Exhaustion looms, but we’re still truckin’. On the final day of Essen Spiel 2015 we offer some final play-throughs and insights, including our considerations for Children’s Game of the Year.
Bob starts the day late, and hungry. The sheer number of games she and Chris have purchased has completely overwhelmed even her giant suitcase and they’ve had to rope in the aid of Friends With Cars to help lug twenty-something board games back to England. Additionally, Saturday night sushi had been completely de-railed when the previously-awesome all-you-can-eat sushi place failed epically in its mission to, you know, serve sushi to hungry gamers*. Deeply disappointing stuff. It took a generous liver-sausage roll and slice of pleasingly stodgy cake to fortify her for the day’s first mission: get Naïade to sign stuff, take a selfie, and draw us a picture.
Day 4, game 1: A Study in Emerald
First actual game of the day was the second edition of A Study in Emerald. The game is based on Neil Gaiman’s cult short story of the same name, which is set in an alternate Lovecraftian nineteenth century in which the royal family have been replaced by Great Old Ones. Sherlock Holmes is there, along with a number of figures from history and fiction. In the game, you play (secretly) as either a Loyalist, faithful to the ‘royal family’, or a Restorationist commie intent on bringing down Britannia as we know and love her. The board is divided into locations which allow certain actions with varying ease, as well as a draw pile of cards. It’s effectively worker placement combined with deck-drawing mechanics, to reasonably solid effect.
Bob liked it, Briony didn’t. It may be that Bob really wanted to like it as she’d bought it on day one and it had sold out, but equally it’s possible that Briony hated it due to being hungry combined with a shockingly poor game demonstrator explaining the rules**. Certainly it’s simpler than the ‘glorified beta test’ original, and much cheaper and cleaner to boot!
day 4, Game 2: M.U.L.E.
Next, Bob and Lizzy tackled M.U.L.E., the boardgame based on the 1983 Commodore 64(?) game. It is absolutely charming. It starts off as a farming/resource management game set on an unexplored planet called Irata, where all you have for company is a robot-mule worker and your fellow explorers. Then suddenly there’s a capitalist market-trading mechanic and a magic money-generating Wampus and a mystical mine of purple crystals which change value in each game round. The board is busy but in a very Stonemaier-Games way in that all the initially-confusing symbols are actually there to clarify any potential misunderstandings and remind you of available actions. The winner is the Bob with the most space gold, while the loser is the Lizzy who has forgotten what their plan was to maximise their resources.
After that economic thrill ride any form of grown-up game seemed an impossible task. Our brains were just too full to absorb any further information such as ‘rules’ or ‘strategy’ or ‘tasks’, so we took refuge in Push-a-Monster, the award-nominated children’s game of monster-crowding. It’s very simple: try to fit your monster on an already-crowded monster platform, without knocking any monsters off the platform. If you knock a monster off, it gets hurt and has to go to monster hospital, so everyone else gets a point. Best of all is the lack of numbered scoring. No one needs that shit. Instead the monster-points are different sizes so the player with the longest string of monster-points wins. The illustrations are adorable to boot; one of the monsters makes exactly the face that Bob’s robot boyfriend makes when he wants to not be part of the Misery Farm.
Two refreshing, addictive little games later and we were ready for more. Not before stopping by the HABALINK stand though, where we found a strong best kid’s game contender in Treasure of the Thirteen Islands. In this tactical children’s game, you explore treasure islands by navigating with your finger, then attempting to follow the route blindfold on a grooved board. If your little airship falls into a groove, you get stuck! If you find treasure, you win! It’s adorable and at least one person bought it.
day 4, game 3: Cash and Guns
Somehow we next managed to grab an eight-person table for Cash n Guns, which was promoting its fresh expansion, a special-edition Cthulhu character with a tommy-gun, and foam Uzi machine guns. The expansion was rapidly scorned as unnecessary, as Cash n Guns is perfectly fun without any extraneous bullshit, and plenty of shoosty fun followed.
Meanwhile, Bob secured a game of ‘Acquire Giant Sausage’, which she promptly then lost by dropping half of it on a surprised passer-by. Strong work, Bob.
Day 4, Game 4: Architect
Briony and co., after being fairly disappointed by the experience of A Study in Emerald went and found a solid worker placement game. Architect fully ticks all of the boxes of worker placement, gasping drought, and being an intricately themed board game. Awesome. In this game you represent a travelling band of folk with different and useful jobs forming a caravan. The caravan travels around small villages and towns in a miscellaneous medieval European region, with a castle located in the centre. The band of travellers must fit the requirements of the specific village/town to be able to build or repair buildings generating prestige points.
