Sierra West board game: A four-sided review

The Sierra West board game is a puzzley euro aimed at more experienced gamers. It’ll take 1-4 players 1-3 hours to play (not 40 minutes, as the box suggests; maybe that per player). And while the game involves a lot of tricky decisions, the age on the box should be more like 10-12+ (rather than the advertised 14+).

Each time you play you’ll choose one of four game scenarios, each with a different theme. But they share the ‘old west’ for a backdrop. The art is nicely done, but that’s where the theme ends and the mechanics begin. Basically, don’t go in expecting to feel like a pioneer at any point in proceedings.

The graphic design works well enough and the rulebook does a passable job of getting across the rules for each scenario in a cohesive whole. It must have been a devilishly tricky task but could certainly have been done better. But I got through without making mistakes. In the box you’ll find nine boards, 100+ cards, 100+ cardboard chits, 100+ wooden pieces, 32 plastic pieces, four player aids and a dice. The component quality feels pretty much average for today’s euro games. And equally the £40 price tag feels pretty standard.

Teaching the Sierra West board game

Sierra West is definitely a game for seasoned euro players. While there’s nothing here that will blow your mind, there are lots of interconnected yet familiar mechanisms vying for attention. Deck-building, hand management, set collection, resource management, multiple ways to score. The gang’s all here. You have a choice of four modules to play, but the basics of the game aren’t affected. Also, the game is at the high end of fiddly to set up (more on that later). ‘Playing the game’ starts on page 10 of the rulebook…

Players take turns, clockwise. On yours you’ll draw three cards from your deck and ‘plan’ how to use them. They slide into a section of your player board, covering certain actions on each card and leaving others available. These actions are divided into two ‘paths’, with each card also having a ‘summit’ action. As you’ll see from the artwork, thematically you’re heading up a mountain to collect resources then get stuff done.

Each player has three meeples. Two live on your player board, one moving along each paths doing actions as they go. If they reach the end, they can also do a summit action (you may choose to stop beforehand). You can switch between them as you see fit. This is important, as some actions give resources while others spend them. You’ll also build huts on your player board, which a meeple can go to and aid the other one. So, a hut may give bonus stone when your other meeple collects it – but only if he’s in the hut (once you’ve left a hut, you can’t go back that turn – complicating the decision process).

Get stuff, do stuff, get points

During other players’ turns, you may get to use these two meeples again. You have four animal tiles you need to ‘trap’ during the game (or lose points). While if another player scores on their turn you can get a little reward by ‘tracking’ them. Both actions are often desirable – but if done, you can’t then use that meeple in a cabin on your next turn.

Anyway, on to your third meeple. He hangs out at the bottom a mountain (read: pyramid of cards) and will ascend it using ‘boot’ actions. He will then use ‘dig’ actions to excavate cards from it, which are added to your deck to make it (arguably) better. When a certain number of cards have been taken, the game will come to an end.

And, of course, there’s scoring. The amount of cards you’ve taken from the mountain gets you some points. Also, many summit actions allow you to spend resources to move along homestead tracks (read: columns on a scoreboard). Then you have a little wagon that trundles across the bottom of the card mountain. The further it has moved (another way to spend resources and boot actions), the higher the multiplier you’ll get on all the homestead tracks. Add any mode-based scoring, and you have a winner.

The four sides

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

  • The writer: I like Sierra West’s idea of having multiple modes you can swap out to make the game different on repeat plays. But which is the ‘right’ mode for me? There’s no suggestion in the rules as to how they’ll differ in play. And, in practice, the answer is ‘very little’. One is basic, two a little more interesting, then the last adds an ill-advised ‘output randomness’ rule. The amount of fiddliness this mode choice introduces to every game is huge. For me, it sadly dwarfed any replayability it may have added.
  • The thinker: Card play gives some interesting choices. But due to the card makeup, its hard to visualise without placing them on your board. This slowed the game down for me, as I couldn’t easily plan my next turn. Also, trapping and tracking should add interesting decisions on other players’ turns. But they don’t. Along with huts, all they add is a few annoying things you need to do to avoid losing points, while making an already quite AP puzzly game more so. (The variant, where you draw four cards instead of three and discard one – even more so again). So while the game had interesting elements, I found them too buried beneath forced zero-sum complexity to win me over.
  • The trasher: Nothing for me here! I thought the ‘Outlaws and Outposts’ mode would add some interaction. But no. It adds a ‘roll to hit’ to see if you can score a few points mechanism. Oh dear.
  • The dabbler: I struggled through my first play but did get the hang of it near the end. I wanted a second go. But by halfway through that, I’d had enough. The game looks super cool on the table, but then you try and move a card on the mountain and everything gets nudged. And every time you try and slip your action cards under your player board its annoying. Things I thought would get less annoying simply didn’t. I think that if this was an app, I could probably get into it. But on the table? It looks good, but no thank you!

