With 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
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
4. 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.
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.
2. 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.
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 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.