Thursday, February 09, 2006

Games to Watch For: Nurnberg '06

The Eurogaming year is centered on two points. Toward the end of the year we get the huge consumer show at Essen, and then in February we get the Nurnburg Toy Fair. Nurnberg is a different sort of show than Essen. It's not open to the public, and there are more prototypes shown off, which might not become actual games for many months. Nonetheless, there's cool stuff to be seen.

Last year in October I wrote about the newest releases at Essen, and now I'm going to follow that up with Nurnberg '06: a look at a new set of games that may be making their way to us between now and ... next Essen. As before, I've picked my top ten, mostly focusing on gamer's games, with my top contenders marked with a star(*).

I should note that, as I commented on in my year-end round-up, much of the gaming fare continues to get lighter. Many of the games I selected are on the light-to-medium side of things, and many designers who have done heavier work in the past are emphasizing lighter games now. Over at BoardGameNews, a translated Nurnberg report seems to make the same point.

Augsburg 1520*

Authors: Karsten Hartwig
Synopsis: auctions, economics, resource management
Background: Germany, 1520
Like: Chinatown, Louis XIV
U.S. Publisher: Rio Grande(?)

Alea has two games demo-ing at Nuremberg, this one and For Rum, Renown, and Honor. The latter looks to be pretty light, and has put a few people off Alea from its previews, but Augsburg 1520 seems to be in the old Alea mold, just like Louis XIV was last year. It's about Jakob Fugger, and is a game of economics, auctions, and favor trading. I'm guessing it's going to be another somewhat dry game, also like Louis XIV. Karsten Hartwig, the designer, just has two games to his credit: Chinatown and Lucky Loop.

There's been no actual word on U.S. publication, but I think it's a fair bet that Rio Grande will step up.


Authors: Wolfgang Kramer & Michael Kiesling
Synopsis: exploration, majority control
Background: Native America
Like: El Grande, Goldland, Lost Valley
U.S. Publisher: Phalanx Games

There's two Kramer & Kiesling games out this Nurnberg. Unfortunately K&K's other new release of this season, Celtica, has already gotten pretty trounced for the crime of being a family game. Not so Bison, which looks to be a new gamer's game. It follows in the footstep of Phalanx's Maharaja, which didn't exactly set the world afire, but was a solid tactical game. This one looks a like like Kronberger's Lost Valley, and no doubt will combine tactical play, resource management, and (I think) exploration. There's apparently majority control with a unique twist, as different place players score for different things.

Blue Moon City

Authors: Reiner Knizia
Synopsis: card management, city development, majority control
Background: Blue Moon City, after the war
Like: Maharaja, Tower of Babel
U.S. Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games(?)

Most Reiner Knizia big-box games are cause for attention, and this one seems to be no exception. It's a unique building game, where you're using hands of cards to rebuild Blue Moon City. You can use stronger cards to build faster or weaker cards to give you special advantages with their powers. Blue Moon City has two pretty uncommon features for Knizia. First, the game seems to have a pretty strong geographical basis, something you find in Knizia's tile-laying games, and just about nowhere else. Second, there's some majority control, with people who help a lot in a building rewarded more than people who help less. We saw majority control in last year's Tower of Babel, but it's again a pretty rare Knizia element. (If Knizia does a third majority-control-based game this year or next, we can call it his "Majority Control Trilogy".) Don't get your hopes up too high for another Tigris & Euphrates or Through the Desert; I'd guess this is going to be medium-light, but if you liked last year's Tower of Babel and Palazzo, I'd bet this one will please too. As with Augsburg, there's not yet a confirmed American producer for this title, but Fantasy Flight Games is a pretty good bet.


Authors: Michael Schacht
Synopsis: house development, resource management, tile laying
Background: California, modern-day
Like: New England
U.S. Publisher: currently none

This was one of my last additions to the list because the theming looks sooo bad. It's Beverly Hill Billies California, full of movie stars and billionaires, and you're trying to decorate your house. Yet there's an interesting looking "house construction" game with tile-laying that's very reminescent of New England (or Eden) for that fact that you're trying to match certain patterns. And some of Schacht's other Abacusspiele games in this same size (Hansa and China) have been great. So, it's a wait and see. Of course it might be a long wait because there's no American publisher on board that I know of, and Uberplay who did Schacht's last few from Abacusspiele, isn't doing co-ops with Germany anymore due to the precipitous plunge of the American dollar.

Cleopatra & The Society of Architects

Authors: Bruno Cathala & Ludovic Maublanc
Synopsis: card management, palace development, brinkmanship
Background: Egypt, 1st century BC
Like: Big City, High Society
U.S. Publisher: Days of Wonder

Days of Wonder produces light yet beautifully produced games. This one looks like it's going to blow the doors off their normally high production values, with its promise of high-quality 3D pieces that you use to build Cleopatra's palace. Personally, I'm a sucker for Egyptian themes, and even if it's light I'll be happy to see this new game beside Ra and Amun-Re. It looks like there's some card management here but that the real catch of the game is that if you use too many "good" cards, you end up out of the game, which is shades of High Society, where the biggest spender loses. The mechanic isn't innovative, but always introduces an interesting dilemma into the gameplay.


