays very smoothly, and with the cute artwork by Miguel Coimbra the game seems to be the ideal companion for light adventures with a bit of thinking.
Shortly before the ending of our SPIEL day we were passing the booth of REBEL from Poland, and here Nicole saw a wallpaper which instantly made her check out the game. Well, as it turned out this shouldn't have surprised me much, because my wife loves planting and potting and so the game Blossoms thematically really matched her hobby interests.
The game Blossoms was not only a nice find due to its thematic background, but actually it's a good 2-player set collection game in which the players compete to have the most beautiful flowers in their collections.
Six different types of flowers exist in the game, each of which being printed on 9 Flower cards which are all shuffled into a random drawing deck. At the beginning of the game four random cards will be placed at the four flower pots on the table, and at the beginning of each player turn a player turns over the top card of the deck, placing the card on one of the four potted flowers if there is a match. This way the flower grows in size, and the bigger the flower the more points it will score when it is harvested.
A player actually may continue revealing cards in the hope to get a nice flower to harvest, and the harvesting is a free optional action when a player stops drawing cards. However, the whole pottery has to stop as soon as the player reveals a flower card which is not present in one of the four flower pots, thus losing him his right to reveal more cards in to harvest a flower in this turn.
So, Blossoms is a push your luck game when it comes to reveal cards from the deck, but since the players have information how many cards of a flower type still are available in the deck. This way they know approximately how much luck they may need to get more cards of a specific type, but this all may still be fruitless if the luck goddess decides otherwise.
However, every good gardener knows some special tricks, and so each player possesses three special action tokens, each of which may be used once in the game. When a player plays such a token, he may chose one of four different special actions, ranging from ignoring an unfitting flower card to drawing a new hand card or even harvesting plus adding a hand card to the harvested flower. Indeed, each player possesses two random Flower cards at the beginning of the game, and so the players may have additional incentives to go for specific flowers during the first half on the game…
In the end the players will score for each harvested flower, getting most points if a flower actually had grown to an imposing size of six cards. However, it's not just the flower size that matters, but also variety. So, the variety of all flowers collected by a player also will score him victory points, and in the end the player with the greenest thumb will become the most skilled gardener.
Once again a nicely thematic game which was an instant buy for us. However, this purchase actually was a bit more difficult than expected, because the game was actually sold out. Luckily we were able to obtain one of the spare demo copies on booth, but games being sold out was a phenomenon which was quite common at the SPIEL today. Indeed, the show's visitors must have been in an excessive shopping spree, because I cannot remember so many games being sold out already at a SPIEL Saturday.
This is even more astonishing due to the fact that the average games prices seem to have risen since last year, but this didn't keep the visitors from carrying out huge amounts of games. And talking about a huge amount of games, our SPIEL 18 stack of freshly acquired new games is once again quite impressive - Winter can come!
And just like the headline of today's report indicated, this brings me to the end of my reports from the SPIEL 18. I will have to be back in office next week, and so I won't be able to do any in depth reporting tomorrow. However, I am sure that Ralf will have quite a bit of nice coverage for you to read, so don't forget to come back tomorrow for the grand final!
This year my clear favourite game is Monster Lands from SECOND GATE GAMES. For me this game is the nearly perfect tactical dice placement game. I think that it's important for such a game to give the players an interesting choice of tactical options, because otherwise it would all come down to a bit of dice rolling with re-roll skills and modifiers. However, from my perspective Monster Lands is much more because it requires the players to consider timing aspects as well as managing their whole clan on an economical side, and with all of these elements falling in place Monster Lands feels like a true flagship game for this game category.
Once again this SPIEL has led me to meet many gaming enthusiasts from all around the world, and for Nicole and me the evening ended with some really nice company. The team of PAT PIPER from Hong Kong were our guests this evening, and together we celebrated that their game Crossroads of Heroes had sold out today!
See you all back here next year!!!
Greetings from Essen!!!
