Con report: LoBsterCon XII, Eastbourne, December 2016

marine-eastbourneDespite the best efforts of freezing winds and the utter incompetence of Southern Rail, around 100 hardy souls managed to make it to Eastbourne for the winter leg of London on Board’s bi-annual board game extravaganza.

Returning to The Cumberland was like warmly hugging an old friend, despite it only being our second time here. It has that creaky, tired charm you tend to find in English seaside resort hotels – all creaking floorboards and wobbly staircases. But it’s friendly and we have the place to ourselves for four solid days of drinking gaming.

I’ve been having a crappy time of late, so it as nice to get away from reality for an extended weekend. But geography can only take you head so far and I found myself playing a lot fewer games than usual, preferring to spend quite a bit of time just relaxing and emptying my mind. The Marine’s Christmas grotto (pictured) certainly helped for an evening out and about, while the nearby Victoria was also lovely. Even the dodgy looking American diner in town served up some pretty great food.

I love our Eastbourne trips the way they are – a big room of gamers playing, drinking and trash talking. So the addition of a bring-and-buy, secret santa and probably some other newfangled ideas for the kids totally passed me by (but were apparently enjoyed by those who got involved). And I’m glad I didn’t get involved, as I was probably hiding away in my room while they were going on anyway.

I did manage to play 17 games (13 different ones) over the four days, including quite a few gems I’d missed from Essen 2016. But as always it was more about the people – catching up with old friends and making new ones. To everyone I gamed with, and/or had a beer/meal with, thank you – and see you next time.

terraforming-marsNew game highlights

  • Terraforming Mars: This was comfortably the game I most regretted not bringing home from Essen – and it turned out to be everything I’d hoped it would be. It has the tough decisions and massive card stack of Race for the Galaxy, but without the confusing iconography. It also adds a board, a mild ‘take that’ element that works and about two hours more playtime per game – but it genuinely flew by. This is definitely a game I will be getting my hands on as soon as they manage to get it back in print.
  • Lorenzo il Magnifico: Another I’d had my eye on at Essen, I’d cooled on it after being pretty bored by the design team’s previous release, Grand Austria Hotel. This is also a dice-based action selection euro game, but a great improvement on its predecessor – it halves the game time by largely eliminating the AP downtime. It does this by reducing the game space considerably – there are fewer wordy options, but the decisions are much more meaningful and it still feels as if you’re all traversing different paths. I have some doubts about its longevity, but if I get 5-10 plays out of it that are this much fun it’ll worth the entrance fee.
  • Fabled Fruit: The latest idea from the unique mind of Friedemann Friese, I’d decided against pursuing this at Essen because you can never be sure if his games are more about a concept than actually having any fun. But post-Essen reports had been positive, so I made sure to get a few games in. It proved to be a great little simple card game, where you stayed engaged because the mix of available actions changes a little every few turns. It’s not a crazy change, as in Fluxx, but much more subtle – it keeps you on your toes, but never feels complicated. I won’t be seeking a copy out, as I don’t think my regular groups will car enough, but I look forward to exploring it more when I get the opportunity.
  • Manhattan Project – Energy Empire: The spiritual successor to Manhattan Project polishes the kinks out of the original design, making it a much smoother ride. But in doing so it takes out all the take-that and the end game tension, making it a rather solitary engine building affair with a set number of rounds. I really enjoyed my play and would play again, but was left feeling the perfect version of this game is somewhere between the two – and hopefully still in the making.

Other ‘new to me’ games

  • Oh My Goods – Longsdale in Turmoil: I’ve enjoyed my plays of Oh My Goods and was keen to try the expansion. You can absolutely see what he was trying to do here – but unfortunately it seems he wrote the ideas on the back of a fag packet and they published them by mistake. Much as with Manhattan Project above, a reprint of the original with a lot of this included (after some serious work on it) could be awesome – but this feels wholly unfinished. Each player could’ve won, depending on which interpretation of the rules you decided to throw up in the air.
  • Dale of Merchants: Sometimes you start playing a game and just think, Kickstarter. This is one of those games. There’s nothing wrong with it – there’s just no point in it existing. From the mediocre mechanisms, terrible title and clichéd fantasy animal setting to the mass of options that will never make the game different enough each time to care about, it’s just an over-complicated exercise in draw one, play one with way too much AP-inducing card text. Really, really average – never again.

The Dwarves boxGames I brought and played

  • The Dwarves: Once again Sean and Natalie joined our latest attempt to save the world from trolls, orcs and dark elves – this time joined by Hella and John Mitchell. We played the ‘Book 5: Triumph of the Dwarves’ mini expansion on ‘difficult’ and, after a relatively simple start to the game, I decided to spruce things up with some epicly bad Sean-esque dice rolling. Luckily I redeemed myself (a bit) in the final battle to secure a very narrow win with just a couple of turns to spare. Love it.
  • Armageddon: I explained the rules (poorly) to Hella, Sherine and Teri – and then Teri showed us how to play the game. I was lucky to end up joint third, but more disappointed to find a couple of the end game tiles are problematic balance-wise. Don’t look at me! Also gave everyone a chance to mock me as they wandered past – which was much like I imagine it feels like being in the stocks! Hats off especially to Jacob who mocked me, came back and told me how much he actually enjoyed his one play of it, before walking away – and then thinking better of it, doubling back, and mocking me again.
  • Planet Defenders: I’m still reserving judgement on this one, because it has garnered such mixed reactions – weird for such an innocuous game. It’s a cleverly designed puzzle game where you’re essentially trying to fulfil cube combos to capture robots. But the art is cute, it plays fast and there are some nice little tech cards to differentiate the players. It may be a layer short of holding the imagination of more experienced gamers, but I don’t think that makes it a bad game – more a family or gateway game that doesn’t overstay its welcome. More on it soon.

