Welcome to my first (only?) Essen Spiel 2019 roundup. Ten games I’ve played that were released at the show, or shortly before/after.
With more than 1,000 games released at Essen Spiel 2019, you simply can’t cover them all. I’ve reviewed a few already (see links below), but here you’ll find shorter reviews of games I’ve played just once or twice.
Some of these simply aren’t to my taste, or I’d struggle to get them played, despite being good games. Others are long and will take a lot of time and plays to cover in detail. I may get to them later in the year, but with the clamour for fast reviews they’ll be off the hotness lists by the time I get to them. Others are simply proving tricky to get hold of. Or I absolutely hated them! See if you can guess which are which…
But I hope you’ll find something worth checking out, as there are some real gems here.
Alice in Wordland (3-8 players, 15-30 mins)
There’s been a spate of word games released over the past few years, but this is a great addition to the genre. Against the clock, players try and think of a word in a given category – but that doesn’t include particular letters.
The game also has player powers and a scoring system for those that want extra complexity, but it’s a hoot either way. And if you still need convincing, it comes with a musical teapot timer.
Bus (3-5 players, 120 mins)
This is a re-release of the old Splotter game from 1999. It has a very high price point for a game with frankly poor art, graphic design and component quality. Game play features incredibly aggressive network building and pick-up-and deliver. So, if you don’t have a head for a spatial puzzle and a love for player interaction, forget it. It has many fans, but I found it dated, frustrating and overly long for what it was.
Barrage (1-4 players, 120+ mins)
One of the heavier euro games released at Essen Spiel 2019, Barrage is half action selection and half spatial puzzle.
While the action selection and resource management are pedestrian, thankfully the real game happens on the board. It’s a mean network builder with very clever interaction and multiple routes to victory.
But it is dogged with dodgy components (wait for a reprint) and was far too heavy and punishing for a simple soul such as me. But it will be a deserving hit for the heavy euro crowd.
Crystal Palace (2-5 players, 120+ mins)
While considered almost as heavy as Barrage, I got on with Crystal Palace much better. Largely because the interaction is more forgiving and short-term, with more emphasis put on building your own tableau. It’s a dice placement action selection game, with the twist that you choose (then pay for) the dice faces you want. It works very well, as long as you’re willing to wrestle a tough economic puzzle throughout.
Dizzle (1-4 players, 30 mins)
A fabulous little roll-and-write that may go to the top of this particular pile for me. The push-your-luck element works well, scoring is simple, and there’s a bit of interaction.
It’s probably cleverer than That’s Pretty Clever. And has the added addition of having more complex sheets in the box, much like Galaxy Trucker.
So, as you perfect the simpler sheets you simply move on up to the next level. A great game with real replay value.
Hurlyburly (2-4 players, 15 mins)
If you’ve ever played Rhino Hero, imagine if you each had a tower – and were firing catapults at each other. That’s Hurlyburly – and it’s every bit as fun as it sounds. It’s that rare breed of family game that all ages can have fun and be good at, while having enough extra bits to keep gamers happy too. Upgrade your tower, build up defences, then fail miserably to hit anything. Proper, proper fun.
Jaws (2-4 players, 60 mins)
Fans of thematic games may get a kick out of this one-versus-all luck fest. In part one, 1-3 players try and find and attack the shark (the other player) as it terrorises the beaches. Think: sub-Scotland Yard.
The faster you hit it, the more equipment you’ll have for part two (or vice versa). Then, it’s out to sea for the showdown. Think: any ‘high rolls equal more hits’ action game. But with less strategy. A lot less.
Outback Crossing (2-6 players, 30-45 mins)
I really wanted to like this one. It’s a light tactical family game, with the tension being in whether to make columns better or claim them for yourself. The earlier you claim, the more other people can mess with your scoring capability. A bit like the Coloretto series, but different enough to be intriguing. Unfortunately, it falls between two stools. Too fiddly and thinky for youngsters and too random and fragile for gamers. Shame.
Point Salad (2-6 players, 30 mins)
This had to be good to get over the punny title – and it was. It’s a clever small-box filler card game, where you either grab veg or scoring cards each turn.
Scoring cards can be contradictory (some give minus points for certain veg), but you can always flip them over to their veg side later.
Yup, it’s hard to explain in 100 words. But basically, it’s set collection where you also choose your scoring conditions.
Trails of Tucana (1-8 players, 15 mins)
This is a route-building roll-and-write using cards instead of dice (as in Welcome To…). Here you’re trying to connect locations to score points and trigger bonuses. It works well and is receiving some good reviews, but I never felt overly engaged. I think this was because it is very solitary. And that’s strange, as that isn’t usually a problem for me. I think I just want a bit more interactivity in a game of this style.
Essen Spiel 2019 roundup
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