The SPIEL '23 Games Convention
at Essen / Germany
5th to 8th October 2023
with Ralf, Lutz and Dorian from inside the halls and Frank from SPIEL@home
Sunday, 01.10, SPIEL Warm-Up by Ralf : B-Rex Tage
In early September 2023, Ralf travelled to the eastern part of our country to Burgliebenau, a tranquil district in Merseburg near the city of Halle. He was invited by the B-Rex Entertainment Group, which now encompasses a whole bundle of publishers, including names like GIANT ROC, GRIMSPIRE and CORAX GAMES, as well as family-friendly publishers like MIRAKULUS and FUNBOT GAMES.
And here the B-Rex Group presented a lot of novelties that will be shown in Essen, so we recommend our report from this convention as a warm-up for your SPIEL visit:
Warm Up: B-Rex Tage
Tuesday, 03.10, next Warm-Up by Ralf
Today, I am in a hurry. As it is my 50th birthday, I still have to prepare some things before my guests will arrive. So let's get to the point! After the fantastic Warm-Up about the B-Rex Tage yesterday, I'd like to present you the first two reviews as another Warm-Up for SPIEL23:
Review: The Warp - Jumping Turtle Games (booth 2C106) / Grimspire (booth 2A156)
In 2016, on the penultimate day of SPIEL, I became aware of a small Belgian publisher called JUMPING TURTLE GAMES. The game that was the talk of the fair at that time was Baby Blues, a fun card game that was among the top titles on the Boardgamegeek favourite list of SPIEL. At that time, I talked to the publisher Tom Delmé, who handed me a review copy of his card game after a brief discussion.
Over the years, I had regular contact with Tom during SPIEL. Exactly four years ago, in 2019, he took me aside and introduced me to Thomas Snauwaert, an author who was presenting a sci-fi conquest game as a prototype at that time. And JUMPING TRUTLE GAMES wanted to release this game. Actually, it was too big a number for the small publisher. So partners were needed and one of them is GRIMSPIRE, which is now releasing the title in German after further development.
And now it's here, in front of me. Always an emotional moment for me. When you've tried out the prototype together with the author some years before, it's an emotional moment. As you can read in our coverage of SPIEL16, I was already very impressed with what I saw at that time. But holding the finished game in your hands is something else again.
Well, now let's talk about the game itself: In The Warp we play different races that have to explore the planet again after a catastrophe with several gravitational distortions. Starting from a small colony, gold mines, energy refineries and trading posts must be built and the land must be recaptured from exiles. For this purpose, troops are needed that can be reinforced with various military products such as laser cannons, watchtowers and attack ships.
We all start at the edge of a hexagonal colony map, with the Warp Gate in the middle, where the Warp Guardians, probably the cause of the catastrophe, have their headquarters. Our turns consist of three consecutive phases: the Income Phase, in which resources and troops are generated and research is conducted; the Action Phase, in which attacks, terrain movements, and further developments of our peoples are carried out; and the End Phase, in which troop movements are carried out and new missions and exiles that have now come into view due to our expansion are revealed.
In the Income Phase, we receive resources depending on our spread on the game board and our developments. If both are advanced, a maximum of resources is possible, but it is also possible to get a significant output by developing only one multiplier (e.g., good progress in the gold development bar with only a few gold mines). In the Research Phase, additional resources can be earned by playing cards, but then these cards are no longer available for the following Action Phase.
Because in this Action Phase cards must be played to take actions. On the one hand, new constructions can be built on one's own colonies on the game board or progress can be made by developing (so that gold mines bring more yield in the Income Phase). Then military equipment can also be built and placed on the game board.
Terrashifting is another possible action that allows two districts to be changed in height. Now, why should you do that? The answer lies in the military advantage that a higher position gives in combat. And that brings us to the last possible action, the attack: here too, cards are helpful because they can bring an additional combat bonus and thus decisively influence the battle. Otherwise, as mentioned, the height of the landscape and the number of troops greatly influence the combat value. Okay, there are still some ohter military facilities that have an impact, but initially the number of hits multiplied by the terrain height has the greatest impact on the combat value. Mathematically, however, the combat result cannot be determined because the number of troops only determines the number of dice that may be rolled. And of course, not every roll is a hit.
The winner of the battle not only takes over (or retains) the district but can also receive trophies that bring certain advantages later in the game and can be useful to fulfill missions. The round ends with further troop movements and requesting new missions if needed.
This need should actually be present, because missions are our actual means of obtaining victory points. Victory points can also be obtained very well by successfully attacking and conquering the Warp Gate, but that is not as easy as it sounds at the beginning.
So you see, The Warp is quite a complex conquest game that still plays relatively smoothly and is a lot of fun. And conquest is not at the forefront either. Progressive expansion is one of the possible options to win, but I have already witnessed games in which a player who has spread very little on the board has won, instead focusing on progress and fulfilling the missions quite early.
Overall, The Warp has really become a great game. Especially for sci-fi enthusiasts and Twilight fans this should be more than a must-see. Hats off to the author, and all the other participants for making it such a great game.
Phuh, after so much sci-fi, we must now also consider the other favourite theme of the gaming industry in this warm-up: of course, I am talking about fantasy, preferably a dungeon crawler. Appropriately, I have the prototype of Warcrow Adventures here with me, a game which I mentioned already briefly in last year's SPIEL coverage.
Review: Warcrow Adventures - Corvus Belli (booth 1E102)
In the game, we control a small group of adventurers through a dungeon that only gradually reveals itself to us. The group consists, as usual, of a mix of powerful warriors, skilled archers, and wizards who use good and dark magic. However, dark magic is powerful but has its pitfalls as it does influence the personality of the wizard a little bit. All heroes have their individual abilities, weapons, and equipment that are again influenced by additional equipment during the course of the game but otherwise do not change from their basic values. But, there are a lot of different states (e.g., poisoning) that can be suffered by opening chests or from combat results.
All probes, including battles, are carried out by rolling dice of different colours. As is typical for CORVUS BELLI (see, for example, the arena combat game Aristeia!), successes are achieved by rolling stars. Exclamation points, on the other hand, can trigger certain additional abilities. Opponents also defend themselves by rolling certain colored dice, where a shield counts as a success. What is interesting about this mechanism is that the dice of different colours have different numbers of star symbols and exclamation points. So you are always trying to get better dice by triggering certain effects or obtaining new equipment.
Compared to Aristeia!, so-called energy dice are a new element. Depending on the character, you have different energy dice available each round. With these, too, special abilities of the characters can be triggered.
By the way, we are guided in the game by an app. In this, different scenarios are available, into which we are introduced thematically. In the course of the game, we then learn new details through the app that help us to progress in the story. The app also specifies the layout of the game board and introduces other game elements such as doors, chests, but also opponents. Often, a certain activity on our part, such as opening a chest, triggers new effects that can also expand or change the game board. Interactions with NPCs are also possible in the app, and depending on how we decide or whether a probe is successful or not, this triggers different developments in the game.
In my prototype, this connection between the app and the game worked quite well, but at this time only one scenario is available. So ultimately I cannot judge whether the app was absolutely necessary for the game, but there are already some interesting possibilities that can be seen.
Battles, an essential element in any dungeon crawler, are carried out without the app. When there are opponents on the map, we are led through the attacking order sequence by an initiative wheel, as we already know for example from the dungeon crawler Perdition's Mouth. The respective initiative determines the position on this wheel on which the respective characters are placed at the beginning of the fight. Then turn by turn, the pointer on the wheel is moved one position further and the characters that are at this position are activated on the playing field and can attack, run or make other useful things. After each action, the character is then moved forward on the initiative wheel by as many positions as his individual initiative value says.
Overall, the prototype already makes a very ready impression. The combat and probe system is refreshingly simple to use after an initial introduction round, so that there is only little downtime. Although app-accompanied games are not my favourite genre, the integration here in Warcrow Adventures seems quite successful to me, and the app was not a disturbing factor in the played introductory scenario but accompanied the game well. The game is currently in production and will be released next summer.
So, now I will return preparing some things for my birthday party.
Stay tuned and come back here tomorrow for the press day.
Wednesday, 04.10: Press Day
Hello everyone and welcome back here from Essen. Today was supposed to be the day when Frank joins the live coverage. It should have been, but it isn’t. To my great regret, he had to cancel yesterday, why, he will tell you himself below. So, I’m still the one who has to report live from the fair. Frank will still do his best and contribute some posts from home. And on Friday, Lutz will also come to the fair and support me a little (at least I hope so).
Anyway, a warm comeback to the first official day of this year’s SPIEL! Well, first official day is not quite right, at least when it comes to the general public. Traditionally, Wednesday before the opening day is the press day. Selected media representatives are invited to get an overview of SPIEL at the press conference and then it’s off to the new product show where many publishers present their new releases and give first interviews. In the evening, there was always a ceremony for the presentation of the German Game Prize at a nice big dinner where you met many acquaintances.
At least that’s how Merz-Verlag did it for years under Dominique Metzler’s leadership. As we reported last year at Spiel and as many of you surely know, there was a big change last year. Ms. Metzler sold what she had built up over many years to Spielwarenmesse Nuremburg, also to slowly retire after over 30 years.
And now we are one year further, the fair is under new management and everyone was eagerly waiting to see if this change - apart from the fact that Ms. Metzler would no longer appear on stage - would be noticeable. First changes have already been made public: this year, a completely new trade fair concept is being tried out, in which the publishers had to leave their old booths and are now placed thematically better together. So there is almost nothing left at the old location and I advise everyone who wants to get hold of one or the other novelty quickly on Thursday to orient themselves beforehand.
There are also some new features for us as press representatives. Both the press conference and the new product show will take place at different locations than usual this year. I had to learn that in the morning in order to set up a game at the new product show quickly. Me and setup? Why is that? Well, it went like this: Tobias from ALL OR NONE GAMES contacted me last week asking if I could help him out of a jam. Unfortunately, his plane from Sweden only landed late in the morning, so it was not possible for him to set up his new products at the news show. And since I live in Essen anyway… Anyway, I think I did a pretty good job with the setup, didn’t I?
The press conference itself then took place in the gallery of Congresszentrum Ost after my setup, about at the other end of the exhibition halls as last year. Many representatives of various media gathered here to be informed about the latest figures from the fair.
After the latest promotional film for SPIEL was presented to us, Carol Rapp, the new managing director of Friedhelm Merz-Verlag, and press chief Robin de Cleur greeted us. But instead of getting a presentation on the latest figures, another video was played immediately after their welcome. In this video, Dominique Metzler was honoured as the guarantor of success for SPIEL over the past 30 years with many short clips from her interviews (since 2011 as sole responsible). In a touching video message, Ms. Metzler then wished us a successful SPIEL 23 at the end of the film. She herself will not be attending the fair this year and will instead devote herself to her new hobby, traveling.
