Thursday, day two: Shopping for games

The morning started off quite well. We were having breakfast, when I suddenly noticed a familiar-looking gentleman in a salmon-coloured shirt: herr Knizia! I wasn’t quite brave enough to go talk to him, but maybe I’ll ask for his signature tomorrow, as I now have a game to ask it to. It would be neat to have spoken with Reiner Knizia.

As we were finishing, I noticed another familiar face, the travelling reporter Rick Thornquist. I wasn’t afraid of him, and we chatted for a moment. It was fun to meet him, but beware: in nature he doesn’t look quite as smooth as in his Gamewire blog picture. Nah, just kidding!

We took a stroll around the Messe hall side of Essen — it’s nice, but nothing spectacular, there are plenty of more interesting locations in Germany. I’ll have to check the downtown at some point, I guess, as that should be much better. Around 9.15 or so we hit the fair. By that time the lines to the ticket booths were gone and we got our tickets. I bought a four-day ticket, using my Finnish student card successfully to get the reduced price.

At the ticket line I noticed Jon Power from BoardGameGeek — he was easy to recognise, thanks to his neat shirt featuring his BGG avatar. Hi, Jon!

We wandered around the hall full of people waiting to get in. Eventually we ended in the cafeteria, where the crowd was much thinner. That was a good move, I think. Around 9.50 the doors opened and we rushed in. Winning Moves booth near the cafeteria stairs was pretty much empty, so I got us sitting down to play Blokus to get us started.

We studied the rules ourselves, from the German rulebook. Fortunately I knew the idea of the game and was able to figure out the rest. It was fun, even though Ismo ruled the game both times we tried. To our defense I must add that Raija and I improved our scores by about 10 points. Fun game, but not quite fun enough for me to buy it. Before I could’ve bought it if I got it for cheap, but now I simply have too many games to keep owning these “kind of fun” games.

After that we started wandering around the hall. It was quite amazing, all the action. It wasn’t quite as packed as I expected, but things might be different tomorrow or Saturday. The tobacco smoke wasn’t at all that bad. There were many things to see, and I don’t think I can really describe the experience… But it’s mad, and something I really really recommend to all board game fanatics.

Amigo booth was high on my list of things to see. It was huge and full of trendy stuff I didn’t care much about, but fortunately that wasn’t all. We found an empty table for Fettnapf, which was on my check these out -list and started to work out the rules. This time we got a rules guy to help us out, unfortunately he wasn’t too good with English. I had an idea of the game from my research, so we were able to play without problems.

Fettnapf is fun! It’s a simple game, but works out quite well. Players play number cards from zero to nine. When you play a card, you add it’s value to the earlier cards and announce the sum. That way the sum keeps rising when players play cards. When the sum goes over 30, players start to subtract the numbers. Sum goes down until it’s below ten and then it starts to go up again. Got the idea?

That’s not very interesting, is it? However, each player starts with two cards with numbers from ten to thirty. When someone plays a card and announces a total that matches a card you hold, you can bust them! The offending player gets a penalty card. Four penalty cards loses the game. The number cards are kept, so you can try to remember which numbers are evil.

To make the progressively harder, each time the direction of counting changes, someone gets a new number card. That way formerly safe numbers might not be cool. That bit Raija in our second game: eighteen had been a safe number for a while, then Ismo got the card and busted me once and Raija three times. I think she would’ve learned from the first hit, yeah?

Anyway, Fettnapf is a great little game. I came in expecting to find a new Geschenkt and Amigo didn’t fail me — they’ve produced another great filler game (is Fettnapf as great as Geschenkt is a good question, but hey, it doesn’t have to last longer than a year, hopefully).

Next up was Zoch stand. I was attracted by Frische Luft für die Gruft, an expansion for Dawn Under, but as I saw a free table for Heckmeck am Bratwurmeck, we tried that. A friendly rules guy called Philip came to play with us; he earnes the best rules guy award for Thursday, as his teaching was excellent. We had a blast playing the game, even though Philip won the game — he had amazing luck with the dice.