Other games I’d played before

  • Navegador: In a year dominated by review plays, my three plays of Navegador make it stand out as one of the most popular of my oldies – and this was another fantastic play through. The builders (Karl and me) got going faster than the explorers (Anne and Adam) and we were about 10 points ahead of them by the end – with Karl pipping me by three for the win.
  • Acquire: Another old favourite, this turned out to be my 10th play of the 60s classic – but I didn’t have it my way. A great start was scuppered mid game as my stock of hotel making pairs dried up – leaving me holding a lot of stock in a dead chain and my influence dwindling. But it was great fun, as always. This is a game I very rarely reach for on my own shelves, but am always happy when someone else suggests it – so thanks for doing so Simon!
  • 6 Nimmt!: I entered a LoBsterCon tournament for the first time – and ended up coming third. I really don’t like tournaments, they can really drag, so I’ll probably end up going out on a high. Three went through to the final table from the two starting tables, from which I progressed in second place. Two players fell early in the final and I was in a strong position, until one bad hand left me adrift of the top two. The final hand saw one card I played (I couldn’t have seen it coming) really stitch up Rocky (which is always fun) and ultimately it handed Marcus the trophy. But despite it going very long for what should be a short, fun party game I did really enjoy it.
  • Race for the Galaxy: Can this really only be my sixth play of the year of my favourite game…? Shocker – and it shows what a strange year it has been for me. It was an enjoyable five-player game, despite a couple of newbies struggling their way through making it very slow (never something I really care about). I used the contact specialist to spam out a bunch of military windfall worlds, guaranteeing myself a regular stream of cards to choose from and a steady flow of points. Laying the nine-point grey rebel world sealed a narrow win in the final turn. And what better note to end a con report on, than with a scrappy victory?

Adrenaline: A four-sided game review

adrenaline-boxAdrenaline* is a big box abstract ‘euro’ game with a futuristic FPS (first person shooter) console theme. A game takes around an hour and it can accommodate three to five players.

It’s listed as ages 12+ but a brighter youngster will have no problem with this – I presume the age restriction is more likely to do with the fine array of choking hazards on display.

Speaking of which, in the box you’ll find: two game boards (which are put together as you choose, giving four configurations to choose from) five large and colourful plastic minis, 50-ish cards, some plastic cubes and damage tokens, plus various cardboard tiles. The artwork and graphic design is thematic and nicely done throughout, giving reasonable value for its sub-£40 UK price point.

Teaching

adrenaline-in-playAs any gamer familiar with Czech Games Edition (CGE) products has come to expect, the rulebook for Adrenaline is simple to follow and well laid out, while also being funny to read: it definitely helps bring the theme of the game to the fore.

The 12-page A4 rules are heavy on images and examples, with a great setup guide and a walkthrough of a shorter game for your first play. It also comes with a handy separate supplementary guide to all the various weapons and power-ups on offer (this is an FPS simulation after all – what it be without a bunch of crazy guns to choose from?).

Adrenaline is fairly straightforward to play. The board is separated into five to six rooms, made up of a total of 10-12 large spaces (rooms vary from one to four spaces in size). Each space will either have a ‘spawn point’ (where players materialise, and can pick up weapons) or an ‘ammo crate’ (where you’ll find both ammo and power-ups).

On a turn (taken clockwise around the table), a player will take any combination of two of the three available actions (so you can repeat one if you wish): move fast, move and pick up, or fire. Picking up will either be an ammo crate or a weapon – you can reload any of your weapons at the end of a turn as a free action (using a power-up is also a free action).

One of the nice things about the game is pretty much everything is done in threes, making it simple to learn quickly: you can have a maximum of three weapons, a maximum of three of each of the ammo types at any one time, and up to three power ups. It won’t stop at least one player repeatedly asking you though!

adrenaline-weaponsThese very basic core rules allow two key elements of the game to shine through: the variety of weapons (every one of the 20 available works differently) and the way players score victory points.

Weapons range from close combat (you need to be in the same square) to long range – some even need you not to be able to see your opponent to be able to shoot them! The ones that do more damage cost more ammo to reload – while most weapons also have extra effects you can utilise by spending extra ammo (some effects are even free – especially on lower damage weapons). The weapons stay on theme too, so anyone used to using the likes of tractor beams, sniper rifles and rocket launchers will be right at home.

But what really gives it the FPS theme is the way you score. Each player is essentially an area you’re trying to control by doing damage to them. Players can take 11 points of hits before having to respawn – at which point they’re ‘scored’. First hits, majority, and ‘overkill’ damage is rewarded before the player gets right back into the action. But on their return they’re worth a few less points (although they keep all their gear), making players who have yet to be defeated more tempting targets.

The four sides

adrenaline-player-boardThese are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: Adrenaline has its name for a reason: as you take damage your adrenaline builds, making each action a little better the closer you are to defeat (for example, once you’ve taken six damage you can move a space before you fire). But there is nothing you can do in terms of healing, taking cover etc – this is a knife fight in a telephone box and any thought of strategy needs to leave you mind once you’re tooled up and ready to go. This is purely tactical from then on.
  • The thinker: Despite its shiny exterior and plastic minis, Adrenaline is really a maths challenge in FPS clothing – but that’s not a bad thing. I’d be tempted to describe it more as an abstract than a euro, but the theme does find a way through – just not in the pacing. There is definitely room for analysis paralysis here, as the area majority scoring mechanisms mean you’re constantly calculating where you can eek out an extra point. Games will be close, so every point can really count.
  • The trasher: Designer Filip Neduk is clearly an FPS fan, as the game covers all the right bases. As well as what’s mentioned above you’ll find overkill (kick them while they’re done for extra points), tagging (extra damage you’ll do later as you’re familiar with the target) and final frenzy (everyone’s actions ramp-up in the final round). Played in the right spirit, and more importantly at the right pace, this can give you something close to that shooter feel – but if players start to try and grock it, the game goes from FPS to chess. Luckily the barrier to entry is low, so you can easily teach it to non-board gaming computer game friends.
  • The dabbler: The minis make Adrenaline bright and colourful, the simple rules make it accessible, and the way players immediately come back after running out of health keeps everyone in the game throughout – all big positives for me. You can get a bit of smack talk going too, but if anything the game lacks a little bit of mayhem: there are no random factors and very few laugh-out-loud moments, which I really was expecting when I came into it and looked at all the big weapons. But as someone who doesn’t usually like area majority games, I was still pleasantly surprised and would happily play the game again – especially as it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Key observations

adrenaline-miniDuring your first game, you’ll realise your combo of weapons is the key to success. There are a number of ways to go – all cheap and low damage, weapons that work well in tandem in a turn etc. But this strategic element is likely to be done in your first two or three (of many) turns. From then on, its a rinse-and-repeat tactical battle all the way.

Some love it. Adrenaline is described as simple, smooth, fast and fun by many; an exciting and innovative take on euro game mechanisms (area control and resource management) that captures its theme with skill. The good range of weapon combos offer good replayability, while each turn offers a unique combination of tactical choices as players move around the board.