10 minutes of videos and still no numbers for this year’s SPIEL, but that should change now: this year’s SPIEL will actually be the largest game fair ever held. This applies to both the area (62,500 m2) and the number of publishers and novelties exhibited at the fair. Although a total of 6 halls in Essen are still being used, unlike in previous years, they are now completely filled and no areas are separated. Countries such as Egypt, Iceland, Montenegro and the United Arab Emirates are also participating for the first time.
935 exhibitors from 56 nations presenting a total of 1745 novelties, 1014 of which are exhibited at the new product show. Truly, anyone who doesn’t find anything here probably has nothing to do with games.
It is still unclear whether there will be a new visitor record. The previous record dates back to 2019, the year before the Covid disaster. At that time, 209,000 visitors came from all corners of the world. Last year, almost 150,000 were back and for this year, the new managing director is aiming for at least 180,000 visitors. Let’s see where we will end.
An increasingly large field in the area of games is now the topic of sustainability. Not only are many games produced more sustainably, but the topic is also being incorporated into the games thematically. Earthbone Rangers, Future Energy, and e-Mission were mentioned as examples. There is also a clear boost in the area of 1 and 2 person games, which benefits me because I like to play the occasional solo game.
By the way, this year’s SPIEL is celebrating its 40th anniversary, as it is the 40th fair to take place physically (actually it’s already the 41st year of SPIEL, but in the Covid year everything could only take place digitally).
The theme day on Thursday has also been expanded again with a total of 18 speakers who will be speaking on various aspects of the games industry at the Congress Center (by the way, all lectures can be seen on YouTube after the fair). I found one contribution to the topic particularly interesting: Reporting in transition - hardly any press before, too much today? We have experienced all this ourselves as one of the oldest board game blogs. Back then, when we started, there was obviously no smartphone, no Instagram, X or Facebook and the few pictures we brought back from the fair and that we uploaded to our internet magazine in the evenings were actually some of the first live pictures from the exhibition halls. When I look at that today…
Sales figures in Germany currently look quite good. Although sales in the toy sector as a whole fell slightly compared to last year (-4.6%), the games/puzzle sector stood out positively with a plus of 10%. In particular, the collectible card area, here again Pokemon, was one of the drivers of sales.
The date for the next SPIEL is already set: October 3-6, 2024. By the way, for the first time in a long time, it will be outside of the autumn holidays in our state. Let’s see what effect this will have for number of visitors. The Merz-Verlag also seems not to know this exactly and so it was quickly reaffirmed that from 2025 onwards, the fair will definitely take place again during the holidays.
But that's now enough with the numbers! Let's go over to the awards. First of all, Spaceship Unity from the PEGASUS-Verlag won the innoSPIEL-Preis 23 for the most innovative new game.
Mysterium Kids from Antonin Boccara and Yves Hirschfeld (LIBELLUD / SPACE COWBOYS)
won the Deutsche Spielepreis 2023 for the best children’s game.
And finally, the top three places in the Deutsche Spielepreis 2023, the big audience award, go to
1. Planet Unknown by Ryan Lambert and Adam Rehberg (Strohmann Games)
2. Dorfromantik by Michael Palm and Lukas Zach (Pegasus Spiele)
3. Heat by Asgar Harding Granerud and Daniel Skjold Pedersen (Days of Wonder/Asmodee)
Congratulations to all the winners!
Unfortunately, the award ceremony and presentation did not take place at the huge stage in the press conference hall, but on the stage in the novelty show. This is a detail that should be reconsidered, as all publishers’ employees were already present in the novelty hall and wanted to explain their games, so press representatives and publishers were standing between all the tables and the actual award ceremony was somewhat lost. Nevertheless, I managed to take a nice photo of the winners:
New Games Show
The novelty show was initially an excessive demand for me and I didn’t know where to look anymore. There were so many novelties that the eye couldn’t comprehend. To claim to capture a significant portion of the novelties would be truly presumptuous. So we are left with only presenting a small selection of novelties over the next few days, hoping that some pearls will be captured.
I took some pictures for you, so you might get a feeling what I am talking about:
Anyway, I met many acquaintances here, both in terms of people and the one or other game that now appears as a new or special edition for the anniversary.
I am sure we’ll come back to some of the games in next couple of days, but for today, I left the news show and made a short run trough the halls, where publishers were still preparing their booths:
I hope you enjoyed this first day from SPIEL and hope to see you all back tomorrow when the doors finally open for the public.
Stay safe, yours Ralf
Well, this is a fine mess we have gotten into…
Even though Ralf has already welcomed you to this SPIEL report, I would also like to say “HELLO” and welcome you back for our 27th year of SPIEL reports. Lots of things will be new and different, because the MERZ-VERLAG has new ownership and so many organizational things about our favourite games’ fair will have changed. I would have loved to be in the halls to experience everything, but as things look like, I just will stay home due to sickness.
At the beginning of the week I returned from abroad, and as it seems an infection found me somewhere on the voyage, most probably due to air conditioning. I have endured a SPIEL with a cold some years ago, but it took me days to recover afterwards. And so, I feel more like sitting at home and reading Ralf’s reports instead of being in there all day. However, things could be far worse: Ralf keeps me updated, there is a lot of things to read and watch, and I even will get supplied with some of the new games.
For yesterday evening my original schedule had been to meet with my good friend Cedrick Caumont, owner of CAPTAIN GAMES, but in the end I wasn’t able to join him. He wanted to demonstrate me his new game Path of Civilization – A Story of Humankind, and it’s one of the game which is on top of my SPIEL 23 list. When he heard about my sickness, he didn’t hesitate at all but came to my home and supplied me with a copy of the game plus a big box of Belgian chocolates (for therapeutic reasons). This was a truly wonderful gesture from a long-time friend, and so some of the new games will find their way to my house after all.
I will present the game to you in the days to come, doing my very own small convention here at home.
The new app
However, one thing which I was prepared to tell you about is actually the SPIEL-app which has be updated and even more finetuned by MERZ-Verlag. If you go into the halls, this app will not only be a rather valueable portable plan of the halls, but the app has lots of inbuilt features which make it an invaluable companion for traveling the show and getting your shopping done.
Hall plans, locations of publisher booths, new games, scheduled events and even a possibility to enter scheduled meetings – all this can be found in the app. To be honest, in previous years I didn’t bother much to use an app, because I could navigate the halls almost blindfolded since the general layout hardly changed. However, this year I had prepared myself to use this practical tool, because many of the booths probably will not be at the same place where they used to be.
As a first step, I had begun to look up all publishers which I wanted to visit. When looking them up, I marked them as a favourite, and this actually allowed me to get a first overview which halls would have become my hunting ground. No surprise here – hall 3 with the expert games stood out in my preparation, and so my taste of games actually could be mapped out.
However, this whole apperation (sorry, silly pun) gets even cooler if you start to look up the new games in the app. Entries can be found for over 1000 (!!!) new games, and for each game you get pictures, descriptive texts, price and other details. Okay, you probably will have to know what games you are looking for, otherwise you would get lost scrolling down this incredible list, but if you use either the BGG SPIEL preview or look for certain publishers to know which games they will bring, then entering the games you want to see into the app is a step which you should take. So, marking games as favourites will produce you an even better map of the halls!
This are just a few examples of the inbuilt features of the new app, and if you are planning to come and visit the SPIEL, you should definitely consider using this wonderful gadget. The convention is bigger than you might think, and with all these booths and games it’s easy to get lost in the halls…
So, even if you won’t meet me in the show, Ralf is going to take you along on the days to come. And who knows, you might even bump into Meeps, the cute new SPIEL mascot! So be careful, otherwise your open gameboxes will be quickly occupied. Meow!!!
Thursday, 05.10.: First Convention Day
Lights on, Camera ready, Micro open...
"Full SPIEL ahead!"
Folks, here is Essen, the boardgaming capital of Germany !
So, here it is, the big day. As always, there were long queues in front of the doors, waiting for early access. That’s what I found on the picture in social media this morning. But I was able to spare that this year, as I had scheduled my first appointment for 11:00 am. So, I could easily travel by bus, quite convenient if you live in Essen, isn’t it?
When I finally arrived at the fair, the entrances were free again and I arrived in the halls without further waiting. Immediately it became clear that the new hall concept obviously had a positive effect. As reported yesterday, the big publishers were now shared much more among the different halls than in previous years.
Typical for a Thursday morning at SPIEL, there were a lot of queues at some of the booths, as many visitors wanted to pick up their pre-ordered games. This could for example be seen at ARES GAMES, who brought both an expansion for the War of the Ring as well as an expansion for last year's hit, the War of the Ring - Card Game. Against the Shadow is the name of this new expansion and it introduces a solo campaign to the game but can also be used as a normal expansion.
What really fascinates me as a long-time visitor of SPIEL every year anew are the queues in front of many big sales stands. Almost all big publishers now have their own sales area, sometimes even as an additiona booth and regularly there are long queues there, shortly after the fair opens its doors. The visitor flows have to be guided here, so that the booths are not overrun. For me, who has so many games at home that I could play something different every day, a fascinating phenomenon. But I still remember the times when I ran through the halls to get the best offer for the one or another game.
Anyway, today I could ignore these queues and so I found myself on time at for my first appointment at the small Belgian publisher inPatience.
First Impression: Cyberion – inPatience (booth 5K121)
Cyberion is already the seventh title in the Oniverse series. To be honest, I hadn’t noticed this series until now. But other visitors apparently had, as I noticed by the numerous fans who came to the booth during my demo round with the author and publisher Shadi Torbey. The Oniverse series as well as the entire inPatience publisher is characterized by the fact that all their games are designed as solo games. Although there is also a two-player rule for each game so far, they are actually designed for the solo player.
In Cyberion we have to save a factory. All machines have been sabotaged by the evil Devious Cog and now they threaten to explode any second. So, we (or rather I, as it is a solo game) have to make sure that the machines are shut down one by one. At least one machine per round, otherwise we have to give up a life point and we only have one of those at the beginning.
The shutdown of a machine actually is quite simply, we just have to discard the matching symbols. And we find these symbols on our hand cards, which are in front of us and which we replenish to five cards each round. For example, a machine could demand us to discard two red symbols, each card only showing one symbol.
The clou of the game is that the shut down machines can in turn be used for upgrades. This way we can unlock special abilities that allow us, for example, to fill an additional row of cards in a flash row for one round. Another feature is the ability to use cards in a certain ratio as wildcards. Each upgrade can be improved multiple times, so that the effect becomes stronger over time.
Cyberion played quite smoothly. At the beginning the game also seemed quite easy to me, but it became more and more difficult with increasing complexity of the machines, so that a kind of puzzling is required. And once you have mastered the base game, there are even five expansions included in the box.