Perhaps a small description is due. Players roll eight dice, which have a worm symbol for six. On each roll, you can keep some of the dice: you can take all the dice with the same side up. However, you can’t choose a side you’ve already chosen, so if you get, say, one worm and you keep that, you can’t take the four worms you’ll end up rolling on your next turn as you’ve already taken worms.

The goal is to roll big numbers (worms count as fives). There are tiles on the table, ranging from 21 to 34 or so, depicting one to four worms (more worms on big numbers); the goal is to collect most worms in the end. After you’re finished rolling, you can take a tile, if you have at least one worm and your total is higher or equal to the tile. If you roll exact number, you can steal someone’s latest acquisition. If you fail to roll anything (no worms or too low a total), you lose a tile.

It’s a fun game and has a certain element of risk-taking and push your luck -type of action. You must pay attention to what others are doing, too, because if you don’t steal from the leader, you’ll end up losing. It’s a fun game and well-produced: the worm tiles are same plastic as Ta Yü or Mahjong tiles.

I got another expansion from the Zoch booth, by the way: I gave two euros for Romanian orphans and got a Diamond Joe expansion for Niagara. It’s basically one canoe and a slip of paper, so it’s not a big deal, but hey, it’s still cool.

After leaving the bratwurst worms, I ran into Derk Solko. He was easy to recognise from his microphone. He did a quick interview with me, so you might hear my voice in the BoardGameSpeak Essen episode. At the Alea booth I found Rick Thornquist and Greg Schloesser in the middle of a game of Um Ru(h)m und Ehre, which they seemed to enjoy. I never got a chance to try it, even though I passed the Alea booth several times.

Next game I tried was Pünct, the latest installment in the Gipf series. I played against Raija, learning the rules from a relative of Kris Burm, the designer (or that’s how I understood). Pünct is a connection game, which is a genre I quite dislike. Pünct was, however, the best connection game I’ve tried. Players place their three-hexagon pieces on the board, trying to connect two opposite sides.

The trick is that you can move a piece on board. Each piece has a pünct, point on which it moves. You can also rotate the pieces around their center point. Pieces can be piled on top of each other and so on, which makes all sorts of blocking and evading moves possible. The idea is fairly simple, but gives lots of room for thought, as is typically the case with Gipf games. However, Pünct can’t escape its connection game roots, thus I don’t like it much.

Another game I tried was another Kris Burm game, this time from Gigamic: Batik. I played the kids version… Players take turns dropping pieces (in this case marine animals) between to plexiglass pieces. The player whose piece sticks out from the top loses. I lost fairly quickly. The adult version might make a good fast coffee-table game, but it’s a bit ho-hum.

At this time we had wandered through most of the halls and we split up. I went looking for a game to play and made my way to the friendliest booth I knew — the Sunriver Games, of course! Chris Brooks was among the nicest people I met, and not only because he gave me a review copy of their game Havoc. During my later visit, I met KC Humphrey, the designer, who signed the game for me.

It’s a shame they had bit of a problem with the game: there was a collating error at Carta Mundi, and some of the decks were flawed (there are two same cards, when there should be two similar cards). KC checked my copy of the game, which was fine, but of course the other copy I had which we didn’t check was flawed. I’ll have to get the card changed tomorrow.

Anyway, I sat down for a game of Havoc with some guys I didn’t know. It’s a really good game, too! It’s about the 100 years war, which is a pasted-on theme as any, but hey, at least the flavour is good. Basically it’s card drafting: you draw cards, trying to form a strong hand. At some point someone cries “Havoc” starting a battle. Cards are played, and the strongest hand wins. There’s a bit of bluffing involved, as the cards are played few at the time for several rounds.

Winners score points, depending on the battle: either there’s more balanced distribution or some sort of winner takes all thing. That’s how it goes, there are nine battles to fight. We only played five for a shorter game. I took strong initiative, winning first three battles. At that point I calculated that I would win in any case, even if I was last in the last two battles. Neat.