Others, not so much. The weapon use iconography is a mess, meaning you’ll have players queuing up for the gun manual – especially in your first few games. And once you know what your weapons do, it can become ‘analysis paralysis’ time as you try and work out who to shoot and in what order. And of course, as everyone moves/collects ammo/dies each round, there’s zero chance at forward planning.

For those not sold on the theme, it can quickly become repetitive despite some clever mechanisms (the moving area control element is particularly compelling). It can be seen as a min/max puzzle – rendering it boring, rather than adrenaline fuelled.

I should also mention the extra modes of play that are in the rules: ‘domination’ and ‘turret’. Both add a few extra rules, but really much extra fun – they make it more tactical without adding the strategy some players might be craving. You can also add a ‘bot’ to the mix, but all this really does is prolong each player’s turn a little while doing minimal damage and adding equally minimal enjoyment.

Many would like to see a bigger map and a longer game time as an option, which could certainly appeal, adding a genuine layer of strategy (and perhaps interesting team play) – although you’d need one hell of a table to put it on.

Conclusion

adrenaline-battleFor me, this is one of those rare occasions where I’ve fallen for the hype. The original theme, the look and the publisher’s credentials made me sure I’d love it – but my radar was definitely off on Adrenaline.

The tight map doesn’t sit well with the abstracted euro damage dealing, while there’s an almost palpable lack of chaos: more like a maths test in a library than a knife fight in a phone box. I’m not usually a big fan of random, but this game is surely crying out for misfires, splash damage rolls and random effect cards.

But at the same time I have no complaints. It looks fantastic, is easy to learn and quick to play, with a great rulebook and some innovative design mechanisms. Sadly though, there just isn’t quite enough adrenaline in the box for me – and I’ve never been an FPS fan, so it holds no nostalgia value.

I for one won’t be keeping it, but it’s is a game I’d urge everyone to try. I’ve been unable to predict which of my friends would like it, and while no one has hated the game it has been about 60-40 like-meh. In the end, I find myself asking: if this is the best way to simulate an FPS game as a euro? The answer is probably yes – but that doesn’t automatically make it a great game. But I’m sure many will disagree.

* I would like to thank Czech Games Edition for providing a copy of the game for review.

X Nimmt: A four-sided game review

x-nimmtX Nimmt!* (that’s the first and last time I kowtow to it’s official exclamation mark) is a small box family card game for two to four players which takes 20-30 minutes to play (and should cost you less than a tenner).

As with all Amigo card games it is very light on rules, but does have a little extra to think about than many of the games in this series – making the ages 8+ on the box feel about right. That said, you can easily introduce it to non-gamers.

You’ll find just over 100 high quality, linen finish cards in the box, along with the rules – that’s it. I have to say I wasn’t overly taken with the colour schemes on a lot of the cards (purple and green? Yum…), but the numbers and symbols are easy to read so the colours weren’t a hindrance. They aren’t even necessary, as they have no impact on play – they simply help you spot cards of different scoring values.

Teaching

x-nimmt-in-playAnyone familiar with 6 Nimmt will be on very familiar ground here – especially for the first half of the rules explanation. All the cards are shuffled and each player is dealt eight.

Three cards are also placed face-up in the centre of the table to show the start of the three scoring rows – with the rest of the cards put to one side for the rest of the round. You’ll play two rounds, with the player having the lowest total score winning the game.

On each turn, each player chooses a card from their hand and places it face-down on the table. Once everyone has chosen these are revealed simultaneously and then placed onto the scoring rows in number order – not player order – with the lowest card placed first.

All cards must be placed sequentially onto their most suitable rows (ie, the one with the closest number to it): so if the 25 and 23 cards are currently at the front of two of the rows, if you play your 30 it would have to go on the 25 – while if you played the 24 it would have to go on the 23. It’s easier to do than explain, and people pick it up in no time. You only get to choose where to lay if you play a card lower than any of those at the heads of rows: you win a row of your choice, and replace it with the card you just laid.

But it’s not only laying low cards that wins you cards- and this is where X Nimmt starts to differ from 6 Nimmt. Each row has a card heading it which are numbered 3, 4, or 5. If you place the card that would be the third, fourth or fifth in the appropriate row, you win the cars there are the card you play starts the new row.

x-nimmt-x-rowAs you’ve no doubt realised, ‘winning’ cards is a bad thing. As well as its number (between 1-104) each card also has a number of bulls heads depicted on it (between one and seven). Those will be your score at the end, with a score of 0 being a perfect round.

In 6 Nimmt, cards you won simply go into a score pile to be totalled: but X Nimmt adds a layer of strategy to the mix. Each player also gets an ‘X’ card (see what they did there?) which they lay in front of them; this counts as the start of their own personal row, which works in the same way as the others (cards in it must go in ascending order).

When you win cards, you choose one of them to add to your X row – the others go into your hand. If you have to add a card to your X row but can’t do so sequentially, the cards already there become your score pile and a card you just won starts a new X row.

A round ends when one player plays the last card from their hand. Any cards left in your hand are worth the bulls heads on them, while those in your scoring pile count double (ouch). But cards still in your X row don’t score at all – so it is possible to win several rows of cards, but still end up with a 0 score thanks to good management of your X row.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: While I love the daft fun of 6 Nimmt, X Nimmt just feels like a better game to me. I’m still more than happy to play the original, which is at its best with five or six, but at the same time i’m a little confused while this version was limited to four players. Perhaps because 6 plays so well 5-6 and they didn’t want to cannibalise their own audience? Maybe it will say 5-10 on the box in future? Either way, I’ll be tempted to play X Nimmt with five and six, adding a six-card row to replace the three-card one, so see how it works.
  • The thinker: I was a little on the fence about 6 Nimmt, as while it is well designed it felt a little too ‘random party game’ for me. But X Nimmt gives far more opportunities to be strategic – both thanks to having to place cards into your hand and into your X row. You need to be considering the game state (how many rounds do you think are left?) to make the right decisions, and the times where there is a definite one card worth playing have drastically reduced.
  • The trasher: I love 6 Nimmt because its hilarious watching players pick up massive scores on cards – and because there’s not a mountain of skill involved, it’s even funny when it happens to me. But with X Nimmt you can sometimes actually choose who to stitch up – especially when you’re laying a low card, so getting to choose which row to take. This can make it a little bit personal if you want it to, which as far as i’m concerned can only be a good thing!
  • The dabbler: I love 6 Nimmt, but it was very poor with two or three players (it says it plays from 2-10 on the box) as the rows took too long to fill up and while it kind of worked, it was very unsatisfying. The simple change to three different lengths of row – especially with the super-short three-card one – means you’re getting to the fun of the game (picking up the cards!) much more quickly. However this does mean people think more, which slows it down – there is real room for ‘analysis paralysis’, as players try to work out their best moves.