Solo play

If you like a fiddly and complex euro, you may also like a clever card-based AI for your opponent in solo mode. If so, Sierra West may well be for you. It takes a while to play your AI opponent, but it gets quicker as you start to learn the actions it takes. There are specific rules for each mode too, giving you the variety you need. There are also six ways to make the AI more of a challenge once you’ve beaten it down a few times. A lot of thought has clearly gone into the solo mode and it works well.

Key observations

Critics suggest you really must want to play Sierra West to get past the (32-page!) rulebook. And to stick with it as the card mountain slides around the table and you struggle to slip your cards beneath your player board. This kind of thing is kind of common with a euro – but some people have rated this as low as a one for these reasons. That’s some serious frustration right there.

Another common criticism is the mechanisms don’t feel connected. Some feel huts, tracking, trapping etc feel tacked on. I think what the developers did was solve the wrong problem. The actual problem is the game takes too long for what it is and downtime is very high. So giving you something to do between turns feels counterproductive. Also, deciding whether to trap/track will affect hut usage on your turn, so can actually add AP (not increase immersion). For the knockers, taking things out would’ve made more sense than adding mechanisms in.

The game has a complexity rating above three on BGG, but critics don’t see a game of complex decisions. For all the elements on show, the array of actions is small. And there is really only one route to victory. You cannot ignore wagon advancement, which multiplies almost every meaningful way to score in every scenario. The decisions you make each round are normally pretty obvious. It’s the fiddly nature of the components that slow you down. Plus extra decisions about largely arbitrary side mechanics.

Yet the game has an average rating of above 7/10 (at time of writing). Positive comments are, unsurprisingly, the opposite of the above. Players enjoying the ‘smorgasbord of mechanisms’, for example, and the choice of four scenarios. But even those who rate it high suggest game length is an issue (many say 3/4 players make the game too long). And the solo mode gets a lot of love, which is understandable – but you do need to want a euro game with a complex solo AI.

Conclusion: Sierra West board game

I had high hopes for Sierra West coming into Essen, but for me it didn’t rise to them. I find myself agreeing with those who have ended up rating the game poorly. And its a shame, because the ideas that showed promise on reading are interesting. Choosing certain actions over others, then moving along paths in the right order to get what you need done. I still like those elements, but they ended up lost beneath too much detritus. So it’s a no for me, but those happy with a fiddly, puzzly euro (and who can take some downtime – or play solo/with two) should take a closer look.

Robin of Locksley game: A four-sided review

The Robin of Locksley game is a strategic two-player set collection game which takes around 45 minutes to play. It’s from top designer Uwe Rosenberg, but doesn’t use the ‘Tetris’ mechanic he has been obsessing over of late.

Players each move a single ‘knight’ (think: chess moves) around a 5×5 grid, collecting treasures to meet requirements to move their other piece around the board. But while competitive, this is more a race than a battle. The box suggests ages 10+, but gamer savvy kids of eight should be fine.

In the ridiculously oversized box you’ll find 60 cardboard loot tiles, 24 cardboard fame tiles and four wooden player pieces. The components are nice, although the English text translations on the tiles leave a lot to be desired (see ‘key observations’ below). The cheapest I’ve seen it in the UK is £25, but when you add shipping it’s about £30. As Carcassonne sells at the same price, and is in the same size box with similar components, I’d suggest it represents reasonable value for money.

