Friday, day three: Games, games, games

Here’s what happened yesterday:

Today was the day! I went downstairs to use the hotel laptop to send my reports, which I did, and then headed back to the room. I glanced towards the dining room, and who did I see? Reiner Knizia, of course, and he was just leaving. As he wasn’t eating, I thought it wouldn’t be terribly rude to go and ask for his autograph. Of course, I just happened to have my copy of Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck and a pen in my pocket… So, now I have Knizia’s autograph! Hooray! He’s made better games than Heckmeck, but that’s all I had.

Before I went to the fair, we played few rounds of Fettnapf. With the games I played later, my total comes to seven already. It’s a good game, I quite like it. It’s definitely one of the highlights here, simple but fun. There’s always a place in my heart for games like that.

At the fair I was supposed to meet Saku, Andreas and Scott. Saku e-mailed me earlier this week, as he had noticed my posts on the Finnish Boardgame Society forum. The guys had me waiting for 50 minutes, but eventually arrived. They were coming all the way from Bochum and had made some crucial mistakes with trains or something. I was fairly pissed off, but playing games made me settle down.

First thing we tried was Quo Vadis?, which I almost remembered. It must’ve been years since I last played. It was pretty good fun, I won and all. The new Amigo edition looks pretty smooth, it’s quite small. The hideous plastic senators have been replaced by small wooden cylinders, which is a pretty good move if you ask me.

The actual reason why we went for Amigo was Fettnapf, of course. I thought the guys the game and we had a pretty ugly match… By the time we shuffled the deck first time, everybody was at three blunders. That’s lousy play, believe me. After that I had a meeting with the Tactic people, their game design director (or something like that) Kati Heljakka and the game developers at their Gamestorm unit. Their DVD Sudoku was presented at the fair.

After the meeting I regrouped with the guys. They told me they had seen the English copy of Elasund I was after, so I went for that. So, whoever it is that wins the game at Helcon, thank Saku, Andreas and Scott for getting the English copy instead of a German. I later had the game signed by Klaus Teuber, who had a signing session. Interesting enough, Reiner Knizia was there too. Andreas rushed to buy a copy of Quo Vadis, but by the time he was back, Knizia was gone. Too bad for Phil, who the game was going, I think. I’ll add pictures here later, I guess, and then you’ll see my photo of them both signing a game at the same time.

Next up was Angkor, which the Gamestorm guys recommended. When we went to the Schmidt booth, some guy was returning the game at the desk, where I picked it right away. We didn’t get a table, but we found a nice little corner. I guess you don’t get the full Essen experience unless you play on the floor!

Angkor looks good (except some really cheap-looking plastic bits) and plays pretty well. Basically everybody’s trying to build a neat temple city for themselves and at the same time attempting to drown everyone else’s temples in the jungle. Good tiles on your board, bad tiles on opponents boards. Quite simple.

This means, of course, that the game is very “take that”-ish. Group beating is forbidden (you can only play four jungle tiles on someone each round), but certain beat-the-leader attitude is mandatory. However, victims of jungle overgrowth can hit back by playing a piece that scores points from the jungles, so there are option. You can also stop the jungle by placing water tiles.

It’s quite interesting, but doesn’t make a good game in the end. First of all, I don’t like that kind of conflict. I know that’s a personal preference, very much so, and some people will really love this kind of interaction. I don’t, and Angkor isn’t for me. Another annoyance was the end game trigger. There are five princess tiles and when they come up, the game’s over. There’s no system to guarantee anything, so they could be the first five tile draws. Our first game was pretty short and really unsatisfactory.

Our second match was longer and much better, but still… I don’t know, I just don’t like the whole “who should I beat next”-thing that’s going on there. I’m more in the multiplayer solitaire camp. Fans of conflict and interaction will like Angkor better. I do agree it’s pretty easy to learn and you can get going pretty fast, that’s always good.

Next up was a Queen game, Raubritter. It’s by Rüdiger Dorn, which is certainly interesting… It’s basically a tile-laying game. Each player has an identical stack of tiles. There are castles, villages and cities. They can be on plains or forests, and there are also empty plains, forests and mountains. Whenever you get a castle, you get up to five knights, who spread out from the castle and enter the neighbouring areas.

Each area holds four knights. In forests, you must play at least two and in the mountains at least three. Whoever has the last piece on top of the pile, controls and scores it. Castles are worth one point, villages two and cities three. Our verdict? We hated it. I mean, the game is terrible. It’s both boring and frustrating.

The main problem is that playing your knights feels often pointless. Why should I put my knights here, when the next guy can build his castle and just roll over my knights and rob all my points? You continuously set things up for your left hand neighbour. There are tricks you can do to make the locations your knights guard harder to reach, but that’s difficult. It was very annoying game, which I won’t play again.

Scott wanted to try Aloha, which is a new game from Cwali. We did that and were able to get a table. Aloha looks a lot like Sunda to Sahul, except it has hexagons instead of puzzle pieces, but the elements are same: jungle, beach and sea. Players try to explore the island and place beach chairs on the beach. Who has the most chairs on the longest beach scores the biggest points!

One interesting hook is the certain push-your-luck element in the game. You can explore as long as you wish, but if you hit a tile you can’t place on your current location, you lose all the chairs you’ve placed on that turns. That was fun. It is also fairly frustrating. In general the game felt a bit fiddly. Kind of fun, but not fun enough to buy the game. The idea is certainly nice, and the game is much better than Raub Ritter and compares favourably with Angkor. Corne van Moorsel was also a friendly guy.