Anyway, after this test game I’d say it’s a pretty good game. There’s some interesting card drafting and the battle system allows for all sorts of tactics. I’ll have to try the full game, but so far it’s all good. Great work, Sunriver Games! The game looks great, the cards are bit flimsy so card protectors are probably due, but the art certainly looks good.

My final game today was Aqua Romana at the Queen Games stand. It was one of these blown-up extra large versions (and still Railroad Tycoon was larger than that; that is a one huge game, let me tell you, the board is gigantic!), which was fun. The rules guy was willing to speak English, but had this very strong German accent, like a movie parody accent. Well, I understood the game, so no harm done.

Aqua Romana is a pipeline game: you start with a reservoir with four exits and start to form pipes from it. You score the length of your pipes. That’s it. Well, almost — it’s more clever than that. To extend a pipe, your guy at the end of the pipe must “see” a builder. Builders go around the board and are seen, if they are on the same row or column as your guy at the pipe. Each builder has a certain tile (straight, curve, crossing, two curves) which he provides. When you use a builder, he steps forward.

The second catch is the scoring: each place on the scoring track holds one piece. If I get five points and you get too, your guy has to take the place four and you lose a point. That’s clever. Aqua Romana was pretty neat, actually, a nice twist on the good old pipeline game genre. I thought I lost horribly, because my game got stuck in the middle, but it turned out to be closer than I thought. I was able to populate the scoring track first, which was good: one of the guys lost five points, because steps one to five were all full when his guy should’ve scored five.

That’s all the games I played. It’s pretty hard to get a game when you’re alone, and I’m not sure if it’s easier with more people, as all the interesting places were packed full. Well, fortunately there’s lots of things to marvel at, lots of interesting stands.

Of course, during the day I shopped lots of games. I think I got most of my shopping list done, leaving me stressless on the days to come. First purchases were Frisch Luft and Heckmeck at the Zoch stand, then I got Fettnapf from a random game seller. I saw Friedemann Friese, can’t miss him. Next up was Age of Steam expansion four, a bit expensive but interesting nonetheless.

Near the Warfrog booth I found Splotter, where I ran! I wasn’t surprised to find Indonesia priced at 60 euros, but the box size certainly surprised me! It’s heavy, but small, very typical box. I chatted about with (I think) Tamara, whose description got me interested. Later on I got autographs from Joris and Jeroen on the game to make it complete.

I bought Caylus and got it signed by William Attia, who remembered me (we’ve met at FinDipCon). I was originally buying the game for the Boardgame Society, but sorry guys, I think I’m keeping it for myself. I’ll get you something else. Later I bought another Caylus for Tommy. The game looks complicated, but promising.

Nearby was the Fragor Games stand, where I picked up a copy of Shear Panic, not for me but for a friend. One of the Fragor guys, I think it was Gordon, was pleased to meet me, having read my blog. How nice! Shear Panic is certainly cute, the sheep are very lovely, but I’m still not too annoyed by the fact I don’t have the game myself.

Next up was Sunriver Games, where I picked up two copies of Havoc, one for me, one on order. Next to them was Repos Productions, who sold Ca$h’n Gun$ with the silver shotgun — a must-have! So, I got that too. Behind the corner was the Swedish guys, Gigantoskop, and Badaboom — definitely not for me, this was another delivery.

Then it was time to hit the flea market. The result was a disappointment: no Industrial Waste for Ismo and Raija and no Gauner Trio for Stefu. Sorry! Something I did find was Ta Yü, which is back in print as it was available everywhere. Nice.

On a later shopping round I got myself a long-wanted copy of Flix Mix and my reserved copy of Jenseits von Theben. Actually, Jenseits was for Tommy, who had a panic attack and ordered a copy from Prinz Spiele himself. So, I have an extra copy of Jenseits von Theben, second edition, and I’m not terribly interested to keep it. Any takers?

I also got my copy of Antike and travelled to the other Eggert-Spiele stand to get it signed by author Mac Gerdts. A small problem: the game doesn’t have English rules, even though Peter Eggert said it would. Well, I’ll just have to go and pester him tomorrow about it.

