Essen has come and gone, but for those of us across the pond the fruits of Essen are yet to come. Now comes the long, hard wait for domestic publishers to pick up the various titles that weíve spotted in Essen photos, reports, and videos. Having scoured the Internet for all things Essen, Iíve come up with a list of 20 games that I know Iím anticipating. In case youíve been overwhelmed by the deluge of Essen information and canít find the time to hunt through the 548 items on the Essen 2010 Canonical List or the plethora of info in the Boardgame News Spiel Preview, Iíve distilled them down to these manageable few that might be worth your time. The sheer number of games released every year at Essen is truly mind boggling, but the great thing these days is that there are so many resources online for learning about the games, such as videos, rules PDFs, photos, BGN announcements, etc. Iíll include a number of links below for each game to these resources so you can go directly to the primary source for any game that particularly strikes your fancy. While Iím mentioning great online Essen resources, Iíve got to put in a plug for the incomparable, unbelievable Kulkmannís G@amebox, which is truly the gold standard in Essen reporting. Luckily while Iím waiting for these 20 games to be released domestically, I can head down to Dallas for BGG.CON in a couple weeks to try as many of these out as possible in order to hopefully prune this down a bit further to a manageable purchase list. In the meantime, I hope the distilled list helps you make sense of the vast, jumbled Essen landscape.
7 Wonders is clearly the "it" game of Essen 2010. Antoine Bauza has gone from a relatively unknown when Ghost Stories came out just two years ago to being the designer of the most talked about game of the year. It helps that for months now people seem to have been trying pre-production versions and talking it up. Since Ghost Stories is my 2008 game of the year and I love civilization-themed games, Iím one of the many highly anticipating 7 Wonders. Iíve always been partial to the wonders of the world too, even if Tower of Babel was a bit disappointing. If youíre going to read one thing about 7 Wonders, besides what youíre reading at this very moment, then I strongly recommend Eric Martinís fantastic review, itís informative, engaging, and very well written. Of course Repos has published the rules online, so you could go read those too if youíre into that sort of thing.
Speaking of games of the year, since Stronghold was my game of the year in 2009, I'm definitely anticipating the Stronghold: Undead expansion. You should definitely check out the blog post by the designer on the Portal website. It was a very interesting read, but Iíll leave it at that since itís a bit of a surprise that you should see for yourself. Iím not entirely convinced Stronghold needs an expansion and after 16 plays Iím not particularly dying to have one (unlike Pandemic or Mr. Jack for instance), but Iíll certainly be willing to at least check it out and see what it has to offer for this gem of a game.
Martin Wallace is very hit or miss with me, but London has been on my radar ever since Kris Hall's interview with Wallace back in January of 2010 where I first heard about the game. Since then, I've read a bit more on the company's page and on BGN, all of which has made me very interested in trying London. Personally I'm a big fan of Age of Steam, Byzantium, Liberte, and Last Train to Wensleydale, but don't enjoy plenty of other popular Wallace games, such as Automobile and Brass (or other less popular ones such as After the Flood and Steel Driver), so who knows if London will be my cup of tea, but it's one I'd like to try for sure, maybe you would too.
This game is designed by Stefan Feld. What else do you need to know? That alone is enough to get it on this list. Feld has designed a stable of solid games in the past few years so anything he does now is worth checking out in my mind. Iím definitely not a fan of all of it - Iím looking at you Rum & Pirates - but on the backs of Notre Dame and Roma alone, Iím willing to overlook any missteps. Luna is being published by H@ll Games, who did At the Gates of Loyang, and by Z-Man, so if we're lucky they will do a joint production that gets the game to the U.S. as quickly or quicker than Dungeon Lords last year, although hopefully with a game more enjoyable than Dungeon Lords this time around. Also hopefully with a game far more enjoyable than Loyang. For now, all I can say is that Luna makes almost no sense from having read the rules and watched that Essen video on U-Stream. Iím not sure if thatís a bad thing, but thereís only one real way to find out and that awaits me in the Lone Star state.