Shadi told me at the end of our meeting that in the Oniverse universum two two more titles will be released and then, in about three years, all titles will be published together again in one big game.
In the future, inPatience will also produce games from other authors, a first start was made this year with the title Skoventyr. So, if you are looking for solo games that you can also play well with two players, you should keep an eye on the publisher and definitely take a closer look at Cyberion at this SPIEL. I failed shortly before the end with a missing shut down for three machines. But I had a lot of fun with it. This is how solo games should work!
And with this, at this point, we should maybe take a little break to see what Frank is doing at home:
Welcome to the sickbay!
So, here it is, first day of SPIEL. And what do I do? Sit at home and read my own report – or better: Ralf’s report, because he is the one in the halls. However, my own SPIEL@home slowly gains momentum, since Ralf and some publishers have started to bring games over to my house. I am incredibly grateful for this, because otherwise it would be nearly unbearable to see people march down my street in order to enter the halls of SPIEL without being able to do so myself.
However, let’s make the best of it, and with my wife Nicole out at work this means that I have started to learn new games in solo-mode. Today, I would like to start with a game I received yesterday, Path of Civilization – A Story of Humankind from CAPTAIN GAMES. My friend Cedrick couldn’t bear to see me sitting here without any new games, and so – instead doing a session in his hotel – I am now able to test his new game right in my home.
Review: Path of Civilization – CAPTAIN GAMES (booth 3S130)
”Oh no! Not another Civilization-type game!” seems to be a common reaction by many gamers when the next Stoneage-to-Space-heavyweight jumps on the bandwagon. However, in case of Path of Civilization, this notion may be a bit hasty, because Cedrick Caumont from CAPTAIN GAMES has lots of experience with one of the most successful Civ-games ever released. Cedrick formerly was associated with REPOS GAMES, and for years he has contributed in honing and finetuning the incredibly successful 7 Wonders line of games, and so a new Civ-type game from his very own company certainly enters the market with a big exclamation mark. In fact, this game was very high on my list of most-expected SPIEL 23 games, and so I was very curious to see how it would turn out.
To be honest, upon opening the gamebox and scanning though the components I was a bit overwhelmed by the seemingly overboarding iconography on cards and boards. Everywhere you could find either square- or round-shaped symbols, and the Challenge cards which are used for in-game scorings seemed to feature whole blockchains of these gibberish symbols. However, don’t count your chickens before they hatch, and trying to understand a game without checking the rules NEVER is a good idea. And so, my first duty was to go through the 18 pages of outstandingly well-worded rules.
Having read more than a thousand rulebooks, I faced a situation which I have rarely experienced before. With every page I turned, it seemed like a puzzle came together, and all of a sudden the teeming-looking boards and symbols started to make sense. Not only this, but actually it was like I had put on a pair of glasses, because in the end it became quite clear that the game wasn’t half as complex as could be expected, and that a very easy going structure and main mechanism is used to keep everything together.
So, one to five players have 9 rounds of play to bring their Civilizations from Stone Age to Modern Times, and in each of the rounds the players will collect two different types of resources. One type are scientific advances, and these will be used to score Tech points on one or more of the five indicators on a player’s tech board. In the course of the game, the points accumulated on the different tech categories will be spend to purchase new Technology cards of the corresponding tech type, and so the indicators will go up and down during the game.
The other type of resources which will be collected are Agents, and just like tech five different categories of Agents exist. So, whenever a player acquires an Agent, he will place a cube of his colour in one of the five Agent trays, and in gaming terms this means that means that the agent will assume the profession associated with the tray: Diplomat, Builder, Sage, Soldier or Philosopher. A very simple, almost intriguing way to accumulated different types of Agent-“resources”, and during the course of the game Agents from the different tray can be used to act in different situations:
- Diplomats are used to recruit Leaders,
- Builders can be spent to obtain Wonders,
- Sages give valuable bonuses when Challenge cards are resolved,
- Soldiers fight your battles, and
- Philosophers allow you to progress in the Philosophy board.
So, how do you collect Tech points and Agents. Do to so each player has a hand of five Technology cards, and at the beginning of the game these cards depict the very first accomplishments from the dawn of Mankind. In each round, the players have to chose how to use their Technoloy cards by arranging them on their gameboard, and most of the cards have a dual use because they can be used either for Tech points or for Agents. However, the players must assign exactly two cards for gaining Tech points, and another two cards for gaining Agents, while the fifth Technology card will go to their graveyards and is out of the game. Time doesn’t stand still, and so this eliminated card will be replaced by a new Technology card which the players will acquire during the round, so that each player will start every new round with a new hand of five cards: the four cards which they have used last round, plus the new Technology card which they purchased last round.
Wow, that’s what I call an interesting challenge. Of course the players would prefer to be able to chose from a broader range of Technology cards when plotting their course for the current round, but as it is they are always limited to just five cards. Even more, the necessity to bury one of the five cards makes the players face a new dilemma each round, because each Technology card offers a unique combination of benefits, and so the choice can be tough. But time also brings innovation, and so the players can use the Tech points they collect to acquire new, even stronger Technology cards from a common market, and so the necessity of sorting out a card each round also means getting rid of cheaper, weaker Technology cards like the five starting cards.
The use of Agents to acquire Leaders and Wonders also will give the players interesting benefits. Sometimes these benefits are singular (like Alexander the Great who provides three Soldiers), but some other cards may give production benefits every round. Wonders stay in play all game, whereas a Leader is buried if the player acquires a new Leader. However, sometimes even dead Leaders may continue to provide a benefit, and of course buried and active cards alike also will contribute to the player’s yield of Victory points when the game ends after round 9.
So, that’s the general backbone on which the game operates. There is no standstill and long Civilization-development, but instead each round the players are forced to move forward and use their resources to advance in a way which seems to promise a good final score. Talking about it, there are numerous ways to score Victory points: using Philosophers to advance on the Philosophy board is just one way, but even more interesting are the Challenge and Battle cards which the players have to face each round. These cards have been openly assigned to round-standees in a semi-random way at the beginning of the game, and these cards list aims which the players may strive to fulfil in order to score-well in each round. Challenge cards are associated to different types of technologies, and having acquired may cards of a matching technology type will help a player to score high in a challenge. Furthermore, Agents used as Sages will be used in Challenges as well, and so players can try to be well developed a specific type of technology when it is scored. Battle cards on the other hand will be scored by the players in a ranked manner, with the player who possesses most Soldiers and military Technology cards coming in front, and once again these cards may give nice amounts of Victory points in the in-game scorings.
The visibility and versatility of all goals is one of the real feats in Path of Civilization. No two games will be alike with new combinations of goals being revealed during setup, and so the players will be challenged to re-think their strategies with every new game. However, even more astonishing is the fact that many small extras have been interwove with the main playing mechanism without actually overburdening the rather smooth gameflow. Just for example, the players have to keep an eye on their Population levels, because their population levels limit the amount of resources which can be produced every round – even if a player would be able to produce more because of his Technology cards. Investing on Philosophy on the other hand does not only score Victory points, but instead other benefits can be collected for every step taken on the Philosophy board. These are just examples for the windfall effects which can be found almost everywhere in the game. In the beginning, this may seem a bit overburdening and prone for analysis paraliysis, but due to excellent iconography and the streamlined gameflow this starting phase is left behind rather quickly.
In a way, Path of Civilization presents itself as an almost perfect merger of 7 Wonders Duel and Through the Ages, and those of you who have played these two games regularly will recognize that this is a quite strong praise for the game. Resource management is important, but it is not as fiddly as in Through the Ages, and whilst the game is not as interactive as classic 7 Wonders, the players always are competing to time their actions in a way to purchase the best Leaders and Wonders, and to be most successful in scorings – all of which are strong elements of 7 Wonders Duel. All mechanisms used here feel neither trite nor bland, but instead the game quite elegantly brings everything together for one of the quickest, most entertaining Civ-type games which I have ever played. This is a huge feat indeed!
To sum it up, the game really succeeded in exceeding my expectations, and this is even more noteworthy because this happened in solo-mode. The automa here simulates a second player rather well, and so it was perfect entertainment for me this afternoon. I can’t wait to get the game on the table with some friends, and if you are fond of writing your own Nations’ history, go ahead and check the game at CAPTAIN GAMES in hall 3. There are three convention days to go!
So, here we are, back in the halls. And slowly it got more crowded in the corridors and free seats at the game tables became scarce. Also, new queues formed at various stands. At first I didn’t quite understand why, as there were no sales signs to be seen here. But as I got closer, the cause became apparent: signing sessions by the artists.
At FUNFORGE, the queue still looked manageable, but after all, Tokaido has a few years under its belt:
It looked different at RAVENSBURGER, where cards from Disney Lorcana were signed. This novel trading card game is certainly one of the highlights of this year’s fair, even though it was released a few months in advance. And so the Disney booth was one of the first booths where the well-known Sold Out from previous years appeared:
Not much different was it at CRANIO CREATIONS, my second stop for today. When I arrived at the booth, I had to get out of the way of a long queue that was waiting for this year’s big game from the Italian publisher: Rats of Wistar.
Introduction: Rats of Wistar / Broad Lines– Cranio Creations (booth 3W124)
In this game by Simone Luciani and Danilo Sabia we play rats that have escaped from the Wistar Institute. Rats wouldn’t be rats if they wouldn`t start multiplying and spawning right away and we as head of the family want to prove to everyone that we can lead our colony as best as possible. The game has elements of worker placement, as we place our pieces on an action wheel, which then for example determines how much wood we will get in our turn.
During the game we can make inventions and expand our abilities. This is also urgently necessary, as new rooms on our personal boards want to be developed and the farm on the general board, from which we initially fled, still has one or two secrets that want to be explored.
At first glance, the game looks very promising, a fresh new theme, a great presentation and diverse possibilities to unfold. If you expect a pure Euro after this short description, you should know that the game also has one or two surprises, as I was told at my appointment.
But Rats of Wistar was not the only new game that CRANIO CREATIONS brought to SPIEL. In the past, the publisher had always brought along some very funny simple family or party games in addition to complex games for experienced players. This year, I found Broadlines particularly interesting, a kind of variation of Pictionary.
One player has to guess a word, while all other players try to draw this word together. In turns, each player is only allowed to draw two straight lines or a curve on a transparent foil. These foils are then stacked on top of each other and presented to the guessing player on a relay. Each new card then expands the drawing until the word is guessed. The faster, the better, but it’s not that easy to draw the lines in the right place, because you only stack them after your drawing. This often results in an unintentionally funny picture. Anyway, you don’t need any skills to draw for this game, two lines or a curve should be manageable by everyone. All in all, in my opinion, a great variation of the draw-guessing mechanism, the game will definitely not be missing at my next game night.
After this great experience, the halls were now well filled. I guess I have to take back my statement from this morning. But still, the new hall concept showed its effect, as the crowds were much better distributed among the different halls.
