Saturday, day three: Crowds and games

Last day of the fair! Sunday would be a definite no, since we have to leave for the airport before the fair actually opens. At the breakfast, there were a lot more people than before — the first sign of the weekend action. Lots of guys I had seen at the Gigantoskop stand were there, and also Ward Batty.

After breakfast we headed to the city center. I wanted to see a bit of that, and I needed to get a gift for Johanna. We went through few department stores and a curious beast, a four-store shop full of men’s clothes and nothing but men’s clothes — that’s something you don’t find in Finland. I found something nice, and decided it was time to head to the fair. I sent a SMS to Tero and Maija, who I was to meet today, but got no reply. Tero is one of the criminal masterminds behind Kumpulan pelikerho, Finland’s second most significant board game review site and Maija is his wife.

When I entered the hall, I tried to call him — no answer. I didn’t panic, as that was expected. I started to make my way to hall 9 to pick up Fairy Tale for Tommy, a late addition to the shopping list (the good and bad sides of having Internet access during the fair… but it was a very polite request and not a big deal). On my way I tried to make another call, Tero heard it and it turned out they were in the hall 9, pretty much where I was going to — they had just picked up a copy of Fairy Tale for Tero.

The guy at the What’s Your Game booth told us where the designer was, so we headed there to get our games autographed. I had missed the booth on previous days and kind of crossed off Phantom Rummy, one of my original want list games. However, now that I was there, I was under budget and designer was selling the game — why not? So, we got four games signed: two copies of Phantom Rummy, two copies of Fairy Tale.

After reading the rules and browsing through the cards, Phantom Rummy looks pretty much like what I expected — a curious Mahjong variant. Tero, a big Mahjong fan, would have been the perfect opponent for that, but for some reason we didn’t try the game. Maybe at the Helcon, then? Of course, with all the games I’ve planned to play at Helcon, we’ll probably have to extend the event with a week or so.

So, anyway — we did a bit of wandering around, Tero and Maija were buying some games. Tero had a big list of his wants and his friends’ wants, while Maija was working more on an open-minded "hey this seems neat" basis. She certainly made some interesting picks! She bought some kind of Mandala game — well, I’m not even sure how much game there is in that.

Her best purchase was by far this Haba game we saw. Kayanak, I think it was called. It’s about ice-fishing. The board has a neat gimmick: it’s a cardboard sheet with holes in it and you put sheets of paper underneath to create an impression of ice covering a lake. To fish, players punch holes through the paper and then use a magnetic fishing rod to catch metal balls underneath the ice. Very clever and fun! The Haba games all looked really good, I think they would be pretty hot if I had small kids.

We wandered around, looked for bargains and bought games (well, they bought), but we did also play games. After all, there’s a limit on how much you can shop. First game was a return to Angkor. I played two games against Tero, and my opinion improved a bit: with two players, Angkor is fast and fun. The "take that" thing becomes a smaller issue, as it’s clear who you have to beat. Still, I’m not buying.

As the Schmidt stand was a good place to be (it certainly was one of my favourite stands), we moved into a better spot — the same corner we used on Friday — and got Maija to join us. She wanted to try Diamant, which I taught them. After all, I have an extensive experience of about 30 minutes of it in BrettSpielWelt (by the way, the amount of BSW t-shirts was unbelievable — it’s certainly a popular site amongst German board gamers). It was fun, sort of, but it was also obvious that Diamant isn’t a good three-player game. However, Tero and Maija saw the potential for fun the game has for several players, but like many others before them, they thought the game should be priced around 10 euros.

Maija or Tero was interested to try Hazienda and why not — a new Kramer game is a new Kramer game, no matter what Rick Thornquist or anybody else says. Unfortunately we didn’t have Andreas to explain the German rules for us, so the task fell to me. Guess what? I made it! We played the game successfully, and I have a pretty strong feeling that we got it right, too.

It’s good. It’s about farming land, kind of. On your turn, you can do one of three things: you can play cards, buy stuff or farm the land. Cards are either land or animals. If you play land, you can start or extend a farm. Farms score two points per hex, if they’re at least three tiles. Animal herds start from farms and try to reach to the markets on the board to score money. It’s very much like the oasises (that can’t be a word) in Through the Desert.