Iím all for new maps, so this expansion for the surprise hit of 2009 is right up my alley. A comment on the GeekList linked above translates the essence of the SpieLama page to explain that the Hansa Teutonica East expansion will involve a new map where: "(1) there will be one big, easily reachable city, where two attributes are offered to be developed; (2) small single-cities can be collected easier, as to speed up the game; (3) one or more green cities have no jobs to offer; and (4) next to the last picture it says is the least finished but most interesting concept: sea-routes. You need wholesalers for this to establish routes. Finally the author states that he was afraid an expansion would mangle an already perfect game; that the expansion does not try to change the main concept though but pepps up the game." Consider me interested in some pepp!
The announcement of Tikal II came out of nowhere back in June, over TEN YEARS after the original release of Tikal, one of the heaviest games to win the Spiel des Jahres, and the most famous of the duo's Action Point trio. There hasnít been much buzz about the game yet, but this can't help but be one of the most anticipated games coming out of Essen 2010 given its designer pedigree. I'm not sure what to expect, but I'm sure everything we need to know is hidden in secret messages within that strange rulebook adventure story.
Just read that GeekList. Read it. It's all you need to know about Key Market, really. Unlike many other games on this list, we actually have good, solid information about Key Market on which to base our anticipation. I don't have anything else to add or speculate on sadly, but I know I'll be trying the game in November.
Lookout Games is back to publishing Rosenberg's games after a brief hiatus with Loyang last year, and this time they're bringing us Merkator. Up until Essen, we didnít have much to go on for this game. You could check out that prototype photo, but reading the tea leaves from that wasnít going to get you very far. The only thing we really and truly knew about the game was that its name is spelled with a K, not a C, but itís hard to know where to prioritize a game on your BGG.CON list of games to try based on that alone. Now weíve got the Essen video on U-Stream, but after watching that, I canít say Iím particularly encouraged by its seemingly very mechanical nature. Iíll keep hoping for another Le Havre rather than another Loyang, until I finally have the chance to roll up my sleeves and become the merkator Iíve always wanted to be.
PD Verlag will continue publishing Gerdts games in 2010 with the upcoming Navegador, and Gerdts will continue using the rondel it seems. I love Imperial, but I'm not so sure that the rondel continues to have legs 5 years after its debut. I suppose we'll see when the game gets released stateside, but for now I remain skeptical, despite the fact that I give Imperial a 10 rating. I still haven't gotten around to trying Gerdts' 2008 offering - Princes of Machu Picchu - so I suppose I should get to that before I jump to Navegador. Then again, I did recently manage to sell off Hamburgum and try Antike before mistakenly buying it, so perhaps I should cut my losses and stick to playing Imperial and 2030. More information will be necessary to make an informed decision. The designerís great forum thread about the mechanics is a wonderful start that I wish more designers would emulate. Fortunately the English rules are now available online too because before the rules were only available in Portuguese, but I havenít had a chance to read them yet so am looking forward to curling up with those sometime soon.
Like Key Market above, there is actually lots of good, solid information out there about this newest Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game because it was previously demoed at Gen Con. Check out those two great First Impressions articles by BGG users Jayolas and Engelstein for detailed information about this game. Make sure not to mix up Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game by Kevin Wilson and Fantasy Flight released in 2010, with Sid Meier's Civilization: The Boardgame by Glenn Drover and Eagle Games released in 2002. The latter is supposedly not so great, but the former is supposedly the greatest thing since sliced bread. We'll have to see if that really pans out, but consider me intrigued. As a Through the Ages fan, I'm not sure if I'm up for changing my civ game allegience, but as a Civilization II fan, I'm not sure I can hold myself back from anything with Sid's name on it. Plus you've got the designer of Descent bringing his talents to bear on the age old civ board game dilemma, so that's got my attention for sure. Those Designer Diaries listed above just further stoke the fires of my anticipation!
Frogs, Sheep, Rats, Stags, Sled Dogs, and Ostriches... what comes next? Why ants of course! The Lamont brothers have consistently brought us game after game centered around a particular animal, and 2010 is no exception with the release of Antics. Check out the designer diary above where Gordon provides some highly entertaining insight into the game development process. The Lamont brothers seem like such great guys and have such a zest for the game they bring to Essen every year that it's infectious. I haven't always loved their designs (such as Snow Tails and Antler Island), but I do definitely enjoy Shear Panic, and look forward to trying out their next game each year. Iíve actually had a chance to read through the rules for this game and watch the explanation on the U-Stream video and Iím very encouraged by what Iíve learned about the game so far. I think this may very well be the best Lamont game yet with lots of interesting decisions and a very clever ant hill mechanic. I was a doubting Thomas when the designers originally promised a novel mechanic, but now Iím being won over and am very excited to give this one a go as soon as possible.