After the great success of Flamecraft from last year, my expectations for LUCKY DUCK GAMES were naturally very high. Especially for Senjutsu - Battle for Japan, as I had already taken a look at this game the novelty show.
Introduction: Senjutsu – Battle for Japan– Lucky Duck Games (booth 3S124)
In the game, up to four players compete on a small hexagonal game board. Each player has their own hero with their own deck of cards and individual abilities. Five cards are in your hand every turn and one of them is played face down every turn. Then the players reveal their cards simultaneously. The player with the highest initiative can act first, then it continues in the order of the initiative value.
The played card then determines what we can do in our turn. Attacking is not the worst, but first you have to get close enough to the opponent. And maybe this potential opponent has played a higher initiative, which allows him to run even further away from us. Adaptation is therefore required, and this is also made possible by the cards, as usually several options are available to choose from.
The direction in which our figure looks plays an important role too. Naturally, it is not so easy to defend yourself from attacking in the back, unless you have a special feature or card for it. You can see that Senjutsu - Battle for Japan is a multi-layered game. Kind of Warhammer light. Also, the playing time of about 20 minutes is interesting for this genre of games, whole tournaments can so be possible.
In my long reviewer life I have experienced already some similar game types, but this novelty seems to be something special again. The actions on the cards are multi-layered and the different abilities and decks promise a lot of variety. Different obstacles that can be distributed on the game board can additionally change the game board and make hiding possible for skilled players.
For me the game was definitely good enough to stay longer at the booth. And so, I found myself shortly after at the LUCKY DUCK GAMES booth party, where I finished my first day at the fair with a piece of pizza and a delicious IPA beer in my hand.
To be honest, I have seen many more novelties today. But I am now too tired to tell about. For sure I will continue my report tomorrow. Until then, I need a little rest. I hope you have already discovered one or two interesting novelties for you and above all I hope you got a good feeling of this year’s SPIEL from our coverage. Enjoy the read again.
Good night and see you tomorrow again!
Friday, 06.10: Second Convention Day
Friday, second day at SPIEL. Still tired from yesterday’s typing, but back again. And I got a bad and some good news for you:
Unfortunately Frank is still sick at home, doing his best to contribute to the coverage (that’s the bad news),
But Lutz is joining me today in the convention halls, so we can manage to go to more and more publishers to search for the one or other gem and to bring the hype home to you.
When I was arriving the halls were already crowded and the noise level was already quite high, especially after my long visit yesterday. Some people even wear earplugs at SPIEL, maybe I should consider to wear them myself next year too. For me, it is always a relief when I leave the mess halls and spend a few minutes in the open air or retreat to the press centre to write down a few lines for you. But, of course, the show must go on and so let’s see what I can find for you today!
First stop for me was the booth of LUDONAUTE. Yesterday I had discovered that their new game ArcheOlogic was quite hyped and a lot of people were buying the game. Of course, I immediately made a note and came back this morning to have a closer look what’s all the hype about. Just follow me to the booth and into the game:
First Impression: ArcheOlogic– Ludonaute (booth 3Y120)
ArcheOlogic is a deduction game in which players have to find the correct layout of a lost city.
As a help, we have a so-called Archeoscope at our disposal, with which we can decipher old code. Each player tries it in their own way. We place our personal game board behind a privacy screen, which depicts the outline of the ancient city. In addition, each player has access to the floor plans of the buildings, which must be placed in the correct position on the city plan. In the middle of the table is another so-called viewfinder board, which determines the order of play and determines which row or column on your own city plan is currently being asked for.
When it’s your turn, you can answer questions with the help of the Archeoscope and get closer to the solution step by step. And this is how it works: first you have to decide whether you really want to ask the question about the current column or row that the viewfinder shows. Alternatively, you can move the pointer forward one or two positions. You also choose a specific question to ask, such as how many different buildings are on the column or row or how many fields of a large building are it. Depending on your choice, your time figure must advance a certain number of spaces forward. This can be very decisive because the current player is always the last in line. So in can be your turn several times in a row.
Then it’s time to use the Archeoscope. To do this, you first set what you want to ask on the wheels of the tool. Then the selected coding disc is placed in the correct position behind the Archeoscope, and the answer to the question asked becomes visible through various holes in the Archeoscope. You can write this down or directly conclude it on the correct position of the building, but often you only get the right idea by combining different questions.
ArcheOlogic comes with various coding discs, so sufficient variety is guaranteed. You have to be a real frequent player for there to be a danger that you will keep the solution and then immediately know it again with the same disc in the next game. As I said, the game has already sold extremely successfully, and my first try-out also caused it to be ready now for extensive testing at my home. Well then, on your archaeologists!
In LUDONAUTE’s press room, I also got a little preview of what’s coming next year, the year in which Colt Express celebrates its tenth anniversary. There will probably be a whole series of events around this anniversary, including a large special box with almost all expansions. But there will also be a fun flip game for children among that, and here’s a little preview for that:
After so much puzzle-solving, I had to take a break. A delicious portion of fries in the outdoor area of Messe Essen was just the thing. With this beautiful weather today, the experiences in the halls can be digested even better for a few years now. I don’t even know how I managed back then. Not too long ago, there were no outdoor areas at all, and you had to leave the fairgrounds to get some fresh air. And even earlier, there wasn’t even a gallery that also provides some relaxation now. Well, at least if it’s not as crowded as it is today…
Although I was relaxed after this break, I was looking for something easy to digest. And so, after wandering around for a while, I ended up at the HORRIBLE GUILD booth, which usually has a surprise in store. I was actually expecting the successor to the legendary The King’s Dilemma here. This revolutionary legacy building game with a strong story was probably more or less ruined not only for me by the Corona pandemic. After only four of the ten scenarios, my game group broke up due to Corona restrictions. A resumption would now be possible again, but no one of us really knows what we have experienced in the story so far. And since it is a legacy game with many destructions of cards, it can no longer be reconstructed properly.
That’s why my hope now lies with the successor The Queen’s Dilemma, which was already announced last year cautiously as a novelty for this SPIEL. But, it is a complex game and so we will have to be patient for a few more months. The statement that could be obtained at the booth today was that it would be released sometime between spring and summer next year. However, it seems that the two authors Hjalmar Hach and Lorenzo Silva are not completely busy after all. After all, I found a smaller game called Quicksand, a game with sandtimers, by the same authors at the booth this year, which I had to try out right away.
First Impression: Quicksand– Horrible Guild (booth 5G112)
Quicksand is a cooperative real-time game in which players work together to stop the flow of time in an underground temple. Specifically, sand runs everywhere through the ground and threatens to suck us up. Therefore, we are challenged to stop this. And here’s how it works:
First, during setup, various tiles with different symbols are laid out in a semicircle. These represent the way out of the temple, our way to freedom, and victory in the game. Then sand timers are placed on the first tiles, one sand timer per tile. These sand timers run for different lengths of time and are selected according to the respective scenario.
On command, all sand timers in the game are then turned over and the game begins. In turn order, each player then plays one of their hand cards, which activates a tile with the same symbol. Sand timers on this tile are then moved one position further, with occupied tiles skipped. The most important thing: the sand timer is turned over during progress, good if it was just about to run out, bad if it was just starting.
Because if the sand from one of the sand timers runs out completely, it will also be turned over, but then it will be placed next to its current tile and will only come back into play through activation of the tile, but then it will be turned over again during the action.
If a sand timer that is next to a tile runs out again, the game is lost. The same applies if one of the sand timers that is already behind the finish line runs out. Coordination among players is therefore required, preferably with a lot of talking among each other, which is also allowed in this game.
I know that not everyone can handle this hectic type of game, but I really love games with sand timers. And so, Quicksand also finds its way into my collection and will provide a lot of adrenaline at the next boardgame night or family evening.
Quicksand was not the only new game by HORRIBLE GUILD. In addition to this year’s biggest game Sunrise Lane, there were also plenty of expansions for existing games, including Evergreen and Railroad ink.
However, the highlight is likely to be the new version for Similo, the Lord of the Rings -edition.
As you see, it was quite hectic here in Essen, so let's take a break from the fair halls and see what Frank has been up to in his isolation station at home. Since I regularly provide him with games, he must have surely tried something...
Dr. McCoy to sickbay!
Okay, here we are for Day 2. Condition unchanged: In the halls of Messe Essen the SPIEL is running at full speed, and I am at home waiting to get better. But well, things aren’t too bad, because I am continuing my SPIEL@home, and also the October sun is shining, giving me a possibility to take a nice long afternoon nap on the balcony instead of roaming the crowded halls. Well, this may sound like a bit of whitewashing, but with things being as they are I keep seeing the positive sides of it…
Sitting at our balcony always is a bit meditative due to Nicole’s collection of bonsai trees, and I always marvel at the fact that she has nursed and raised these trees for almost all her life. Today seeing the trees was even more special, since I decided to go for a game which is actually all about raising Bonsai. Originally I had planned to surprise Nicole with the game for Christmas, but yesterday she had spied the game in one of the bags delivered from SPIEL to our home, and of course it had been out of the bag faster than lightning…
Introduction: Bonsai – dV GAMES (booth 2E143)
This game certainly was my most curious find while I prepared for the SPIEL. Not only is it about one of my wife’s favourite hobbies, but actually it is about a theme which I don’t think has been chosen for a boardgame before. Even though a good number of gardening games exists, a game about raising Bonsai trees is highly unusual, and so there was no question that I needed to get a copy.
40 years ago, Nicole started with her first Bonsai, and of course you start the game in the same way: with a pot! In a player’s pot tile, only the first part of the miniature trunk is available, and from there the players will have to extend and raise their trees during the game. Four different tiles exist for growing the tree: wood, leaf, flower and fruit. The basic rules for placement of these tiles match nature itself, because all wood tiles must be connected in an unbroken chain to the trunk, leaves must be connected to wood, flowers to leaves, and fruit also to leaves but not adjacent to another fruit. So that’s it? Place your tiles and have your Bonsai?
Of course not! It’s certainly cute to watch your very own Bonsai grow during the course of the game, and in the end all leaves, flowers and fruits will be worth Victory points. However, it’s the way in which you expand your tree which will decide whether you will be able to create a masterpiece. At the beginning of the game three out of five different types of goal tiles have been randomly chosen, and the player can try to succeed in collecting these goal tiles to score additional Victory points. So some goal tiles can be collected when a certain number of tiles have been placed, whereas other goal tiles require the players for example to grow their trees in cascade-style, thus potruding the dimensions of the tree’s pot and growing it to one side. To complicate things, each goal exists in low, medium and high difficulty. If a player has succeeded in reaching the low goal threshold, he may either claim it, or refuse and aim for a higher goal of the same type. It’s all or nothing here, since only one goal of each type may be collected, and so there may possibly other players competing to get to the medium or high level goals: first come, first served.