Buying stuff is either cards or bonus stuff: lakes and haciendas increase the points you get from land or animals. Farming gives money (or was it points?) for farms; I now realize, that we actually forgot that option completely, we didn’t use it even once. That would’ve been a good thing to do… Well, that’s life on the fast lane, you can’t remember everything.

The game is scored twice, depending on the animal deck. Biggest source of points are the markets: you get points depending on how many markets you connect to. The scoring method is the triangular number system, so each new market is better and better. Getting the animal chains in play is difficult, though.

The game’s really quite exciting — it’s fairly short and tense, as you have lots of things you want to do and time and resources to do just few of them. It’s all well executed, but I think Rick was still right: five or so years ago it would’ve made a much bigger splash, now it isn’t that impressive. Still, I’d say it’s pretty solid eight, or at least seven and a half. Maija enjoyed it so much she hunted down a copy, even though she lost badly thanks to a lack of markets. I think she didn’t quite figure out the game from my explanation, but it got much clearer when she actually played the game.

At some point we were wandering through the halls, looking for some place to try Tero’s new Sushi Express. We saw an empty table — but it had an Othello set on it. I wondered if someone would mind, if we played Sushi Express on that table. Well, we did play something on that table, but it was Othello. Maija kind of coaxed us into it somehow, while she went off to check something she had seen — that’s a pretty good work, since we both kind of hate Othello. Well, we played it, it’s been documented on film and Tero kicked my butt.

We noticed the Settlers of Catan world championships were going on at that hall. I remembered the reason Andreas was at Essen: he was one of the Finland’s representatives. I found him; I don’t know how he was doing, but he didn’t look happy when I snapped a picture. I also found the other Finnish guy — don’t know who he was — and photographed him, too. Somebody should do some journalistic photography here, I think!

So, we actually went to the cafeteria to play Sushi Express and eat something. For some reason we all ended up having the same kind of sandwich — I don’t know, but maybe it was because they had exactly one kind of sandwich available. Sushi Express turned out to be a pretty good game. Tero is a big fan of Michael Schacht and didn’t seem disappointed either.

Each turn begins with guessing: players choose a number between two and twelve. Then, two dice are rolled by the player who chose the highest number. If he rolls his number or more, he and everybody beneath him gets to drive their vans around the Sushi city. The number of steps depends on the number chosen. If the roll fails after two tries, the loser gets an action card as a consolation and the next highest number gets to attempt the same thing.

The aim of the game is to pass the Sushi Express office as many times as possible. At each pass the passing player gets a customer. Customers are points in the end: first of each colour of customer is three points, rest are one. There are also tip cards: the player with the least tips loses few points in the end.

It’s simple, but fun. There are even some decisions to make: do you set your aims low or high? A roll of ten is great, if you can make it. Sometimes taking a risk is good, sometimes you want to be sure and take a two. It has nothing to do with sushi, but I don’t think that’s really a valid complaint — it’s like complaining that Don has really nothing to do with mafia. At least I never expect a strong theme from a light filler game, and that’s what Sushi Express is.

Tero and Maija hadn’t tried Fettnapf yet, so introduced it to them (my total so far: nine games, seven people). We played two rounds and they liked it. Maija was particularly fond of it, after winning the first round. They bought it right away, and why not — it was only five euros now. The price had dropped from Friday one euro.

Our very last game was Verflixxt, played on the already surprisingly empty Ravensburger stand. Once again I explained the rules, which are very simple. The game was actually pretty good, especially for a roll-and-move game. Maija didn’t like it at all, but I thought it was decent — it would certainly be a good, fast family game.

Of course, I saw lots of interesting stuff today, so here are some miscellaneous things. Remember "Beautiful wooden components" from Medina box? That’s nothing! How about "Mit echtem sand", "With real sand" — I have a picture of the game, but cleverly I didn’t get the name. Anyway, it’s a game of sand worms from Drei Magier Spiele, and the box has some fine sand in it. How they stop it from falling out of the box is a good question. Edit 2005/10/18: the game is Sandwürmchen or Baby Sand Worms and apparently there’s a plastic lid involved.

We also met a German guy, who heard us speak Finnish and asked us if we were from Finland. That’s nothing, but he asked us in Finnish! His Finnish was even very good! Amazing, that’s something you don’t get every day. He was quite surprised when he heard we had come all the way from Finland just to attend the fair.