Key observations

x-nimmt-x-345-rowsIf you didn’t like the abstract card play behind the original 6 Nimmt, this is unlikely to convert you – unless you just saw it as a luck-fest, in which case you should definitely give X Nimmt a try.

The potential flip-side of this is the fact people can now grock things more now – especially as cards go into your hand, meaning people start to remember what still has to come out again. It’s only a small memory element, but it will annoy some; while AP players may well slow things a little, compared to the original.

While X Nimmt generally seems to have been received as an improvement on the original, the low player count is raising some eyebrows – especially as it doesn’t seem to be necessary. Most of the game is still simultaneous, so more players shouldn’t add to the game length by much – especially as the game is shorter now anyway.

Conclusion

Overall I’m very happy with X Nimmt. The new rules add a small amount of complexity but a lot of strategy and interesting decisions, while bringing a good ‘nimmt’ game to the lower player counts. I think the two should sit side-by-side in any good game collection, and certainly will be doing so in mine – X Nimmt compliments 6 Nimmt, rather than replacing it.

* I would like to thank Amigo Spiele for providing a copy of the game for review.

Essen Spiel 2016 aftermath: Reviews incoming

Essen 2016 logoSo the wonderfully overwhelming and exhausting Essen Spiel is over for another year. It will take me a week to recover, but I’m already missing the mayhem – even if my body isn’t.

Below I revisit my pre-Essen top 10 wishlist, along with a giving a full list of what you can expect to be my next 20 or so reviews. I also list a few games I’m wanting to play that I didn’t manage to get to – but where I’ll find the time is beyond me…

I did of course come home with a copy of Armageddon, designed by David Thompson and myself, which seemed to go pretty well. I won’t be reviewing it (I may be a little biased…) but when I get some more post-show info I’ll give an update on it.

My Essen Top 10 – what didn’t come home with me

papa-paoloAfter taking a closer look at Papa Paolo (my pre-Essen list number 5), I decided against asking for a copy. The game looked OK, but those who I spoke to that had demoed it were unconvinced. I’ll keep an eye out for more reviews.

As I ran out of luggage space (see below…), I’d already tried to get a few minutes with Stephen Buonocore several times and failed. He was the man I needed to speak to about both Fabled Fruit (number 8) and Terraforming Mars (number 1 target), but he was so busy I just gave up. Friends grabbed both, so I’ll get to play them – plus they’ll be easy to get if I want them later.

Ave Roma (my number 7) sold out, while Area 51 (number 10) looked terribly disappointing – it had barely been upgraded from the pre-production version they’d sent me. Despite being promised a copy, I decided I could happily live without it – especially as none of my gaming groups had really warmed to it (despite me liking it).

On the expansions front, I asked for a copy of Deus: Egypt but it will be posted to me in the next few weeks. This seemed very strange – why do that when I’m standing right there? I guess that’s what happens when businesses get to a certain size – pointlessly haemorrhaging what is to them small change is less important than chain of command.

I had a good look at the Ancient Terrible Things expansion but it didn’t seem to offer much that I was desperate for (despite looking awesome). I’m happy with the base game, so didn’t feel this warranted a purchase right now – but I expect I’ll grab it later.

Post-Essen reviews incoming

great-western-trailThe few disappoints above were far outweighed by the good news.

Publishers Amigo, Blam!, Czech Games Edition, EmperorS4 Games, HUCH! & Friends, La Mame Games, LudiCreations, Pegasus Spiel, Pleasant Company and Queen Games were all very generous and provided the following for review:

Oh my… Anyone fancy a games night? I’ll update this with links as I get the reviews up, but as I like to play things at least four to five times before reviewing it’s going to be a while before the first ones go live.

Expansions:

  • Celestia: A little Help
  • The Dwarves: Saga, Combined Might & New Heroes

In case you think I didn’t put my hand into my moth-eaten wallet at all over Essen week (except when stuffing my face or drinking), I did buy the small expansions for ConcordiaNavegador and New York 1901. I doubt they’ll be big enough to merit reviews though, but if they are I will do so.

What I’m also wanting to play: The Top 3

in-the-name-of-odinRhodes, Lorenzo the Magnificent and In the Name of Odin were all on my ‘best of the rest’ list, just outside my Essen Top 10 – and again, they would’ve been the next three games I would’ve picked up if I’d had some more luggage space.

I got a short demo of Rhodes and enjoyed it – a tight, interactive worker placement game that plays in an hour.

Lorenzo the Magnificent looked great but once I knew a friend had a copy, I knew I’d rather wait until later to play: if it’s as good as it looks, I’ll be happy to buy a copy later down the line.

As for In the Name of Odin, I just couldn’t get past the alarm bells that went off every time I went near it. Overwrought and garish it just screamed ‘Kickstarter’ at me and, once again, as soon as I knew others had bought it I was happy to cross it off my wishlist.

Kickstarter preview: Steal This Game

steal-this-gameOne of the greatest things about the board games community is, well, the community. And I’m not talking just about the players – I’m talking about the designers, the publishers and the developers in particular.

When I first decided to start dabbling in game design I immediately found myself taken under the wing of first the Playtest UK Meetup group and, shortly afterwards, the fledgling Cambridge division of the same group. Despite my early attempts being rubbish at best, I was positively encouraged via great constructive feedback that only served to inspire me to keep at it (something a few of them probably regret now…).

Once I had a game I thought might be publishable, I started to talking to (you guessed it) publishers and developers. While not every meeting is a positive experience (everyone has shitty days), the vast majority of them have been really supportive and open.

The designers and publishers I’ve met since have been a mixed bunch of characters, but I’ve never met one who thought they were too good for me, or who wouldn’t happily answer some questions or have a quick chat. Sure, there are a few I wouldn’t approach now – but that’s the same personalities issue you get in every walk of life.

In fact, I’ve been amazed at how far many publishers and designers will go to help, even when meeting for the first time or just for a few minutes. Rather than being a secretive, cutthroat closed shop the industry is quite the opposite: if someone doesn’t like an aspect of your game, they’ll suggest a way to improve it – or if it’s not the game for a particular publisher (or they have no room in their schedule), they’ll be happy to suggest alternatives you may not have considered. Clichéd I know, but it feels like a family.

steal-this-game-componentsBut what has all this got to do with Steal This Game?