Nicole & Frank
Hi folks, I am back again!
Unfortunately, I don´t live in Essen, the gamers capital. Therefore, I had to drive back to my hometown near Aachen and this took me about one and a half hour! Sounds not that much, but this travelling time misses finishing my report in the end. For that reason, I continue writing today and you may go along with me on the journey through the SPIEL18. Next stop: Dicetopia!
The City of Dicetopia is a seething cauldron of petty thieves, devious corporations and ruthless smugglers. The right place for recreation! It is a strategic boardgame for 2 – 4 players and combines a mixture of area control, dice manipulation, worker placement, and secret objectives. The combination of these mechanics sounds quite complicating, but nevertheless the gameplay is pretty easy. Players take turns swapping one of their agents from their Faction Board with a die in the Neighbourhood on the City Board and performing it´s corresponding action afterwards. The City Board is setup by a dice roll of 30 dice which are randomly put on the spaces of the dice board. Every player has 6 agents at the beginning of the game, thus the game ends after each player has put 6 dice on their Faction Board. There are three ways to score points. The players gain points equal to the total value of dice placed on their Faction Board (for that reason it is useful to choose a die with a high value). The Player with the most agents in each of the 6 neighbourhoods receives 5 points (players should also check where they place their agents). And last but not least, players receive points from their secret missions’ cards.
So far, so good. But swapping an agent with a die and counting points, that´s all? Of course not. The crucial factor of the gameplay is the deployment of the neighbourhood actions and the abilities of the factions. By using the neighbourhood action, the opponents may manipulate dice and agents by swapping them between the neighbourhoods and/or the Faction Board, or they even are allowed to reroll certain dice every time an agent is swapped. Furthermore, some actions make the substitution of a mission card possible. Actually, the unique faction ability overrides the normal game rules. Although they are most of the times only usable once per game, they are a mighty weapon, too. Sometimes they support the player itself by changing the value of one of his dice by +1 or -1, for example. On the contrary they may influence the action of an opponent by choosing the neighbourhood for another players turn.
The gameplay of Dicetopia will change during a game. In the first phase of the game players have to regulate their own objectives, but when the game moves on, the opponent goals might become obvious. At this time a player has to decide, if he wants to destroy the achievement of the other player or build up his own faction board. This is aggravated by the fact that one never knows if the other players really show which target they really follow up!
I think the author of the game Tobias Hall has developed a multi-layered debut game in which the combination of the single mechanics are well thought out. So, thumbs up for Dicetopia. Can´t wait to playtest the game with some bluffing and devious opponents.
Now, my boots are dry and I can carry on the hiking through the fair. When I arrived in the new hall 6 you can´t believe what I saw. A huge necromancer with a green fireball in the one hand and a large wand with the head of a fish on the top in the other. If you play Zombicide from time to time, you can imagine that I was scared witless.
Instead of running away I decided to run a risk an take a quick look at the living dead.
As I can tell you now, it was the correct decision because Rise Of The Necromancers is the right game for all who sometimes wants to be the evil one. Players find themselves taking the part of an aspiring necromancer trying to become the new necromancer king. The players have to prove that they are the most powerful, cunning and evil guy of them all. At the beginning of the game all necromancers start in the Valley of Souls with nearly no power. The only little help they may expect on their mean journey are the three apprentices escorting them. To become stronger, players have to collect resources by digging for corpses, entering dungeons or libraries, or conquer cities. The more land they dominate the more strength they get in fighting and using spells.
Rise Of The Necromancers is an area control and dice rolling game with variable player powers. The artwork, the minis and the other material is really amazing. As the two game designers Thorbjorn H. Christensen and Christoffer Kyst told me, the gameplay is quite simple, because every action the player takes is resolved immediately.
The players on the table confirmed that and they added that the rules are indeed easy to learn. This is rather unusual for a game that looks that complex and offers so many possibilities! So, I am eager to figure it out!