We also played "spot the designer". It really drove in the point that yeah, I’m not just a geek, I’m a really geeky geek. Everybody and their friends knows who Reiner Knizia is and some might even have seen his picture. But who can recognise Knizia, Dirk Henn (Tero got his copy of Timbuktu signed by him), Bruno Faidutti (he said my blog was good; thanks, Bruno!), Doris from Doris & Frank (she drew a nice hedgehog on the cover of Tero’s Arche Opti Mix when Maija asked her if she was Doris — I wasn’t 100% sure), Jay Tummelson, Mike Siggins, William Attia, Klaus Teuber and so on… It seemed like I was all the time pointing out people to Tero and Maija: "See that guy in a yellow shirt? He’s the designer of Caylus", that sort of thing.

Of course, getting everything possible out of the Essen experience, you should either study the pictures of the various designers (Geek has lots of them, designers posing with their games, I think Jon Power has taken many of those) or get a friend who’ll recognise people. Of course, that only matters if you’re geek enough to be excited about seeing game designers…

What else… I got two more bags of Carcassonne candy. I continued to hunt for Stefu’s Gauner Trio, but still had no success. Sorry Stefu, I did ask it around but nobody had it. I did notice there were really many soccer games — maybe even more than Sudokus, maybe. It was certainly a popular theme. The implementations varied a lot. Tero was interested in them, and got one of them, a Japanese soccer chess game or something like that.

After the fair, it was dinner time. We returned to Il Pomodoro, where we had dined on Thursday. Located at Rüttenscheider Str. 227, it’s a nice little Italian trattoria. The food was great, once again, and the service was good. If you’re in the neighbourhood, go check it out.

Back at the hotel room, we returned to Caylus. Again we all employed pretty much the same strategies: I built residential buildings and made some monuments, Raija jousted a lot to score royal favours and built the castle most, while Ismo built lots of buildings. There was more fighting this time: provost was manipulated and the turn order changed many times, mostly because of the jousting field.

Raija got a good lead and tried to keep it by attempting to make the game end sooner. She was one turn too late, as in the very last turn I was the only one to build the castle and I used the royal favour I got to build the best monument in the game, scoring a whopping 25 points for me — considering my total was 95, that’s a lot! It wasn’t easy, though, so I consider my victory well-earned.

Caylus is great, great, great! So many roads to victory, so many tough choices. I’m looking forward to try the game with more players, it should get pretty tight. This time the game took us about 100 minutes, which is good. We finished the evening with Havoc, where I did better this time but still came last. My four of a kind of tens in the last battle was beaten by Ismo’s six card straight flush, and I can certainly respect that. Havoc is good, too.

So, that’s it. The fair is officially over for me. It was fun, most of the time, and I got a suitcase full of games — all aren’t for me, but that’s not a bad thing at all. I spent a lot of money, but will get some back when Tommy and Ansi pay me their share. I was under my budget, because I didn’t buy Third World Debt or KaiVai. For me, the fair was a pretty amazing experience, but I think a lot of it is the first time charm. I know I’m not going next year and to be honest, I don’t feel sorry about it. I can live without it.

The fair is definitely a must for all serious boardgamers. Some will love it a lot and get the cravings every year, some won’t be that addicted, but all should experience it at least once. My hunger is satisfied now — I’ve seen it, I’m happy. Of course, I would like to go again, but only if I had lots of unneeded money floating around (or someone paid my trip and some of the expenses too) and I could get some good company like Tero and Maija to come with me.

At some time during the next week, I’ll post some kind of a summary, which will include some tips for Essen newcomers, things I’ve learned. Photos will also come later — I’ll probably add some to these entries (I’ll post a note when that happens) and for really picture-hungry, there’ll be a big gallery. That’ll take some time, however.

Morning notes: I finished up packing the games. They filled my suitcase, with some card games in my backpack. So, I bought just the right amount of right-sized games! Lucky me!

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One response to “Saturday, day three: Crowds and games”

  1. Hi Mikko,
    that German guy talking to you in Finnish was probably me. Thank you for your nice compliment. My girlfriend found your report here and showed it to me. 🙂