Thursday, October 27, 2005

Games to Watch For: Essen '05

October is inevitably a good month for German games, thanks to to the hundreds(?) of new releases at Essen. Word slowly trickles over to the States about the best, and in the weeks and months that follow the games trickle over as well.

What follows is my listing of what I think are the games coming out of Essen with the most potential. It inevitably ended up being a list of gamers' games, not card games or fillers, no matter how deserving they might be. Some are actually reprints, or games otherwise being made widely available to America for the first time, but the main point is this: for most people they'll be new.

I've offered up my best representation of each game, but I actually haven't seen any of them yet (except Elasund), so I can't guarantee accuracy, especially not for the "Like:" area. Feel free to add your own thoughts or comments below.

Games marked with a star(*) made my first-cut list, and I think are likely to be the biggest movers in the year to come


Authors: William Attia
Synopsis: resource management & castle building
Background: France, 1289
Like: Keythedral, Puerto Rico
U.S. Publisher: Rio Grande Games

This is by the company who released Ys last year (though the designer is a newcomer). It's getting some recognition as one of the gamer's games of the fair. The big idea of the game seems to be that you can build buildings which do special things and which others players can use too, for a fee. Each turn you place your pieces on the buildings & then get to do stuff. The placement is rather like Keythedral, it appears, which leaves me with some concern because I thought that that particular game system was so chaotic as to be astrategic.

Elasund: The First City of Catan

Authors: Klaus Teuber
Synopsis: city building & conflict
Background: Catan
Like: Candamir, New England, Settlers of Catan
U.S. Publisher: Mayfair Games

Some people may well consider Settlers of Catan over and done with. To a certain extent it's from an earlier period of game design that isn't 100% in tune with the modern German games that excite many. However there's also a number of us that are thrilled to see another Catan variant. The big idea here seems to be that instead of trading between players the main interaction comes through a higher degree of interference during the building process (which is where it reminds me more of Domaine than Settlers).

(Since I first drafted this article, I've played Elasund. Though it uses some of the core mechanics of Settlers, including a die roll that produces resources that are in turn used to build things, it's very different from the core game. There's a lot of strategy & tactics here, and it's a surprisingly thoughtful game. One of the players called it "New England done right", and though I like New England, I think the comparison of this as a somewhat kindred game is apt.)


Authors: Wolfgang Kramer
Synopsis: economics, connections, card management
Background: Argentina, the 1940s
Like: ?
U.S. Publisher: Rio Grande Games

This game hasn't really gotten much attention, but as one BGGer said: Kramer + HiG. That's a potent combination. I haven't really been able to tell if this is one of his tactical heavy games or not. There's clearly some connectivity gameplay and some economics which are a bit more unusual in a Kramer design. I'm waiting to learn more, but this is clearly a game to watch for.

Il Principe

Authors: Emanuele Ornella
Synopsis: auction, resource management & city building
Background: Italy, The Renaissance
Like: Oltremare, Settlers of Catan with auctions
U.S. Publisher: Z-Man Games

Last year's Oltremare was a great reimagining of Bohnanza: a new and unique game that still scratched the same itch. Its author this year released Il Principe, which looks like a resource-management city building game (ala Settlers) but with some auctions and other complexities. This one hasn't generated as much excitement as some of the others on my list, but I have faith in the author based upon Oltremare.


Authors: Klaus-Jurgen Wrede
Synopsis: civilization building & resource management
Background: Mesopotamia, the Ancient World
Like: Settlers of Catan
U.S. Publisher: Mayfair Games

I've been saying for a bit that I think that Phalanx Games have been on an upward trend. Maharaja and Alexander the Great were both above-average gamers' games, and this one, by Carcassonne designer Klaus-Jurgen Wrede, just seems to be continuing that trend. I haven't seen enough about it yet to entirely understand it, but I think this one could be a new Settlers of Catan.