Authors: Paul van Hove & Liesbeth Vanzeir
Synopsis: auction, economics, palace development
Background: Arabia
Like: Princes of Florence
U.S. Publisher: Mayfair Games

This was literally the last item I added to the list, and that was because of the theming. Originally called Harem. Though it's now called the much more empowering Emira, it's still about collecting women. Now, I'm by no means a prude, but I know a game who's theming is going to make it hard to get it to the table when I see one, and I'm afraid this one could sit next to Relationship Tightrope, gathering dust. In any case, Emira won the 2004 Hippodice Game Design competition, and with its publication it'll join luminaries from that competition such as Chinatown, Mississippi Queen, and Vino. The gameplay doesn't sound terribly innovative, but it looks like you have interesting economic decisions and auctions as you try and improve your palace and yourself in order to attract women. From here the similarities to Princes of Florence look strong.

Gloria Mundi

Authors: James Ernest & Mike Selinker
Synopsis: card management, resource management
Background: Rome, c. 500
Like: The Settlers of Catan, Der Untergang von Pompeji
U.S. Publisher: Rio Grande Games

Just last month I was talking about how Rio Grande's inability to do their own productions might be putting them into a death spiral. And here they are producing their first original big-box game ever. James Ernest isn't really known for doing complex games, but his collaborations with Selinker seem to be his higher concept releases. This one has some resource management, but the need to constantly protect those resources from invading hordes. The race to flee the fall of Rome reminds me of the similar flight from Pompeii in last year's Klaus Jurgen-Wrede disaster game. Of course it coule be a while before we see this game, because it was on the Essen '05 lists too, and RGG's last self-production works, the Bohnanza supplements, certainly took a long time to come to fruition.

Leonardo da Vinci

Authors: A group of designers
Synopsis: auction, resource management
Like: Princes of Florence?
U.S. Publisher: Mayfair Games

I have some reluctance to include a daVinci game (the publisher, not the inventor) here, because frankly they don't have any track record for gamer's games. Don't get me wrong, they did a great beer-and-pretzels game (Bang!) and a number of good family or party games (Dancing Dice, Farfalia, Lupus in Tabula, Tuchulcha). Contrariwise, however, their attempts at gamer's games have had various flaws in them, including the weird complexity of Oriente, the endgame failure of Fredericus, and the chaotic craziness of Palatinus. Given that pedigree, I'd be pretty tempted to take a wait-and-see attitude toward Leonardo. However, Leonardo has gotten a lot of press as a real gamer's game, and as a result I feel like I have to include it. In addition it's been picked up by German publisher Abacusspiele, which I believe is a first for daVinci. So, I've got some concerns, but hope.

The mechanic is apparently using auctions to buy resources to build inventions, and I think the success of the game will mainly depend on how well those auctions work. I've definitely played many American auction games which just plain didn't work, and many German ones which largely did; I'm hoping this falls into the latter category, because the theming could produce a very evocative game. (I pretty arbitrarily listed Princes of Florence as a similar game because it's a rare game where you auction items, then do something useful with them rather than just collecting. I've actually seen just about no info on how the game works, so it could really be like anything.)

Thurn & Taxis*

Authors: Andreas Seyfarth & Karen Seyfarth
Synopsis: connectivity, logistics
Background: Germany, 18th century
Like: China, Medieval Merchant, Puerto Rico
U.S. Publisher: Rio Grande Games

Thus far Andreas Seyfarth remains a one-hit wonder; well, perhaps one-and-a-half, since he added San Juan to the Puerto Rico family a couple of years ago. Nonetheless a new Seyfarth game bears at least some attention, especially when it's being produced by Hans im Gluck, who has a good reputation for serious games. This one is going to be lighter than Puerto Rico. It looks like a pretty simple connectivity game where you're constantly getting points for laying longer routes based on cards in your hand (but about mail coaches, not railroads). It's got some action roles too, ala Puerto Rico (or moreso: Age of Steam, since they're an extra effect on a turn, not the main thing).

Ticket to Ride: Marklin Edition*

Authors: Alan R. Moon
Synopsis: connectivity, delivery, set-collection
Background: Germany, recent centuries
Like: Ticket to Ride
U.S. Publisher: Days of Wonder

I'm not sure the third iteration of Ticket to Ride still qualifies as new and exciting, and it's certainly not as much of a gamer's game as some of the other things I've mentioned here. Nonetheless, I suspect it'll get more plays in my house than anything else on this list. This new game is set on a German map. However, Moon has taken a step beyond, and continues to make sure that each new edition of Ticket to Ride has new mechanics and thus some notably different gameplay, which I think does a lot to keep the franchise fresh. This time around we have passengers and merchandise and a 10-point endgame reward for the most tickets rather than the longest route, all around resulting in something new and different.

Other Releases of Note

Nurnberg truly seems to be the season of the expansion, especially if you're the SdJ winner, so we have the fourth Alhambra supplement, the fifth (eighth?) for Carcassonne, and the first for Niagra, as well as the first for the non-SdJ-winning War of the Ring. And I've already covered the newest Ticket to Ride, being offered as a new game rather than a supplement. Queen is taking a similar route, rereleasing Wallenstein as Shogun (though I'm not convinced we'll see it before Essen, because I don't see it mentioned in any previews, else I'd have included it here).

