Essen 2019 is almost upon us. If you’re not aware, Essen Spiel is the annual release fest for board games. Every publisher worth its meeples is there, along with tens of thousands of gamers.
I usually spend the two months leading up to the event slowly going through the 1,000+ releases, slowly building my anticipation. Not this time. A two-week holiday to America, plus a bunch of real life stuff, has forced my research into a tiny window. And I mean tiny. I forced my research into a week. And I’m actually pretty fascinated to see if it makes the slightest bit of difference (guess: probably not).
I probably wouldn’t have spent as much time as usual whatever the circumstances. My patience for the ridiculous amount of games debuting each year is giving me serious release fatigue. And it’s not just me: I hear that more and more, from everyone from publishers to gamers. Yet the steady influx of newcomers to the hobby is proving too tempting for said publishers to resist. And while those same suckers – sorry, punters – continue to fund dross on Kickstarter, that number is unlikely to decrease.
How can I possibly sift through 1,000 new games?
Glad you asked. Using the Tabletop Together website and its fabulous Essen tool, that’s how. You can use it to view all 1,000+ games and watch videos, look at stats and link through to rulebooks etc.
Once you’ve done that, you can take your nerdiness to the next level. Print hall maps showing which hall your chosen games are in, rating them from ‘need’ (cos we all need games) to ‘ignore’. Now you can also share your list with friends, look at the top games (as chosen by all the other users) or look at game stats. These range from what these picks will cost you (ouch) through to how many games you’ve picked in a number of categories. You can really geek out.
It’s also worth mentioning Board Game Geek has upped its game in this respect. It’s own Essen list now has some pretty good functionality, but is largely still less useful (for me) than the TT one. However, the BGG list is worth looking at if you want to do pre-orders, as many games can be booked directly through the one site. This is a great innovation and has proven very popular with Essen attendees.
Essen 2019 – Top 10 anticipated smaller releases
This list excludes games that will probably end up on a table near me soon (big publisher releases, Knizia games etc). These are games I think I may miss out on if I don’t check them out myself (links go to each game’s BGG page):
- It’s a Wonderful World (1-5 players, 30-60 mins): This sci-fi themed euro sees you card drafting and tableau building, setting up an engine to complete projects to get more powers and points. Simple and short, but using a lot of mechanisms I really enjoy. Nothing new, but enough big ticks to hit my list.
- 1987: Channel Tunnel (2, 45 mins): 1906 San Francisco was a surprise hit for me last Essen. In the same series, this two-player game action selection game looks to have some interesting mechanisms. There’s mini tech trees, upgrades and some interaction – much more than you’d expect from a small game.
- Outback Crossing (2-6, 30-40 mins): This fast-playing abstract game has lovely cartoony artwork and simple game play. On turns, you either draw a tile or claim a row/column to score at the end. So it should have a nice tension: claim lines (max three) to try and build them up later, or place and hope to claim them later.
- No Return (2-4, 30 mins): Another underused mechanism is variable phases; where players decide at which point to move from phase one of the game to the second. This does it in a simple abstract mathsy game, where you draw tiles and place them on your board – before later trying to score them.
- A Fistful of Meeples (2-4, 30 mins): I like a good mancala/rondel game and this looks to have boiled things down into a simple yet interesting puzzle. Different coloured meeples interact with the spaces in different ways, leaving you plenty of options in how to score your points.
- La Cour des Miracles (2-5, 40 mins): An action selection game with a twist, as your ‘workers’ have a hidden number – which is revealed when an error fills up. The player with the highest numbered workers getting an extra bonus. This sounds like a really nice twist on a genre I already enjoy.
- Robin of Locksley (2, 30-45 mins): New publisher, old designer (Uwe Rosenberg). A two-player race to complete tasks by claiming and manipulating tiles from a central display. If he’s got it right, this could be the perfect game for Sarah and me to play at the end of an evening.
- The Magnificent (1-4, 60-90 mins): I enjoyed Santa Maria from these guys, even if it was rough around the edges. This looks similarly interesting in a ‘loads of euro mechanisms in a box’ way. You power can increase with each action in a turn, leading to interesting decisions on when to trigger your various powers.
- The Artemis Project (1-5, 60-75 mins): Dice for worker placement is usually fun and here there’s a clever use of limited resources. Lower dice are brought nicely into the mix, as you get less stuff, but definitely get it. Add tough competition for upgrades and engine building, and I’m definitely in.
- Sierra West (1-4, 40-60 mins): An interesting action selection system looks to elevate this game above most of the competition. While a scenario-based set-up also promises extended replayability. Already receiving positive reviews, so now firmly on my radar.
Essen 2019 – also on the radar
- Expansions: Both Welcome To… and Terraforming Mars are favourites and the upcoming expansions for them look interesting. Welcome To… has ‘thematic neighbourhoods’ – from zombies to egg hunts. While TM: Turmoil offers further strategic depth via global events.
- Oldies: A couple of reprints have caught my eye. I kickstarted Egizia already. I also have my eye on Bus, the classic Splotter Spellen route-building, pick-up-and-deliver and worker placement game. As well as Die Macher; German election game I’ve played once and loved it.
What was refreshing this year was how much information was available about most of these games long before the show itself.
Lack of information pre-Essen has been a bane of planning up until now. This is the first year almost all games have a video, rulebook or review well in advance. So well done to the publishers for that.
But it’s also worth noting how many games looked fine – but not original in any way. I guess its inevitable, with so many releases and so many new publishers/designers. And sure, the older I get the more cynical I am. But it still feels like a largely disappointing Essen 2019 crop at this point.
For older musings on Spiel, check out my previous Essen related posts.