You should read Ignacy's BGN columns linked above, they are really entertaining and informative as to his design process. Yet another game with lots of information out there on which to base your opinion/anticipation/buzz/etc. What's up with all these designers and publishers actually telling us all about the product they're planning to try to sell us? It's a strange and wonderful phenomenon that some designers and publishers seem to be embracing, but not quite all of them, yet. Anyway, 51st State looks like an interesting card game, which seem to be all the rage these days, what with Dominion, Race for the Galaxy, and now 7 Wonders, perhaps because of the easier numerous expansion potential than traditional big box board games. Anyway, I'm willing to try out 51st State based on the quality of Stronghold alone, even if I didn't love Witchcraft, and based on the quality of the designer's writing. Designers writing about their own games online is such a great recent development in my mind. It totally convinces me to give games a try that I never would have otherwise, such as Krakow 1325.
Vlaada continues his trend of designing completely different games every time, this time with a fast-paced (20 minute) psychological/bluffing card game! I'm amazed at how this one guy has brought us such diverse and excellent game designs over the past few years, and thankfully he's the gift that just keeps on giving. I haven't always personally loved his games (I'm looking at you Dungeon Lords and Space Alert), but I've really appreciated how different each one is (unlike some other designers who shall remain nameless, but designed the ninth game on this list), and I have really liked two of them (Through the Ages and Galaxy Trucker) and enjoyed Prophecy too. Vlaada is easily the most promising designer in Europe, which means the Czech Republic is giving good ol' Germany a run for its money, not to mention Poland (Trzewiczek), France (Bauza), and the UK (Wallace & Breese). Even if Sneaks & Snitches doesn't end up being my cup of tea, Vlaada has secured a solid place on the watch list for years to come. And on that U-Stream video he mentions potentially releasing two new big box games at Essen 2011 so itís great to know that thereís plenty more Vlaada to come.
According to Bruno, "Asara might well be one of their best offerings, if not the best." That's a mighty high bar given the previous designs of this duo, but I always enjoy reading Bruno's website and seeing his pick for game of the year, so perhaps Asara needs to be higher on this list. For now it's stuck down here because I don't really know enough about it, but at least it's got a place on the list based on the designer pedigree, Ravensburger publishing it, and Bruno's praise. I'm sure we'll find out more at some point, but it's hard to get as excited about Asara as some of the other games with lots more info available, such as 51st State, 7 Wonders, Key Market, and Sid Meier's Civ. Releasing information is something more publishers need to get less afraid of doing.
This game was actually available at Origins in June 2010, so I'm totally cheating by putting it on this list, but it was available in very small quantities, so it's not readily and generally available yet. Plus it sounds super excellent so it should go on this list just because of that fact. It's a cooperative, real-time game where players are working together in a Chinese restaurant to prepare and serve food. It sounds like those addictive video games and it sounds like frantic fun! I've decided it deserves an exemption and a spot here because of potential awesomeness and limited availability so far.
After Hansa Teutonica last year, I don't take much convincing to add an Andreas Steding game to an Essen watch list. And just look at all that juicy info out there in the announcement, game preview, and rules. Go forth and read about this game. While you're at it, buy a copy, come to my house, teach it to me, and if I like it, leave the game behind when you go home. Sound like a plan? Excellent.
Alea Big-Box Game #14, on the list you go! It's a shame that the Alea Big-Box series has gone from a diverse array of world-class designers to a single designer (at least it's a very good designer), but nonetheless what would an Essen list be without the latest Alea Big-Box game? So what if the finished game didnít actually make it in time for Essen, itís still an Alea Big-Box game so it has to go on the radar screen as soon as itís announced. Sounds like Burgund uses dice in a "clever way" a la Macao (and Yspahan) yet completely differently, so that makes this an intriguing one to check out whenever the opportunity to do so ultimately arises.