For those who are interested in an updated look on my event badger map I show you the result of my efforts of the Friday.
It could have been worse!
Cheers, and game on!
Once again, welcome back! It's the last day of the convention and our coverage draws to a close. But still we are here and we still have many to report. As usual Sunday was our family day, so I hadn't any appointments. And we played a lot of Pokemon and toilet games this day, but in between two of the children games I managed to see the one or other game I was still interested in.
So let's begin our daily report of today with a stopover at RENEGADE GAME STUDIO:
The American publisher RENEGADE GAME STUDIO was founded in 2014 and attends Essen now for the third time. As it was founded by Scott Gaeta, a veteran in the game industry, the publisher grew fast and nowadays has many award-winning games in supply. Last year they still had some problems getting all the new products to Essen, but this year they managed to come to the fair with so many different games that one booth alone was not enough. I was invited to have a look at the new big boxes, so come with me for a short overview about these games:
Let's begin with Architects of the West Kingdom, which is quite high in the hotness at BGG at the moment. Consequently, it was already sold out on Friday. Basically the game is a worker investment game. It's the players' task to construct various landmarks to impress the king in the Carolingian Empire. It's a competitive game in which players not only collect raw material and build for their own, but can also interact with the other players to slow down their building activities. Architects of the West Kingdom seems to be a gamers' game with a lot of tactical decisions. As you can see in the picture, it is quite awesome and so I can easily understand the high ranking at BGG.
The second game they presented was Reykholt by Uwe Rosenberg that is in no way inferior to Architects of the West Kingdom as much as the artwork is concerned. In the game you can find some mechanisms that you might know from older games designed by the author, especially from Agricola. But it is much more a family game than most of those older games. And this also goes along with the funny theme: cultivating tomatoes, lettuce and carrots on Iceland. In fact, it is the players task to provide all summer tourists coming to Iceland with fresh vegetables. But you cannot only give them what you want. A tourist is a tourist and if you cannot satisfy him, he won't be back. So you must serve him what he demands. Only then it is possible to move forward on the VP track. Reykholt seems to be a solid game with easy rules that can easily played in one hour including an explanation of the rules. Still there are some tactical decisions to be made, typical Rosenberg.
And finally there is Passing through Petra, a trader game in which players compete for the attention of a huge caravan that slowly passes through Petra. The caravan is so long that there are never all products on sale and players have to plan the right moment to transact with the caravan. Most of the tracks are easy to understand, but the main and unique mechanism is the activity of the merchant pawn.
RENEGADE GAME STUDIOS really knows how to create games. All their new products are lovely designed and have great artwork. I am anxious to what that will still bring us in the next years.
But for now, let's leave the big publishers for a while and take a look at a lice game at BLACK BOX ADVENTURES:
In this funny game each player controls a family of lice and tries to become the dominant ruler. The lice spawn on monkeys that are frolicing around in the jungle. In the game the jungle is represented by a 8x8 grid board. At set-up the 19 apes are already put on their starting positions on this board. And each player starts on one of these monkeys with a queen and two worker lice.
Now, on their turns the players can first spawn new lice on monkeys with at least one of their lice. As everybody knows, lice breed like rabbits and the more lice you already have on a monkey the more lice will be added. After the spawn it is time to spread: players can either jump their lice to adjacent monkeys, bump a monkey any number of spaces by itching it or choose a monkey with at least 5 lice of an opponent to remove all those lice.
To win the game a player must reach certain colony destinations, with a colony being a monkey with three worker lice or more. After last year's Frutti die Mare, Itchy Monkey is the next funny animal game from BLACK BOX ADVENTURES. I think it is quite good for a family game, but if you want to have a bigger challenge, it also comes with monkey abilities that are triggered at certain conditions. There are 6 different kind of monkeys, but the publisher recommends not to put more than two of these abilities in one game.