That was the games, then some general notes… I visited Splotter stand, as I wanted to find out why Indonesia was based on Indonesia, of all the countries in the world. Jeroen Doumen, one of the designers, told me the theme was picked, because Joris Wiersinga, the other designer, was on a holiday in Indonesia and thus they decided to make an Indonesia-themed game. You can take that explanation any way you want, but hey, it’s as good as any other…

I was at the IGA ceremony, introduced myself to Mik Svellov. Greg did good job on the awards ceremony, his German speech sounded pretty convincing to me. Not that I understood much of it, but anyway. As you all know, the awards went to War of the Ring and Ticket to Ride Europe, so we saw lots of Italian guys, but no Alan Moon — he wasn’t at the fair. I also saw many of the award jury, like Alan How and Mike Siggins.

I heard Big Kini was the biggest thing (it was allegedly on top the Fairplay ranking), but I couldn’t get in a game. However, I did manage to find a copy of Müll & Money, on which we had already given up hope. I saw one copy at a game seller and it took me about three seconds to grab it. Ismo and Raija wanted it really badly, so it was a very good thing I found it.

What else… I got a small bag of Carcassonne candy, they’re fruit-flavoured, meeple-shaped and way too cute to actually eat! I saw and chatted with Don Bone of Sagacity Games and Knut-Michael Wolf of Spielbox. I got my wrongly-collated Havoc card changed. I had a good time with Saku, Andreas and Scott, after they arrived. Andreas gets the award for the best rules guy of the day — we only used the services of a one Amigo guy to answer a question about Quo Vadis, and he didn’t quite understand the question.

After a long dinner at the Pinocchio restaurant near the Messe hall (word of warning: we spent there over two hours, of which we spent about 15 minutes eating and 10 minutes paying the bill — rest of it was waiting, waiting and waiting for the food; food was decent, service was abysmal), we came back to the hotel room to play a game of Caylus.

You know, I was a bit shocked by the rules. I talked about it with Rick Thornquist after the IGA ceremony, and he told me he had the exact same reaction after reading the rules, but actually playing the game made it all click. Well, I have to say I agree — it’s a brilliant game, one of the very best games in last few years. Congratulations to William Attia for creating such a great game! The rules may seem complicated, but behind them comes a sparkling masterpiece of game design that really just clicks.

The idea is pretty simple: players try to gain prestige by building a castle for the king. Building a castle takes lots of resources, so players develop the village of Caylus to support the castle project. Turn is basically divided into two major parts: first you place the workers on different buildings, then you activate the workers on the buildings.

Buildings are divided into two categories: there are production buildings and other stuff. Production buildings produce goods, other buildings spend them — either to create new buildings or to transform goods into money or victory points. New buildings provide new opportunities. You can also waste the goods on the castle project, where the most active builders get loads of favours from the court — those are pretty good too. Being a landlord is fun — residential buildings produce money every turn, and they can be developed into very valuable monuments.

There are many roads to victory and many opportunities for clever tactical maneuvering. Managing money and goods is a real challenge. In our game, I made a large part of my points from two monument buildings (well, a monument and a library), Raija scored by building the castle and gaining several royal favours, while Ismo concentrated on building stuff and buying gold from bank. In the end Raija won — she had been behind throughout the game, but in the end her royal favours started to do their magic, as their effect gets stronger each time you get them.

The game took two hours, but the time just flew by. I didn’t notice it at all. One thing is for sure: I haven’t seen the full potential of the game yet. There’s another nasty level, which we barely hinted at. There’s this provost, who travels down the road, setting the limit on which buildings can be used. Bribing the provost can make some workers completely useless, if they end up further down the road as the provost. We played it nice now.

The rules aren’t at all difficult. Now I’ve played the game, explaining it should be pretty easy. I’ll have to think about it a bit, though — there’s probably a good way to explain the game so it all makes sense. I have to congratulate Ystari for using good, clear symbols on the buildings — once you figure out the symbols, you can see at one glance what everything does.

So, right now, without playing Indonesia, I’d say Caylus is the biggest highlight of the fair. Everything Rick Thornquist has said about it is true, and everybody should probably get the game, it’s that good. For now it’s at least a 9 on the Geek scale, and I think it has potential to be a 10. I think the only downside I see now is the length — first of all, 60-150 minutes is hardly a comforting scale. If experience brings the game closer to 60 minutes, great, but if it creeps closer to 150 minutes, that’s a bit too much. There’s little downtime, though, as the workers are placed one at a time, that can be fairly swift, and the resolution of workers goes pretty fast once players know the buildings and how the system works.

So, that’s it for Friday. Tomorrow I’m heading towards the Essen city center, I’ll check that out and try to find something to bring back home for Johanna — I don’t think I’ll find anything for her at the fair. After I’m happy with that, I’ll meet up with Tero and his wife at the fair — I’m mostly going there to meet Tero, but I’ll certainly try to get some more games in. I’d like to try Il Principe, for example, even though Rick Thornquist didn’t seem to think much of it.

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2 responses to “Friday, day three: Games, games, games”

  1. Thanks for the great post Mikko!! If Andreas, Scott, and Saku are late again, you have my permission to kick them all in the balls.

  2. Sorry for making you wait in the morning. That was just one of the mornings when all went wrong 🙂 Nice playing games with you and see you in Helcon.
    BTW Don’t listen to Phil. I think he is one of the guys who didn’t go to Essen this year 🙂