Each turn, a player either can Cultivate his tree by placing new tiles from his stockpile, or he can Meditate. Meditation is an important action, since it enables the player to gain new tiles and one Zen card which is chosen from an open display of four cards. These Zen cards are collected for a number of reasons, increasing the players’ powers for the rest of the game:
- Growth cards allow the placement of more tiles when the player choses to Cultivate.
- Tools increase a player’s allowance to keep tiles in his reserve.
- Master and Helper instantly provide additional tiles.
- Parchment cards list additional conditions for Victory points like additional points for types of tiles, points for Master and Helper cards etc.
As can be seen, Bonsai operates on a very straightforward mechanism, in it’s simpleness and clarity really matching the Zen of the game’s theme. You collect points by tile placement, by winning goals and by collecting cards which provide additional Victory points. This may sound like a well-trodden path, but it’s still absolutely charming to see how these elements have been brought together within the scope of Bonsai. Just like yesterday, I played the game solo, and there are several scenarios included which list a certain setup and then challenge the players to collect a certain number of Victory points. I really liked the whole experience, and it felt rather satisfying to watch my small Bonsai grow during the course of the game. Bonsai certainly takes a very unusual approach towards tile placement, and I can already predict that Nicole, being quite fond of abstract games, will fall in love with this small gem.
Scanning my stack of SPIEL 23 novelties for other games with a solo option, I opened up the new expansion for Lost Ruins of Arnak. Already the first expansion with the new asymmetric Expedition Leaders had been a blast in my gaming round, and now this new expansion promises to send the players out in search of a lost expedition.
Unboxing: Lost Ruins of Arnak: The Missing Expedition – CGE (booth 3Y124)
Going through the playing materials, I was truly astonished how much playing material CGE squeezed in this small box. There are new Expedition overlays, locations, assistants, monsters and cards, and even two new Expedition Leaders are included, complementing the six Leaders from the last expansion.
One of these Leaders is the Journalist, and it’s his aim to publish articles on expedition finds and adventures during the course of the game. With each article written, the Journalist activates new windfall effects for his actions, with his growing fame giving him access to an ever widening range of resources. The Mechanic on the other hand is really special, because she is trying to assemble an ancient machine of unmatched powers. This machine resembles an action wheel, always triggering new actions and benefits whenever it is turned, and during the game new cogs will be added to the engine wheel, giving even greater benefits. The Mechanic is accompanied by Rusty, her Ape-companion, together these two make a rather charming duo.
This is really a lot of new stuff to spice up your games of Arnak, but we have not yet touched the central element of this expansion. As mentioned, there is a possibility to set forth in search of a lost expedition, and this actually is a campaign of six linked games for one or two players. Each of the games in the campaign uses its own playing material and setup, and there are many special things like Encounter cards or special tiles which provide for a rather different playing experience in each new mission. For me it’s a strike of genius that the campaign actually can be played to discover and introduce all new playing materials included in this expansion, and when the campaign is over (it can be reset) all materials can be used in standard games of Arnak. Even the Encounter cards can be used later, because special locations will allow the players to have encounters outside the campaign.
I am really curious to start playing with this expansion, but I will postpone my departure for Arnak until Nicole has finished her current contracts. While the expansion can be played solo, playing it together with my wife will be much more fun, and so I reluctantly placed all materials back into their gamebox.
That’s all SPIEL@home for today! See you again tomorrow!!!
Together with Lutz, we then proceeded through the halls. This was easier said than done because today it was quite crowded. Although there was no real queue anywhere, it took a minute or two longer than yesterday to go from one hall to another. It’s good to know a few shortcuts in such situations.
Hidden Ark and the owner of ALL OR NONE GAMES publishing. I had set up the game at the Wednesday’s showcase, as reported, and so I took a photo with Tobias and his new game. Lutz will surely report on the game, either in this trade fair report or later in a review, but the artwork is certainly already admirable.
In the past, Hall 4 was often a hall for smaller publishers, where not much was going on. This year was different, and one booth, in particular, caused long lines. Everyone wanted to see what Vladimír Suchý had designed this year, following Underwater Cities and Woodcraft, so let`s have a short overview:
Overview: Evacuation– Delicious Games (booth 4J120)
In this game we must lead our civilization into the New World, because increasing solar radiation is destroying our old one. So we are asked to gather our people and evacuate them. Both worlds, the old one and the new one, we find on the board. While the old world has still to function, we must care for our people that are already shipped to the new world, so production must be increased here too. And this requires resources and factories.
It is good to transport them, but then, they are missing on the old world for the remaining players. So it’s a challenge to handle the available resources on two planet . Naturally, with every transport of factories and resources, from the old world to the new one, production decreases on the old world as does the income. But then, production on the new world did not really start, because too much is missing.
The game can be played as solo and I heard that there is not many player interaction, so maybe 1 or 2 players are not the worst choice. There were only a few tables and, as I said, there were many interested visitors, so there was no choice for me to playtest the game. But the idea looks promising, so you might want to learn more about it. For sure you can, because I got copy and will tell you my opinion in a few couple of weeks.
To my delight, Shipyard has also been republished by the DELICIOUS GAMES. This game was the one that converted Lutz into an advanced boardgame player many years ago. If you like, you can take a look at my old report, which can be found under Boardgame Review section. I think the new layout is mega cool. Otherwise, I was told, not much has changed except for the individual set-up and some minor improvements.
With this I leave you also from inside the halls until tomorrow.
Saturday, 07.10: Third Convention Day
SPIEL 23 – Day 3 – SPIEL@home
So, here it is, day 3 of this year’s SPIEL. No new developments on my side - I am still at home watching the people stream down my street towards SPIEL. But funny enough, all games which I wanted to purchase or playtest have found their way to my home in those three convention days. The only thing I am really missing are the unexpected gems, the game which weren’t on my preparation list but which pop up all of a sudden while strolling through the halls. However, I try to counterbalance this by spying on other website and reports, and so - with Ralf’s help – my SPIEL@home is progressing quite nicely.
Usually I don’t play any games solo, because Nicole is as much a gamer (or better: gameress) as I am. However, until tonight she was quite busy in her job, and so I had to contend myself by trying out games with a possibility for solo play. Quite interestingly, in recent years it seems to have become common practice for publishers to include quite sophisticated solo rules, very often with “automa” who simulate human players quite successfully by putting up a tough challenge. Funny enough, ALL games in my SPIEL@home stockpile actually are playable solo, and so I could start today’s gaming session with a real brainteaser!
Playtesting session: War of the Ring: The Card Game – Against the Shadow – ARES GAMES (booth 3A105)
One of my highest ranking games at last year’S SPIEL was the War of the Ring cardgame by ARES GAMES. For years and years Nicole and I have been doing countless battles for dominance in Middle Earth in the classic War of the Ring game, and now finally a cardgame had been released which actually stands a comparison to its bigger brother. We are still intrigued with this game, because it feels similar to the boardgame and totally new at the same time, and time will prove that ARES GAMES really was able to create a second everygreen on the topic of the Lord of the Rings
I have already heard last year that designer Ian Brody was thinking about one or two expansions for the cardgame, and an expansion which I have read about will introduce new factions and strategies to the game. However, this expansion is still under development, and so the new Against the Shadow expansion will not introduce any new gameplay elements, but instead it contains a new deck of Shadow cards (along with a few Path cards and Battleground cards) which will allow one or two Free Peoples player(s) to play against an automated shadow.
There was a phase last winter when I was teaching the game to myself, and at that time I resorted so a set of solo rules which a fellow gamer had created and published at BGG. It has been a good experience, but to say the most important thing right away, the new deck and rules included in this expansion really create a feeling of playing against another human player! As said, I am not really experienced with solo play, but when playing the game this afternoon I was facing many different situations when the game’s AI did put me quite under pressure, and in the end all my cardplay skills weren’t enough to beat this automated Sauron on first play.
The solo rules require three important elements which allow the expansion to take off. On the one hand you have a quite straightforward flowchart which priorizes the actions of the two Shadow AI players. Depending on the situation in the current round, cards may be played, moved or used for their special abilities, and even though some of the actions may seem unusual for an experienced player, the results of the actions stepwise become visible, so that the AI really follows a major plan each round. In a way, the AI moves don’t always seem to be perfect, but this actually matches the fact that a human Shadow player would have limited knowledge about the hand of cards of his opponents, and so the AI has some inbuilt weaknesses which an experienced player might try to exploit. Mind you, from my perspective this is done on purpose, because a game with restricted knowledge always includes some kind of uncertainty, and so the player actually can try to set up traps for the Shadow AI – but this won’t always be successful…
The second building block for the AI are some minor rules tweaks, but only for the Shadow side. Whilst easy to perform, these changes are incredible gamechangers, allowing the AI to play with almost deadly efficiency. So, the AI doesn’t cycle a card when playing a card, thus enabling it to get almost EVERY card into play, and this is combined with the ability to move cards to a Path or Battleground even if they have been played into reserve the same round. Of course all this is not an option for a human player, but it emulates the efficiency and experience of a seasoned player well enough to put up quite a challenge.
Finally, and that’s the central building block of the whole expansion, the decks of Shadow cards have been replaced with a new deck which is tailor-cut for AI play. Of course the rules which I found on BGG had been useful for solo-play, using the standard components of the base game, but there have been situations where no well working solution was given. An example here is the playability of items, because a matching character has to be in play in order to allow an item to be played. Here the cards have been tweaked to allow alternative ways of action, and this once again simulates the actions of a human player quite well.
Talking about a human player, the rules of Against the Shadow contain clear definitions and examples of “useful” gameplay. The flowchart uses this term, and so the AI is prevented from making any silly moves. Furthermore, it’s important that the AI places or moves cards only if it will “conceivably win” a battle, and once again there is a clear and easy-to-handle rule whether cards will be sent to a Battlefield or Path, or whether the Shadow AI will hold its forces in reserve.
There were already some quite memorable moments in this playtesting session. In one round the AI first activated Minas Tirith from the deck of Battlegrounds, and then made an all-out attack for it, winning the White City despite my defense of 8 shields (City Guard and Great Gate). The attack was almost orchestrated, and it was really fun to see how the Shadow players gathered their forces and went out for the big battle. On a more quite moment, I was able to lure several Nazgul onto Weathertop quite early in the game, removing them in one coup de grace with Gandalf the Gray, and so the AI sometimes shows delusions of grandeur, just like ol’ Sauron himself. All this was thematic and thrilling at the same time, and so the expansion will be quite an experience even for serious players.
Today, my game was closely watched by a Catgul on the other side of the table, keeping an eye on my gaming skills and giving me recommendations which cards to play. The expansion certainly will be well used also by Nicole and me, because the two decks of the Free Peoples actually can be played by one player each. Nicole and I are quite fond of cooperative games, and since we are rarely on the same side in War of the Rings, we will now have the opportunity more often in its cardgame sibling.