At Essen Spiel last week – the most influential event in the board gaming calendar – indie board game publisher LudiCreations had its Saturday takings for the fair stolen by a gang of professional thieves.

Luckily no one was injured, but the gang got away with thousands of euros: an event that has hit the LudiCreations team hard, both financially and emotionally.

But rather than sit around and mope, the Ludi team, along with a gang of designers and reviewers, set about making it right. They spent Saturday night designing, testing, reviewing and filming (a review by Richard ‘Rahdo’ Ham) a nanogame – it fits on a postcard – in an attempt to recoup some of the takings. Kickstarter had a stand at the show, so within 24 hours they’d turned tragedy into a live Kickstarter campaign.

Designed by David Turczi, this two-player game pits a game publisher against a thief trying to rob them. But of course the point here isn’t the game – it’s the fact something positive came out of a desperate situation almost immediately as everyone rallied around to chip in however they could.

At the time of writing Steal This Game had almost 2,000 backers who’d pledged almost $25,000. Pledge levels include simply getting the postcard ($5 or more), or getting one of Ludi’s other games (Kune vs Lakia, Microfilms or They Who Were 8) into the bargain for just $14. It’s very small numbers, but together we can help make this right and show once again what a great community board gamers have created. I’m in – now it’s your turn.

Armageddon – From the Ground Up (some info)

armageddon-coverSo my new board game, co-designed with the super-talented David Thompson, will be released at Essen Spiel in Germany this week.

Called Armageddon, it has a post-apocalyptic theme but is much more a euro game than a traditional ‘thematic’ one (despite what the amazing artwork from Markus Erdt may lead you to believe).

The game takes about 90 minutes to play and is for 3-4 players. Because bidding is a key part of the game, it really didn’t work with two – and to take it to an extra player would been pricey on components: a risk it probably wasn’t worth taking, considering the probably price hike. But if it does well, who knows…?

So what’s it all about?

The game was very much designed from the theme from the start. The idea was to try and simulate the growing of those small towns you see in films such as Mad Max and Water World where they’re trying to do things right after some kind of global tragedy – only to be whupped by some chain wielding biker types. Well not this time!

The key mechanisms are bidding, tableau building and worker placement. Each round you’ll have a set of workers (there are different types that can different things) who you’ll choose to assign to three areas – two bidding areas (buildings and survivors) and your tableau (worker placement).

armageddon-essen

It has arrived at Essen, thank god…

You’ll take it in turns to place workers (from behind your screen) into an area until everyone has bid into each (once you’ve placed, you can’t change it).

The advantage in going early into an area is order breaks ties – but of course others know what they need to do to beat you. People on your tableau (town) will be working (upgrading types of worker, getting VPs etc) or defending against marauders. So everyone gets some workers/marauders, plus a new building, and then operates their towns.

Some rounds you may really want a juicy building, others you may really want a certain set of survivors (they’re random pulls from a bag), others you’ll want to all hands to the pumps – but usually all the above.

You’ll get benefits from both pacifistic and more violent approaches to the game and both are viable strategies – as is treading a more balanced path. To win you’ll want to work out a strategy, then make the best tactical decisions to try and support it – knowing you may have to change everything on the fly if (when) it hits the fan…

For those not going to Germany, I’m sorry but I can’t put a store date on the game yet – but I’d hope it will be available from UK game stores/websites before Christmas. If you want any more info, just let me know in the comments below.

Board game Top 10: Essen Spiel 2016 new releases

Essen 2016 logoWith the convention just a few weeks away, I’ve finished trawling through most of the upcoming board game releases planned for Essen Spiel 2016. So below you’ll find what I think will be the pick of the bunch.

I’ve kept expansions off of the list, but there are some interesting ones on the way: new bits for Deus (Egypt), Celestia (A Little Help), New York 1901 (Goons) and Ancient Terrible Things (The Lost Charter) will all be going in my bag for sure. As for the games below, I’ll be packing as many into my suitcase as possible!

I also want to give high praise to the website Spiel Together, created by Peter H Møller, which has made going through this year’s crop of new releases an absolute breeze. If you’re at all interested in seeing the list of games coming out at Essen (it has more than 600 of them listed, and counting) I’d highly recommend it, while if you’re going to the show I’d say it is an invaluable asset.

My Top 10 Essen anticipation list

armageddon-cover10. Armageddon
3-4 players, 60-90 mins

I hope you can forgive me for being a little self-serving, but my second published game (this time co-designed with David Thompson) should be available from Queen Games this year. It’s set in a post-apocalypse world, but the focus is on rebuilding civilisation. Each turn players use workers to ‘bid’ in three areas – finding survivors to grow your town, fixing up buildings and using the buildings you’ve already restored (to get VPs or fight off marauders). It’s competitive, not co-op, and I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved – and from what I’ve seen of the artwork so far it’s going to look amazing too. And the last I checked, there were no zombies – but don’t hold me to that…

Crisis9. Kickstarter corner: Crisis, The Dwarves (English Edition) & Area 51: Top Secret

It’s rare that I talk about Kickstarter games before release (if at all) but these are all from publishers I trust and were games that really piqued my interest. I’ve talked about all of these new titles elsewhere on the site (links above) so didn’t want to give them an entry each, but did want to flag them up as games I’m really looking forward to getting finished copies of at the show. Crisis (1-5 players, 120 mins) is a sci-fi-themed worker placement game with a clever financial crash mechanism; The Dwarves (1-5 players, 60-90 mins) is a fun fantasy co-op game based on the Markus Heitz novels; while Area 51 (2-6 players, 60 mins) is a set collection and area control (ish) family board game. For more information on any of these, please read the full reviews linked above.

fabled-fruit8. Fabled Fruit
2-5 players, 20-30 mins

I try not to let lighter, smaller games get onto this list as they’re the games I fit in when I have gaps in my schedule and they’re also the least likely to hit the table with my current game groups – but this one looked too interesting to pass over. Anything designed by Friedemann Friese always catches my eye, as he’s both an innovator and a prankster, and it seems like he’s at it again here. This starts out as a simple set collection card game, but as you play more games the system and rules themselves change – but you can reset it whenever you feel like it. He’s calling it a ‘fable’ game, and it seems to be positioned somewhere between the flawed ‘Flux’ system and the equally flawed ‘legacy’ system. Friese is one of the few who would go looking for somewhere between the two – and one of even fewer who could nail it – so fingers crossed.

