Thursday, October 26, 2006

Games to Watch For: Essen '06

For the last year I’ve listed what I think will be the most interesting and exciting games coming out of the major game shows. You can find my previous discussions here: Essen '05 Preview; Essen '05 Follow-up #1; Essen '05 Follow-up #2; and Nurnberg '06 Preview.

This last year I've gotten a little bit discouraged on the topic because I've had a lot of trouble actually getting to play last Nurnberg's games. (I've played about half of the ones I noted thus far, and a few of the remainder like Leonardo da Vinci, Gloria Mundi, and Augsburg 1520 either just appeared in the last few weeks or else still aren't out.)

I considered just dropping this feature this year, but have instead decided to cut it back. So, I'm listing the five games that really caught my eye from this year's Essen. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I'm a big fan of sequels, and that's primarily because I think those games have a much better chance of success, because the old game is well-known and loved. Thus, games of that sort have a notable presence in my listing. But I've also tried to figure out a few brand new games to watch for from this year's Essen.


More Info:
Authors: Richard Borg
Synopsis: tactical war game
Background: Medieval / Fantasy Realms
Like: Commands & Colors: Ancients, Memoir '44
U.S. Publisher: Days of Wonder

Richard Borg has continued to put out variants of C&C system, but the amazing thing is that they play very differently. Memoir '44 is a quick, tactical game while C&C: Ancients is longer and places much more emphasis on board position and the back and forth of warfare. It's hard to see exactly how BattleLore will play, but it's obvious that it will be very different from its predecessors. Among the prime differences: a new war council of characters who may use special priestly, magic user, and other powers to influence battles; lore tokens which are a resource used for these powers; and creatures who are particularly hard to defeat and have special powers of their own to confound enemy troops with. This game is also clearly intended to be massively expandable, and may ultimately turn out to be the board game industry's answer to Warhammer.

The Columns of Venice

Authors: Christian Fiore, Knut Happel
Synopsis: role selection, resource-manage & column building
Background: 2nd Century Venice
Like: Elasund
U.S. Publisher: None Announced

After putting out mostly light games in recent years, this new Goldsieber production is apparently a bit more for gamers. Each round a player uses characters from his handful of cards to build Venice's columns. Districts and bridges are then placed upon those columns, but if you use other peoples' columns you'll have to play them for the privilege. Reports back on the mechanics are positive, but the game also has some great looking components, with fields of pillars, topped by ownership markers, topped by cardboard districts and bridges coming together to look really pretty. Unfortunately Goldsieber really hasn't had any American partners these last few years. Their last great game, Kreta, still hasn't been published here, so I'm not sure I have much faith that this new one will be seen anytime soon either.

Fight for Rome

Authors: Klaus Teuber
Synopsis: resource management & troop building
Background: 5th Century Rome
Like: The Settlers of Catan, Gloria Mundi
U.S. Publisher: Mayfair Games

After a couple of more variant games, Klaus Teuber returns solidly to his Settlers of Catan roots, with this new historical game, set around the Fall of Rome. However this time around you're gaining resources when you pillage and conquer cities, then you're using those resources to build up new troops. Reports contend that it's much more of a gamer's game than the original, but all of the elements of the original are back, front and foremost: production, trading, and building. You just get to move troops to sack (neutral) cities as well!

The Pillars of the Earth

Authors: Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler
Synopsis: resource management & cathedral building
Background: 13th Century England
Like: Caylus
U.S. Publisher: Mayfair

This game is based on a licensed property, which usually knocks my interest down a bit. However, it's been getting good press from Essen. Some people have called it a mini-Caylus. During your turns you're trying to balance the acquisition of craftsmen and resources, to avoid paying taxes, and to then use those craftsmen to turn resources into victory points. There's a catehedral being built too, but that's just a timer for the end of the game. Though it's called mini-Caylus, that means it's "only" a 2-hour game.


Authors: Marcel-André Casasola Merkle
Synopsis: Tile-laying & settlement building
Background: South Seas Islands
Like: light-weight Java
U.S. Publisher: Rio Grande Games

In some ways this game reminds me of an inverse Escape from Atlantis. Players slowly build up an island as volcanoes erupt from the sea, and as they do they settle it. However, new volcanoes may upset carefully laid plans. The game sounds like it's probably pretty light, but it's gotten some good attention from players at Essen.

Although I've kept my list short this time, I'll offer up a short list of five other games which caught my attention mainly due to their publishers: 24/7: The Game, by Sunriver Games; Imperial, by Eggert-Spiele, published in the US by Rio Grande; Perikles, by Warfrog, published in the US by Fantasy Flight Games Space Dealer, by Eggert-Spiele, with no US publisher announced; and Yspahan, by Ystari Games, published in the US by Rio Grande. If I was going to expand this list past five games, I'm sure at least a couple of those would be on it. (Space Dealer and Yspahan seemed to get the best attention of the lot.)

The one other game that seems to be getting some notable buzz at Essen is Alea's Notre Dame. It's just a prototype now, and it'll be released next year, and so it'll probably be on my Nurnberg list, but in the meantime people seem to say that Alea is back on the right path, putting out actual strategy games, not just more rum & pirates.


Mario Aguila said...

Did you play Mr. Jack?

Shannon Appelcline said...

I haven't played any of them, I was just listing what looks to be cool.

Mr. Jack certainly got a lot of attention, and I suspect it might be a very interesting game. It ultimately fell off my list because (1) it's 2-player -and- (2) I'm not sure if it has any American distribution. Between those two factors I wasn't quite enthusiastic enough.

Smatt said...

Nice article in Knucklebones, Shannon.

Shannon Appelcline said...


I often can't read my stuff with anything but a severely critical eye for months thereafter, so I'm glad it came out well.

Just finished up and submitted my article for the next issue. It's on auctions.