Let's continue our coverage at the booth of LUDI CREATIONS. The Finnish publisher came with no really new games. But they presented a reprint of the successful Crisis that was out of stack for a while.
However, today I was more attracted by the small card game Mr. Carbagehead's Garden that was already available as a print and play version in 2016 but I haven't seen it before. So let's get into a short introduction:
Mr. Cabbagehead is a petty bourgeois man whose only wish is to win the annual Blue Ribbon Garden Club Contest. The club has strict guidelines for the scoring. First of all vegetables should be sorted and are only scored, if two vegetables of the same type are adjacent. But moreover: There are awards of Merit for particular achievements in the garden design, so a garden should follow a specific pattern, e.g. vegetables of the same kind in the 4 corners of the garden.
In the game, a player helps Mr. Cabbagehead tending the garden. Mr. Cabbagehead's garden is originally a solo game, but there are rules included to play it with 2 players. Vegetables in form of cards are planted in a garden of a 3x6 pattern. Each turn the player can choose from three faced up vegetable cards. But he must “pay” for the vegetables. Well, buy is not exactly the right expression. You just put a bee from the supply to a Beehive tile, if you wanna take the leftmost card. On the other hand, if you take the rightmost card, you take a bee from the Beehive and place it back to the supply. But if you don't have a bee on the Beehive, you can't take the rightmost card. Only the card in the middle has no cost. Players also should be familiar with the scoring system, because in the end you get a bonus of 6 VP, if all bees are in your supply.
Then the player just places the vegetable on a free space of the garden. From now on, the position of the vegetable is fixed, it can only composed, but this means minus VP in the end. So what's the catch? Where is the challenge? The challenge are the vicious neighbours of Mr. Cabbagehead. These come in form of four cards with different characteristics. And they strike when Mr. Cabbagehead is on holiday, which occurs while drawing from the vegetable deck three times in the game. But you never know for sure which neighbour will come. Each time you draw a new vegetable, neighbour tokens are flipped and placed on the matching neighbour card. The neighbour with the most tokens on it strikes back when Mr. Cabbage begins his holiday.
Mr. Cabbagehead's garden seems to be a nice solitaire game. The gameplay is very easy, but it is difficult to satisfy the jury. Luck plays some role in the game, because if you don't draw vegetables you need to achieve a specific pattern, you can't do anything against it. Additionally, the nasty neighbours can only partly be controlled. But there seems to be always a plan B you can follow, just make sure that you know the required patterns to satisfy the jury. I can't say anything about the two player variant at the moment. But what really stands out is the beautifully art that perfectly fits to the weird theme. I spoke some words to the author. He explained that he not only designed the game, but that he is also responsible for the illustration and graphic design. A real multi-talent, I would say.
Gradually, the mass of people was decreasing in the halls, more and more corridors were passable with walking speed again and tables and stools appeared out of the crowd. Unfortunately this was also a sign for the one or other small publisher in the halls at the far end to remove their booths.
But this was really an exception. Most of the publishers were still very busy and even there were now fewer visitors, the interest to play an buy games was still very high. And especially one guy seemed to watch us:
With this threat in front of me, I quickly decided to go back and check again the booth of JAPANIME GAMES, because they had announced a new Robotech game, but it wasn't there on Thursday. However, it had arrived on Friday, but yesterday the staff was not yet ready to explain the game. This was really nearly a just-in-time delivery. Today they were better prepared and so I got an overview about the main game concept:
First thing I learnt was that SDF-1 stands for Super Dimension Fortress One. And this cruiser is under fire and must be defended against waves of alien forces attacks. The players take the roll of heroic characters like the captain or the first officer of the cruiser, each with his or her own abilities, and actions.
During the game, various enemies randomly appear from all sides of the cruiser, so the crew has a lot to do. The spaceship must be turned around, weapons must be adjusted and damages be repaired, because for example damaged guns cannot fire. But there are more things than the weapons to take care about. The SDF-1 is comprised of seven areas, each with its own consequence for taking damage. Indeed there is a lot going on in Robotech – Attack on the SDF-1 and victory or better survival seems not easy to be achieved.