After reading Scott Tepper's Road to Ascora articles on Boardgame News, consider me intrigued by Kaigan (originally titled Inotaizu). Check out those two articles and you may find yourself similarly intrigued. Not a game I'd heard of before, but now I'm hoping to try it out sometime soon. Looks like a ton of thought and work have gone into this reprint! Also make sure to check out that Essen video explanation on U-Stream as itís very informative.
Originally I was planning to include Morgan Dontanvilleís Spectral Rails in this list now that it has moved to Z-Man and has hope of finally seeing the light of day. Given that it didnít make it to Essen, Iíve decided to sub in Troyes for this spot. This is probably best since Troyes came out of nowhere as the surprise hit of Essen it would seem given its remarkable standing in both the Fairplay and GeekBuzz polls. Troyes was designed by Xavier Georges (of Royal Palace and Carson City fame) along with two other designers. Like Hansa Teutonica last year, Troyes is not a game that got many people excited beforehand based on its tried and true (and overused) theme and fairly standard artwork, but it sounds like the gameplay is winning people over and thatís what is really important. So now Troyes has rocketed up my list of games to try at BGG.CON and Iím happy to hear that Z-Man has picked it up so if it turns out to be as good as people are saying then it wonít be difficult to track down a copy. I've now had multiple gaming acquaintances around the country tell me that Troyes is excellent so apparently this is the unexpected game that I just need to try as soon as I touch down in Dallas.
Bringing up the rear is Steve's Cleopatra's Caboose, a train game based in ancient Egypt?! This game sounds rather hilarious. So what if Derk was befuddled by the explanation in that U-Stream video, youíd be going crazy too after 5 straight days of taping game explanations. Whenever this game shows up on U.S. shores, Iím sure to try it out as a game mocking German-style game tropes is just too perfect to pass up.
Just missing the cut for this list of 20 are Rebelís K2 and a whole host of wine-themed games that I havenít bothered to try to distinguish yet, those being Grand Cru, Toscana, Vinhos, and Kingís Vineyard. Iím sure after dismissing them here, Iíll end up trying one in a few weeks and loving it, that always seems to happen. For now though, Iíll just direct your attention to two GeekLists on the trend. First, Nathan Morseís great GeekList "Wine Games by Quality." Second, Lajosís "When Did Wine Games Become the Big New Fashion?" Check those out for the latest on the wine trend because for now all four games are indistinguishable to me. The turn-off of this odd confluence of thematic overlap makes me reconsider whether it may have in fact been a good idea for El Grande to retheme away from being about Troy, even if a Trojan Horse wouldíve made much more sense than a castillo.
Unlike last year when I analyzed the cross-section of the GeekBuzz and Fairplay lists in my Essen 2009: GeekBuzz Meets Fairplay column, this year I decided to just come up with my own list above. However, for the sake of completeness, here are the top 20 from the Essen 2010 crop according to both Fairplay and GeekBuzz:
So it looks like only 5 games overlap between the Fairplay and GeekBuzz lists. In order of their average rank, those overlap games are as follows (with their average rank (A), Fairplay rank (F), and GeekBuzz rank (G) in parentheses):
Glad to see I caught four of these five in my list. I guess youíll have to go elsewhere for information about Florenza because that one completely missed my radar screen. Itís unsurprising to see 7 Wonders top this combined list, but of course I imagine itís surprising to many to see Troyes come out of nowhere to snag second on the combined list given its total lack of buzz before the show. Despite constantly advocating more publisher information before publication, I can't help but admit that there's something wonderful about the fact that Essen can still throw us a curve ball despite all of the online previews.
Now you know what the big releases were at Essen 2010 and hopefully have a bit of information on which to map out your game plan for trying out the new crop. I just have to close by saying that despite all these exciting new releases, the two upcoming releases that Iím still most eager for are the reprint of Scripts & Scribes (now renamed Biblios) and the reprint of Factory Fun by Z-Man. I suppose the old and familiar still holds some sway despite the massive wave of shiny new games upon us.
(See Boardgame News for this column plus additional comments on it)