Beyond that there are many more releases, and no doubt I've missed something notable. I've already mentioned two near misses from this list: Celtica and For Rum, Renown, and Honor, each of which appear to be very light big-box games. They were my first eliminations from my original list of 15, shortly followed by Reiner Knizia's Double or Nothing and Tom Lehmann's Um Krone & Kragen. I'm not sure the first is actually being released at Nurnberg, and they both look like lighter dice games. My #11 which barely missed the list was Mykerinos by Ystari Games. It looks lighter than Ystari's previous releases, and it's by a brand-new author, so I eventually let if fall off the bottom.

If anything was missing from my list, hopefully it's one of those five and not something I overlooked entirely.

Essen Mini-Followup

Finally, I want to do a short followup on the games I highlighted in my Essen watchlist, last October. I'm going to write a full column on it at some point in the future, but since they still qualify as new games, they're worth a short note here.

Of the 10 games I mentioned there, 9 have been released, with Tempus being the stubborn hold-out. In addition I feel like I missed just one game of note: Antike, which despite its issues is an intriguing Mediterannean logistics game. Of those 11 games (including Antike) I've played six. Here's my thoughts of them, in the form of blog entries or reviews. I'll write a more extensive entry on them all when I've gotten to play most of the rest.

My Reviews: Antike (C+), Caylus (A, with caveat on length), Elasund: The First City (B+), Hacienda (B), Mesopotamia (B-), Railroad Tycoon (B+)


Anonymous said...

Re: Seyfarth as a one hit wonder...didn't Manhattan win the SdJ?

Shannon Appelcline said...

I could well revise my opinion when I get to play it, but thus far no one has loved _Manhattan_ enough to actually bring it to a game night, which says something in and of itself.

Brent Mair said...

Manhattan has greatly outsold PR. Definitely a hit under most definitions.

I'd call him a three hit wonder. And what wonderful hits they are.

Shannon Appelcline said...

As I said, I haven't played _Manhattan_, and so I can't offer a good assessment of it, other than the fact that it's not in the brainspace of any Eurogamers I've met. It's not in the One Hundred, it's ranked a hair below 500 at BGG (right next to _Australia_), and I've never seen a copy.

You're totally right that Manhattan has been Seyfarth's biggest seller. But I suspect _any_ game that won the SdJ would outsell Puerto Rico, whether it were good or bad. All that says is that it won the SdJ.

But, let's just say that Seyfarth is an n-hit wonder, and whether n=1.5,2, or 3, let's hope it's one higher soon. Fingers crossed.

Joe Gola said...

It's a little worrisome that Rio Grande hasn't yet stepped up to the plate with Augsburg 1520. Unless I'm misremembering, I think in the past they typically announced their English versions of Alea games before the show even took place. Augsburg 1520 might turn out to be another Edel Stein & Reich. I could be wrong, though, since Alea was rather late to announce the project themselves.

I'm also biting my nails over whether or not Fantasy Flight is going to pick up Blue Moon City. You'd think they would, since they've been the American publisher of all the Blue Moon stuff up to this point, but I don't know how well the line has been selling for them (and the sales of Beowulf might also play a part), and so far they've stayed mum about whether or not they're going to publish a U.S. version of the Buka.

Ava Jarvis said...

I hope they don't stay mum. But I'm sure if they didn't pick it up, Rio Grande would be quite happy to. :)

I don't really want to rag on RG for not taking the extra risk it takes to publish unknown games if you have not done so before. Obviously if Moon or Knizia or Kramer or Faidutti et al approaches you, things are almost certainly well and fine, but there are only so many premier game designers to go around.

Even so, if the game flops, it's probably more expensive for you than if your loss is mitigated in some other way, like joint publishing with other companies (HiG for example).

Cheapass Games can do self-publishing of games to an extreme because their games are, well, cheap. Days of Wonder also almost always does this, but they release only a few games a year. RG, on the other hand, releases many games a year, and this probably stretches budget a little, and time almost certainly. They still take a risk, but it is less of one.

Shannon Appelcline said...

FFG has confirmed Blue Moon City.

Anonymous said...

About Emira...
Being one of the testplayers, I think I know the game a bit more. Therefor I can say that the "gathering women" theme is not at all as you present it. It is very clear that this game is about women who select a sheik to live with and make their own choice. You can not "buy" a woman, send one away, or what so ever! You just try your best do be - as in real men's life I guess:-) the best choice for the women. This game is more about the men battling to be the best as it is about collecting women! And most of all, it's a satirical game. I really doubt that people take it serious. I suppose if we start doing that, the fun of playing would be lost in lots of games!
It's a pity that a negative comment is given to the game here, because it is very clear that the game theme was not fully understood

Shannon Appelcline said...

I appreciate the additional info. I, of course, can only report how the game looks in the press and the previews, and I think my initial comments were an accurate reflection of that.