Robotech was a popular cartoon television series in the USA, back in the eighties of the last century. There are quite a lot of games that play in the world of Robotech. Robotech – Attack on the SDF-1 allows players to take a whole journey of adventures found in the Robotech television series. The game comes with three scenario books, each containing five episodes, each with its own set-up and special rules. But I think that the game has much more to offer than just being a franchise product for the fans of the series.
The rulebook (27 closely written pages) is packed full of details (27 closely written pages) you must care about, and the game components, especially the rotatable spaceship on the board are quite impressive. Moreover, the SDF-1 can be set in battle mode and then the huge 3D-cardboard model of the cruiser comes into play. Really a game that needs to be looked closer after the convention....
But for the moment I cannot say more about the game. As said, it was delivered late and there haven't been a chance to playtest it yet. Indeed, I am probably among one of the first gamers who holds the game in his hands.
Change of subject! Yesterday we began the day with a trick-taking game with an interesting evolution game underneath. Let's now concentrate on the bidding itself and try a funny auction variant I have seen at the news show on Wednesday.
The Peanut Club, that's a place where famous collectors are bidding for rare objects to enlarge their collections and to come out with the most beautiful objects. Basically it is a simple bidding game with the player who called out the highest bid winning the current selection of rare objects. Each round of the game new objects are drawn from a draw pile with the backside of the topmost card telling us how many objects we have to draw. In one round it might be a single object, in the next there might be three objects.
Now, it's not only the number of objects that counts. Each objects has one or more symbols at the edge and a player earns 3 points for each series of three identical symbols among the collected objects. Moreover, a player gets 1 extra point for each luxury and antique symbol, and finally another extra point for each symbol matching the player's collectors card. This collector card is drawn at set-up and kept hidden from the other players till the end.
Bidding is quite simple. You just call out your bid and the winner pays the final result. For that purpose each player draws from the money pile until a player reaches or exceeds 35. But why don't player just get the money. The reason is that there are banknotes with values from 1 to 4 and all the banknotes are shuffled. As a result no one knows which banknotes a player has drawn. As there is no change in Peanut Club, this is an important detail.
What makes the bidding a little bit more complex, but extremely funny, is the fact that there are three currencies in the game. And there is a order with a single banknote from the higher currency beating all bids of a lower currency. People can bid whenever they like, but often this does not lead to an end of the auction. Power tokens can be used by each player to substantially modifying the bids. First of all, a power can be used to change the order of the currencies. As a result, the highest currency could become lowest and vice versa. A player could also use a power token to take one currency out of the game for that bidding round. Other power tokens are used to double a single note or lowering each note to a value of 1.
Once a bidding token is used, it is turned over and can only be once flipped over again in the game. But this is enough to make the bidding rounds chaotic and funny at the same time. This is not meant to be a tactical game. Declaim what you are doing, say it out loud, be funny and enjoy the talkative bidding round you're in. I think that's what the game is designed for. And of course, make sure that your opponents will have less point than you have. Peanut Club is once again from a French publisher and as usual I am deeply impressed by the great artwork. At the fair I played the game with 6 people and I think that's also the best number of players.
This now leads us to the final game from me for today:
Trollfjord is the new family strategy game from Zoch. After the very entertaining Menara (see also my review), I was really anxious about the game. In the game the players gather their trolls at fortresses and must hammer boulders out of the rock. This should satisfy the old mountain spirit who wants to get rid of all those stupid boulders in his country.
But before we are able to hammer, we must first reach those boulders. So, we have to get our trolls from our supply to the board and finally to the boulders. As Trollfjord is a family game, this is quite easy: on their turns, the players simply move their trolls on a wooden walkway up to three steps. The number of steps also determines the number of trolls he can set onto the map. And the landscape he lands determines the landscape type where the troll can be placed. As a result the trolls doesn't always land where they are needed. So, instead of moving to the placement spaces, a player can choose to use a sidetrack to move his trolls already on the board.