ave-roma7. Ave Roma
2-5 players, 45-120 mins

Strangely there weren’t many worker placement games really grabbing me from this year’s offerings (which is hopefully good news for Armageddon!). In fact after scouring lots of rule books I think Ave Roma looks like the pick of the bunch, despite the designer and publisher having little pedigree. I love the ideas of a big round central board, variable commodity values for each of the players, and numbered workers having different strengths depending on where you play them. I have pretty high hopes for this one, so it will be high on my demo list.

risky-adventure6. Risky Adventure
2-4 players, 45 mins

I’m a sucker for a good press-your-luck dice game, and the most promising one for me on this year’s Essen release list is Risky Adventure from Queen (no, I’m not biased!). In a nice twist, you gamble first on the actions you want to do (each needing different dice combos), then roll your dice – so the riskier the actions are that you pick the less chance there is of getting to do them. There are lots of types of reward (including extra dice faces to complete tricky actions, set collection for victory points etc) and overall it looks like it will have that little bit extra to make it stand out as a fun family game.

papa-paolo5. Papà Paolo
2-4 players, 30-75 mins

I love the theme here (pizza delivery) and the game promises to be a mix of worker placement, bidding, engine building and city building. Sold! The designer promises a game with low downtime, interaction as well as individual play, multiple ways to win but a simple scoring system. While none of the mechanisms on show look particularly ground-breaking, but it’s interesting that the placement of your worker on the 4×4 grid governs the actions you can take, what you can build and how much money you may gain – as well as possibly impeding your opponents. I’m yet to find a city building game I’ve really fallen in love with despite the fact it’s a theme I really like, so I’m hoping Papà Paolo will break this duck. I mean come on, it has purple scooter meeples – what can possibly go wrong?

oracle-of-delphi4. The Oracle of Delphi
2-4 players, 70-100 mins

The last few Stefan Feld releases didn’t really float my boat, largely due to being some of the ugliest games I’ve seen in a while – but The Oracle of Delphi has definitely refuelled my man crush for the king of the point salad game. And as an added bonus, it has a refreshing clean graphical look! It is (of course) an action selection game with a fun Greek gods theme that looks a little less pasted on than usual. But rather than his typical (of late) point-scoring frenzy it looks as if the goal here is to be the first to complete a number of challenges. It has a nice modular board for added replay value and the typical Feld tropes of choosing your own path to victory seem to be in place via the way you upgrade your ship and use the special actions of the gods. Hopefully this one sees him right back on form.

adrenaline-box3. Adrenaline
3-5 players, 30-60 mins

As one of the world’s worst first person shooter (FPS) computer game players, the idea of exacting revenge on my friends in board game form is extremely appealing – and if anyone can pull it off, publisher CGE can. The game looks great (sci-fi themed), the mechanisms sound like they’ll do the job and the victory point system fits the bill (you get points from the players you wipe out – and then they get to come back again for their revenge), so I’m super excited about this one – and I already know this one will be coming home with me, so expect a review before end of the year.

great-western-trail2. Great Western Trail
2-4 players, 75-150 mins

Eggertspiele has a good track record for medium weight euro games, while designer Alexander Pfister is on a hot streak right now, so I have high hopes for this one. It’s a western themed tile placement and hand management game with an interesting looking movement mechanism. The tile placement seems to have a bit of Caylus about it (which I love), while the movement feels almost like a take on the rondel (which I also love). Loads of actions to take and ways to improve your character, loads of ways to get victory points, loads of interesting strategic decisions to make. This one looks totally up my alley and will almost certainly be making the trip back with me.

terraforming-mars1. Terraforming Mars
1-5 players, 90-120 mins

If you want to get to number one on this list, the easiest way to do it is to get one of the biggest board game reviewers out there to describe your game as “Race for the Galaxy on a board”. The theme (the clue is in the title…) is appealing and pretty original, it looks gorgeous, it is backed by solid publishers and managers to tick the card drafting, hand management, variable player powers and tile placement boxes too. The ‘Race’ analogy comes from seeing/playing loads of cards to build your own points engine, while keeping a careful eye on the growing environment (oxygen, ocean and temperature levels), as combined they will trigger the game end. It can’t be as good as it sounds.

The ‘best of the rest’ that missed the list

in-the-name-of-odinThere are so many cool looking games coming – which is hardly surprising, with 1,200 being released in one weekend!

In the Name of Odin will be the family set collection/hand management game I’ll head to first, as it looks very cool indeed – but I do have my doubts about some of the mechanisms so need a quick play.

A surprising number of sci-fi games caught my eye this year. Both Solarius Mission and Kepler 3042 are also looking good for scratching the space exploration itch, while Planet Defenders and Chromosome keep the sci-fi theme but look to have more of a ‘race for victory’ feel; either stopping invading robots or escaping a research facility.

My ‘number 11’ was probably Barcelona: The Rose of Fire. I’m a sucker for the city and this tile-laying game looks to explore its history, which immediately peeked my interest. I’m rarely keen on area control, but this looks to have an interesting push and pull to it (as construction can lead to strikes and riots) so I’ll definitely be finding out more.

Arctic adventure game Snowblind (from Pleasant Games Company) was just behind Risky Adventure in the press-your-luck category and I’ll certainly be looking for a demo – especially after enjoying Ancient Terrible Things a lot from the same company. Great art and, if ATT is anything to go by, great components too.

Economic farming game Rhodes has me far more interested than I would usually be in this kind of thing, so I’ll be following my instincts and checking that out too. While Lorenzo the Magnificent (from Cranio Creations) ticks lots of my favourite mechanism boxes (card drafting, variable player powers, worker placement) and will also be a definite demo.

Expect reviews of lots of these new titles in the coming months. And if I’ve missed some you’re really looking forward to, let me know in the comments below.

Essen Spiel 2016: The build-up begins

Essen 2016 logoWith Essen Spiel 2016 just 10 weeks away, the anticipation is starting to build for the world’s most important annual tabletop game event.

While those in the US will want to get GenCon out of the way this month before getting too excited, those of us of a more euro persuasion – both in terms of location and gaming tastes – are already looking towards October.

And once again it’s looking like being a landmark year. For the first time there will be more than 1,000 exhibitors at the event. And no, that’s not a typo – 1,000 exhibitors. And over the four days they’re expecting 160,000 people through the turnstiles (which includes the likes of me four times, as you’re counted each day you enter).