Authors: Kris Burm
Synopsis: abstract connection
Background: N/A
Like: Twixt
U.S. Publisher: Rio Grande Games

I haven't been a big fan of the GIPF series of games, but I'm pretty sure that the release of the last in the sequence is going to be a big deal for many gamers. This one looks somewhat like classic Twixt to me, except using variably sized pieces. The big idea is apparently that you can not just place pieces, but move them too, something which I think could add a lot of depth to many connection & other railroad games.

Railroad Tycoon

Authors: Martin Wallace & Glenn Drover
Synopsis: economic, resource management & connections
Background: The Age of Steam
Like: Age of Steam
U.S. Publisher: Eagle Games

Speaking of Railroad games, here's a true entrant to that genre. Prior to the release of Conquest of the Empire I was really hoping for a slightly simplified version of Struggle of Empires with some additional development work that in the end would be superior to the original. I didn't get that (though CotE is every bit as good as SoE, just in a different way), but hope springs eternal. I'm hoping that Railroad Tycoon will be the slightly more approachable game that I wish Age of Steam was. We'll see. I don't really see a big idea here, as this is the nth iteration of a tried and true railroad system, but that may well be enough in itself.

Reef Encounter

Authors: Richard Breese
Synopsis: tile laying & set collection
Background: A Coral Reef
Like: Acquire, Tigris & Euphrates
U.S. Publisher: Z-Man Games

One of the most talked about games of '04, Reef Encounter is finally going to be widely available in the U.S. in '05 thanks to Z-Man Games. I'm not convinced that there is a new big idea behind Reef Encounter. Instead it seems to have won converts with some combination of its original theme, its shrimp meeples, its Breesian author, and its serious strategic play. This is one of the heavier German games of Essen '05, and may be the heaviest game on this list.


Authors: Mario Papini
Synopsis:card management & economics
Background: Siena, 1338
Like: ?
U.S. Publisher: Z-Man Games

I feel a bit like a shill, listing so many Z-Man Games, but the honest answer is that they've fairly quickly burst onto the designer game scene, both with their own releases (Parthenon) and with a singularly good taste for German reprints & coproductions. Siena is another of their upcoming games which is getting a lot of recognition. I don't really have much understanding of how it works, other than the fact that it's a card-driven economic game that seems to have enough serious gameplay to keep it interesting. The big idea here simply seems to be beautiful art: the background of the board is a classic mosaic.


Authors: Martin Wallace
Synopsis: civilization building & warfare
Background: Generic Hexland
Like: Civilization, Parthenon
U.S. Publisher: Cafe Games

This is a new Martin Wallace game that's been getting attention most of the year. The big idea is "a civilization game that plays in under 2 hours". It appears to have neat technology & warfare rules, pretty much what you'd expect from the genre.

Some games that I didn't include in my list because I've already reviewed them but I still think are good games for this Fall Season include: Beowulf: The Legend (FFG), The Hollywood! Card Game (FFG), and Parthenon (Z-Man). The one other game that I left off this list, but almost made it on was Byzantium, the newest Warfrog game, which is as well rated as some of the others that appear here. A third Wallace game on the list just seemed like overkill, however.


Seth Ben-Ezra said...

Well, as one who is a fan of the GIPF series, I can assure you that the release of PUNCT is the equivalent of the release of [fill-in-the-blank hyped geek film]. I've also had the opportunity to play PUNCT on Richard's PBEM server, and I can confirm that the moving (and overlapping) pieces add that special touch to the game.

Anonymous said...

shanon: what do you thing about Keythedral?...I don't see any review from you about this game

Shannon Appelcline said...

I don't like Keythedral, and ultimately traded my copy away after a few games. It had some clever ideas, but a few flaws.

First and most notably the worker placement model is so chaotic that it's almost impossible to strategize.

Second the keythedral building is really dry, with the theming of resources almost non-existant, as opposed to Settlers where the Wheat, Stone, etc. seemed much more real to me.