Teaching the Robin of Locksley game

The Robin of Locksley game is a simple one to teach. Players start with their knights on opposite corners of a random 5×5 tile grid. Each tile shows a piece of loot in one of six colours and has a coin on the back. To start, each player takes the ‘loot’ tile they’re standing on and flips it, putting it in front of them (so you each start with one coin).

Around the grid you build a 5×5 frame (read: racetrack) of ‘fame’ tiles, placing your second player piece on the starting tile. The start/end tiles are always the same, but the rest of the frame is built randomly (you use around two-thirds of the tiles each game). Every fame tile is different, but they essentially boil down to: have a loot tiles of X colour/colours; sell something; have your knight adjacent to your opponent; have more/less of something than your opponent etc.

The race is on…

On your turn, you move your knight (as you would in chess) and take the tile you land on, adding it to your loot. You can have a ‘collection’ in each colour, with one or more loot tiles of a colour equalling a collection. After moving, you add a loot tile from the stack to the empty space you moved from. Optionally, any time on your turn, you can discard a loot collection of three or more tiles for coin. A collection is worth n-2 coins, so three gets you a coin, four loot is two coins etc.

Also optionally on your turn, at any time, you can move forward along the fame tile race track. If you either meet the criteria, or can spend what you need to spend, you do so and move on. You can do this as many times as you like on a turn, as long as you can meet the criteria. Alternatively, if the criteria is a pain in the ass, you can pay a coin to bribe your way past (skip it). The first player to get around the board twice wins. Or, if your opponent is having a bad day, you win if you lap them.

The four sides

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

  • The writer: Robin of Locksley initially feels like a light two-player game, but extra depth soon reveals itself. Planning ahead is key, as is knowing when to resort to gold to get past the tiles you don’t like the look of. And it does feel like a race, with a player able to sprint ahead before being reeled back in by the opponent. While the theme does little to add to the game, it kind of works – while the bold loot tile artwork makes the game look good on the table.
  • The thinker: I enjoyed this as a filler. In theory, you can strategize ahead the whole track in terms of efficiency. But of course the randomness of the loot tiles is always going to throw the proverbial spanner in the works. This makes it a game with a strong mix of tactics and strategy, with the luck element feeling about right for a game of this length. Add in the variety of tiles and you have a solid filler for those times when you only have two players.
  • The trasher: The chess knight works nicely to restrict your choices. But those same movement restrictions make it hard to block or otherwise hinder your opponent. So while the theme suggests excitement, it rarely rises above a set collection solo experience. Worse still, the last space (where you must pay four coins) is often anti-climactic as by then you probably know the winner – and can very rarely do nothing to affect the outcome. Not for me.
  • The dabbler: Well I really enjoyed this one! And it’s super accessible to. Firstly, you can make the game longer/shorter by adding/removing four fame tiles from the frame – so you can have a longer game with your partner, or a shorter one with the kids. And if the kids are younger, you can give them some extra coins to balance it out a bit. Add in the colourful look and short play time, it makes Robin of Locksley a real winner for me.

Key observations

As mentioned, Robin of Locksley is packaged in a Carcassonne-sized box size. Once punched and bagged, it takes up just under half of that real estate. This is a 30-minute-ish filler, for two players, which also screams ‘small box’. Considering it also has no insert, you have to ask – what were they thinking? A real waste of space.

I also need to mention the poor English translation of the fame tiles in the rulebook. When playing the first couple of times, we kept checking the (sometimes pretty ripe) iconography on the fame tiles versus the rulebook. But the answers often didn’t make sense. Instead, I copy/pasted the German from the online pdf and pasted it into Google Translate. And would you believe – I kid you not – that made more sense! This may be a world first: a translation done worse than Google Translate can manage… I now have a separate printed off sheet for these tiles I made myself.

As this is a new publisher, though, I’m willing to overlook a few production errors if the game works well. And it does. Of course it won’t be for everyone, but if you’re looking for a set collection race game with low interaction but fast turns, I don’t think you’re going to be disappointed.

Conclusion: The Robin of Locksley game

I’ve really enjoyed my plays of Robin of Locksley, especially with my better half. It’s right up her street: simple rules, but with emergent game play and a good mix of tactics and strategy. So, I won’t be keeping it. Instead, it is going to move and live at her place. The main reason is the stupidly big box. I have limited space, and this is not fit to take the place of a bigger game on my shelves. I really can’t understand this box size choice. But I do think it’s a thoroughly enjoyable two player race game.