There was still a bit of time left this afternoon, and so I decided to take a quick delve into the caves of Imperial Miners, a new spin-off game set in the world of Ignacy Trzewiczek’s Imperial Settlers.
Introduction: Imperial Miners – PORTAL GAMES (booth 3H102)
My friend Ignacy has created quite a successful family of games following Imperial Settlers, and the popularity of the whole series is a quite good example for the fact that a thematic setting really can influence sales numbers. Some of you might remember that Imperial Settlers was based on the same mechanism as 51st State, a post-apocalyptic cardgame which was mostly known in circles of hardcore gamers. However, the invention of the Imperial world with its rather cute inhabitants made the game much better accessible for families and gamers alike, and so the redesign had been the hour of birth for a whole line of Imperial games.
However, Imperial Miners which I checked out today only shares the family name and the cute graphics with Imperial Settlers - in all other terms it’s a fully independent game. As the title says, the imperial factions now have decided to expand their empires underground, and so the players compete to set up the most rewarding mining operation.
To be honest, on first sight the game doesn’t seem to offer much of a challenge. Each round you place a new card in your mine, activate it and take the income it generates. Play ten rounds, and that’s it: add up your score. But hey, this one-sentence-description leaves out an important part. The Mine cards collected and placed by the players will have to be placed in depths 1 to 4, always collected with cards above them. Whenever a new card is placed, a chain of cards above the new card is activated as well, and so the players actually will set up rather interesting production chains during the course of the game.
The functions of the Mine cards are manifold, ranging from simple generation of income to extra activations, drawing new Mine cards or giving Progress points. These can be spent on advancing the player’s marker on the three (doublesided) Progress boards, and here each movement also can trigger nice extra effects.
Both the Progress boards and some types of Mine cards also allow for a decent amount of strategy in the game. You can try to collect Mine cards belonging to certain or different factions, you can turn Gold into valuable Gems, or you can dig deep, trying to place as many level 4 Mine carts as possible, thus gaining most income and re-using already placed cards. The combination of many scoring options allows for a quite versatile gameplay, but in the end the player who makes the best combinations will prevail.
Talking about other players, the game unfortunately offers no player interaction. All players just manage their own mines, and so there is no card market, no invasion of opposing mines and no sabotage - the Imperial Miners live in peaceful coexistence. Only an event card which is drawn at the beginning of each round may trigger something unexpected, but quite often these events are beneficial and give the players something extra.
Due to the lack of interaction Imperial Miners is a perfect game for solo play, and so the rules list no changes or special rules for a single player. Instead, you are aiming for a highscore, a streamlined exercise which was okay for me today. However, when you tolerate the missing player interaction, the game still offers an interesting challenging. Laying out your Mine cards in a way to create efficient action chains is but interesting and satisfying, especially when long combinations with special cross-actions can be used in the second half of the game. Here Imperial Miners really shines with its streamlined approach, and so the game certainly has deserved its place in Ignacy’s Imperial universe!
Overall, this was once again a rather nice SPIEL@home day for me, but I can imagine that you now want to see what was going on in the halls today. So, let’s go along with Ralf, our man inside the halls!
And here it is, the third official day of SPIEL. Of course, we are back reporting from inside the halls.
Lutz had spent the night at my place and - although it had been quite late yesterday - he urged me to go to the fair with him again very early in the morning. I tried to calm him down, but it was no use. So we set off again at half past eight and arrived at the fairgrounds at 9 am. Fortunately, we had managed to find a parking space, so that Lutz was rid of his biggest worry in the morning.
Of course, we were not the only ones who set off so early. And so it was like every year. A large crowd of game enthusiasts waited in front of the entrances for admission and at a command the hunt was on for the game tables, but especially for the shops with rare games.
I don't really like the crowds and the rush, but since we were there, we had to take advantage of it. Yesterday, LE SORPION MARQUÉ had announced that they would be selling another 300 copies of their highly hyped Sky Train, and Mischwald (Forest Shuffle) was also to be sold in small quantities this morning. We wanted to take advantage of that and indeed we were successful both times, as you can see from our happy faces in the picture:
But we weren't actually here to buy games (actually, we both have far too many games at home already), but to try them out and report on them, so that you all get something out of the fair or - if you visited the fair yourself - to show what you might have missed. That's why we went to our first test now:
Try-Out: Iron, Blood, Snow & Mud– Phalanx (booth 3R128)
Iron, Blood, Snow & Mud let’s us experience Germany's Russian campaign in a playful way. In my youth, Axis & Allies was one of the most complex games with a similar theme and task and I played often with Frank who always had the better rolling luck. However, this older title was about the entire 2nd World War. Iron, Blood, Snow & Mud, on the other hand, focuses on the East and is a pure 2-person game.
One player therefore takes the role of Germany, the other plays Stalin's Soviet Union. The other powers of the Second World War play no role in this game. The game begins in 1941, shortly before the Wehrmacht invades the territory of the Soviet Union.
At the beginning of the game, all strengths are on the German side, in particular all available armies, infantries, armoured divisions, aircraft and ships of Germany are already in play. The Soviet player, on the other hand, has to make do with only a few units, but owns most of the board, including the cities on it. In the course of the game, however, this will gradually change so that the German player will not receive a single unit, while the Soviet player will gradually receive more and more.
Supporting attacks by aircraft and ships are then announced, armies moved and attacks carried out in a set order. Convoys are particularly interesting in movement, where friendly units can be used as a transit station, so that units in the rear can be quickly brought to the front in existing chains.
Battles are fought with dice, with armies supported by adjacent infantry, placed aircraft and ships, allowing more dice to be rolled. The defeated army must retreat and if the result of the dice exceeds the other result of the dice by double, the army is even destroyed.
Then it is checked whether a city has been conquered. For this, both sides of the city must be occupied by the enemy army. This is not only important for victory, which Germany can only achieve if many Soviet cities are conquered, the Soviet on the other hand needs only a single town that was originally German, but also to prevent foreign armies from being recruited here. Even more important, however - especially for the German player - is that supply routes to own cities exist, otherwise armies must be removed from the game.
Partisans, terrain restrictions as well as restrictions during the winter and spring months are other important elements of the game to consider. At first the game seemed a bit confusing to us, but due to the clear symbols and the straightforward guidance through the turn list on the board, it was no problem at all to know what to do after a short time. Iron, Blood, Snow & Mud, however, requires tough strategic action, otherwise you will quickly go down, even if the luck factor still has a certain influence.
First impression: a challenging tactical game, if you like the genre, even if I lost due to a stupid mistake...
The game will be released in a 2 or 3 month as a retail version, here in Essen it was not for sale yet.
After that, I left Lutz for the time being, he had his own demo appointments, which he will tell you about in a moment. For me, it was straight on to Board & Dice, whose both was very close by. I already told you a bit about Nucleum and Barcelona in the warm-up, so let's now take a look at what the successful publisher has planned for next year:
Forecast: Windmill Valley– Board & Dice (booth 3R128)
Dani Garcia, whom we already know from Barcelona, is the author of the new game in which we take on the role of tulip farmers and entrepreneurs. Tulips used to be a kind of financial investment, but even today it is important to find the best tulip varieties and then cultivate them in your own tulip fields for economic success. In addition, windmills must also be built and improved in the game in order to be economically successful.
The game, whose rules are currently still under construction, mainly for fine-tuning, comes in quite unusually fresh colours for a BOARD & DICE game. Ola from marketing told me that this was deliberately chosen for the game, as the presentation of the game is becoming increasingly important. Windmill Valley is not meant to be an absolute expert game, somewhere between a family game and a connoisseur game, so the colourful presentation could make a lot of sense.
The game certainly looks great, from the box to the details on the board including the beautiful windmill pieces. We can therefore be curious about the playing experience when the game will be released around June next year.
Apart from that, I can report that Barcelona was already sold out at the stand. Nucleum, which I think is even stronger, is still available, so if you're in the halls tomorrow, you might get a chance to buy it. I also have a copy at home for a detailed test, which I will report on in the next few weeks.
Like yesterday, it was quite crowded in the halls. Fortunately, you don't really notice it when you're engrossed in a game, but when you're moving around, it's enough of a strain in the long run. The booth of HEIDELBÄR GAMES was also quite crowded today.
But I wanted to try their new game. In addition to the German-language edition of Kutna Hora and some good games from last year’s SPIEL, Time Division was presented here in particular. So let’s see what’s that about:
Overview: Time Division– Heidelbär Games (booth 2B102)
Time Division is a pure 2-person game. In principle, it is also a card game, but it comes in a larger box with a board that helps a lot in the beginning - when you don't know the game very well. For example, a metal coin on the board indicates which player currently has the initiative and the board indicates where a card can be played.
The players' decks are put together in a drafting phase at the beginning. Each turn, both players simultaneously play a card on a kind of pedestal on the game board. The player with the higher initiative on the card then determines how both cards are used. One card must always be used as an influence card, which is then placed in the respective player's display as victory points, the other must be used as an action card. So, if you won und if you then use your own card as an action card (what you probably wanted to do with it), the other card goes to the scoring area of your opponent.
There are many different actions on the card (e.g. victory points that were thought to be safe may have to be given away again or a high-scoring card may be drawn from the deck), and the game comes with three different age decks. The story, in fact, is that we try to master time nodes in order to outlast time. And each age has a different difficulty level, which is particularly noticeable in the complexity of the actions (and thus also the number of symbols on the cards).
The game is also marked as an advanced player game and should have a high replay value. You can also play the individual eras one after the other, quasi as a tournament, and then determine the total score. This also offers the possibility for expansions if the game is a success, which it certainly looks like it will be here in Essen, because further age decks with even more complex action possibilities are literally on offer.
That’s brings us nearly to an end of my part of the day, but before I left the halls completely I stopped by the Meet & Play event. This is a new offer from the Merz-Verlag that takes place for the second time now. It’s an offer for content creators to meet and play games together in a quieter environment than the exhibition halls.
As you can see, there were a lot of people in this area, and it was quite nice to see the one or other face that you only saw in social media before.
That was it for me, but now, let’s see what Lutz has experienced today here in Essen.
It's Saturday and I finally can come to the exhibition halls in Essen and join the game mania! Since Frank is forced to report from the home office this year, I'll help Ralf out a bit and take a look at a few novelties I have on my list with you.
My first way lead me to Tobias Hall from ALLORNONEGAMES a small independent game publisher who presents his latest work Hidden ARK here in Essen. This game has a very unique and beautiful artwork, for which Angela Rizza is the responsible artist. With Hidden Ark Tobias not only wants to present a great game, but also to point out the vulnerability of our earth and especially our oceans. The goal of the game is to save as many endangered fish species from extinction as possible. To do this, players must build research stations, collect funds and build new rescue ships to reach remote regions of the world's oceans and save the species. At the beginning of the game, this is not so easy. Only when you upgrade your own action bars via various opportunity tokens, you can work out stronger and stronger action combinations and become more and more powerful in the rescue business! So if you haven't done it yet, you should definitely come to his booth 3X103.
