With around 1400 games being released at Essen this year, I haven’t quite managed to play all of them yet! So I’m compiling my list from a rather narrow sample, but I’ve certainly played most of the high profile releases now.
Some games have come through traditional retail channels (which I can play through my local boardgame café: The Dice Cup); some have come from Kickstarter (lots of Kickstarters push to have release versions of their game available in time for Essen); but I bought a lot of games myself at Essen, exceeding my luggage allowance for the return flight!
My criteria for being an Essen game is a bit loose: essentially, it’s anything that I either played at Essen (which includes demos of unreleased games) or that was released at Essen and I’ve since played back in the UK.
So without further ado, here are my top 5 favourite games (in no particular order) from Essen this year…
This actually arrived from Kickstarter just before I went to Essen, but I didn’t get the chance to play it until I got back. It’s a sandbox adventure game. Each player takes a hero from the Wild West and runs around doing… well, whatever they like really.
You can go mining, you can play poker in the saloon, you can become a bounty hunter or you can rob the bank. It’s very free-form, which I love. A key decision you will have to make though is which side of the law you want to pursue.
Players that commit crimes become wanted and other players can become marshalls and hunt them down! The objective of the game is to acquire Legendary Points. Whether you become a famous marshall or an infamous criminal, both paths can give birth to a legend and reap lots of Legendary Points.
It feels like an old-fashioned game, taking turns moving around town and taking actions, but combat is card-based (using a poker deck with special abilities), innovative and works well. It’s very Ameritrashy (you can really make someone else’s life hard if you want to), but I’m really enjoying it. It gives you the feel of a proper Western better than any game I’ve played.
This was another Kickstarter that arrived just before Essen. Chronicles of Crime is a detective game and is certainly not for everyone, but it makes nifty use of an app. Each scenario usually begins with a crime scene, typically involving a grisly murder.
It’s a co-operative game in which you spend your time moving from location to location, talking to people about items you’ve found at the crime scene or possible suspects. You can look around a 3D version of the crime scene with a VR headset, calling out objects that you see for the rest of your team to assemble on your “clue board” (each object is represented by a card).
Virtually everything in Chronicles of Crime has a QR code on it and you scan these to tell the app which location you want to go to, who you want to talk to, and what you want to talk to them about. It’s a little clunky, but it gives you tremendous freedom to ask anyone about anyone or anything.
It can be a bit slow and plodding (like real detective work I imagine!) as you go around asking everyone about anything you can think of in an attempt to discover some pertinent information. However, I think it’s the best detective game I’ve ever played. If you like Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective or anything along those lines, you really need to try this one.
This was the big hit of the fair, selling out very quickly, and deservedly so. It’s the spiritual successor to Tzolk’in and does a great job of filling it’s older brother’s shoes. It’s a heavy Euro through and through, but does a great job of providing tricky decisions and lots of variability between plays.
Thematically, you are building the temple of Teotihuacan, which gradually builds up tile by tile like a pyramid in the centre of the board. The central mechanism is a giant rondel, but your workers (which move round the rondel taking actions) are dice. They aren’t rolled, but the number of pips on each die represents its age, with older dice being able to take better actions.
Actions includes gaining resources (wood, stone and gold to build the temple), building sections of the temple itself, or acquiring special abilities. Each time you take an action your die increases by one. If you move one of your dice onto an action where you already have dice, you get an even more powerful action, so planning the movement of your worker dice is really tricky. Like any good Euro, you never seem to have enough actions to do what you want to do!
Like many Euros, it’s a bit dry, but the mechanisms really shine. There are lots of different tracks and of course you want to get as high as you can on all of them, but never have enough time. It’s a really solid package and if you like a good Euro I highly recommend it.
As successful as Teotihuacan has been, I think I actually prefer Gugong in the Euro category. I knew nothing about it coming into the fair, but I managed to get half a game in right before leaving on the last day and I bought it instantly.
This one is set in China and probably has even less theme than Teotihuacan, but the artwork is colourful and attractive. Most Euro players won’t be too bothered about theme though! What they really care about is mechanisms, and this one has some corkers.
It’s a worker placement game, but you take actions by swapping an action card from your hand with one on an action space on the board. You take the action on the card you played and on the space on the board, which could be completely different. Despite only having a hand of four cards, it creates a huge number of possibilities for how best to combine your actions.
The card you swap for goes into a discard pile and once all your cards have been used, the discards become your hand for the next round, so you really care about the cards your swapping for as well. It’s a brain-melting formula, and very AP (Analysis Paralysis) prone, which is my only criticism of the game, but the possibilities for combo-ing actions and planning ahead are fantastic.
I feel a bit naughty including this one on the list because it hasn’t been released yet, but it was the standout game of the fair for me. It still has a couple of days left on Kickstarter though, so if you’re not reading this too late, you still have a chance to back it.
It looks like a big miniature war game (and the minis are great), but it’s really a civ-builder, which has been one of my favourite genres ever since getting hooked on Civilization (on the PC) as a kid. It’s a genre that has been plagued with underwhelming titles, but this one really delivers.
The central mechanism is a new take on deck-building. You have a 3×3 grid (your city) of cards in front of you and on your turn you activate one row and one column. Cards typically give you resources, which you then spend to move your troops/attack, build Wonders, develop your culture (special abilities) and acquire better cards for your deck.
Used cards are discarded and you fill the spaces from your deck, allowing you to plan your next turn, but which row and column to activate next? It’s tricky! There’s a sense of growth as you expand and the cards improve throughout the game (as you move through the ages). Combat is deterministic, straightforward and not too punishing for the loser. It’s a perfect civ-package for me. Oh, and it looks great on the table as well!
Have you had a chance to play any of the games released at Essen yet? Which is your favourite?