  • I would like to thank Wyrmgold for providing a copy of the game for review.
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ArtSee card game: A four-sided review

The ArtSee card game is a small box set collection game (for two-to-five players) with a few nice twists. A game lasts 30-45 minutes. And the simple rules mean you can ignore the ’12+’ suggested age range on the box. I think 10-year-old gamers 10 will be just fine.

The game is fairly gentle and thoughtful, fitting well with the nicely realised art gallery theme. Although it’s not overly thematic in terms of game play. In the box you’ll find 80 cards, 85 cardboard tokens and 45 wooden pieces.

The components are great quality and the artwork on the cards is fantastic. It’s just a shame the clever takes on famous works of art are so small. Don’t get me wrong: they need to be this size for the game to work. But I’d love to have seen some of them blown up onto bigger cards. That said, despite its nice quality ArtSee is retailing in the UK for around £25. That feels a bit steep for a filler game of this kind.

Teaching the ArtSee card game

Setup is a little fiddly for a filler game (there are starting cards and main deck cards, presumably for balance – which seems a little arbitrary). But once you get going, turns are straightforward. Each player starts with two cards face up (side by side), three cards in hand and 5-9 visitors in their reserve (depending on player count).

Players take turns clockwise, playing through the entire deck (all players have the same number of turns). On most of your turns, you simply play a card, score points, then draw a card. On opponent turns, you may have the option to place visitors. Most points wins.

Cards are in four colours (back and bottom of the card) and have 2-3 pieces of art in 2-3 colours. For example, a yellow card may contain yellow, red and green paintings (but never more than one of the same colour). When you play a card, you either place it on top of one you’ve already laid (making a stack, or ‘gallery’ for the theme fans) or to the left/right of your current tableau. If you place on top of other cards, you ensure all artwork images are visible on the cards in that stack.

You also announce the colour of the card you played. Your opponents can then immediately place a visitor (if they have any in stock) on each/any of their own tableau stacks where the top card visible matches that colour. As in games such as Bruges, the cards depict their colour on the backs of the cards – giving you an idea of what your opponents may be playing next. And there are two draw piles, (usually) giving you a choice of two colours to choose from when taking a new card.

The clever bit

Each card points either left or right. To score, you count the number of paintings (matching the colour of the card played) in the stack in the direction your just-played card points. And yes, this could be an opponent’s gallery: if you place a left-pointing card on your leftmost stack, that is pointing to the rightmost stack of the player to your left. Are you with me…?

If there were any visitors on the stack you placed your card on, these are removed and count as points this turn (they’re then returned to your stock). So… I place a green card on a stack with two visitors on it. It is pointing left, at a stack which has three green paintings in it. So this turn, I score five points (two visitors, three green paintings). I then redraw to three hand cards, and my turn is over.

On good turns, you can also claim a masterpiece. There are five in each colour and you can claim one if you’ve scored 5-9 points that round (in the appropriate colour) and don’t already have a masterpiece in that colour. They can be worth good end-game points. And, once claimed, you place them between two of your ‘galleries’ – so they count as a paining in that colour when you score either of those galleries later.

The four sides

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

  • The writer: ArtSee is an engine-building game stripped to the barest essentials. Unlike most card game fillers it offers a relaxing rather than confrontational gaming experience, which fits the contemplative theme (although the theme falls down quickly if you really try to apply it. Why am I hanging a masterpiece in the alley between two of my galleries…?). But a good player ignores their opponents at their peril, as their tableau and hand can give both clues and opportunities.
  • The thinker: I enjoyed this as an evening starter. Initially it seems grabbing a set of portraits (10 bonus points) is essential; but you start to realise hammering a few big galleries for large late gains is also an option. It’s nice to see emergent game play in such a short, small offering. Luck does play quite a large factor, despite being able to draw from two different card piles – but the game is just about short enough to get away with it.
  • The trasher: For a game that, in essence, is a turtling, heads-down, point-grabbing puzzle game – ArtSee has a surprising amount of passive interaction. Knowing you’ll use the whole deck means keeping an eye on which colours have been played a lot early on can be valuable end game information. While ensuring you have a range of top-of-stack cards matching your opponents’ hand cards improves your chance of grabbing visitor bonuses. Not a game of choice for me, but I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would during setup.
  • The dabbler: This game is pretty to look at and simple to teach. And it also has a non-nerd/gamer friendly theme. That’s more than half the battle won! Plus it’s short, and comes in a nice small box (although the cover is weird). It’s good that you have to pay attention when it’s not your turn (which can help stop younger players drifting off), while there’s a nice satisfaction in scoring a great round – especially when you get a masterpiece as a bonus. Having scoring chits, rather than a track, also helps make everyone think they’re in with a chance of winning!