This will be the fifth year I’ll be going, this time for six nights, but it always feels fresh and new. This is partly due to staying in a new hotel every year, so fingers crossed for this year’s choice – InterCityHotel Essen. I’ve previously stayed in two good ‘gamer’ hotels, a budget nightmare and a pretty fancy non-gamery place – all of which have given me some stories to tell. Let’s hope they’re the right kind this time…

I’ve written a few blog posts before that anyone heading to Essen may find useful. Here’s a couple of my Essen guides from last year that should still be useful:

Wearing three hats (again) – or maybe four…

Having a press pass is great because you don’t have to queue to get in – but unlike an exhibitor pass (which I’ve managed to get before thanks to AEG) it doesn’t get you in early. That has proven invaluable in the past in terms of getting in for demos early, so I will have to be more focused (read: sneaky) this year in terms of getting organised.

There’s still a chance I may be able to get one of said passes, as one of my co-designs might make it to the show – but the publisher admitted it was a “very ambitious” target to make it with the time we have left. Having seen some of the early artwork I think it’s going to look amazing, so I’m desperate to see it there – but won’t be holding my breath.

Essen balconyAt the other end of the game design spectrum, it’s getting to crunch time in terms of getting prototypes ready for showing to publishers – and then arranging the meetings. I can’t believe its only 10 weeks away! Ye gods… Two older games will definitely be there, while two more have the potential to be in good enough shape to show. But for that to happen we’re really going to have to get our houses in order.

If I’m honest it has been a slack year for me in terms of design; I just haven’t felt motivated, which hasn’t been helped by the slow progress of other games that are already with publishers. I need to shake that off – and hopefully the thrill ride that is Essen will help me get over this malaise.

Then of course there’s the fun of trying to grab the games I want most from publishers without having to buy them! With almost 100 game reviews to my name now, and having kept all my reviewing promises from last year, I’m hoping this will be a little easier in 2016. But to be honest I enjoy the challenge of bartering, so bring it on publishers!

And finally, of course, I’ll be there as a punter; as a gamer (and as a drinker). It’s the world’s best board game shop for one week a year and it was open for eight days rather than four I’d still be heading in every day. I may not love the smell of gamers in the morning, but I do love the games themselves a possibly unhealthy amount.

The preparation begins…

So all my trains are booked and the hotel is confirmed, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of preparing for Essen.

Now it’s time to start reading the press on all the new releases that will be coming out at this year’s show. It’ll probably be close to 1,000 new games this year, so narrowing that down to about 20 I want to check out is going to be the usual mammoth task. And yes, I LOVE IT! Bring on the Geek lists 😀

But before then I’ve got about 10 other games sitting on the shelf I need to review. And there are those prototypes to work on. And those publisher meetings to organise. Can it really only be 10 weeks to go…?

Die Portale von Molthar: A four-sided game review

Molthar boxDie Portale von Molthar* (presumably The Portals of Molthar if it gets an English release) is a small box action selection, engine building and set collection card game with a fantasy sheen.

It’s currently available in German, but as it is language independent (there are only numbers and icons on the cards) it is not a problem. The small rulebook is available to download in English.

Designed by Johannes Schmidauer-König, Molthar says for ages 10+ on the box but you could probably go a little lower. The cards do have a variety of special abilities, represented by icons, but there’s not a huge range of them. In terms of game length, its about 30-60 minutes depending on the player count.

The game also hits that ‘2-5 players’ sweet spot for publishers; and I’m pleased to say it does work right across that range. I’d say three to four players is best though. Some of the cards are interactive, so for two it loses something; while with three actions each round – albeit short ones – five may see people losing interest between turns.

As I’ve come to expect from Amigo the card stock is excellent and the artwork is also of a high quality. Sure it’s generic fantasy with everything from Narnia to Alice in Wonderland thrown in, but it fits and is well executed.

Teaching

Molthar character cardsDie Portale von Molthar is pretty light on rules. Set up is a breeze: give each person a player mat (or ‘portal’ if you’re getting into the theme), shuffle the two decks of cards separately, put two character and four pearl cards face up, and away you go.

The only cards that go into hand are pearl cards and these are just numbers, so there is no need for an explanation. Some have a symbol, but this does not activate from your hand – it simply means you clear out the current face-up character cards if they’re drawn into the central area.

The character cards are more complicated but are always face up, even if you draw them blind. This means that, as characters are drawn, you can go to the rules and explain them to everyone. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to print out a few extra pages as player aids.

Molthar portalOn a turn you get three actions. You can mix and match from four options: take a character card, take a pearl card, clear the pearl cards or play a character from your portal (you can only have two characters on your portal – and five pearl cards in hand).

Each character must be activated from your portal using your pearl cards. These range from exact requirements (a pair of sixes, a five etc) to the likes of a three card run, four even-numbered cards, cards adding up to 10 etc. When you discard the correct pearl cards, you can move the character from your portal to your tableau (scoring area).

Molthar characters do an array of things – from simply scoring you points (you need 12 to trigger the end game) or diamonds (another in-game currency, usually allowing you to change a card’s number); to a one-time bonus (such as three extra actions); to an ongoing effect (increase your hand size, have a ‘free’ number as if you had the matching pearl card etc). Some icons are pretty incomprehensible, but the rules explain them well.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: It’s nice to have a light card game with a bit of theme that really does set up and play fast. The production quality is fantastic with some extra shiny bits on the cards, and while there are no new leaps in game design here everything is put together in a very elegant fashion. The one downside is the end of the game, where everyone gets ‘one last turn’ – I’ve very rarely seen this make a difference and it usually just means a pointless extra round at the end.
  • The thinker: Unfortunately while there are several routes to victory (engine building vs straight points etc) you don’t have time to explore them properly, with the person getting the right mix by luck of the draw seeming to win out each time. Having said that, as a light filler it does offer a pleasing amount of decisions to be made and no more luck than you’d expect from this kind of card game. Definitely tactical rather than strategic, but I’d happily play it between two heavier games.
  • The trasher: Die Portale von Molthar is a pretty nice filler, but it could’ve been so much more interactive. I understand it’s a family game and it certainly hits that spot, but I’d have been much happier paying a bit more money to have some sets of cards you could swap in for different crowds – more attacking, more engine building etc. But I guess that isn’t what Amigo does as a publisher. Hopefully it will be popular enough that they add expansions – they did it for Bohnanaza after all, but I seriously doubt Molthar will have that kind of following…
  • The dabbler: I enjoy the game because it’s simple, fast and fun – it’s just a shame it doesn’t really fully deliver on the theme. The art suggests so much, but the card powers don’t deliver thematically. One plus is that although there are interactive cards they never really hit you hard – you may lose a card, but little worse than that. This is a game I’ll always be happy to play, and will certainly be one I reach for if people like fantasy games/books – but I’m not sure I’d grab it as a personal choice.