Here you can also find his other wonderful games that deal with villains or fairies or other mythical creatures. Whenever I visited his booth, there was a lot going on and the test game tables were occupied.
Just like Tobias, the publisher and authors of my next game are from Scandinavia. The brothers Eilif and Asmund Svensson from the publisher CHILIFOX GAMES are all about Footprints. The names of the two can quickly make you prick up your ears, after all, they are also the authors of the hippie game hit Come Together, which was recently published in German by SKELLIG GAMES, where you have to set up a music festival. Of course, Footprints is not about the footprints that festival-goers leave behind in the muddy ground, but rather about leading your primeval family clan through rough terrain, collecting resources and leaving your footprints in the form of cave paintings at important points along the way. Again, it's about improving your skills and skillfully directing the fortunes of your tribe to get them to their destination quickly.
My next stop was a bit more extended. At RED MOJO GAMES I had the opportunity to try out the prototype of the new game of the publisher Inferno with the dear Boardgamepandas and Ralf. Quite a hellish affair! Lots of skulls and fire can be found on the huge game board. The object of the game, in the style of Dante's Inferno, is to get the souls of sinners to their assigned places in hell. Depending on which of the seven deadly sins a deceased person has to go to hell for, they will be taken to different depths in the Hellmouth. I have always wondered whether fornication or gluttony is the more serious offense. Now I know. When a sinner's soul is moved to the right place in hell by a player, he receives infamypoints for it. At the same time, moving the soul within the circles of Hell, triggers the possibility for a player to use their Worker in a specific area within Florence to perform an action that will help them achieve their goals. At the same time, a player can charge a sinner in that area, providing a new soul for the journey to Hell.
In Inferno, many plot options interlock very well. The first few moves feel a bit random. You first have to find your way around the wonderfully designed game board and understand the effects of the actions. After a turn or two, however, it very quickly becomes clear what powerful chains of actions can be created, thanks in part to the catchy iconography. The interaction here is also excellent, as the individual souls are not assigned to a player who created them, but simply to a mortal sin. You really have to think carefully about whether you're moving a soul to be able to perform a certain action in Florence, or if you're helping an opponent too much to score easy points without much effort. Inferno is scheduled to be crowdfunded and launched in the spring of 2024. Maybe I'll get the chance to get a little more involved with this hellish game. I will report!
After that, for amusement and a refreshing change of pace, I turned to the fine arts and checked out Art Society by MIGHTY BOARDS. In this game, similar to the real art world, the goal is to outdo your art collector friends and arrange the most awesome and valuable art collection. Unfortunately, you can't always predict exactly what the next trend on the art market will be, and trends come and go. Therefore, the value of your own collection can vary depending on what art trend is currently in vogue. In Art Society, you puzzle the artworks on your own wall in the form of the player board after you have bought them at a real art auction. Works that are not auctioned off are exhibited in a museum, which makes the respective art movement more popular again and possibly also more valuable. So it is not so easy to estimate what will be up to date in the future and therefore worth a lot of victory points at the end of the game. Art Society lives up to its name and is a real eye-catcher. The small works of art that you can hang or place on your wall are really great to look at and uniquely designed to match the art style depicted.
Even the lid of the game box is a piece of art, as it exhibits the paintings shown there as dual layer lids in recesses! Of course, I didn't leave the MIGHTY BOARDS booth without taking another look at Fateforge: Chronicles of Kaan, for which I had a look at the prototype last year. After the game was successfully funded via Kickstarter, a lot has really happened! I'm really excited to see how this storydriven RPG will work when it's finished. After all, a chapter is only supposed to last an hour, guaranteeing a more compact gameplay experience than other RPGs. The quality of the game materials really turned out great! The miniatures, the dice and even the map tiles are very high quality. Even the included maps feel authentic! By the way, if you still want to grab a Kickstarter version of the game, you can still make a Late Pledge until the end of October! It's worth it!
Sunday, 08.10: Final Day
So here it is: the last day of SPIEL'23. And as always, we are all exhausted, finished and don't want to see any more games for a while. But the fever has taken hold of us again, as it does every year, and there are lots of new games at home, even though we all swore to hold back this year. Well, that's the way it is at the SPIEL.
Unfortunately, our concept of me (Ralf) and Frank taking turns reporting every day didn't quite work out. Thanks to Frank's infection, he was condemned to watch at home. However, I supplied him with games and so, he was able to contribute to this coverage from his SPIEL@home. Fortunately, Lutz supported me a little from the halls for the last two days and also contributed to this coverage. In addition, there is a novelty today: the first short fair report by Dorian, who was on the fair on Thursday and has already written the one or other review here on our website.
But I also had to deliver today and so I went to the fair with my younger son this morning, quite exhausted, to report on the last day from the halls. And it started quite well with a short test run at CGE:
Overview: Kutná Hora – The City of Silver– CGE (booth 3Y124)
In Kutná Hora - The City of Silver, we are transported back to the 14th century, the time of the great silver mines. At that time silver was found on many places, but also in Bohemia, in the middle of today's Czech Republic. In Kutná Hora in particular, a flourishing town grew up around the silver mines, where people dug, traded and haggled. Even though this town is not very well known outside the Czech Republic, it is worth taking a closer look at the history book. At the time of silver mining, the town was the second largest city in Bohemia after Prague and one of the richest and most important cities of Europe.
We replay this heyday in the new game with the impressive black and silver box. As heads of important families, we get involved in mining and trade and have to prove ourselves in a tough trade battle. For the prices for the individual goods are constantly changing, thanks to an interesting mechanism in which cards are pushed behind a card rack with three different sliders, each of which reveals a value on the card through a hole. This is the current price, all other prices on the card remain hidden. The sliders are frequently moved by the players' actions during the game, but since no one knows exactly which values from the cards will be exposed by being moved, the price development remains a black box in a way. And new cards can change that again, so you are forced to permanently to adapt your strategy.
Each turn a player plays one of their cards and can perform one of the two actions on the card, so the game flow is relatively fast. The church also plays a role in this game once again, as so often in medieval games. So, we build the St. Barbara Cathedral together to achieve more victory points.
Kutná Hora is certainly one of the highlights of the fair, so I will definitely provide a detailed report in a few weeks for that.
After this short introduction to one of the highlights of the fair, I continued to walk through the halls with my son and met one or two strange apparitions in the corridors:
With such strange apparitions in the halls, it was a matter of getting away quickly. We rescued ourselves to a free table at QUEEN GAMES to have a look at another of this year's novelties:
Playtest: Graffiti– Queen Games (booth 6A202)
In Graffiti we are asked to spray a tunnel in London with graffiti (this tunnel exists in reality too). For this you need - logically - spray cans and especially in the right colours. At the beginning of the game, each player has three of these spray cans in the colours yellow, red and blue. In addition, there is a randomly drawn location tile that determines the exact place in the tunnel that you are allowed to spray. In the tunnel itself, everything is already prepared, apparently famous graffiti artists have already thought ahead. So you know for each element of the tunnel which colours are needed for the graffiti.
With our five action markers, we can then go to the diverse places on the board. One action is to go to one of the tunnel sections, hand in the matching location token and then use the required spray cans. To do this, the spray cans must actually be available in the player's supply. After use, they are empty and have to be handed in at the end of the round. Fortunately, two of the cans are saved and go back to the player's supply.
But what do you do if you need green or black colours? Well, of course, you go to the local graffiti dealer and buy new spray cans. This is also an action for which you place an action marker in the appropriate place. The same applies to picking up more location tiles; here, too, the corresponding action fields are available.
In most cases, activating the same action field again will cost more, i.e. you will have to place two action markers there instead of one. If you manage to spray a new section of the tunnel in your turn, you get victory points, immediately and if the complete graffiti is completed by the end of the game, even again then.
Essentially, these are the most important elements of the game. Graffiti is thus an easy introduction to worker placement with a very good artwork. In any case, we had a lot of fun in our first game completing the graffiti one by one and thus turning over the respective tiles, which only revealed the true splendour of the artwork. Worker Placement for the whole family with lovely graphics, that's what you can call it.
By the way, the game was explained at QUEEN GAMES by the two authors themselves, another highlight here in Essen with the chance to have a copy of the game signed at the same time. And who can explain a game better than the author himself?
After this creative graffiti spraying, we really felt like painting. But now also in real life! That had to be possible somewhere at the fair, since many games now come with miniatures that are crying out to be painted. And that's right: in Hall 1 of the fair, formerly the center of some major publishers, there were several booths that made it possible to paint miniatures. We decided on the VALLEJO booth, mainly because we had the chance here to be trained by a professional artist. And I think our result is quite impressive, isn't it?
If you should also enjoy this for next year, I can only recommend to reserve your place early, as the interest in these actions is definitely very high. And it is time-consuming, which is why it was now time for me to say goodbye.
On the way out, however, I stopped briefly at the DRAGON DAWN PRODUCTIONS booth, where author and publisher Ren Multamäki welcomed me. Ren had already been my guest on my birthday party on Tuesday, but it was only here that he presented me the final version of his new card game Tolerance, which I had already rated as prototype in our reviews (refer to that section for more information). A somewhat different trick-taking game, which I can highly recommend, if you like complex trick-taking games.
So, what has changed since last year, the year Dominique Metzler sold her Friedrich-Merz Verlag to the Nuremberg Toy Fair? First of all: Dominique Metzler was not there. And that, of course, is more than unusual for many who have been around for as long as Frank and I have. Dominque was everywhere, it felt, talking to God and the world, even to us "little" reviewers. And she knew everyone, really everyone, at least one had the feeling of it. Whether this is already the case with the new management, I cannot judge, but I think this will definitely take some time to fill in the big shoes....
Apart from that, the press conference was different from last years, but refreshingly good. The novelty show, during the opening of which the Deutsche Spielepreis award was awarded, certainly needs some work for the next year. Otherwise, this award ceremony, which has always been one of the highlights in the past, is somewhat lost. But the new management will surely manage that, too.
The hall concept, on the other hand, was convincing. I asked many visitors and exhibitors about this and almost all of them were very pleased with the new concept. The flow of visitors was also better managed than in many other years, a big prais for the management for this.
What else remains in the memory? Was there a highlight or a new trend? For the highlight, as always, I have to let it sink in first. One trend can be observed, however: the phenomenon of trading card games is back. If you looked again today at how much time people spent waiting to play Disney Lorcana or Pokemon, you know why the next big game in this field, Star Wars Unlimited, is already on the horizont.