Key observations

Aesthetically thinking, people complain the ArtSee art is too small. True, but it works. Similarly, people complain the theme breaks on closer inspection. Again, true – but overall it works. If you play with people who complaint about this kind of thing, well, good luck to you. The fact is, most people will understand the art has to be this small. And it’s cool it’s there at all. While the theme works a lot better than in many similar abstract games. And at least it isn’t elves and dwarves (again).

Complaints about the rulebook being poor and well founded. While it is nicely laid out with plenty of examples, some key aspects are poorly explained and the order seems odd at times. But we muddled through, so while a shame it’s not a deal-breaker.

For a non-confrontational engine-builder, there’s going to be too much luck for some players. Having two draw piles and a hand of three does help. But you can easily be left with no option to do what you want to do. I did get frustrated sometimes, especially near the when an arrow direction can mean a big point swing. But for the majority of people I’ve played with, the lightness and game length kept us on the right side of frustration.

Conclusion: ArtSee card game

I’ve enjoyed my plays of ArtSee and will be keeping it in my collection. I don’t think it will be a go-to game in many situations. More an occasional play than a regular. But with the right crowd it has been a real winner as a thoughtful filler game.

But I fear it may fail to find its audience. The game has been a little overlooked, perhaps in part to its odd cover art and meaningless title. But also, I’d wager, because it’s not the kind of game people get excited about. Small fillers take-off because they’re crazy fun. And euros because they’re big box, last 90-120 minutes and have a complexity rating of three-plus. ArtSee, in the middle, is going to miss both markets. But hopefully the word will slowly spread.

  • I would like to thank Renegade (via AsmodeeUK) for providing a copy for review.
  • Follow this link for 150+ more of my board game reviews.

La Cour des Miracles game: A four-sided review

The La Cour des Miracles game revolves around worker placement, area influence and clever card play. It’s for 2-5 players and takes around 40-60 minutes.

While area majorities are key to the game, ownership is often fleeting. And while the game has much interaction, it never feels ‘mean’ as it is very much central to the game. Everyone is doing it, all the time.

I say this early on because I don’t usually go for these mechanisms, but am fine with them here. The game is also light on rules, so I think the 10+ age range on the box could easily be reduces to eight-plus for gamer families. Each player represents a 16th Century Parisian guild vying for influence in the city’s poorest regions. While non-essential, the theme is well represented and does help teach the game.

The game’s artwork is stunning and the component quality top notch (with one quibble – see ‘key observations’). Some of the rogue token iconography is rubbish, but thankfully there’s not much of it and everything is well described in the short rulebook. In the box you’ll find the game board, 30 cards, 60+ wooden pieces, 60 cardboard tokens and a cotton bag. For less than £30, I’d say it is very good value for money.

Teaching the La Cour des Miracles game

La Cour des Miracles is a ‘first past the post’ board game, so there’s not a victory point in sight. While it may not feel like it, this is very much a race. Because when a player manages to place their sixth Renown marker on the board, they immediately win.

The rules of the game are very simple. On your turn, you place one of your rogues (read: action tokens) onto the board. Each player starts the game with the same three rogue tokens, each of which has a hidden strength value. And you decide which one to deploy each turn. As the game goes on, you can get a fourth rogue as well as upgrades to your starting ones (giving them all sorts of interesting abilities).

The spot you place in has a simple action, which you execute immediately. Either gain coins or Plot cards, or move the Penniless King (more on him later). Next, you have the option of triggering the action associated with the neighbourhood you placed your rogue in. These areas are contested and once controlled by a player, they profit from this extra action being used. Hence it being optional.

