Reporting back from Essen 2011

Paul Allwood reports back from this year’s Spiel Essen show 2011 – it’s the least he can do, the lucky so and so!

Travelling out on the Wednesday lunchtime flight to Dusseldorf, who should I find seated in the area for customers needing assistance? Only Jon Power from Beyond Monopoly! Not sure why he needed assistance though, unless it was because he needed last minute help with his Essen game releases research! Anyway on arriving in Essen and checking into my hotel, I had a walk down to the Messe to see if I could gain entry during the set-up day. I’ve tried this in other years and only been successful once before. Anyway strolling in past the lorry security gate as if I owned the place appeared to work this year and I was soon inside giving me 4 extra hours of show and a chance to scout out the halls, albeit dodging vans, pallets and half built stands. Talking to a few publishers it was clear that the usual last minute shipping delays from manufacturers or hold-ups in customs were again impacting many releases, causing some very worried faces around the place. However, by the time the first day was over most of these were much happier as many products did arrive, albeit late.

Martin Wallace was good enough to obtain me a dealers pass, which allows 9am instead of 10am entry to the show, so having heard the latest talk about what was hot, I made sure that i was at the Stronghold games stall as they opened to pick up a copy of one of the 100 or so copies of Panic Station that were to be made available. I also purchased Core Worlds their new Sci-Fi deck building game at the same time. Keeping with the deck building theme, I also managed to obtain one of the 50 copies of Eaten by Zombies that were being made available each day. Players have to fight or flee from zombie hordes and be the last to survive! There were other new deck building games available as well, which seemed to be this year’s favourite mechanism. The Japanese had joined in with a range of deck building games themed around Anime maids! Even one of Martin Wallace’s Essen games, the “A Few Acres of Snow” war-game, uses deck building!

Following Stephan Feld’s success with “Castles of Burgundy” and “Strasbourg”, his latest game “Trajan” was a hot new release, but playing it one evening at the show, it was innovative with its use of a Mancala type mechanism, but questionably too complex for its own good. Similarly copies of “Tournay“, the card based follow-up to dice game “Troyes” were sold out over before Sunday. Playing “Tourney” though, I found the iconography to be worse than that of say Race for the Galaxy with a constant need to be referring to the provided aide-memoire, which didn’t seem to cover all the variants to my satisfaction, but fans of “Troyes” will appreciate the similar artwork and gameplay.

There was no Rio Grande stand this year, with their games instead being available from the BGG booth, where there was also a constant stream of publishers presenting their games on the BGG video stream. The latest Powergrid spin-off “The First Spark“, a caveman version, seemed to be popular, as did this year’s Powergrid expansion “The Robots“, which provides algorithms for additional artificial opponents. Also popular by Rio Grande was the latest Dominion expansion “Hinterlands“, but I wonder if this franchise has now had its day.

Talking of Dominion, it was however pleasing to see that designer (Donald X Vaccarino) release a couple of other games at Essen, a simple card game for mad scientists “Nefarious” by small independent publisher Ascora and “Kingdom Builder“, a nice card driven settlement placement game released by major publisher Queen games. Other releases from Queen included, “German Railways” (a “Chicago Express” variant) and “Castelli“, a castle building game.

Z-man had a wide range of new releases including “The Ares Project“, “Dark Minions“, “Undermining“, “Ninjato” and “Palenque“. They are also due to pick up the English version of the latest game from “Agricola” designer Uwe Rosenberg, “Ora et Labora“, which unfortunately wasn’t available at the show and the German edition that was available had a deal of language dependent text on cards.

Two huge fantasy and Sci-fi themed games released this year to great expectations were “Mage Knight” from Wiz-kids and “Eclipse” from Asmodee. The former being a fantasy quest game by Czech designer Vlaada Chvatil famous for “Through the Ages” and it was very good to see his refreshing take on this genre. The game includes some great pre-painted character and castle miniatures. The latter is a fully fledged interstellar conflict game with hundreds of different spaceship development tiles and plastic spaceship miniatures.

A couple of games from my personal point of view that were from small publishers, but which I particularly liked, were, “Venture Forth” from new publisher Minion Games, which is a new take on a fantasy game and “Flash Point – Fire Rescue” from Indie Boards and Cards, which is a co-operative fire-fighting game. I was also pleased to pick up a copy of “Potion Making Practice“, which we had earlier played at the club, from Russian publisher RightGames.

Paul Allwood

[Paul’s report from Essen 2010 can be found here]