Prestige points must be generated to go up each level of the victory track, which will eventually allow a player to win the ultimate prestige from the castle and win a contract. Or something. Honestly we needed a little more coffee to follow the broken English rules, but the game was fun regardless.
There are a nice number of mechanics in this game – the most unique of which is the ‘worker star’. Workers which you buy have different careers which are denominated by the numbers around the corner. After using them to build something you twist the worker around, showing a different number. Throughout a worker’s career their numbers go down, sometimes plummeting to zero if they’re going through stuff, maybe their wife left them or something.
The actions you are able to fulfil are dictated by the worker star also. But in the end, this game is about generating enough build points to get the castle’s favour. Fortunately the whole team was in agreement that this game was fun, quick, and exactly what we needed at that time during the day.
day 4, game 5: Elysium
So this was the final game of Essen. Sad times. A band of team Misery longingly searched the halls looking for an empty table where they were able to play a game on their ‘to play’ list, and much to their delight found a free table for Elysium.
The game is card based, and is heavily focused upon mythology. For anyone who likes 7 Wonders, boy is this your game. Half of the table was excited about its similarity, while the other half was excited because of its twist and difference from 7 Wonders. It ticks both boxes. In fact it won an award at Essen this year (and yet only two gaming tables! Why, Essen, why?!). Instead of representing a nation (as in 7 Wonders), you are a demi-god striving to generate enough myths about yourself to advance to becoming a full God. You have two areas where you may play cards: the mortal realm, and the immortal realm.
Each game plays with 5 gods, and there are 8 in total in the box so there’s variation, replayability and excitement! Your humble misery farmers/demi-gods played with Zeus (a classic), Aphesites (god of metal and hammers, stuff), Athena (owls, wisdom and the Hogwarts postal system), Ares (WAR hurr!) and Dickseidon (aka Poseidon but for serious, this guy is a dick and all his cards are dicks and the illustrations on his cards are dicks and his dick-in-ear scale is measured in kilotonnes).
The game plays out over 5 turns split into 3 phases. First is the ‘Agora’ (or ‘marketplace’. Yeah this game has got its Greek down, yo). This was helped by Lukacs, our excellent and friendly game demonstrator (helpful as we cannot read German rules). After that you move some cards into their immortal realms where their effects disappear but become sets (either by colour or number) and lastly the usual maintenance.
The cards have different coloured symbols relating to 4 actual, physical, coloured columns that each player has on their board. To take a card from the ‘Agora’ a player must have the relevant coloured column. Each card has effects, as you would expect – some of these affect only the player while others affect the player and the others players (not as good, obvi) You can also destroy whole coloured columns with barely an evil laugh. Dickseidon’s cards on the other hand usually do not affect the player but dick over other players (such as losing gold, victory points, discarding cards etc). This game is highly recommended, especially for anyone who likes 7 wonders, mythology and Dickseidon.
Rounding up the day
Finally we retired to a nearby hotel lounge, where our easily-bored but deeply punk friend Pat had secured a few big tables and crates of beer. Codenames, Potion Explosion, and Microfilms*** were all brought out and played to great enjoyment. Codenames remains an instant classic while Potion Explosion is shameless fun, and not just because Lizzy is hilariously bad at it. Microfilms needs… a more thorough explanation than we received. A cousin of [redacted], it relies heavily on keeping your cards secret, so if you don’t understand it you can’t ask what your cards mean. It has potential as a quick three-person game though, and our version comes with highly-professional art!
This weekend (FOUR DAYS IS NOT A WEEKEND -ed.) has been beyond intense, but extremely fun. Really we need to add ‘get enough sleep’ to our survival tips, but somehow between the beer, boardgames, and bratwurst that seems to be impossible. Besides, who needs that stuff when you’ve played upwards of 20 different games in four days? Especially when you’ve been playing with friends as good as ours.
We’d like to extend our thanks to the friends who came with us and made this trip as mad and brilliant as it was: Pat, Chris, Martin, Emma, Sina, Dave, Sam, Charlie, Gord, Mac, and The Reading Boardgames Social guys.** Final thanks to all the wonderful game creators, illustrators, vendors and demonstrators who work so hard and put up with the manic excitement of nerds like us. We’ll see you next year.
*Red Sun sushi, you guys make some delicious food but dear god expecting us to wait an hour for each of five courses is insane. We’re sorry we had to sic Bob and her mediocre German on you, making a complaint was physically painful to our English sensibilities.
** She also strongly dislikes deck building games due to unfortunate circumstances in her earlier years. It’s amazing how difficult it is to like a game again after you’ve cursed it to Hades for a truly terrible experience.
***On a side note, Microfilm has a character that looks hella like Briony. Is she really a Misery Farmer, or is she really the American spy?