The standoff

Each neighbourhood has three spots for rogues. At the end of a turn where an area fills up, it triggers a standoff between the players there. During a standoff the rogue tokens are flipped over and a simple strength majority earns control (the rogues go back to their owners). Meaning you place one of your Renown tokens there. But wins can be fleeting, as areas can have several standoffs per game (even per round!). Moving the Penniless King can also trigger standoffs, which occur even if a neighbourhood isn’t full.

If you’re a lover not a fighter, you’ll be trying to collect as much money as possible. This can then be spent in a particular neighbourhood to send your Renown tokens to Renown Square. Up to five of your Renown tokens can be sent there, each of which gets a small immediate benefit. More importantly, once there they are safe. But the maths-savvy amongst you will realise you’ll still have to control at least one neighbourhood to be able to place your sixth Renown token and win.

Finally, there are the Plot cards. You may play one of these on each of your turns, at any time. Each is powerful (if sometimes situational), giving anything from cash to moving Renown/Rogue tokens, or triggering a standoff. They add that bit of mystery the game needs, so you never quite know what a player is capable of on their next turn.

The four sides

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

  • The writer: I don’t usually like area majority games, but I enjoy La Cour des Miracles. It plays fast while the real emphasis is on clever comboing of cards and actions. Players don’t feel picked on, as disputes are frequent and everyone is involved in standoffs on a regular basis. And as it is first past the post wins, there’s no point picking on the little guy to try for second place. With clever play you can comfortably place two Renown tokens in a single turn – turfing someone out in the process. So no player should ever feel out of the running.
  • The thinker: I also quite enjoyed the game, but it is almost entirely tactical. Sure, you can hold a Plot card back for a particular time. But 99% of your turns will be decided in the moment. Luck also plays quite a big part. Upgrading your rogues is a random pick from a bag, so you can’t choose your tactical direction. While pulling the right Plot card at the right time can make or break your challenge. But at under an hour, that’s fine – just not really for me.
  • The trasher: La Cour des Miracles will never be a top favourite. But it’s a great bridge between heads-down euro games and thematic interactive ones. And its one I’d always happily sit down and play. We’re used to seeing area majority and action selection combine in modern gaming, but usually in longer heavier games. And it’s important that the rules get out of the way fast, while the board is so tight there’s nowhere to hide and play turtle. All in all, a great gateway game.
  • The dabbler: Wow, what a beautiful game! The art is gorgeous, exacerbated by nice extra touches. Such as the board being cut around the city wall, rather than being the normal boring rectangle. And the amazing cover art being a removable poster you can put on your wall. The game itself is super easy to learn and while its mean, you’re all being mean all the time! So I’m not sure that really counts lol. So I like it and will happily play again, but I’m not sure I’d request it.

Key observations

This is a very new game, with very few reviews, so there’s not to much for me to comment on. The only big negative comment mentions the game has a lot of luck – which I’ve already commented on – but also claimed it’s unbalanced. I’d have to take issue with that. Sure, cards and rogues are varied – but I don’t see any killer combos. And as an area majority game, you’re relying on the players to settle imbalances.

Component-wise, getting the cardboard player tokens out of the wooden discs can be fiddly and annoying. You’d think a little thought could’ve seen them easily side-step this issue. Which is a surprise, as the publisher has done a bang-on job elsewhere. There has been some criticism of the rulebook, but this is a surprise to me as I thought it was largely clear, concise and well laid out.

Conclusion: La Cour des Miracles game

When I added this to my Essen 2019 Top 10 wish list I didn’t really see it as an area majority game. Once I got it, I was a little more sceptical. But so far, it is one of my favourite game of this year’s crop. While it’s not full of original ideas, it puts things together in a fascinating way. And while you’re literally just doing, at most, three actions at once; you can pull off some very satisfying combos. It plays to its advertised length, feels satisfying for it, and is an easy teach. What’s not to like?

Essen Spiel 2019 roundup: 10 short board game reviews

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

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Essen Spiel 2019 roundup. If this is a style of post you want to see more of, let me know in the comments below.