But with its more than 1700 new releases, the fair certainly delivered something for everyone (!). It's been a long time since we had a chance to give a noteworthy overview with our reporting. Nevertheless, we hope that you found one or two interesting things and hope that you will remain loyal to us: for next year and for the one or other review report that will now appear in the next few weeks.
In any case, I would like to thank you for the many nice comments and now I will pass over to Dorian for his first trade fair report, before Frank then contributes this year's closing words from his Spiel@home.
Stay safe and stay tuned!
With best regards, Ralf
Hi there, this is Dorian. I am looking forward to my first report from the game and hope you enjoy it. I attended the fair only on Thursday, but I had the chance to playtest one of the games I bought that day with my wife and I am happe to share my experiences with you:
Playtest: Pirates of Maracaibo– dlp games (booth 3G130)
Pirates Of Maracaibo is a stand-alone game in Alexander Pfister's Maracaibo series. No previous knowledge is necessary. We can confirm this, as the original Maracaibo unfortunately remains on our Pile-Of-Shame.
The SPIEL 2023 novelty is much simpler in terms of complexity and can be learned quickly. A maximum of four players can make the Caribbean unsafe and that within 25 minutes per player. Our game actually lasted just under 50 minutes with two players. We see engine builder elements and move our ship on a variable sea map up to a maximum of three locations.
In the process we improve our actions, collect quests as well as treasures and move our explorer meeple to get more bonuses. This creates nice synergies between the actions. The actions are handled quickly, which creates a very pleasant game flow. Some of the game mechanics are rather abstract for the pirate theme, but they are implemented in a serviceable way, such as the capture action. You roll three different colored D6 which you choose only one of. This decides your possible bonuses and treasures.
There is no lack of gameplay variability so far, since as already mentioned the sea map can be built up variably and smaller expansion modules are already included. These offer different variants or add new material to the game.
Visually, the game is nice to look at and the material itself is solidly made. Only the punching out of the ship tableaus could be a bit better. However, the tableaus survive undamaged with a bit of dexterity.
In our first impression, we liked Pirates Of Maracaibo. The quick moves and satisfying actions entertain over the playing time, so it doesn't feel too long, at least for two. We want to try out the various modules and can well imagine three players as the optimal number of players.
In addition, the game naturally makes us want to play the "big" Maracaibo, but this should not be interpreted negatively for this spin-off. It definitely has a right to exist and can keep the high level of the Alexander Pfister games.
As an early review, we would give it a close 8 out of 10.
That was it for me as a newbie at the SPIEL coverage. Let's hand the mic over to Frank now for some nice closing words:
SPIEL 23 – Day 4 – Ladies’ Day
And here we are, the final day of SPIEL 23 is over, and it’s now to me to write a fitting conclusion to this year’s report. Unfortunately I have not been able to be in the halls for just one day, but – believe it or not – this did not really impair on my enjoyment of the show. As a matter of fact, I have been able to get almost all games which I wanted to collect, and here a big THANK YOU goes to Ralf who has kept me well supplied during the whole show. Sitting ill at home, watching others go to the halls of SPIEL, otherwise would have been quite unnerving, but with a big stockpile of fresh games waiting to be played I am as happy as I have been at the end of every SPIEL. One or two games still need to be purchased (Sky Team was sold out when I discovered it online), but this is normal after-SPIEL business as well…
The biggest thing Nicole and I missed was our joint Sunday in the halls. If you are a long-time reader of this report, you know that Sunday is Ladies’ Day for me, with my wife taking the lead and picking out many games which I would otherwise have missed. However, traditions must be kept, and so we made our Ladies’ Day at SPIEL@home, with Nicole picking a new game which we played (and enjoyed quite a lot) this afternoon!
But more about this in a minute. One thing I discovered yesterday was the fact that my daily update thread at Boardgamegeek actually was receiving a lot of likes. This has actually moved us to second rank in the “Hotness” ranking on the BGG entrance page! I had to smile when I discovered this, because we may be a bit old-fashioned in our way of reporting, but HEY!, after 27 years we are still HOT!!!.
Another thing which I could witness from home was the fact that there was a big traffic jam in the morning hours of all convention days. This is not a new phenomenon, because there is a lot of traffic for many fairs at Messe Essen, but still the situation has worsened in the last one or two years. The city of Essen is trying new traffic concepts, and these turn out to be not really useful, and so many people have to wait for hours in their cars if they arrive at the opening hours. There is a bad combination of parking lots directly at the show and park+ride areas further away, and especially at the SPIEL many people try to park close to the show (to get the purchased games into their cars easily). This results in a special rush for the parking lots directly at the fairground, and the City of Essen simply cannot find proper answers to this problem.
The most daring move would be to establish only park+ride, or even extend the subway for one station to end directly at the park+ride area. However, the most of the cities in the Ruhr area have a budget freeze due to constant lack of funds, and so any costly solution is not an option. So, if you are planning to visit the next SPIEL, be careful if you plan to come by car. It’s much more wise to use public transport or book a hotel in the area, because otherwise you may spend part of the mornings in your car.
However, enough SPIEL talk – let’s talk about a game! As said, I left it for Nicole to chose a game for us this afternoon, and she decided to go for the cutest looking box in the whole stack of novelties. It’s a dungeon crawler, but one which focuses on the poor and peaceful creatures living down there, and not the nasty heroes who have come to rob their beloved treasures.
Playtesting session: Keep the Heroes Out! – MIRAKULUS (booth 2B150)
Okay, I have to concede that the monsters in this reversed dungeon crawler are incredibly cute. Slimes, Rats, Ghosts, the Dragon – they all seem more like pets than dark denizens, and so it’s no wonder that Nicole choose this game for our Ladies’ Day. Indeed Keep the Heroes Out! directly wins players over by its graphics and the solid wooden gaming pieces, and with such high-quality components its always a bit of a question whether the game itself can meet the same level of quality.
In the game, each player takes control over a clan of dungeon dwellers (or the Dragon, who is technically a clan, but with only one creature). Each of these clans come with its own deck of Action cards and playing pieces, and the playing styles for the clans differ quite considerably. So, for example the Dragon or the Lizardmen are great warriors, whereas the Slimes are more of a defensive nature, possessing special abilities to get stronger when attacked.
The players chose and set up one of 20 different scenarios, and each of these coms with a few special components and rules. However, the goal of the scenarios probably will always be the same, to prevent the intruding Heroes from taking the Treasure token in the central Treasure Chamber. So, each player starts the game with a few of his creatures on the gameboard, and tries to use his cards to set up traps, recruit reinforcements, battle Heroes and defend the dungeon.
The player actions are quite straightforward, with the players’ Action cards giving them access to the expectable range of actions like moving creatures or attacking Heroes. However, quite important are the Activation symbols which can be found on some cards, because the players can use these to activate special rooms in the Dungeon. In one room the players can produce Traps, and using movement actions a player can use his creatures to move these traps around, setting them up in order to remove Heroes before they are able to attack or advance.
Another possibility to use Activation symbols if to produce certain types of resources (Bones, Toads, Books or Coins). Once produced, these resources can be used in other rooms to aquire new cards for a player’s deck of action cards, and depending on the type of resources the players can obtain Action cards with creatures, scrolls, weapons or potions. Here the strategic implications become quite pronounced, because good deckbuilding skills are essential to increase a clan’s potential for the endgame. As said, the clans follow different types of tactics, and so a player should purchase cards which will allow him to deepen the initial skills of his clan. However, the dilemma is that the market for purchasing cards is rather limited, because it’s always only 5 cards. The players have a possibility to exchange the cards on offer, but this will most certainly produce groans from other players, because the discarded cards probably would have been needed by them. So, good player cooperation is essential, not only for fighting the pesky Heroes, but also for catering resources and purchasing cards.
The Heroes are activated at the end of each player’s turn, with a number of Hero cards being revealed and activated before the next player starts. These cards will show where new Heroes of a certain type will arrive, and directly upon arrival the Heroes will try to wreak havoc on the dungeon creatures and their defenses. So, even before starting their activation, an arriving Thief will remove traps from his room, the Elf will shoot a creature in the next room, the Warrior destroys resources and the Wizard boosts morale and reactivates exhausted Heroes. After this entry the Heroes are activated by a simple activation procedure, allowing them to attack, collect Treasures and keep moving towards the Treasure Chamber.
It’s now up to the players to use their creatures to stop and remove Heroes before their number gets too big. In this fashion, the game turns into a fully pledged Dungeon Defense, a very thematic and unique variant of classic Tower Defense games. Whilst starting with a lower number of Heroes in the first run of the Hero deck, the number of Heroes revealed is increased by one for the second and final run, and even in simple mode the first game ended nearly disastrous for Nicole and me. Nicole chose the Slimes which kept multiplying and building action chains, whereas I went into the fray with the Lizardmen, archery specialists which could kill Heroes from afar. For the first part the game progressed quite smoothly with Nicole and me setting up our defenses, but in the second run of the Hero deck the game showed it’s true potential. The Heroes marched ever closer towards the Treasure Chamber, and only by a combined final effort we were able to prevent them from sacking the Treasure Chamber in the final round.
Entertaining gameplay, quick player turns, challenging enemies and cute graphics - Keep the Heroes Out! was able to deliver and shine on all criteria. Nicole and I spent an hilarious afternoon in our beloved dungeon, and we will soon be back for more. The game actually includes a campaign mode which allows all 20 scenarios to be played in succession, and whilst the campaign rules only introduce only marginal changes, they are nonetheless an initial incentive to continue dungeoneering right away. In addition, we also purchased the Keep the Heroes Out!: Guild Master's Revenge expansion, and this small extra box offers the possibility for one player to change sides and take control of the Heroes. We can’t wait to try this variant with a few friends, because the game feels much more strategic and challenging than classic hack’n slash Heroquesty dungeon crawlers, and it was definitely our perfect afternoon entertainment for this very special Ladies’ Day.
This brings me to the end of this year’s report, and of course you will like to know which games I have received during these four days. The haul is smaller than usual, but this is not only due to this year’s illness, but also to the fact that I get much more picky which games to take home. Our collection is large enough, and so I like to single out games ahead of the show, thus saving both money and cupboard space.
The new games will definitely keep Nicole and me well entertained for months to come, and I am already looking forward to long winter weekends when will slowly make our way through the pile of novelties. Quite a few of the games also offer cooperative play and campaign modes, and so we will be able to follow our most favourite gaming style, talking and discussing strategies for many an afternoon. So, the prospects are bright on the gaming side, and in the end our SPIEL@home was nearly as enjoyable as four days in the halls.
For today Nicole and I bid you farewell! But we hope to see you all back here for 2024 – hopefully fit, healthy and back in the Halls of SPIEL!
Take care and greetings from Essen!!!
If you want to have a look at our coverages of previous conventions, follow these links. But you should bring along some time, especially if you want to read the newer reports...