Key observations

Molthar pearl cardsThere’s a goodly amount of luck in Die Portale von Molthar, but no more than you’d expect from a small box card game.

Having three actions per turn – one of which lets you clear the face up cards – means you can normally hit the numbers you’re looking for.

There have been comparisons to Splendor, which I can see, as they’re both simple filler engine builders. Splendor is twice the price, but with a little less imagination and replay value. Splendor adds poker chips and is more elegant, but I have more fun with Molthar. Elegance is great, but only if you can achieve it without sacrificing replay value. I wonder how many of the people who gave Splendor ludicrously high BGG scores still play it.

A downside of Molthar’s card variety is having to give the powers icons. The iconography for how to lay the cards is solid, but the powers themselves lead to a lot of rulebook diving – not fun when its in about five-point. The box isn’t full – presumably with expansions in mind. Which means there is NO excuse for not putting some action card player aids in here. It really would’ve helped – hopefully something for the English edition?

There is also an occasional runaway leader problem. I’ve seen several strategies win games, some fast some slow, but if the cards just fall for a player they can run away with it. This problem could’ve been mitigated with more ‘take that’ cards, perhaps, but overall I think the good outweighs the bad – and it’s only a filler, after all.

Conclusion

Molthar componentsI’ve enjoyed my plays of Die Portale von Molthar and, for now, it has found its way into my collection.

Amigo has done a great job on its production, it plays well from 2-4 (five at a push), and it always plays in less than an hour in that player range.

You always have decisions to make, there’s a bit of interaction but you also feel that you need lady luck on your side if you’re going to prevail. In a filler game, these are all things I look for.

But it’s also a great way to introduce engine building and action selection to newer gamers. These are key categories in our hobby and as such I also consider Molthar to be a solid gateway game – especially for people into fantastical books but not board games. For example this would be a good step toward a game such as Lords of Waterdeep, which I really don’t think is quite ‘gateway’ material.

Will Molthar change the gaming world? No. Is it a rearranging of the game designer toolbox? Absolutely. But it does it in a satisfying way and serves a purpose on the gamer’s map, so I for one am happy to jump through the portal on a regular basis.

* I would like to thank Amigo Spiele for providing a copy of the game for review.

My Essen Spiel 2015 in pictures

Regular readers will know I’m certainly no photographer, but my trip to Essen Spiel this year did see me take a few happy snaps I’d like to share with you here. I apologise for the quality – these were taken with a cheap Motorola smartphone. But I hope they at least give a flavour of the trip from behind the scenes.

Empire Engine Essen 2015 1 Empire Engine Essen 2015 2

Seeing my first game published last year was an amazing feeling, but having the German edition in a proper box is equally thrilling.

Germany is the home of modern board games, so seeing it for the first time in this edition was strangely humbling – especially from such a great publisher. They’d even made some component improvements, which was great to see. The picture on the left proves it didn’t exactly have top billing (it’s there, right in the middle, promise) but hey, it’s a start!

Empire Engine Essen 2015 3

It did at least get a nice bit of space at the press preview event – looking good! Although I doubt it will sell as many copies as Star Munchkin 3…

It’s a great privilege to get a press pass for Essen each year, with one of the main benefits being able to get into the event a day early. Upstairs in the Messe they set aside a large area for all the publishers to set up a copy of their games for us to snap, creating a fantastic mini Essen experience. Above are three of the game I came home with.

Carcassonne Star Wars Essen 2015 Ticket to Ride UK Essen 2015

There were some new takes on old classics. Carcassonne Star Wars looked remarkably bland, while I wasn’t quite feeling the thrill of building a Ticket to Ride route from Ipswich to Northampton…

And I couldn’t come home with everything – I only had the one suitcase after all. There were some fantastic looking games on display (see below) but with close to 1,000 games released at the show you really have to pick and choose.
Titus Tentacle Essen 2015 Mega Civilization Essen 2015

 

 

 

 

Mega Civilization certainly lived up to its name, with the biggest game board I’ve seen (it plays up to 18 players and for anything up to 12 hours). Titus Tentakel looked like a fantastic children’s game. No idea if it was any good or not, but the components were brilliant.

And just to wrap up the press event, afterwards you get to go down into the halls and skip between the fork lifts and pallets as the publishers scramble madly to get things ready for the next day. Some of the big German publishers have press events of their own, with Amigo giving us a lovely chance to sit and chill – along with a couple of freebies. And a quick spoiler – Die Portale von Molthar is fast becoming one of my games of the year.

Amigo Essen 2015

Catan World Record Essen 2015Down in the halls they were also setting up for their Catan World Record attempt.

They actually ended up smashing it, with 1,040 players (including designer Klaus Teuber) strolling past the old record of 922. And this wasn’t individual players – this was one big game. I can only presume the longest road was about 500 matchsticks long – but what I do know is it was won by Tim van der Bersselaar from Holland.

Thunderbirds Essen 2015 Rory Thunderbirds Essen 2015 LeacockAnother press benefit is getting invited to the occasional evening event; which this year included the Modiphius launch party for its new title Thunderbirds. Sadly Miss Penelope wasn’t available, but it was great to see the ever smiling Matt Leacock (centre, grey T-shirt) showing players who’d backed the Kickstarter how to play the game. And it’s fair to say Rory O’Connor (centre), of Rory’s Story Cubes fame, was enjoying his play with Modiphius staffer and Playtest UK organiser Rob Harris (left).

Essen 2015 suitcaseBut all good things come to an end, and on Sunday morning it was time to pack my new games into my suitcase and head home. Oops…

There was some genuine panic at this point. I get the train to Essen and there were some serious problems on the rails locally after a huge fire. I was facing three trains just to get as far as Brussels, so didn’t really want to have a suitcase, a backpack and a couple of carrier bags to manoeuvre.

An hour of frantic chit-popping followed, along with saying goodbye to all of the expansion boxes – even the Concordia one once my friend Karl had assured me via text that it ‘should’ fit in the original box (it did).

But that’s that for another year – and if I had more money I’d already be booking my trip for next year. Below is my haul – minus a few that the life-saving Trevor brought home for me (My Village, Celestia and Treasure Hunter). If you love board games this really is something you need to do – hopefully I’ll see you there next year. And if you’ve got a bit of suitcase space, give me a shout eh…

Essen 2015 my games