That’s it for shopping. That’s pretty much everything I wanted. For tomorrow all that is left is something for the Boardgame Society to give as a prize in Helcon — I’m thinking about an English Elasund with Klaus Teuber’s autograph — he’s doing a signing session every day. I saw English copies of Elasund at some booth, I wonder where it was… Well, I’ll find out.

Stuff I skipped: I looked at Kaivai, but decided to pass. Greg Schloesser bought it, but hadn’t tried it, so he couldn’t help me about it. It was in German, which means it would be bloody complicated to play. I’m also quite unsure about the authors. Maybe if Greg or someone assures me it’s really good, then I’ll buy it. Unless that happens, I’m passing it. I also didn’t buy Third World Debt — I’m still thinking about that, and will likely pass it, too.

For the evening, I wanted to meet the BGG folks today, but when I went to Istra at quarter past six, there was nobody there. I waited until half past, then went away. Too bad. Fortunately I have other company. We went to have some pizza and played games in our room. Maybe tomorrow I’ll see some people at the IGA ceremony and will be able to hook up with them for some evening games, I would like to play some games with these folks.

Heckmeck wasn’t as smooth the second time we played. The game has an annoying habit of going on and on in some cases, the game can drag on a bit. Our game was a long fight, which got a bit boring. If this happens often, my opinion of Heckmeck will go down. I definitely can’t write a review yet, before I see how it works usually. If it’s short and action-packed, I’ll like it a lot. However, a full game of Havoc proved that it’s a really good game, I enjoyed it even though I got my butt kicked. It’s great, buy it!

So, I haven’t played that many games, but I’ve bought a plenty. Tomorrow will hopefully see more action, as I’m hooking up with some people from Finland. Maybe we’ll get to play more, especially as I at least have no need to shop much. I’ll have a meeting with some people from Tactic at noon, then I’ll try to get Teuber’s signature on a copy of Elasund at two and the IGA’s are at five… That should leave plenty of time for games. We’ll see.

Whew, lots of text. I think I’ll stop here and leave the rest of it later. I’ll make a summary of the whole experience when I’m done, this is just games and action.

PS. I read the rules to Caylus and Indonesia after I wrote the entry. Indonesia is very promising, and very interactive unlike other big Splotter games. Caylus, in the other hand, seems a bit too complicated rules-wise for my tastes… But if it’s really good, I can live with that.

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9 responses to “Thursday, day two: Shopping for games”

  1. Great summary of Essen, I really enjoyed reading about all the people you met and games you played. One thing though, I highly recommend that you try Blokus another few times. I didn’t like it at all at first, but after playing 5-10 times I started to realize the strategy and depth involved. You start to get the hang of what the different pieces can be used for. I particularly enjoy it with 2 players. It’s strange because for most games I start out liking them a lot and then my interest level declines after repeated plays, but with Blokus I find that I am enjoying it more and more each time I play it.

  2. HAving played Caylus, I can tell you it is one of the best game around this year, on the Puerto Rico level in my opinion.
    Thank you for the great report, can’t wait for the next.

  3. Mikko,
    Great write up-very detailed. Oh and if that Jenseits von Theben is too heavy for you let me know? I’d be interested in it. Did he make english versions also?
    Thanks again

  4. Great writeup, Mikko! Keep it coming for those of us who didn’t attend. All these reports are making me want to go next year.

  5. Mikko
    Thanks for the update. What details can you tell us about Indonesia, since there is so very little hype about it.

  6. First… Yeah, I could try Blokus again, but it’s not high on my lists.
    JvT seems fairly light, and it includes English rules. It’s completely sold out already, though.
    Aqua Romana should work with two, I think, but it’s probably better with more.
    Indonesia is cool: it’s about starting up companies, producing stuff, shipping that stuff to develop cities and merging the companies to produce bigger companies. Quite simple, but detailed and very interactive, at least on Splotter big game standards. I’ll play it in Helcon, so I’ll know better then.