Once a player thinks he has enough trolls at a boulder to hammer it down, he can declare a hammering. All his trolls next to the boulder support him and so he can hammer so many times as there are trolls of his tribe next to the boulder. Also, other players can join in and as a result, the number of hammering is increased by the number of helpers. Then the player who started the hammering takes a wooden hammer and hammers against a wooden rock tower in which we through 44 cubes at setup.
The hammering is a success if the player manages to get out as many cubes as the treasure tokens of the region the hammering started from indicates. Of course, the hammering is a big fun for the younger and the young at heart. But I am not sure if the game has enough potential for a good replayability yet. So, like with many other games I played here in Essen, I will have to go in detail in the next weeks.
And with this promise, I would like to say thanks to all of you. It was a great show, with one of the longest coverages ever. I hope you enjoyed it. And many thanks for all those wonderful comments in our guestbook, they really help us going on. So, keep tuned, sign the guestbook and see you all again next year!
The Sunday of the SPIEL is family day! Like every year my 9-year-old daughter and my 7-year-old son are the navigation device for the halls on that day. Of course, they planned to playtest children´s games as much as they can and as long as they manage to stay awake. No sooner said than done! So, we hit the road and conquered the different booth´ of the large publishers. After some rounds of scribbling, catching poo, loading camels and destroying an igloo, we stopped at the BLACKROCK booth because we saw a witch in person. Fortunately, it was a good witch and she taught us how to cast some spells as you can see on our spell book. And of course we immediately joined in to play a game of Abra Kazam with her.
However, after we arrived at the halls with the smaller publishers the booth of EDICIONES PRIMIGENIO at once attracted my attention. In contrast to my first visit on Friday it was possible to take a look on their new game Kingdom Defenders because there wasn't a cluster of people there today. But, only a few copies of the game were left.
As with Rise Of The Necromancers the game cover teased me. And I learnt that it is the picture of one of the Grugog creatures shown there. These fearsome creatures of the sea want to reconquer the land that once belonged to them, marching towards Sandstorm the Capital of Four Kingdoms. The players slip into the role of a brave hero of Sandstorm trying to defeat the Conquerors and defend the city. In order to achieve this goal, they have to resolve adventures and complete heroic deeds. Players have to chose actions on the board and manage their resources wisely. Failing that, they will not be able to obtain Fame Points, which will lead one of the them to be the Kingdom Defender!
Kingdom Defenders is a medieval fantasy game with a very detailed artwork and really good game components. Without playing it yet, I heard that it combines worker placement and set collection aspects in a sensible way and embeds both mechanisms in the medieval combat thematic very well.
So, I think I will side with the Kingdom Defenders very soon.
But now, I have to admit, that the kids weren't that interested in the game as I was. Well, that's not really astonishing. But as a result, we rebooted the child driven navigation system and followed its instructions for the rest of the day.
That’s it from me, hope to see you next year!
You can also go by train to Essen Central Station. If arriving there, go to the basement and take the Subway U11 directly to the Messe Essen.
If you want to arrange lodging at Essen, you best contact the Essen-tourism-center by phone 0049/(0)201/19433 or 0049/(0)201/88720-46 or -48. Perhaps they know where some Hotel-rooms are left...
If you travel to Essen by car, please notice that Germany restricts access to many cities (including Essen) for older cars. While the convention area does not fall under these environmental restrictions if you follow a specific route, you might want to check out the route details at the official Messe Essen website. An even better alternative (especially for those of you having a hotel in Essen) would be the acquiring of an Envirnomental Badge which can be ordered at the offical website of the German Technical Inspection Authority.
If you want to have a look at my coverage of previous conventions, follow these links. But you should bring along some time, especially of you want to read the younger reports...
Copyright © 2018 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany