Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de

The SPIEL '17 Games Convention
at Essen / Germany

[SPIEL]

26th to 29th October 2017

Follow RTogler on Twitter

Quick Index of the SPIEL '17 convention report

Sunday, 29th of October 2017

Sunday, last day here in Essen, and still thousands of games unplayed. Like in former years, Sunday is my family day. As a result, you will find a lot of children and family games today in this coverage, but of course I also played some other games too. And Frank, although he already said goodbye yesterday, will also have its finds and frets. So let us start immediately:

Introduction: Wizards Wanted, Mattel (booth 3-B111)

In the last years has begun to publish more and less complex boardgames for families and younger children. I first reviewed Das Geheimnis der Zauberer in 2015 and was surprised of the high quality and the innovative game concept. That's why I led my family today to the booth of MATTEL to have a closer look on their newest family game Wizards wanted.

[SPIEL]

In the game the players acts as wizards who must gather experience and money for their daily work. The aim is to be the most famous wizard at the end of the game. But how do you reach this game? Well, magicians are always welcome in the village, if they perform a kind of magic show. People will love this and the magicians will become more and more. Additionally people pay for that shows too. This is quite essentially for our young magicians, because they consume a lot of magic dust during the game.

Of course, there are the magic shows in which a lot of magic dust is required. But although for movement the magicians need this dust, if they want to be fast at their destinations. So they have to move from one village to the next, and from time to time to the merchant to exchange money with magic dust. On their way they can use various methods of moving. Walking is easy, but as we are magicians, there are also royal bird taxis and teleporting points to use. Last but not least there are mushrooms on the path that can be collected to get various bonuses.

[SPIEL]

Although Wizards wanted is a family game, there are some interesting choices to make. The game creates the impression that it is a good learning game to be introduced to more complex games. The artwork is great and child-oriented. I would say that it can be played with 8 years already, although the publisher recommends 10 as a starting age.

Time were passing by and so I had to leave, before the game was over. But while I walked over to my next meeting, the kids continued the play. My next stop was at the booth of BRAIN GAMES whose last year's Ice Cool had won over 20 awards up to now. This simple but ingenious children game I discovered not before the last day of the last year's fair, although I often ran past the booth. But it seemed too simple to me. Surprisingly it turned out to be our favourite family game in the last year, and my younger son continuously asks me to play it with him. And it is really a great game. So I was happy to hear that next year BRAIN GAMES plans to have a successor of the game. But let us not speak of next year yet, let us focus on the current novelties:

[SPIEL]

Introduction: Doodle Rush, BRAIN GAMES (booth 1-F139)

This year drawing is the theme for their new family and party game Doodle Rush. Once again the idea of the game is quite simple: Each player receives two cards with three words each. At a command all players simultaneously begin to draw these terms one by one. After one minute the drawing process is stopped, and all player guess what the other players have drawn. This seems to be the chaotic phase of the game, because on the one hand you are guessing any of the drawings of your opponents, while at the same time you must keep track of the guesses about your own drawings. In case of correct guesses the drawing is given to the player who guessed right.

[SPIEL]

Again after one minute, the next drawing round starts. This process is repeated three times. The interesting is that there are no pauses between the different rounds. So all player must immediately begin to draw again, when one minute of guesses is over and vice versa. Quite stressful I would say...

Doodle Rush adopts ideas of some games of my yourh. I still remember the times, when I played Imagine with my family. Once, my dad was drawing clumsily and coarsely a person that looked very silly to us. You must know that my dad always drew very schematic and, as a result, guessing was difficult. But this person was extremely foolish, so I said “Idiot” without thinking. And this guess was right. A lot of laughter was following. Maybe it is this positive memory why I liked Doodle Rush from the first moment I heard about it. Yes it is simple, and yes, we have already seen something similar, but I am sure that my gaming groups will love it too. With a game duration of 10 minutes, it could be a very good filler.

Surprisingly the convention halls were comparable empty this day. Only in the three bigger halls you had to queue to find a table. So we decided to go to hall 7, where we found a tiny card game, inspired by Jackass.

Introduction: Bye-Bye Black Sheep, Jolly Thinkers (booth 7-A110)

Bye-Bye Black Sheep is an animal collection game. On their turns, the players draw cards from any of their opponents. They can do so, as many times they wish, but every new card must be played face-up on the table. If a black sheep is drawn, all the cards are taken in the hand and the Black Sheep is returned to its player. But a player may also stop voluntarily, and then he takes all cards, but may play some of them into his zoo.

[SPIEL]

In this zoo, the player start to collect triples and if a player has won a specific number of triplets, he wins the game. This is a simple mechanism, but there are also 3-6 special cards, depending on the choice of the players, that influence the rules. These cards make the game more dynamic and increases the interaction between the players.

[SPIEL]

I became aware of the game at the news show on Wednesday already, because of the great artwork of the cards. The game is designed by Torsten Landsvogt who is also the designer of Formissimo by SCHMIDT SPIELE. But what leads a German designer to the Hong Kong publisher Jolly Thinker? Well, Jolly Thinker is originally a gamers' cafe club in Hong Kong. They really loved older games from Torsten, but they were no longer available. So they contacted him and asked him to create a new game that could be published by JOLLY THINKERS themselves.

Sometimes the ways of god are inscrutable. But speaking about Eastern games, I remembered that I still wanted to check another small game with great artwork.

Introduction: Shadows in Kyoto, EmperorS4 / Taiwan Boardgames (booth 7-D108)

Shadows in Kyoto is a two player game in which players have different ways to win the game. Basically the game is hand management game, but the players agents act on an area board, where they are moved and attack other players' agents. In a normal move, a player chooses one of his agents and moves this agent one space towards his opponent to the site with the same colour as the card he played. All agents have powers from 0-3. At the beginning of the game , these powers are still hidden. In case of a conflict the powers are revealed and compared, and the loosing agent can either be captured or retreats, if he was the attacker.

[SPIEL]

So there are bluffing elements and elements of area control in the game. Tactic cards and beautiful charisma cards further expand the possibilities of the players. I must be honest, that I took Shadows in Kyoto especially because of its artwork. But the rates are comparably high, so I think there is more behind the bluffing facade. It is great to take along, so I will have a closer look at the game during my next holidays (which will come soon after this SPIEL).

During my stop at the Taiwan boardgame booth, the children were finding their own games. Next to Marco my friend Lutz and two of his children joined in. Lutz is deeply interested in boardgames too, and he will review some of the games after the convention. Later this day, you will also find him in a first writing too. But for now, I have some pictures from the adventures of the kids:

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

But now I picked them up and took them along for my next family game:

Playtesting session: Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time, Funforge (booth 1-F113)

Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time that's the title of a new family game by the French publisher FUNFORGE. The name tells the story: Professor Evil is a well known thief who has stolen precious treasures like the Mona Lisa and the Rosetta Stone. But what has the mysterious Citadel of Time to do with that, I wondered? Well, Professor Evil owns a time machine and so he was able to collect all the best things from different time periods.

In the game the players act as a team with the task to confiscate all the precious things. So we break into the mansion of Professor Evil. But unfortunately he is at home, and, moreover, all of his treasures are secured by various traps that must be unlocked before we can take the things back to where they belong.

[SPIEL]

We can only reach our aim, when we team up. So Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time expands the line of games to cooperate, a feature we see more and more for family games too. Playing the game is quite easy. On our turn we can either move our character from one room to the next, we can unlock doors, if they are closed, we can flip switches to set them inactive, and, if all switches are in the correct position, we can rescue a treasure. As these actions aren't very complex, Even our younger children were able to perform them.

The same applies to the movement for Professor Evil, who is at home, but a little bit confused already. To move him, one player rolls two special dice. A colour on the first die tells us in which direction he moves, the next one how many steps (rooms) he crosses. Moreover, while moving Professor Evil shuts all doors again and flips all switches in the rooms he walks into to their active sides. If he comes to a room with a character of a player, this character must flee and is placed outside of the mansion again.

[SPIEL]

As you can see the rules of the game are quite easy. But, in contrast to my first impression, the game turned out to be rather difficult to master. You must coop precisely to be able to rescue a treasure, before Professor Evil does find out about it. The difficult element is the lack of time. Whenever a new treasure card is drawn, it tells the players the minutes after which they must have rescued it. If they fail to do so, the treasure is lost and counts as a victory point for Professor Evil. The players win, if they are able to find 4 treasures before Professor Evil does. And this is not so easy, especially because there is a third die that can shorten the time in which a treasure has to be secured.

Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time is much better than I thought after reading the rules. Especially the agreements among the player are of extreme importance to win the game. Besides the game has excellent components concerning the quality and the outstanding artwork. But it is even more than a family game. Most of the people who played and enjoyed it during SPIEL were grown-ups. The game was sold out on Saturday already and people were queuing for the last used copies on Sunday. Congratulations to Funforge.

Now, let us see what Frank is doing after he already said goodbye to us yesterday evening:

Frank's Postscriptum

Sometimes they come back!

Well, actually I didn't intend to turn into a boardgame-zombie, but today's visit to the SPIEL actually made me come back for one more game report.

My wife Nicole came along once again, and over the day we stopped here and there to play some games, but one of these games actually turned out to be highly entertaining so that I simply needed to tell you about it!

Playtesting session: Hellapagos (Gigamic)

Welcome to Gilligan's Island!

Well, something like this will have been the first thought of the up to 12 players who ended up marooned on a tropical island. Sandy beaches, sunny sky and …. nothing else! The ship is wrecked between some riffs, there is not much food and water to be found, the jungle is full of nasty animals and a hurricane is looming at the horizon. Not the best perspectives indeed, and so the players need to build a raft and get off the island before the storm arrives.

Each player begins the game with a hand of 4 random cards drawn from the deck of wreck cards, the last items which the players were able to salvage before leaving the ship. A bit of water and food good be salvaged as well, but it will only last to feed everybody for the first round. So, the players will have to start looking for water and food for everybody.

[SPIEL]

During his turn, a player can perform one action from a limited choice of possible actions. He can gather water (the amount depending on this turn's rain card), he can go fishing (drawing a wooden marble from a gunny sack, showing 1 to 3 fishes), he can swim out to the shipwreck to draw an additional wreck card, or he can actually try to build a part of the raft. This is done in exactly the same fashion as going fishing (drawing a marble from the sack), but this time the player may draw a number of marbles from the sack, and he has to announce how many marbles he wants to draw before starting. The number of fish on the marble is not important, but instead its colour. There are 5 normal wooden marbles and a black one in the sack, and for each normal marble drawn the raft building marker is advanced for one step. However, the black marble shows that the player who went too deep into the jungle to gather wood and was bitten by an animal. This makes him loose all raft building progress but one single step, and in addition the player will have to miss his next turn. Whenever six steps of raft building have been completed, the raft will be able to carry one more person, and so a lot of raft building is required to build a raft big enough to carry all players.

To be more correct, it would be more precise to say that the raft needs to carry all remaining players. Sooner or later, there will not be enough food or water to support all remaining players at the end of the round, and at that point the full impact of Hellapagos becomes visible, because the players then will have to vote players out of the game until the food is sufficient to sustain the remaining players.

Today we playtested the game with a group of 8 additional strangers, but it quickly became visible that this phase of voting can lead to some hilarious situations. Some players will try to gang up on others to vote them out, only to turn against their former allies in a later phase of the game. However, very important here also are the wreck cards, since these show a large variety of items which the players may use to influence the situation. So, food cards may be used to prevent the actual voting, but a player also may keep food cards on his hand, saving them for the case that he is voted out by the other players. In this case the player can remain in the game by playing a food card, so some selfishness is necessary to survive. As indicated, there are other useful items like a gun which may be used to remove another player (but which needs a bullet to work), or a baseball bat which a player may use to double his vote. On the other hand there are also items which can be used for the benefit of everybody, like a fishing rod which allows its owner to draw two marbles while fishing.

It is this voting phase which makes Hellapagos a very unusual communication game. Even though the voting mechanism may sound to be rather simple, just the possession of certain wreck cards may be used by the players to gain leverage in the discussion who should be voted out, and so the vote will be all but random. Instead, there will be discussions who actually may be helpful for the group if the rest of the players wants to get off the island.

Depending on the groups' efficiency when foraging food and wood for raftbuilding, the group gradually will get smaller, needing less space on the raft but leaving less player turns for actions. It is especially difficult that the group needs a full ration of food and water to leave the island, and so the players have to decide how long they will keep their wreckage cards for themselves, or whether the time has come when the group might benefit from playing a card.

Today one situation was especially memorable, and that was short before the game's end when I was one of the last three group members. The other two voted me out, but I could use a Vodoo-puppet card to bring Nicole back in the game. This put the vote to a standoff, but since I was current starting player I had the tiebreaker's decision, and so the table turned against the two who initially wanted to remove me from the game. After two votes those two players were out, and Nicole and I actually had enough food to leave the island before the hurricane!

This is only an example of the many interesting situations which may happen in this rather unusual communication game. Of course it can be debated whether the general setting actually is suitable for a game, but ever since Tributes of Panem - The Hunger Games such a setting actually seems to be part of modern mainstream. So, here we have a game which takes the players onto a short and brutal trip to Hellapagos-Island, and if you are fond of such communication games you have found a real treat. Just the right thing for Halloween!

[SPIEL]

Trick or Treat!

See you all back here next SPIEL!!!

Nicole & Frank Schulte-Kulkmann

Thanks again Frank for your tireless efforts.

Maybe you still remember my visit at Jumping Turtle Games yesterday. I told you that several publishers from Belgium and the Netherlands had grouped to get a bigger booth to be more visible and to attract more visitors. Here I also rediscovered a funny looking game that I had already admired at the news show.

[SPIEL]

Stopover: Frutti di Mare – Veni Vedi Antipasti, BlackBoxAdventures (booth 6-H108)

Frutti di Mare – Veni Vedi Antipasti is a very thematic and funny game. It is not only the theme: Seafood fighting on top of a spaghetti plate. The whole layout adopts the funny theme. So the special abilities of the different seafood are explained in a menu card. The aim is to eliminate your opponent's kingcrab or reach the center of the plate with your own kingcrap. A third possibility is to stay at the center of the plate with a royal frutti. So you see there are a lot of different seafood that fight against each other.

[SPIEL]

I can't tell you a lot about the gameplay yet. But I would think, that despite of its funny theme, Frutti di Mare – Veni Vedi Antipasti is also a tactical game. Much of the attacking depends on luck, but you can use a lot of the different abilities of your Frutti to block or threaten your enemies. So in the end, you nearly feel to be in a restaurant.

After the big success of Kingdomino in the last year, I wanted to know about other games by Blue Orange. So I walked over to have a closer look on the two new games from the French publisher:

Introduction: Photosyntesis, Blue Orange (booth, 3-M107)

A game about the growing process of a tree? Fighting for the best positions for your trees to get sun's ray in a plain? Is this really a good theme for a game? ORANGE GAMES tried exactly this. Each player start with his own player board on which he places his individual trees in three different seizes, seeds to grow more trees and a light point tracker. Each round begins with a photosynthesis phase. The idea is that each tree on the main gameboard will give the player light points, but only if this tree is not in the shadow of another tree.

[SPIEL]

Of course this shadow is dependent on the position of the sun, which changes during the game, and on the size of any tree that is staying between your trees and the sun. I learnt that while planting new trees, you should not only consider the next positions of the sun, but also where your opponents could plant their trees.

Planting trees is a good cue, because in the life cycle phase, which follows the photosynthesis, we do exactly this: planting new seeds and growing trees on the main board. But of course we have to pay for all of this with our light points. In the end all trees become high and old, and can be cut away. But this is our aim, because wood is still valuable. So this action is the only possibility to collect the scoring tokens. And the richness of the soil on which the tree has grown is important for the number of victory points. Perhaps you already guess it: the position in the middle of the plain is the most valuable one, but of course it is also the position in which your tree is easily in shadow.

[SPIEL]

With the colourful and brilliantly designed trees, Photosynthesis looks gorgeous and is definitely an eye-catcher. To my mind, it is a great idea to take the life of trees as a theme. Photosynthesis is a family game, but it is already something to think about. It seems not be too easy to plant your trees, so that on the one hand they will earn a lot of light points, and on the other hand it is near the middle of the plain to score when it comes down to sawing. Now, applause applause, Lutz is doing his first step as a reviewer:

Lutz' beginnings as a reviewer

Introduction: Queendomino, Blue Orange (booth 3-M107

Queendomino by BLUE ORANGE GAMES…Wait a minute! Queendomino? I thought the name of the Spiel des Jahres 2017 is Kingdomino? Is this a result of gender mainstreaming? Or female quota? Same game, new name? Of course not! Although the games are lookalikes, “namealikes” and by the same author Bruno Cathala, Queendomino and Kingdomino differ a lot. Both games share the object and the main gameplay mechanics. The players are kings and are seeking new lands to expand their kingdom. They try to build new territories by a clever and easy to learn card drafting and tile placement mechanism. It feels a little bit like a mixture between Carcassonne and the name-giving good old domino game. The domino tiles are drawn from the draw pile and placed on the table in ascending order on their numbered side. After that the tiles are flipped and revealed. The drawing and revealing of the dominos is repeated, with the result that there are two columns of dominos showing their landscape sides. In the first turn players place their Kings randomly on the revealed tiles on the left column. The topmost king begins the game by adding the domino tile to his territory according to the connection rules. At least one landscape square of the one domino has to fit to a landscape square of the other domino (the starting domino is considered as a wild domino, every terrain can be connected to this tile). Afterwards, the player chooses a new domino tile in the line by placing the king on it. p>
[SPIEL]

After all players carried these two actions out, a new column is drawn. The next round starts by the topmost King of the new line. So players have to decide if they want to catch the most compatible domino for their territory or if they want to be the first player in the next round. The aim of the game is to connect as many domino tiles with the same landscape terrain as possible in a 5x5 grid territory. But a territory without a crown gives no winning points. So every player tries to get the best landscape tiles to connect and to integrate winning points with crowns in it. The player with the most points is the winner.

Queendomino is more complex than Kingdomino. It expands the game with buildings, castles, black knights, towers, coins, a queen and a dragon and their associated actions and possibilities. This increases the opportunities to score and makes the game more tactical. For example: When a player erects a building, there are benefits he can use in the further game. This might be immediate effects like getting a knight or a tower, permanent effects like increasing your income by raising taxes, or winning points at the end of the game. So the player can decide, if he wants to invest some money in order to get better access to resources or if he likes to earn benefits he can use to improve his positions. The additional game actions of Queendomino are optional, whereas the initial actions like adding the domino and choosing a new domino are mandatory. p>

[SPIEL]

For me Queendomino brings the playing mechanism to a higher level and increases the replayability of the game. There is a broader range of opportunities to build players territories and gain winning points. And of course Queendomino is a standalone game and an expansion for Kingdomino likewise. Yours Lutz

Thanks Lutz for your first experience as a reviewer!

After a long day for many families with smaller children, the halls began to empty. This was good for me, because there was still some games to be covered. Let's start with a short stopover at DEVIR, where I were introduced to 2 very different games.

Stopover: DEVIR (booth 2-D118)

The first game I was introduced was Michael Strogoff in which players can participate in the novel of Jules Verne. They compete in a race and try to reach Syberia first. Next to their opponents the players also compete against the game. Some people told me, that it is a difficult game, as some decisions depend on luck. At the moment I cannot tell you any more details about the game, but it looks great, so maybe you want to have a look at the picture:

[SPIEL]

A completely different game is Fast Food Fear, in which players have to keep costumers satisfied in a fast food restaurant. As you can imagine, those costumers are not used to wait. As a result a frantic and chaotic race begins, after an order is in the kitchen. Players must cooperate to succeed, because only together they can prevent a firing. Fast Food Fear seems to be a funny real time card game with a short game duration. Players are forced to talk and coordinate a lot, because each of the costumers demand 3-5 courses. These courses are in the hand cards of the player, but must be played in the right order. In the end Fast Food Fear is a simple and fast paced game, and a game for families too. I am not sure about its long play re-ability, so I check this out later.

[SPIEL]

Stopover: Biosphere, DDD (booth 2-C144)

Imagine your start a student project and end up publishing a boardgame. Sounds crazy, but is reality. The three young designers were asked to create a game with the focus on evolution. And the result was the game. Together with their teacher they were able to convince the DDD publisher to release the game after two years further development.

[SPIEL]

The idea of Biosphere is the evolution of different species. Players have various ways to develop their species in order to survive as a population in a fantastic world. There are various types of landscape such as grassland, desert, mountain, savannah, forest and polar region. And players have to decide, if they prefer to go to the tundra or into the ice, where life is harder, but the species becomes tougher too. Unfortunately individuals (represented by a die) of a population won´t life forever. So players have to manage the survival of their species by evolutional improvements. Although development, evolution and survival are main parts of the game, a player can´t win the game only because of survival. The aim of the game is to accomplish a certain number of missions concerning for example expansion of the population or reaching a specific position of the evolutionary scale. The first player who accomplishes five missions or more wins the game.

[SPIEL]

Concerning that it is the designers first work, the game looks fantastic. It seems to be rather complex with a lot of interaction between the players. We will check this soon, and I am already very curious about the gameplay, as I didn't have the chance to test it today.

A last walk through the halls. Still so many games to discover and no more time. But wait, I promised to make one more stop. Last year I found a great dungeon crawler, called Perdition's Mouth – Abyssal Rift and included the game in our reports. Afterwards I also wrote a review, so maybe you wanna check this out. And this year I met Thomas Klausner again at the news show, where he told me that they actually have a revised version on Kickstarter. He also showed me and expansion, called Traitor Guard, that introduces new rules and features and another hero for the players. So I took some pictures at their booth and if you are interested in the genre and have missed the first campaign, you may should consider backing it now, because I think it is a great game. And once again I was deeply impressed about some painter's skills...

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

So now we are nearly at the end of this year's coverage from SPIEL. But we can`t stop without one of the many drinking games that were released at Essen this year. I choose Half-Pint Heroes by Corax for that.

Stopover: Half-Pint Heroes, Corax Games (booth 2-C144)

Half-Pint Heroes is a trick-taking game, quite traditional in its mechanics and similar to poker. But as in Wizard you must predict your tricks for the round and only if you succeed in this, you get a bonus in the round scoring. The game has its strength in its funny illustrations and some minor changes of the traditional poker game. I think I will take it to my next pub visit or I will force my fellow players to drink some beer with me while playing it. The cards stimulates as you can see...

[SPIEL]

This ends our coverage from SPIEL17. Exhausted and very very tired, but happy! Thanks for your great support and the encouraging comments in our guest book. And remember to stay tuned, a lot of reviews will follow after SPIEL.

See you again next year!

Yours

Ralf

[SPIEL]

Quick Index of previous convention days

Saturday, 28th of October 2017

Another day at SPIEL and still over thousand games to review... I must be honest to you now: we won't make it. But you wouldn't want it too. Imagine reading all this stuff. Probably you would not end before SPIEL18, and then half of the games you would have read about would no longer be available. ASMODEE keeps the tradition of HEIDELBERGER to sell a lot of games from the last years at huge bargains here in Essen. Good for the costumers, but bad for all smaller publishers that can't afford to sell games so dirt-cheap just after one year.

In most of the last years, on Saturday the convention halls were very crowded. That's why I entered the halls early and headed at once to my first appointment. After another day of night's typing, I decided that something louder would be appropriate. So why not manage a heavy metal band and organize concerts?

Playtesting session: Metal Mania, GDM Games, booth 6-G133)

Thursday, 14. September 2017: Metallica live on stage at the Lanxess Arena / Cologne. And I was there. Great concert, even the new titles were a success. Maybe that's anothe reason why I could not pass by Metalmania, a game in which you lead your musicians to the top of the pops or better the Metal throne.

In the game every player is being equipped with a band board with various tracks in form of an equalizer and a counter for money. In contrast to what most people think, musicians seem to have a weakness for money too. Or maybe it is more their manager and this is what you are in the game. But what would a manager be without a band. And so each player starts with 4 musicians in form of artist cards. I am sure that any resemblance to any living person is purely coincidental, but the one or other drawing looked really similar to the musicians I saw on stage...

[SPIEL]

Anyway, an artist card has six different characteristics. Three of them are important to change the various positions of the equalizers on the band boards. To do so, you must roll a die for each of your artists. After that you have to place one die on each artist card. All results lower than the skill of the musician in the corresponding discipline are a hit and with two hits from all of your musicians you are allowed to increase the position of the equalizer. This will grant you a special bonus and fame points. Failed rolls are bad performances and turn the musicians into troublesome or even inactive. Of course that's bad for your band, because someone is missing...

So it is good that we can also engage new musicians, but you have to pay them first. There it is again: Money rules the world. Consequently the next possible action is to increase your funds by a simple dice roll. The last action is more interesting, because you invite your band to beer and groupies. That's really Rockn'Roll and they will like it. Well, not exactly. Revelry comes into play and so this trip can either end in a great party with many fame (points) for their manager or in more troublesome or inactive musicians.

[SPIEL]

I think you can see that Metalmania is no complex or strategic game. It is more the atmosphere and the funny artwork that makes the game loveable. Luck plays a major role, but I think that's quite OK for that type of game. Of course I will take it to our next gaming night, and see how we can climb the Metal throne. I think it is a nice little filler, a variation to the ever-same fantasy / sci-fi theme. My son, playing the guitar himself, loved playing it and told about it the whole evening. So, obey your master!

I might have known it! A metal band not only wants to play music and record songs, they also want to party and drink a lot of beer. All this talking about parties and celebrations made me thirsty too. So I decided it was the right time to walk over to the booth of GAME BREWER, where I was offered a beer (which I refused) or a juice (which I accepted) and met the Pixie Queen.

[SPIEL]

Introduction: Pixie Queen, Game Brewer, booth 7-F114)

Imagine you are a Pixie! One of the little ones, which duck one's head to every authority in the close proximity. Bad enough, but then imagine you additionally serve a mean and ugly queen (no, not the Pixie Queen from the counter, only the one in the game) who loves gold and silver and fresh food to her taste, but who does not in the least care for her subordinates. And all that you can expect from her, is not to be sent to the mines...

Pixie Queen lets us experience this tedious life. But it is not slavery, I had to learn. The guys at GAME BREWER assured that Pixies would love exactly this. So each player chooses a colour, takes a player screen (because we don't want to show other players what we already have collected for our holy queen) and takes 5 Pixies at the start of the game. The gameboard shows us the castle of the queen on the top and the village and the mines in the surrounding of the castle. All ways lead to the castle, but it is a long way, beginning in the mines and leading over several levels in the village. There are a lot of spaces where we can go with our Pixies, but once a space is occupied, we only can go there after we have shooed other Pixies away from this place. And we are only allowed to move to a higher level (and come nearer to our queen), if the queen is satisfied with us and allows us to promote. On the other hand, if the queen gets angry, your Pixies soon after turn up in the mines again.

[SPIEL]

On our turn we can do a lot of different actions. Most important to fulfil the queen's wishes is the theft of food and silver. Theft? Well, those Pixies – although pitiful creatures themselves – are also nasty. But what else can they do, if their queen demands apples in a round and a bread in the other? There is only one way: they have to steal from the humans in the village. But we can also trade goods and give our opponents the needle in many various ways. All in all we have 20 different actions, all well symbolized on the gameboard.

At the end of the round, it is time to offering our food, silver and gold to the queen. Silver and Gold are always interesting, but each round the queen demands something different to eat. This is done in a bidding round, in which every player takes resources from his supply in his hand. At a command all players simultaneously open their fists and then it is time for rewards and penalties. Of course, a player who has the most and the right type of resources scores most and Pixies promote to higher levels on their way to the castle.

[SPIEL]

I found Pixie Queen to be a wonderful worker placement game. The gameboard is quite impressive and there are so many different actions, that it surely will take some time to find the best strategy to prevent penalties. But of course, that's what your opponents will do too. I think a lot of interaction and the one or other mean move will be consectaneous. Especially in the higher levels, close to the castle, the game forces players to interact due to limited spaces for the Pixies to go.

In the meantime our friend and co-author Marco Klasmeyer had reached the convention. Together with two of his sons he visits the fair during the weekend. Of course their first stop was at HASBRO, I had made this experience one day before. Somehow the booth of HASBRO seems to strongly attract the interest of younger children. As me and my son were still in hall 6, it was a long way to meet them, especially because most of the people came from the opposite direction and others queued for signatures or promos...

[SPIEL]

And what was Marco playing? Monopoly, the Mario edition...

[SPIEL]

Against his sons, he had no chance and so I convinced him to join me for a walk back to hall 6, because here you could still find some tables, sit down and play a game. And that's what we came for, didn`t we?

Playtesting session: Cover me, Jumping Turtle Games, booth 6-H108)

With the small card game Baby Blues TURTLE GAMES hit the bull's eye here in Essen two years ago. Last year, however, it was much quieter at the booth of the Belgian publisher. Maybe that was one reason why they decided present cover girls as theme of their new card game this year. It was definitely a reason for grouping with other publishers from Belgium and the Netherlands to have a bigger booth at a better place in the convention. I asked Tom Delmé from JUMPING TURTLE GAMES and he explained that he has sorted the games in his shelf in categories like fantasy, zombies, middle age etc. and he wanted to have a game that didn't match to any of his categories. So that's how cover girls was invented.

[SPIEL]

In the game every player is chief editor of a trendy magazine. Each month a new model must be chosen as cover model for each player's magazine. But whose model is most trendy? Of course this can't be left to chance. Every player tries to influence the trend, but at the same time he should always have one eye to what models his or her opponents choose. Maybe it is advisable to set a trend that completely differ from their choice, even if that means that your own model does also not fit to all of the trends...

Cover Me comes with 162 unique cards, each with the picture of a cover model. All models have four different characteristics: the length and colour of the hair, the colour of the clothes and the background colour. The last two traits are active alternately, so you have only three characteristics to consider at the same time.

On his turn, a player places one of his model cards face down on the table. By playing the cards, the players not only determine their choice for the current cover model, they also influence the active traits. For each corresponding symbol on a card, the fashion marker on the trait track is moved one step further. These fashion tracks are nicely presented by a catwalk (cloth and background colour) and a mirror (hair colour and length).

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

In the some way three cover girls for every magazine are chosen by every player. At the end of the season, the most trendy model for every magazine is determined , as indicated for each trait by the fashion tracks, Only models who are completely trendy (trend level of 3) score prestige. Models, who were the most trendy for a magazine, but failed to be completely trendy doesn't score for the player. However, they influence the trends for the next year, as they are placed in an influence row and are also counted, when the most trendy model is determined for the next year.

The whole procedure is repeated over three years. Cover me seems to be a solid card influence game. With all the models on the cards the game is clearly an eyecatcher. The game mechanics are simple, but the game give the players some interesting choices. Together with the kids, we had a good time playing the game and I am already looking forward to my next season as chief editor...

Ok, it wasn't exactly a children game, but our two older sons, 10 and 11 years old, were already able to play it and enjoyed it too. But as Marco had also brought one of his younger sons, it was now time for the Galeria and some wooden bricks.

[SPIEL]

We left the Galeria after lunch and went over to hall 2. In the middle of the hall we found a big booth from the Pokemon Company from London. I still remember the huge areas for Pokemon games in the old halls some years ago. But they are still there. The two older boys immediately sat down and started a game. I used this chance to steal away and leave Marco and the children playing this trading card game.

[SPIEL]

Alone, I made my way over to hall 3 where I had an appointment with Iraklis from LUDICREATIONS.

Stopover: LudiCreations, booth 1-D129)

I have met Iraklis during warmup for SPIEL14 at the Unperfekthaus for the first time. The game he was presenting me was Essen. Although it was about the fair and not the town, it already confessed a first liking towards the town. Today Iraklis told me, that since then LudiCreations has grown a lot and you see it at the seize of his booth too. That`s why he decided to have a warehouse directly in Essen and he introduced Thomas to me, who will lead this warehouse.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

Thomas also gave me an overview of all the novelties from LudiCreations. As soon as Iraklis had left us, we switched over to German, because Thomas is a native German speaker too. The major novelty is Alaxandria – A library in cinders in which players take the role of philosophers, historians and mathematicians who work in the famous library. Each character has a different mission, so players work against each other. During the game the library starts to burn, and one room after the other is consumed by the flames. While this is the aim for one of the players, all other try to rescue different things. This makes the game very asymmetric and creates an interesting storyline.

[SPIEL]

Long live the Queen on the other hand is a light 2 player game. Each player has 12 different characters that are placed along a number bar and opposite to the opponent's characters. Each turn a player rolls two dice to activate one of his characters. All characters with exception of the queen, begin the game face-down. By activating them for the first time, they are flipped. After that they can use their special ability, if they are activated. All the characters have their own abilities, for example to switch two cards or to win prestige tokens. Moreover two of the characters attack their opposite with the result that the opponent must flip his character face-down again. If this happens to the queen, the game is lost for the queen's player. A game also ends, if a player gains 3 prestige tokens of each of the three colours.

[SPIEL]

Although the game is luck based, I think there are some strategies to find. It reminds me a bit of those great older games of the KOSMOS two player series. Most interestingly, LUDICREATIONS offers two versions of the game. They only differ in the artwork, one a kind of anime style and the other in the dieselpunk art from the Crisis artist.

After this short overview, Iraklis came back and gave me plenty copies of Steal This Game for our prize draw. Thanks Iraklis for this, so many readers of our magazine have the chance to win a prize.

[SPIEL]

Next to the booth of LUDICREATIONS was the booth of GIOCHIX.IT, where I had my last meeting for today. So let us quickly go over to that, before I can get some sleep:

Playtesting session: Samhain, Giochix.it, booth 1-C123)

In Samhain we beg favours from five different Celtic gods. As head of clans, each player moves his clan members in a Celt village with 15 different locations. All of these locations belong to one of the five gods in the game. Additionally, when a player places a clan member on one of these locations, called Action cards in the game, and activates the card, he can get devotion power on an associated Temple card. These temple cards are placed next to a row of action cards that belongs to that temple.

[SPIEL]

At the beginning we already start with some clan members on the locations. Then, on our turn we can move these clan members from one location to an adjacent one and activate the location where we end the movement. This will give us various resources or let us convert resources to more useful things. For example, a horn lets you move one of your clan members a second time in a round. An important thing to get are devotion powers. Whenever you activate an action card that gives you such a devotion power, you take another clan member and place it in the associated temple or – if you already have a clan member there – you raise the power ladder higher. This is extremely important, because at the end of each round, the player in lead in each temple gets victory points.

[SPIEL]

But players must also consider that each action card has two parts: the light part is active in all odd rounds, the darkness part in the even rounds. As the result of an action differs between light and darkness, you must not only look on the current round but also on the next, in the moment you decide where to move your member clans. Moreover, if you have one of your clan members on a card with another players' clan member, you are forced to perform an action there too. As a result, you cannot move further in this round or do a different action.

But the action cards have not only only two sides, there are also two independent tracks for the light and the dark side. The same applies to the devotion tracks on the temple cards. What counts in the scoring is only the leading in the side of the current round.

[SPIEL]

Samhain is completely played on cards, but it feels like a boardgame. The only thing that is missing is the board. But the skilfully illustrated action cards that form the village almost create the feeling of a boardgame. At heart Samhain seems to be a solid worker placement game with some interesting choices and strategies to follow. I especially liked the idea of forcing your opponents to perform an action by activating a card on which you have member clans yourself. Especially if your opponent player is unable to perform this action, this is an interesting action, because he then must take a so-called Will-o-wisp. And with the last Will-o-wips taken by a player, the player who collected most of these tokens, must sacrifce a clan member and move it to the graveyard. This is mean, but at the end you want to win the game, won't you? The game lasts about one hour, which is quite a lot for a card game to my mind, but as said, Samhain feels more like a boardgame.

That were my last words for today. Sleep well and now let us see what Frank has to tell to us.

Ralf

Frank's Finds & Flotsam

SPIEL Saturday!!!

Once again a day at the SPIEL has passed with the wink of an eye, and once again it had been a day in which the convention seemed to be something like a treasure trove, filled with strange wonders and events which can be expected to happen here at this show.

Okay, but let's start right now!

Stopover: Czech Games Edition - 1 F145

I would like to begin the day with my last scheduled meeting, a visit to Czech Games Edition. Here Jana, responsible for CGE's marketing and PR, was already waiting for me, and together we did a quick tour through the novelties which CGE had brought to the SPIEL '17.

[SPIEL]

Their big game this fall is Pulsar 2849, a space opera boardgame by Vladimar Suchy. Based on a dice drafting mechanism, the game positions itself in the classic sector with special care taken to create an interesting technology tree. The technologies available in Pulsar 2849 actually cannot be built be all players, and so there is pressure right away in order to get useful technologies. However, the game is also quite versatile in this respect, since all technology boards and other player components (including the gameboard) are printed double sided, with the backsides showing distinctively other options then the frontside.

[SPIEL]

However, CGE's most active designer Vlaada Chvatil also has not been idle over the year, and so Jana could introduce me to two new titles designed by Vlaada - Codenames Duet and That's a Question. The first mentioned game is a variant of modern classic Codenames, being effectively a two player variant in which the players have to work cooperatively to end a mission without being eliminated by finding an enemy agent. Even though the game is based on the same principle (identifying cards by just one word as a hint), the game has a different feel because the players are sharing a common goal. For this reason each mission cards is printed double sided and placed between the players, so that both players are able to give one word hints in alternating sequence. However, the game even can be played with more players!

That's a Question on the other side is a communication game in which the players ask questions of preference to each other, using their cards on hand to find the items which will be combined in the question. For example, a player may be asked whether he can live better without pizza or mountains, and then an easy betting mechanism will be employed to score points depending on the given answer. Even though cute squirrels running up a mountain are used to mark the players' points, the game has effectively nothing to do with squirrels, but instead the players are going to get some quite interesting insights about their likings and wishes.

Finally, Vlaada also has co-designed a new expansion for Tash-Kalar together with David Turczi. The new faction Etherweave has the possibility to manipulate time, and in game terms this means that the faction can possibly use special powers before a pattern is formed, and these abilities can form a special challenge on its own.

[SPIEL]

Finally, Jana also presented me with a copy of Galaxy Trucker - Rocky Road, a novel set in the popular universe of truckers and aliens. The novel actually has been a project of CGE's chief rules editor Jason A. Holt, and in the book he has tried to create an affectionate and entertaining continuation of all the funny oddities and friendly quirkiness which can be found in the boardgame. Jana actually seemed to be quite fond of Jason's debut novel, and since I am once again communiting to work by subway since July I will give the book a try on the way to work in the next couple of weeks.

[SPIEL]

Introduction: Nations - The Dice Game: Unrest (Lautapelit - 3 L116)

After my meeting with Jana I had scheduled a coffee break with my friend Rustan Hakansson from Sweden. He is designer of one of my favourite games - Nations - The Dice Game, and already last year he had told me that an expansion for the game was under development. Now the expansion was ready, and Rustan presented me with a copy here at the show.

[SPIEL]

To my mind the biggest advantage of Nations - The Dice Game is the game duration, since the players can experience the buildup from ancient times to modernity in just four rounds of play. With each player being allowed only one action on their turn, there is virtually no downtime, and even though the players have to take care to find the best strategy how to use the dice results they have rolled, the game is very straightforward and quick to play.

At this point the new Unrest expansion set is docked to the basic game, being intended to increase playing depth and strategy. Even though this may sound like the game might be totally changed, the expansion comes with some moderate elements of change which actually offer the players some extra incentives how to attune their strategies.

One of these incentives are special tokens for players who finish first. The earlier a player finishes, the better is the choice of available tokens, and so a player who refrains from extending his number of actions to the limit actually may get some extra resource by finishing first. Likewise, another of these elements of change are the event tokens, and every round of play a new event token will be revealed, offering bonus victory points for the player who will best fulfil the conditions listed on the event token. These events may be production goals like producing most food or swords, and so a player may try to adjust his general strategy for this round in order to create a nice windfall effect.

The namegiving element of this expansion actually are the new green Unrest-dice. Apart from double production results, these dice show a fist-symbol, indicating that part of the player's population has joined an uprising. A player either may forfeit an Unrest-result for the round, putting the dice away and continue with his normal turn, or he may reroll JUST the Unrest-results, spending a whole turn in the hope to get better results in order to continue with more resources. In a way, these Unrest-dice are a very nice counterbalance for the tokens which are awarded for the player who finishes first, since a player who actually uses Unrest-dice may have to spent additional time to quell the uprising, making it harder to get one of the desired additional resource tokens.

The expansion is rounded up by some additional new tiles and the option to produce multiple resource chits, and even though all these changes may sound comparatively straightforward, it can be expected that these changes affect a considerable turnaround of the gameplay. Up to now Nations: The Dice Game has been a comparatively lightweight diceroller, but with the new effects and changes it becomes equal with normal strategy games. In a way, gameplay now feels a bit like one of my all time favourites - Race for the Galaxy. In that game you try to make the best of your hand cards, all the while hoping to find new cards matching your strategy, and in Nations: The Dice Game the feeling is similar due to the consumption of resources and the hoping for matching dice results. Race for the Galaxy has seen a considerable increase of playing depth through the three expansions which have been added, but it seems that Nations - The Dice Game: Unrest will be quite enough extras to let players experience the game in a quite different way.

[SPIEL]

Instead of going for a coffee, Rustan told me that he had tested the new HANS IM GLÜCK game Majesty: For the Realm by Marc Andre. Rustan was quite taken by the game, and instead of the lobby restaurant we headed for Hall 2 where a permanent Majesty-tournament was held at the HANS IN GLÜCK booth.

[SPIEL]

Introduction: Majesty: For the Realm (Hans im Glück - 2 B110)

In Majesty each player is ruler of a small city, with each city consisting of the same 8 building cards which are arranged in from of the players. 7 of these buildings offer an ability to score and possibly take an action whenever a citizen is added to the building, whereas the 8th building is the hospital where injured citizens will be placed.

The citizens are available for recruitment in form of an open cardrow with six cards being visible, and during his turn a player must take one of these cards and add them to the corresponding building in his city. The citizen at the end of the cardrow may be taken for free, whereas all other citizens have a price in form of meeples, which need to be placed on each not taken citizen in front of the taken one. These meeples will stay on those cards, waiting until they are finally taken by a player, claiming the meeples as an additional bonus.

When a citizen is added to a building, this will score some points for the player which he may now take from the central stockpile. As a rule, the scorings get better the more citizens a player possesses, but whereas some buildings like the windmill focus on the possession citizens of the same type, other buildings actually give points for different classes of citizens. Another benefit which a player may gain from recruiting citizens are additional meeples, and these will come in handy because the players usually do not desire the first citizen card in the cardrow, but very often they will go for a different available citizen which suits their strategy better.

[SPIEL]

Some of the buildings also generate windfall effects for other players, and so a player who affects a scoring in his brewery also triggers some victory points for all other players who have at least one windmill. However, apart from the victory points some buildings also may provide a possible action, and here the barracks are the most prominent type of building. Whenever a player places a knight on his barracks, each other player will lose one of his citizens to his hospital, that is unless a player's guardhouse contains a matching amount of city guards which may actually prevent a player from falling victim to an attack.

Whereas the loss of just one citizen cards may seem tolerable, the game only runs over a total duration of 12 rounds, and at the end of the game the players will do an additional scoring, adding up the number of all of their buildings which are occupied by at least one citizen and multiplying this number with itself. So, a player who has citizens in all 7 buildings will score 49 additional victory points, and this easily is a third or more of a player's final points. Thus, the attacks are a powerful means to weaken other player's chances in the end-game scoring, but the effects of an attack also may be countered if a player takes a witch from the cardrow, since the witches are effective healers which will return one of the player's citizens from the hospital to active service.

Due to the very straightforward turn structure (take card, take action, score), the game plays at an incredibly fast pace, and indeed the addiction factor is very high because even a 4-player game takes not even 30 minutes to finish. If you acquire the game, be aware that the wish for an instant replay may be rather common among your gaming partners, and this is due to the fact that Majesty: For the Realm is a game which has been stripped of all unnecessary frills and padding. After 2 to 3 turns even newbie-players will be ready to play at full efficiency, and so Marc Andre's game indeed receives a lot of positive buzz here at the SPIEL.

The best example of the easy accessibility of the game was the fact that I was actually able to win the game against Rustan and two Spanish gamers, with two of the three actually having played the game before. Since our game had been part of the ongoing open tournament, I was told that I should advance to the winner's table to wait for three other winners and play another round of Majesty. There was a chance to win a copy of the game, and Rustan told me to continue playing whereas he went off in search to find two copies for us. The game is already sold out at many booths, and so he didn't have much hope to find one, but nonetheless he went off while I started playing the final match.

Quite interestingly, this game went totally different than my first one, with me taking lots of knights which somehow seemed not attractive to the other finalists. This resulted in me removing quite a few cards from their cities, giving me a big advantage in the final scoring because I was the only playr with citizens in all 7 buildings. Just when the game ended Rustan cam back, smiling because he actually had found two copies of the game, but now one of these copies was a surplus because I actually won the mini tournament! Incredible, I have never won such an event before, and I would not even have sat and played Majesty if Rustan hadn't told me about the game…

[SPIEL]

In the end, Rustan was able to trade his surplus copy for some children's games, and I actually could chose an English copy as my prize. Z-MAN games had been slow to deliver, and so only German copies are available here at the SPIEL, but HANS IM GLÜCK actually had shipped in a few copies via airplane just for this tournament. So, Rustan actually received the English copy, whereas I took his second German copy. What a funny morning!!!

[SPIEL]

Having a bit of time left for lunch, I roamed a bit through Hall 3 to check in some corners where I hadn't been before, and here I came across the booth of INDIE BOARDS AND CARDS (3 Q102) which had published the firefighting game Flashpoint some years ago. Publisher Travis Worthington now is back at the SPIEL with a new expansion for Flashpoint, introducing some new characters and game elements, and he also showed me the quite successful cooperative deckbuilding cardgame Aeons End. The specialty of this game is the fact that the players's decks are not shuffled, but instead cards are inserted in a fixed order unless the player characters use special skills to add cards at certain points, and so the whole exercise of deckbuilding gets an additional twist of advance planning. The newly produced expansion set has nearly sold out here at the SPIEL!

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

On my way home for lunch I crossed a corridor and actually came across Ralf and Marco. They were bringing their boys along to the SPIEL today, and so we had a little reunion - the current Gamebox crew and the coming one…

[SPIEL]

After the lunchbreak, Nicole once again entered the halls with me, and barely after entering Hall 1 we stopped once again at the booth of ARTIPIA GAMES where Nicole wanted to check out cute looking Whoosh: Bounty Hunters.

[SPIEL]

Introduction: Whoosh: Bounty Hunters (Artipa Games - 1 D120)

Defending their village from a horde of incredibly cuddly monsters, the player try to become the most effective monster hunter by collecting as many monster cards as possible, and this happens in form of a real-time dexterity game.

In the middle of the table are three monster cards available for the hunters, and each of the monsters possesses a combination of weapon symbols which is needed for its capture. In front of each player lies a hidden deck of weapon cards, and one player at a time one card is turned over and placed openly on the table. When a combination of weapon cards becomes available for slaying a monster, the first player to slap his hand on the fitting monster card ("whoosh") will gain that card, removing with it all weapon cards revealed. A new monster is added and the procedure will continue, until the deck of monsters is used up.

[SPIEL]

However, there are a few refinements to give the player a hard time in their job as bounty hunters, and so some of the weapon cards actually show broken weapons which can easily be mistaken for their undamaged counterparts. In addition, the weapon card decks also contain a sorcerer's staff, and this effectively serves as a joker, allowing a player to replace one other needed weapon. Keeping these factors in mind, a player actually may act too rashly, and if he slaps a monster ("whoosh") which cannot yet be captures, he will also get the card but must keep it face down to count for negative points at the game's end.

Short, funny and incredibly cute. Theo Mavraganis's debut game certainly has not the degree of sophistication included in last year's Dungeon Rush, but on the other hand it must be kept in mind that Whoosh: Bounty Hunters doesn't want to be strategic. It's short time entertainment, and Nicole and me really had a good laugh during the 10 minutes of play. That is, until Konstantinos brought out the heavy weaponry…

[SPIEL]

Introduction: The Masters' Trials: Wrath of Magmaroth (Artipa Games - 1 D137)

The other ARTIPIA GAME which Nicole and I shortly checked out was another creation of my friend Vangelis. Nicole actually is a fan of his tactical dice rolling game Dice City, and after my visit to Athens in January I told her that Vangelis had shown me a new game at the ARTIPIA headquarters which will turn the basic mechanism from Dice City into a cooperative game. Now this game is ready and presented to the public here at Essen, and in The Masters' Trials: Wrath of Magmaroth the players take the roles of heroes who are trying to defeat the might Magmaroth.

[SPIEL]

Even though the player boards sitting in front of each player may look very similar to Dice City, this similarity is only on first sight because a player's board (or playing area) in master's Trials actually is made up of three different boards. These boards depend on a character's class, his profession and his weapon skills, and these modular board allow the players to start with different styles of characters whenever they start into a new game. In addition, each of the boards comes with its own deck of upgrade cards, and all cards belonging to a player's choice of boards will be shuffled together, forming a unique deck of upgrade only available to that player.

The dice placement itself is somewhat similar to Dice City, with the players assigning their dice to rows and columns based on dice colours and results. Quite a choice of different actions is available in the game, but in contrast to Dice City the cooperative approach chosen in Master's Trials actually allows for a better range of interactive skills. Whereas Vangelis had to treat player interaction in Dice City with utmost care in order not to imbalance the game, player interaction in much more welcome if the players have to work together, and so this new game actually offers a quite different use for the grid based dice-placement mechanism.

In the course of the game the players will have to use their dice to acquire new skills and to defectively break down the defense cards surrounding the Magmaroth, and they only have a limited number of rounds available to best the beast. This puts a high constraint on the players, since otherwise they could just go for more and more upgrades, but due to the looking danger of the game's end everybody has to develop his character quickly in order to keep pace.

[SPIEL]

But now let's go for some more obscure finds. This morning I have received an email from Mark with whom I had shared the game of Kitchen Rush on Thursday, and he had told me that it would be worthwhile to check out Pocket Ops, a sophisticated variant of Tic Tac Toe which is so small that it can actually be played in an airplane.

Introduction: Pocket Ops (Grand Gamers Guild - 8 B108)

Indeed the incredibly small game about special operation forces is based on Tic Tac Toe, with each player trying to place three of his operatives either in a horizontal, a vertical or a diagonal line on the tiny gameboard. However, there are also some important differences, and one of them is the fact that the opposing player actually choses a location card matching one of the nine locations on the gameboard before the active player places one of his ops. If the placement then is made at the location forseen by the opposing player, the placement cannot be made and the active's player's turn is over. Quite funnily, Nicole and I canceled out our first four moves this way, always forseeing where we would put our first ops without only one op on the board. Well, we know each other for 23 years now, and after all this time a bit of mindreading is scary but natural…

However, for each round of play each player also receives one special operative token which he may place just like any of his normal ops. However, each of these special operatives offers a unique special ability, possibly to eliminate an opponent's token or to move one of the player's tokens. These special abilities are really good chances for making unique moves to finih the round, but in order to give the other player at least a bit of a chance both players have to reveal their special tokens before the round starts.

I cannot remember the last time I have played Tic Tac Toe, it must have been ages ago because I don't really consider it as a game. However, designer Brandon Beran has carfully enriched the dusty old cross-making activity with some rather nice variant rules, effectively turning each round into a small brainteaser because the players now have to consider the powers of the special ops. This gives the whole playing concept some highly needed refurbishment, and in this form even Tic Tac Toe actually can make fun!

[SPIEL]

Being once again in Halls 7 and 8, the SPIEL's creative corner with lots of small first-time publishers, Nicole once again took control of our gaming menu, and our next stop was at the booth of HE DOES NOT THROW DICE, a London-based company.

Introduction: Dead Cat (He Does Not Throw Dice - 7 J122)

Nicole actually is looking for a logo for her pet-sitting business, and for that reason she stopped to look at the nice sketchy drawings of cats which illustrate the game Dead Cat which was presented at this booth. In essence, the game deck contains lots of cat cards, but a few of the cards have a red background, and it will the player's challenge to score points by making bets for the next red cat card in the deck.

[SPIEL]

So, during his turn a player may lock at the top card from the drawing pile and move it over to the pile of cat cards, and if he does so he is afterwards required to adjust the betting dice in front of him, betting for the number of cards which need to be revealed backwards from the cat deck until the first red card is found. However, the cat deck only may be challenged instead of adding a card and adjusting the player's bet, and so a player has to speculate in advance for the next red card and his opponents's behavior when adjusting his bet.

A straightforward betting game with a bit of bluffing from designer Luca Kling, but certainly with some interesting and unsual artwork from Italian artist Elisa Raciti.

[SPIEL]

Staying in Hall 6, Nicole actually found another cute looking game just round the next corner, and so we stopped at the booth of French publisher DJECO. With the afternoon wearing on, the more remote halls were starting to get less crowded, and so we didn't have a problem to find a free table and start another playtesting round.

[SPIEL]

Introduction: Niwa (Djeco - 7 I110)

Coming with a modular board, one player takes control of three Samurai pawns, whereas the other player will control three Geishas, and it will be the goal of the players to get one of their pawns all the way from their own castle into the opponents castle.

[SPIEL]

Movement is made from space to space, crossing 3 different colours of barriers between the spaces, and whenever a pawn wants to cross a line of a specific colour, that pawn needs a headpiece of matching colour on top of the pin on his head. The headpiece then will be moved over to another of the player's pawns, allowing the active player to continue the move of his first pawn in the same fashion until he runs out of headpieces or wants to stop the move.

The combination of the headpieces and coloured borderlines is tricky, because the players only have limited space on top of their three pawns to store headpieces and to switch them around. So, a player needs to plan his moves carfully, but if he really should get lost there is always a possibility to forfeit a move with a pawn in order just to move one headpiece from one pawn to another.

Quite powerful also is the jump ability, allowing a pawn standing next to another to jump right over the passive pawn. This may only be done if one (and only one) of the involved pawns does not have an headpiece, but with a bit of tactical planning this shouldn't be a problem. In the end, Nicole actually beat me exactly by making a final jump into my castle, and due to the rather cute look and the slightly chesslike orientation of this game we preordered a copy to be delivered just after the SPIEL. Like so many other games here, Niwa is actually sold out.

[SPIEL]

Luckily the daylight saving change of the clock will happen tonight, giving me one more hour to type up one final review for the day. My friend Rob from South Africa had invited me to come and check out his newest dicechucking game Konja, and since both Nicole and I are rather fond of his earlier release Ancient Terrible Things, we had agreed to come for a demo round of Konja with designer Simon McGregor.

[SPIEL]

Introduction: Konja (Pleasant Company Games - 7 L109)

Usually Rob's unusual rough artwork usually is enough to motivate players to check out his newest creations, and indeed Konja stands out with a rather unique, voodoo design scheme which makes the game a real eye catcher. Taking the roles of two priests who compete to conjure most rain, the players try to roll different combinations with their dice in order to gain an income of different resource tokens.

Rolling dice combinations to gain resources? This does not only sound like Ancient terrible Things, but it actually is a mechanism which is taken right from the game. However, the similarities do not end here, because the players also have to chose an action for their turn with one of the five ancestor skull tiles on the table, with both players being allowed to perform the tile's action but with the chosen player receiving an extra benefit. This too sounds a lot like the locations in Ancient Terrible Things.

[SPIEL]

As it turned out, Simon confirmed that Konja is a two-player variant of Ancient Terrible Things, nut despite the aforementioned similarities we could quickly discover that the game stands out on its own right. So, quite a few elements of Ancient Terrible Things have been taken into overhaul, with the removal of the end-turn phase and the elimination of rerolling bookingkeeping just being two elements. Konja now is much more streamlined, coming with a set of action dice which is simply rolled together with the rest of the player's hand. If the player wants to affect a (partial) reroll in order to improve his current result and get better combinations, the players now can spend action dice to active the spells and artifacts in front of themselves, sometimes to lock already rolled dice and sometimes to reroll just a few dice.

Especially the artifacts will be the main purpose on which the players spend their money, since many of these artifacts may trigger additional rerolls or other positive abilities, and all this may contribute to general some income for the player to make it easier for him to acquire the cloud tokens which are needed to win the game.

[SPIEL]

In a way, Konja fells like Ancient Terrible Things has been put upside down, changing the rules enough to get a totally new game without actually distorting the basic playing mechanism. For Nicole and me this game was a very nice end for the convention day, and we bagged a copy of Konja since the game needs less time and space for playing than its bigger cousin. And of course, Rob's Vodoo artwork is just smashing!!!

[SPIEL]

Well, this brings me not only to the end of today's very long report from the Halls of Gaming, but also my own report from the SPIEL '17 will end tonight. As I need to be back in the Tax office early on Monday morning, I will not be able to write a report tomorrow, and so I am going to leave you to the Ralf's extensive commentary for the grand final day.

So, what remains of the SPIEL '17? Lots of games of course!

[SPIEL]

Winter can come, I am prepared!

But leaving the joke aside, I am happy that I was able to provide some decent reports from the convention floors despite my initial fears that I might be too exhausted to do daily write-ups each day. Of course all your guestbook commentaries have been extremely helpful for Ralf and me to continue this fulltime operation for the convention week, and it is really nice to see how many of you are looking to us to give some guidance in this ever growing maze of games here at Essen.

To be honest, I wasn't really sure how to approach a convention with over 1000 new games released, but when Petr Murmak from CGE asked me today how I could cope with more and more games, my answer simply was that I am covering a smaller part of the show than I used to many years ago. Coming to this year's SPIEL nearly unprepared, it has been a nice experience for me to partly revert to the role of a normal visitor, because this way I could stop and look without any fixed schedule. This allowed me to spend more time playing games, and there was also time to stop and chat with some of our readers who actually found me in the Halls. And in the end that's what the SPIEL is really for - gaming and meeting people!

So, even if I will not write a report tomorrow, I will still be in the halls for a few hours, trying to make some last minute discoveries with Nicole. We still have to enter the big Hall 3 together, and I am sure that Nicole once again will discover some interesting games there. And talking about interesting games, some of you may wonder which game might be my Convention Hit this year. Even though I have only seen and played a tiny fraction of the games available, I think that some of my finds were rather good, and so I would like to give my special recommendation to Hexcalibur from GEN X GAMES. I liked the way in which medieval fantasy battles are implemented in this game, keeping a good balance between strategy and luck. In a way the game feels a bit like a tabletop game without coming even close to being one, and the Characters, units and weaponry available in the game for me are an incentive to test the game with different factions and combinations. Coming in a comparatively small box, the game contains a lot of content, and so this will certainly be a hot candidate for our next gaming session!

[SPIEL]

So, for those of you who were able to attend the SPIEL, have a save journey home and enjoy all those games which you have taken away with you! Of course Ralf and I will be back for the next SPIEL in October 2018. That will be year 22 of our SPIEL reporting!

[SPIEL]

Greetings from Essen, and see you back here next year!!!

P.S.: And don't forget to check out Ralf's final report tomorrow!!!

Quick Index of previous convention days

Friday, 27th of October 2017

Day 2 of the official convention, and we are still alive. Last night I wrote and conferred with Frank until 1 o'clock (nighttime). This is still something normal for us during SPIEL, but what's really abnormel: I still wake up at 4 in the morning. Although I stayed in bed until 7:30, I didn't really find back to sleep, and I was thinking about this or that the whole time. As a result, I was in need of a lot of coffee and fortunately I was offered the one or other coffee this day during my meetings. So let us begin with a new game by ARES GAMES, where I was introduced by Roberto Di Meglio once again to two of their new games:

Introduction: Hunt for the RING, Ares Games, booth 3-E100)

And what would ARES GAMES be without the War of the Ring. Over 13 years old now, and still one of the best gamer games I have ever played. So it is no wonder, that I was very excited hearing that there would be a new game by ARES GAMES, set in the Tolkien fantasy world. And again, one of the most popular sections of the books is in the thick of things. “If you want my advice, make for Rivendell.” That's what Frodo is advised at the beginning of the journey. But Sauron already knows that the Ring was found and so he sends his Nazgúl to the Shire to find it. There are four Nazgúl at the beginning of the story, but soon after the Lord of Nazgúl joins in. That's when the Hunt for the Ring begins.

The game was designed by two of the authors (Marco Maggi, Francesco Nepitello) of War of the Ring, only Roberto Di Meglio was “replaced” by Gabriele Mari. So I was warned that the game probably wouldn't be easy. And indeed, 40 pages of rules, but with a lot of examples, so still manageable for occasional gamers. Maybe the success of Last Friday was something like the release button: Hunt for the Ring turns out to be a hidden movement game, but one of the more complex kind. One player takes the role of the Ring-bearer and moves the party hidden over the game board. The other players are the Ringwraiths with every player taking one or more Nazgúl. Basically Hunt for the Ring is a two player game, but similar to War of the Ring players can split the different figures and play the Ringwraiths with more than one person.

[SPIEL]

Roberto told me that it was the concept to adopt a lot of the mechanics of War of the Ring, so for example they wanted to use the famous action dice. But it turned to be out to be a little bit tricky to use the action dice for both players. That's why only the Nazgúl players use these dice.

Each turn, the Ring-bearer begins and in his turn he moves Frodo by recording his move with a pencil on a hidden Journey log. Only in very few situations, the Ringwraith exactly know where Frodo is located. What they always know are the movement steps so far, given by a movement track. Next to the move action, the Ring-bearer can play ally cards to make further moves, blocking Nazgúl and other helpful things. Each day is composed of two daylight turns and one nightfall. If the Ring-bearer moves during the night, he is exposed and has to take one corruption token. 12 tokens or more and the game is lost for the Ring-bearer.

[SPIEL]

The Ringwraith players on the other hand try to find and hunt Frodo to expose him and corrupt him. That's another special feature of the game, and Roberto explained that they didn't want Frodo to be captured or to be killed just in one step. So he is only corrupted and can bear several “wounds”. In contrast to the Ring-bearer the Nazgúl move visible on the gameboard, so the other players always exactly know where each Nazgúl stands. The Ringwraith player then may spend dice from a dice pool to perform actions for hunting and percepting Frodo as well as playing mighty sorcery cards. Searching is a free action. It means that the Ring-bearer truthfully must say, if he ever was on the same field in the game. But he does not have to tell if it is his current position. However, with the perception action he must tell exactly this. If Frodo is found at night, this results in an encounter with the Nazgúl, which in most cases leads to more corruption.

After 15 days, Frodo has safely reached the first stopover, Bree, at least, if he has not completely been corrupted before. With this event, the first part of the game ends. But that is not the end of the game. The board is flipped and the journey continues, now from Bree to the final destination Rivendell. From now on, the moves of the Ring-bearer are no longer hidden. The destination is determined by a Journey card, so all players exactly know where Frodo is and where he is going. But still something is hidden: Gandalf the Grey has entered the story, and is – instead of Frodo – moved by the Ring-bearer. On the one hand, playing Gandalf seems to be similar to Frodo's movements before, but the aim is different. The whole time, Gandalf tries to prevent the Nazgúl reaching Frodo and for this he often reveals his position. Gandalf is very powerful while revealing, because all Nazgul must be moved in the location occupied by Gandalf up to 2 steps away. As a counterpart, the Ringwraith players can bring the Lord of the Nazgúl into play, which makes the hunt much easier.

Hunt for the Ring does not seem to be a simple game. It is the most complex hidden-movement game I have ever seen. But, in spite of the complexity, Roberto said that it is easy to play. There are a lot of different adjustment possibilities, so you always find a good balance between the two parties. I especially liked the idea of having two parts of the game, both feeling different for both players. Tolkien fan or not: If you like hidden-movement games, I think Hunt for the Ring definitely should be a try-out. And what should go wrong, with these great designers? A last highlight of the game is the possibility to combine it with War of the Ring. If you like to do so, you have to play Hunt for the Ring before the other game. Depending on the ending of Hunt for the Ring, player then receive action tokens during the setup of War of the Ring. What long game nights are ahead of us...

Another interesting game released by ARES GAMES is the dungeon crawler Sword&Sorcery. Compared to Zombicide this game seems to be slightly more complex and strategically. Luck depends a less role and players can equip with a lot of weapons and gear. So perhaps you should check this, if you like dungeon crawl games. I will do so soon after the fair, so regularly come back to our magazine in the next weeks, if you want to learn more about the game. For all of you looking for a German version: it will be published by ASMODEE soon.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

One more thing: There will be smaller and bigger expansions with new missions and characters for Sword&Sorcery in the next year, At the moment I think I have enough to do with the base game, but who knows, maybe in a couple of weeks I also need new material...

Roberto also gave me two new games for our prize draw. So once again it is time to say:

Prize Draw!!! - new prize added

[SPIEL]

This was already a good start. After that I quickly checked what my older son was doing. Yesterday he was a little bit disappointed, because he couldn't come with me. But today he attended the fair with a friend, and together they made their way through the halls. And? Where did I found them? Right, it was the booth of HASBRO, where they played one of those new toilet games and had a lot of fun. I think HASBRO doesn't want me to write a review about this game, but maybe the photo is already enough for you to see how it works:

[SPIEL]

In the meantime, more and more people had entered the hall, and so it was becoming difficult to find tables and play games for most people.

[SPIEL]

Luckily at my next stop the publisher had reserved a table for us and so I was introduced in an apocalyptic world:

Introduction: Edge of Humanity, Golden Egg Games, booth 1-D143)

We live in a time of actual world crises. One word too much, selfish leaders or wanton greeds. We see it everyday in the news. And what would the world be afterwards? That's the scene in which Elad Goldsteen leads us in his new game Edge of Humanity. Only few people did survive and without law and order, it is a world of conflicts, Wasteland sends its regards. So the only aim of each individual is survive. But there are still some men who try to re-establish a kind of normal life. That's us or better each player, as she or he leads a group, gathers more survivors, constructs new building and by this, creates a new place to live.

Edge of Humanity is a kind of a deck-building game, but interestingly it is story driven. Preconstructed sets of cards lead us through the unique events that unfold the story. So the first deck that we also played at the demo tells us how the world become as it is in the game. Every round a new event is drawn and tells us more about the background. Besides it defines special rules for the round. Once all cards of the event deck are revealed, the game ends. Next to the event deck, as in every other deck-building game, each player gets his own deck of cards. We begin the game with a starting hand of five cards and five cards in our draw pile.

[SPIEL]

In our turn, we can play one of the cards from hand and carry out the effect of the card, comparable to other deck-building games. A speciality is the construction of buildings. We can begin to construct a building by playing the card in front of us and adding one or more of the necessary supplies. Again these supplies are given from our hand cards too. If all necessary supplies have been played, a building becomes active. All buildings grant a player victory points, most of them also permanent effects.

[SPIEL]

The other possibility to gain victory points is to recruit survivors from an outlay. Again to take a survivor card you have to “pay” with supply cards. But of course, we also must get new and more powerful cards, otherwise Edge of Humanity wouldn't be a deck-building game. This is done in the trade phase. In a bidding round each player bids a number of cards to be the first player to choose from the current offer. The player who has bid the most trade values on the cards is the winner and takes a trade pile, consisting of two new cards.

[SPIEL]

Although Edge of Humanity does not offer very much new, concerning the game mechanics, I liked my demo very much. The game creates a black mood and the tension of the story mounts with every new event card revealed. Each mission is different and soon you will need weapons too. In addition, Elad told me, that the missions would change the game enormously. He already plans expansions for cooperative games, games with a traitor and other new things. For me, as a deck-building fan, the game is definitely worth being played often in the weeks to come. I only hope that the story won't be overtaken by events in the next time...

Elad gave me a copy of Rome for our prize draw too, and so it is already time to say again:

Prize Draw!!! - new prize added

[SPIEL]

Once again, it was lunch time after that, and while I was eating, let us see Frank's finds and flotsam of today:

Frank's Finds & Flotsam

Hello everybody!

After another long day at the SPIEL today my typing time was quite shortened, and so let's start right away!

According to tonight's weather report Germany will be facing increasingly bad weather conditions in the next couple of days, and so anyone who is still thinking about possible things to do at the weekend should contemplate some indoor activities. So, it's perfect SPIEL weather, but today on the way to the halls I could actually enjoy a few last rays of sun and a bit of blue sky.

[SPIEL]

Introduction: Mountains of Madness (IELLO - 3 M109)

The first game which I wanted to playtest today actually was another discovery from Wednesday's visit to the News Show. The big novelty from IELLO for this SPIEL is staged in the world of H.P. Lovecraft, and Mountains of Madness takes 3 to 5 players on a doomed expedition into the Antarctic. Behind a chain of nearly impassable mountains a city of gigantic size has been discovered, and it will be the task of the players to reach this city - and return to tell the tale.

[SPIEL]

This sound like a perfect setting for a deep strategic cooperative game, but as could be expected from a Lovecraft story, the horror is lurking in some unexpected corners. The playing mechanism itself actually is quite straightforward, with the players trying to overcome obstacles found on Encounter tiles by the use of Equipment cards in their hand. Moving up the mountain chain, the players have to find a way to enter the doomed city and fly out of it, and for every step they take an Encounter tile on the gameboard will be revealed. These tiles list different challenges, falling into the four equipment categories of Tools, Books, Weapons and crates, and collectively the players have to sponsor Equipment cards from their hand with their values exactly matching the values required by the challenge on the Encounter card.

However, what may sound like a simple question of discussion among the players becomes increasingly stressful during the course of the game, since the turning over of an Encounter card forces the players to turn over an hourglass, giving them just 30 seconds to come to an agreement which cards should be used. This time limit alone may still seem tolerable, but actually the things the players may face and find during their expedition will slowly drive them into madness, filling them with an unspeakable horror the closer they get to the city itself.

[SPIEL]

In gaming terms, this boils down to the players drawing a Madness card whenever they find a new unspeakable relic or fail an encounter, and these cards do not represent any kind of action or rules penalty, but instead they list a communication defect which the drawing player from now on has to observe in all communication with his follow players during the encounter phase. Three levels of Madness cards exist, and whereas a Level 1 Madness still may seem tolerable, every new situation which requires the same player to draw a new madness will increase the level of the card he has to draw, with the new Madness card replacing the previous one. So, for example a Level 1 madness may require a player to speak with an accent or in rhymes, Level 2 may result in the player only asking questions or expressing numbers in form of a simple addition of two other numbers. However, Level 3 may become really unnerving to the other players, since now the insane player might not speak the type of cards he wants to play, shout about ideas without speaking them out, or answer any question positively.

This increasing loss of inter-player communication may sound like a nightmare to strategy gamers, but it will be the absolute delight of gaming groups who enjoy cooperative games with a rather atmospheric twist. Years ago I have read the Lovecraft story which forms the background for this game, and indeed the stress of the expedition and the strange findings are having very negative side effects on the expedition crew. Designer Rob Daviau actually has found a stunning way to create a playing experience which challenges the players with exactly this growing feeling of despair, and so the expedition is deemed to perish if the players' madnesses are allowed to progress too far.

Only the current expedition leader actually can try to temporarily stabilize the situation, and so the players possess a pool of Leadership tokens which can be spend in a joker-like manner in the different phases of a round, for example to extend the discussion phase during an encounter or to make a player ignore his madness for the rest of the round. However, the pool of Leadership tokens is limited, and whenever the players are required to refresh the pool one Leadership token will be permanently removed from the game, giving the expedition leader stepwise less authority to keep the expedition on track.

Mountains of Madness does not only profit from Rob Daviau's eccentric design idea to make the player's deal with some real communication obstacles, but the deeply thematic experience is also nicely complemented by the dark artwork of illustrator Miguel Coimbra. Designer and illustrator have done a great job in creating a true H.P. Lovecraft boardgame, and after yesterday's Kitchen Rush this game certainly is another sign that game designers are exploring new ways how to entertain the players. With a comparatively short playing duration of about 1 hour and a manageable set of rules Mountains of Madness certainly is no strategic heavyweight, but the game actually shines for it's very unusual communicative challenge and with a highly thematic atmosphere.

[SPIEL]

For me Hall 3 today was the place where I spent most of my time, since already during setup I had spied a banner at the booth of of Swiss-based publisher HURRICAN which made made me enquire about the game promoted there. As I found out, it's the announcement of a game which will be released in spring 2018, but even though I usually focus exclusively on new releases which are available here at the SPIEL, the announcement of Kero made me curious to learn more. So, I asked Ives Menu from HURRICAN whether I could join a demonstration of the game, and a minute later I was sitting down for a post-apocalyptic contest for gasoline and influence.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

Playtesting Session: Kero (HURRICAN - 3 D102)

Ever since the old Mad Max movies I had a soft spot for such a thematic setting, and so it had been no question that I needed to try out the new 2-player game Kero by Prospero Hall. As indicated by the game's name, the need for fuel is the factor which drives this conflict of two wasteland tribes, and so each player strives to increase the influence of his tribe by acquiring territories, feature cards, gadgets and fuel.

[SPIEL]

The game runs over a total of three scorings, with the scoring cards being somewhat equally distributed within the stack of feature cards which is slowly revealed and obtained by the players. This way the total duration of the game cannot be guessed for sure, but instead the players can speculate for the approximate times when a scoring is about to take place. During these scorings the four current territory cards will be evaluated, with each card being won by the player who had succeeded in sending most tribe members to the card, and whereas some cards may offer immediate benefits in form of fuel or gadgets, many other of these territories give end-game bonus features for possessing certain combinations of feature cards.

[SPIEL]

These feature cards are lying in an open five-card display, with new cards being added to the display if cards have been removed from there. Both the purchase of cards and the movement of tribe members to scout locations can be affected by the use of resources, and these resources can be acquired through rolling a hand of resource dice at the beginning of a player's turn. Usually the player will roll five standard dice, showing all kinds of resources (fuel, water, food, tools, henchmen) and an explosion mark with no resource value which will lock the dice when it has been rolled. A player may take any number of rolls, re-rolling dice as he desires, but he has to stop rolling as soon as two dice show the explosion symbol. In this case all dice are locked, and the player has to move on towards the purchase phase where dice symbols can be used to obtain feature cards with matching symbols.

[SPIEL]

However, there is a real constraint added to the dice rolling procedure, and this comes in form of a truck-shaped hourglass which the player has to put running as long as he continues rolling dice. During the first few turns the player will still have enough sand left in the hourglass after the dice rolling, but later during the game he will have to take refill action, discarding hard-earned fuel tokens to turn the hourglass upside down. However, the sand is not fully restored by such an action, but instead it will only run back as long as it takes the opposing player to roll explosion faces on all resource dice. When this result is reached with all dice, the refuling will be over for the active player, hopefully giving him once again enough time to roll until getting the desired results.

A strategic dice roller with an hourglass? Well, there have been combinations of dice-rolling and real-time gaming before, but in Kero this combination just feels naturally right. The time constraint for the players certainly is an incentive not too waste too much time while rolling the dice, but because of the ever-lasting risk of rolling explosions the players naturally will try to stop early enough to keep the results of most of their dice. So, the hourglass does not turn the dice rolling in Kero into a hectic procedure, but instead it neatly serves to keep the game at a very high pace, since the otherwise endless thinking and dicerolling is quickly over, thus forcing the player to continue with his turn.

[SPIEL]

Another use for fuel markers actually is to temporarily allow the active player to include up to three special dice in his dice pool for the upcoming round. These special dice show multiple resource results, and thus they can be used with much higher efficiency than the players' normal dice. However, even the special dice show an explosion-face, and so even these dice can become locked if a player pushes his luck too far.

A combination of one fuel-result with a henchman result can be used to send one of the player's henchmen to a territory card, getting them into place to possibly take over the territory in the next scoring. In addition, all dice results can be used in different combinations to fulfil the requirements of the feature cards in the open display, and so the dice results also can be used to purchase these feature cards. Some of these cards convey a victory point, but most of them actually give other types of benefits like temporary resource markers which may be used just like a dice, fuel tokens or gadgets which may give a player a special action. At the game's end after the third scoring all fuel and gadget tokens in a player's possession will count for one victory point each, but especially the variety of special actions on the gadget tokens permanently prompts a player to spend the tokens. So, there are tokens for freely rolling two special action dice, tokens for moving a henchman from one territory to another one, tokens for unlocking a dice showing an explosion result etc, and a player who possesses a good choice of tokens actually can spend them wisely to get out of some tough situations. It's always useful to have an ace up your sleeve!

Even though the time constrained imposed by the use of the hourglasses give them game a totally different approach, I was strongly reminded of Nations: The Dice Game, my all-time favourite in this category of games. Despite the lots of dicerolling the gameplay in Kero feels rather well balanced, and it is up to the player's how far they really want to push their luck. Of course it is necessary to take higher risks if the opposing player seems to be getting far into the lead, but on the other hand this will be the natural penalty for a player who has not taken enough risks until that time. The resource management mechanism in Kero is astonishingly lightfooted, keeping the game at a very good pace which just increases the game's attractiveness. And talking about attractiveness, even though I have just played a pre-production demo, the hourglass-trucks and the graphics used in Kero look rather cool, so that the finished product will be a real eyecatcher.

So, if you are attending the SPIEL and want to learn more about Kero, visit the HURRICAN booth and try the game. There are 8 to 10 demo copies set up for playtesting, and I am sure that the only flaw you will discover is the fact that you cannot take the game home right away!

[SPIEL]

In the afternoon my wife Nicole joined my for the first time during this SPIEL, staying for a few hours and going with me once again through the halls which I have roamed over this last couple of days. Going around with Nicole always is an interesting experience, because even though our gaming tastes generally match, she is stopping to look at games which I would probably have skipped, and this afternoon was no different. She always was fond of games from Asian companies, and so one of the booths where we stayed for a demo session was LI-HE STUDIO from Taipei.

Introduction: Fireworks (LI-HE STUDIO - 8 A135)

[SPIEL]

A poster announcing a game about fireworks had piqued Nicole's curiosity, and luckily we got some places at a demo table. Despite the poster the game Fireworks has nothing to do with cats (apart from the fact that that the cats can be found on some special dicerolling cards), but instead it is a collection game in which each player tries to fill his own city tableau with fireworks tiles, arranging them into clusters which will generate more victory points.

[SPIEL]

Colours, shapes and sizes all determine a cluster's value in the final scoring, and so the players will strive to find the best matching tiles in a common pool of face-down fireworks tiles. However, these tiles may not simply turned over, but instead the active player has to throw a quite heavy dice into the tile pool from above in order to flick some tiles around. This may sound crazy indeed, but if you drop the dice from a height of about 30 centimeters the procedure works fine, being augmented by the clever design of the gamebox bottom in which the tiles are stored.

The dice also lists how many tiles a player may take, and so the game in total is less of a strategy game, but instead the results of the players depend on a few ramdomized factors. Nonetheless, the limited pool of tiles and the existence of some special one-tile fireworks leaves at least a bit of a tactical option, and so the players do best if they enjoy Fireworks as a light-weight filler game.

[SPIEL]

Stopover: Festival of Thousand Cats (TBD - 8 D108)

One more game which Nicole found this afternoon was Festival of Thousand Cats, this time at the booth of TAIWAN BOARDGAME DESIGN. The cute-looking cardgame in essence is a trick-taking game in which the players use cards from four different suits to win cards with fish and drink symbols for the big festival. However, a number of twists in the game makes it stand apart from the usual games of this category, and so the cards in the suits bear different values, and in addition the trick-taking is not made by each player playing a card and comparing the value, but by the active player taking and replacing a card from a common display. A cute looking find for 3 to 4 players, including even some scoring standees and custom wooden pieces to complete it's appearance.

[SPIEL]

Stopover: MATAGOT (3 E102)

With Nicole having to deal with some customers in the late afternoon, I continued back into Hall 3 for a meeting with my friend Fabian from MATAGOT. Fabian gave me an overview of the two major MATAGOT novelties here at Essen: Okanagan - Valley of the Lakes and Meeple Circus.

[SPIEL]

The fist mentioned Okanagan is a tile placement game in which the players have to place buildings and complete landscapes in order to gain access to resources, and the right to take the resources will be calculated by adding up adding up the values of each player's buildings in or adjacent to this landscape. As can be seen, the game uses buildings of different values which allow the participation in one or more scorings, and the resources earny by winning majority in a landscape can be used to acquire tiles which will be turned into points victory later on. The game sounds like a classic tile placement game, but it nicely refreshes this class of games with the aforementioned game effects.

[SPIEL]

Meeple Circus on the other hand turns the players' downtime activities in worker-placement games into a new challenge. I guess you will all know the situation when one of your friends takes seemingly endless time to finish his turn, and so playing materials like meeples become building materials for the idle hands of the non-active players. In Meeple Circus the players now have to stack meeples, horses and elefants on purpose, trying to build artistic pyramids in their circus ring to match the requirements of task cards revealed at the beginning of a round. Playing materials are limited, and so combining several acts into one will generate most victory points, but since the game also runs on a timer a more sophisticated group of artists also is more difficult to stabilize.

[SPIEL]

Running over three rounds with increasing difficulty and added elements, Meeple Circus has become a real treat for the visitors of the SPIEL. On many tables at the MATAGOT both the people are eagerly stacking their wooden artists and animals, and once again this game is a representative of the fact that players seem to look for different types of games these days. As Fabien confirmed, players' taste seems to be changing, with more and more people asking for short games with a maximum playing duration of about an hour. Two or three of these games can be played in one evening instead of just one strategic heavyweight, and so this SPIEL reflects that a good quota of the new games actually tries to match this shift in gamers' taste.

[SPIEL]

With about an hour left before closing time, I used the somewhat emptier corridors for a quick tou back into Hall 6, this time to make a visit to my friend Servando's booth in order to check out yet another find from the Novelty Show.

Playtesting Session: Hexcalibur (GEN X GAMES - 6 H106)

I was lucky to have the game explained to me by its designer Enrique Duenas, and together we went back to the Arthurian time into a conflict between to rival kingdoms. Even though three different houses can be chosen by the players (Arthur's court, Morgause and the Saxons, the wild Picts), the game is a pure two-player game so that there will only ever be two active houses at the same time. To increase variety even more, each house possesses a deck of 6 unique Leader cards, but only 4 randomly drawn leaders will be used for a house during each game.

During the course of the game the players will battle for different territories, trying to win territories with a total value of 7 victory points in order to gain a predominant position and thus win the game. There will always be three territories available for invading, and during their turns the players will reveal and place hex-shaped army tiles into two of these territories, slowly building their ranks until the maximum number of army hexes on a given territory has been reached. When this happens, a battle will commence, with the players trying to defeat the units of their opponent at that territory.

[SPIEL]

Even though there is a lot of dicerolling involved to determine the outcome of a battle, the general approach is quite strategical since each battle runs through several phases corresponding to the troop types. So, the Archers and Dragons are the first to attack and cause damage, followed by Cavalry and finally Infantry. Provided enough hits are rolled, this means that some troops will be taken out before they can even act on the battlefield, thus weakening the opponent's retaliation.

However, there are quite a few other factors which also influence combat, and prominent among those are some tile placement rules which need to be observed. So, archers are stronger if they don't stand in the frontline, and the dice values of tiles of the same class can only be added together if they are standing adjacent to each other. However, tiles may also not be surrounded on four or more sides, because in this situation the tile cannot maneuver anymore and looses its full dice value.

Other tile abilities are influencing the player initiative and the question who goes first in battle, and as you can see the dispatching of tiles to a landscape is not just a question of combat strength but also of army order and special abilities. Even more, battle also is influenced by the use of artifact cards and leader abilities, and so the performance of a number of battles is the central part of Hexcalibur.

[SPIEL]

Quite well thought is also the fact that the battles are divided into phases and rounds, giving the players an opportunity to react if the battle runs badly. So, a player actually may withdraw to save his most powerful units, but it will lose him his next turn if he was the defending party. On the other hand the players also have to be careful not to use all their strong units in an early battle, since only one of the winner's surviving units goes back into his barracks, whereas all other tiles of the winner will be removed from the game, forming a permanent garrison which guards the newly won territory.

Even though the concept to fight over a number of landscapes is not new (Kenjin, Titanium Wars etc.), the way Enrique Duenas has dealt with the topic is quite charming, allowing a nice implementation of a medieval battle without introducing too many details. Army tiles, character cards and items work nicely together, and each battle poses a challenge of its own when the players's different types of arms come to attack in the individual phase.

[SPIEL]

I liked Hexcalibur a lot, both for its good balance between tactics and balance and it's appealing illustrations. Finding good 2-player games is not always an easy task, but Hexcalibur really is a positive find to end this day at the SPIEL!

Good night, and good luck!!! From Servando and me!!!

[SPIEL]

Tired, but satisfied after lunch I went to the booth of the French publisher and distributor BLACKROCK GAMES. Here I was introduced to nearly 10 new games, so it was good to have a coffee again. I can't go into detail, but if you are attending the fair with your family, I would probably recommend to have a closer look at Grumpf, a fast, funny and chaotic family game, Feelinks, an educational and party game of wagering the emotions of your partner and Time Arena, a fast-paced (each player has exactly 5 minutes), a confrontation action game. Maybe the pictures already help you a little bit, but again stay tuned, a review will come later this year.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

Let us have a closer look at Paper Tales:

Playtesting session: Paper Tales, Catch up Games / Blackrock Games, booth 3-O108)

In Paper Tales a time of relentless heroic wars comes back alive. Players try to find the best combination of units and send them against their opponents. Paper Tales is a card game and so we get a lot of those cards. At setup we begin with five building cards that can be constructed in our turn. Each building has 2 levels on each of the two sides of the card. But before we can place those buildings we need abilities, one for the level 1 and 2 for level 2. As we don't have any of those abilities at the beginning of the game, we start with an empty kingdom. But this changes soon...

Each of the 4 turns consists of six phases that are played simultaneously and successively. In the first phase, all players get new unit cards. These cards can be played on 4 spots in front of each player, if there is not already a unit from previous rounds (you can rearrange or discard cards in this phase too). But of course units are expensive and so a player has to pay to play them. (I forgot this in my demo more than once) On the one hand those units are fighting for us. On the other hand they also can provide the player with income and abilities.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

But before we can collect our income, it is time to activate our units and send them to war. Every player simultaneously fight against both sides. To determine the winner each player determines the strength of his or her both units in the front. Simple, but effective and as a result, players get three victory points for every war won (each fight against a neighbour counts as a single war. So a player can win a maximum of 6 victory points in a round.

After we have collected our income from all cards in play (units and buildings), we can construct new buildings or upgrade a building. In contrast to most other games, resources needed to construct the buildings, are never spent. However, they must be produced by the active cards in the moment of the construction. That's why they also speak of abilities in the game.

[SPIEL]

Last but not least in a round our units grow older. One Age token is placed on every active unit card, but if a unit already has a token at this very moment, it dies and is discarded. Despite of the simplicity of the rules, my first game of Paper Tales turned out to be a disaster. I was totally beaten and had no chance. So I think some more practice would not be the worst. I really liked the artwork, the short gameplay and game duration, so there is no excuse to do so.

Once again it was time to see, if the kids were still happy. This time I found them playing with huge swords at the LARP booths in hall 6.

[SPIEL]

They were armed, I felt reassured. But I took them with me, because now it was time to play Mahjong:

Playtesting session: Dragon Castle, Horrible Games , booth 3-Q106)

Dragon Castle was high in the hotness of BGG before the convention. As a result, I was really looking forward to try the game and I was glad that HORRIBLE GAMES at once scheduled a demo meeting with me.

You must know that I really love Mahjong. Back in the days, when my children were not born yet, we regularly met in a pub or at home with another couple or with some friends to set-up one or two rounds of Mahjong. When I speak of Mahjong, I mean the traditional, tile-based game. Playing in the pub, we always attracted a lot of public attention, because of the unfamiliar Chinese ideographs, the stringent and odd mechanism to set-up the wall and the complex scoring mechanism and payment at the end of the game.

But, of course, there is also the Mahjong Solitaire that a lot of people got to know as a computerized version in the 90s of the last century. In this solitaire variant, the same set of mahjong tiles is used to build up a pile of the tiles in various formations. It is the player's aim to find matching pairs of identical tiles and remove them from the board. So more and more tiles become exposed and can be used for other pairs.

Dragon Castle adopts the idea of this solitaire variant, but expands this to a multiplayer game. First of all the lovely designed Mahjong tiles are used to build up a Dragon Castle. As in the computerized version, various formations can be used to do so.

[SPIEL]

On their turns, players can either find and take available tiles from the castle (similar to the computerized version) or they can discard any available tile from the top floor to gain victory points. Additionally, they can pick a tile from the top floor to take a shrine (more of that later). All tiles a player has collected, must be placed face up on empty spaces on his personal Realm board. Here, the main scoring takes place. It is the players' aim to collect game tiles of the identical faction and place them adjacent to each other, whereas adjacent can also mean on different floors. However, a tile on a higher floor naturally covers what is underneath. Moreover, as soon as you have 4 adjacent tiles of the same type, you must consolidate them. That means that you will get victory points, depending on the exact number of identical tiles, but on the same time you must flip all of these consolidated tiles face down. Could be worse, you might think, but unfortunately the personal board is not the biggest, so you are regularly forced to place Mahjong tiles on higher floors, and by this you sometimes have to “destroy” your own plans.

Shrines are also blessing and curse at the same time. On the one hand you can use a Shrine when you consolidate to further score VP at the end of the game. If you have a Shrine in your personal supply you can put it on top of one of the Mahjong tiles you just consolidated (in case you have consolidated a special faction, you may even place two Shrines). But on the other hand you are not allowed to place any more tiles on top of this Shrine.

[SPIEL]

Dragon Castle creates the impression of an excellent game. The simple mechanism of the computerized Mahjong solitaire is further developed by a clever scoring mechanism. So, for winning the game, it is not alone important to find matching pairs, but you must also try to best arrange won tiles on your personal board. Additionally you should keep an eye on the actions and personal boards of your opponents. Sometimes it also seems to be clever, to choose the discard action just for preventing another player to take a specific Mahjong tile. The different starting formations as well as individual abilities from spirit and dragon cards that you can introduce in the game, should guarantee long-time re-playability. And of course, the Chinese Mahjong tiles still will attract public attention, if you should play Dragon Castle in a pub. Me and the children fell immediately in love with the game.

That could end the day, couldn't it? But there was one last thing to do. I had to save the world (once again). I had another appointment with Nestor from Nestor Games. He had no booth this year, but it was announced that he would be there and would be able to meet people and show them his new games. So we set up a demo meeting at the business lounge. But when I came there ate the appointed time, there was no Nestor. I waited nearly 20 minutes, and I already wanted to leave, when finally Nestor came to my table. However he wasn't late, but he waited inside, while I waited outside at the door. Now there were only 5 minutes left, as Nestor had another appointment . So let's quickly start the introduction:

Introduction: Space Defenders, Nestor Games)

From the late 1970s until the late 1980s a dangerous extra-terrestrial threat took place: Spaceships in huge numbers tried to conquer the earth. With its slow and uniform movement the invaders attacked the planet in apparently infinite amount and with never ending power. But brave defenders in their spaceships tried to save the world from conquering and destruction. You don´t remember that? Than take a look in the amusement halls of that time with its game consoles or later the Atari 2600 console, placed in the living rooms of the “activision”-airmen. The fierce combat was fought in 8-bit graphics and with joystick control. One of the most popular games was Space Invaders from Activision.

NESTORGAMES teleports this digital fight from the ´80s TV-sets to the analogue game tables of the present time. And they did it in a way, that you think you are really playing the Atari 2600 game. The defenders, bomb tokens and the mine are made of high quality laser cut plastic and they look like the 8-bit originals from the console game. The invaders are represented by 8-bit style square tiles too.

The game setup is easily done. On one side of the board, the space monster tiles are placed randomly in the first four topmost rows. On the other side, the defenders are placed in playing order anticlockwise in the bottom row. Finally a mine is placed by the last player on the leftmost space of the 2nd to 5th row.

[SPIEL]

So how does the boardgame works? Basically Space Defenders follows the same game structure as the original game. The two striking differences are that on the one hand all defenders fight together on the board at the same time, and on the other hand the invaders are unarmed (only when an invader collides with a defender, the defender and the invader are both removed from the game). So it is competitive and cooperative at the same time. The defenders lose together, if one of the invaders reaches the bottom row of the board. If, however the last invader has been removed from the board, the game ends in victory, the earth is defended. Only then, the player with the most points wins the game.

But how do you score points? To put in in a nutshell, you have to shoot the invaders! A player´s turn is in the following order. First you can move your spaceship in a straight line across empty spaces, either orthogonally or diagonally, ending on an empty space. Secondly your spaceship shoots straight ahead and hits the first object on this way. In return the player gains victory points depending on the type of object. Invaders come in various shapes: Space monsters are worth as many victory points as the number of their eyes (1-5). The 2-tile flying saucer gives you 10 points, but only after it is hit for the second time, as it consists of two parts. If you shoot a fellow defender in a friendly fire, you can take the lowest valued victory tile from its reserve. If you hit the mine nothing happens. Thirdly you can move the mine. That´s it! Constant supply of the invaders is guaranteed by permanently reinforcing the horde. If at least one of the columns has been completely emptied of invaders, they all move one space downwards and the topmost row of the board is randomly filled up with invaders again. So there should be enough targets to shoot, collect points and win the game. A special option (once per game) is to use the bomb. It costs 10 points from the reserve, but when you use it in the following turn, you can take all invaders of one row as a target and you earn all the points of them.

[SPIEL]

Space Defenders is like a time travel. For those who experienced the 8-bit-times by themselves like me, will probably love the game just because of its great transformation of the old computer game concerning the look and the rules. The others might need some lessons in console-history first, but why not try. It is hard to say after 5 minutes, that's why I have a closer look at the game after the fair again.

That's it for today. Sleep well and see you tomorrow!

Quick Index of previous convention days

Thursday, 26th of October 2017

Thursday, 10 o`clock the start of the first public day. And here we are. From now on, everything in the convention halls changes. And with the entering of the masses into to halls our coverage changes too. As Frank has already told you on our first day of warmup, he will cover less games this year, and so we decided that I would lead you through the halls. So from now on, you will see Frank's comments in the box, outlined by a line and it's me who is taken you from on place to the other.

You are confused? Is it too complicated? Hey, you are experienced gamers, so I would think that you will get along with this changes and you will recognize who is speaking...

[SPIEL]

But back to the convention halls: This year I had some free time before my first demo meeting and so was able to look out for games I hadn't recognized before, and to see what the crowd was doing in these early hours. As usual a lot of people seem to come to the fair for the only reason to make some snatches. Why else are the already queues at the big bargain shops half an hour after the fair had opened its doors? I was doing something similar about 20 years ago, but I wouldn't call it necessary any more. Much has changed in the time of internet and Amazon...

[SPIEL]

I quickly went over to hall 6 and 7 and here I still found some quieter areas. Only the wheel of fortune and some early drinks (I think it was honey wine) were attracting the people. I also found some booths where all of the many games were already sold out, thanks to preordering. I only wonder what these publishers will do in the following days...

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

With these thoughts on my mind I made my way back into hall 1 where I met my friends of NSKN GAMES for my first playtesting mission.

[SPIEL]

As usual I was introduced by Blazej Kubacki to their new games. We started with a prototype of Chronicles of Frost, a new game in the Mistfall universe, that will be at Kickstarter soon after SPIEL. It will be of the same size as Shadowscape, but I think it will slightly be easier to play for occasional gamers. It is much more a typical deckbuilding game than the other games in the Mistfall world. So if you are interested, you should check Kickstarter in the next days, I think they plan to start the campaign already in the next week.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

But now let's have a closer look on their SPIEL 2017 game:

Introduction: Dragonsgate College, NSKN Games, booth 1-G124)

Dragonsgate College, that's the name of an university for apprentices for the art of dungeoneering. A lot of magic is taught there in different ways. Who thinks of Hogwart, the famous school of Witchcraft and Wizardry, hearing this, is not completely wrong. As in the books of J.K. Rowlings, players compete for prestige and must prove that their House is the only worthy to train new apprentices and bring out mighty warriors that can withstand the monsters and perils of Dragonsgate dungeon.

As head of their houses, the players have to recruit new apprentices and professors, train their protégés and raise buildings on their house's ground. The main mechanism is based on a dice-drafting, a little bit similar to the mechanism in last year's Lorenzo il magnifico. So for choosing an action, you must draft a die from a common ready pool and use it for an action that corresponds to the exact die value. With the help of an imp, it is possible to adjust the value by +1 or -1, at least, if you have an imp.

[SPIEL]

To build up the dice pool, every player gives one of his dice (in the player's colour) in this pool at the beginning of the game. A number of neutral (white) dice, equal to the number of players, is added to this pool. So the game start with the same number of player dice as neutral dice. But this will change during the game. By some actions you can exchange one of the neutral dice with your own player die. In addition to that, more neutral dice are added in later rounds.

[SPIEL]

Coloured or neutral dice, they are still all in the common pool, so every player may take every available die. Still it is good to have a lot of own dice in this pool. If you choose a neutral or your own die for an action, you just perform the action. If, however, you choose a die of one of your opponents, he may take a free action after you finished your turn. This doesn't seem to be a clever move, but on the other hand, you could choose a player, who not really needs this free action. And of course, the time will come, when someone else chooses your die (because there are no other dice left). So, maybe the choosing of the dice is more complex than it seems to be.

Speaking about actions, there are quite a lot of different ones in the game. Collecting coins, getting prestige, acquainting apprentices and professors, erecting new building on your house ground that give benefits for later turns, changing turn order. All of these actions are chosen from the general board and the specific benefit is indicated by a symbol.

Choosing Careers is a very special action and deserves some more words, because it takes part in half of the gameboard. Whenever a player performs this action, he must choose a career for one of his available apprentices. There are three different careers (Wizard, Rogue, Warrior) that differ in their requirements and their individual output. To choose one of the available career tiles, a player must have the necessary skills that are composed of the skills of the apprentice and the skills of the house. Three different levels are available for every career. As a result a player once again can gain prestige, coins, trophies, imps, silver bronze and some other things. The wizard career will also allow the player to take a wizardry card with various effects for the player.

[SPIEL]

When all dice from the dice pool were chosen, the round ends, but not before the players have paid maintenance costs for all of their buildings. The game ends with a final scoring phase. Dragonsgate College again seems to offer a lot of different ways to get prestige points in the game. At the moment I am just overwhelmed by the sheer mass of different possibilities to score. So there is indeed a lot going on like in all other NSKN GAMES I played so far. I think it will take some time to find a clever strategy.

But this was the end of my visit to NSKN GAMES, since I was receiving another game for our this year's prize draw. It was the game I wrote my first NSKN games review about, Praetor, a worker placement game, and so I am delighted to present to announce once again…

Prize Draw!!! - new prize added

[IMAGE]

Next to the booth of NSKN GAMES is the huge booths of ASMODEE. After the takeover of HEIDELBERGER they now occupy nearly a third of the huge hall 2. I took the chance to see if I could take a glimpse on the new Zombicide – Green Horde and Rising Sun by COOL MINI OR NOT. But what was that? I did not only find prototypes, the games seemed to be completed. I even so some guys walking away with a complete gamebox. So while I am still waiting for my Kickstarter shipments, they already have the final game? Then it hopefully won't be long until I get my copies too, we will see...

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

After this experience I quickly went over to my next stop where I was taken into the world of Alice:

Introduction: Alicematic Heroes, Japanime Games, booth 2-B122)

Alice in the wonderland. The last game I played with this background theme was the ingenious Winter Tales, a narrative game with crazy characters. In Alicematic Heroes it is the Queen of Hearts (as usual) who creates chaos. One of her spells went wrong and so she has mistakenly summoned whole armies of Alices!

Too much is too much. That can' go well. All Alices want to improve the world and soon after they begin to form teams and compete for being the best to put the land back together. Each player takes over one of this teams with a starting hand of 5 Alice cards.

[SPIEL]

Alicematic Heroes is played on a board that is randomly built by map tiles. Alices can be sent to this territories by playing the cards and it is the players' aim to control most of the territories in the end. Well control is not the right expression. What counts is the improvement of the land, but in the end that amounts to the same thing. So on the one hand Alicematic Heroes is an area control game. Each map tile consists of 7 territories and whoever controls the most territories on a map tile also controls the map tile. A territory is captured or invaded, if a player is able to raise enough military power and food. Each kingdom has five kingdom cards that will give the player basic strengths.

[SPIEL]

But Alicematic Heroes is a card game too. And so the result are essential influenced by summoning Alices with their various and special effects.

[SPIEL]

Alicematic Heroes was designed by Kuro, who also has designed Ars Alchima. He is well known for his artworks and weird designs. It think that this strikes the right note. As most of you will know, the games of JAPANIME GAMES are illustrated in an manga or typical Japanies anime style (that's where the publisher's name comes from). This is not everyone's favourite, but I think in Alicematic Heroes the artwork used is comparable neutral and funny. The game seems to be well designed and – if you like the style – the artwork is a little bit quirky, but excellent done. So let us get rid of all these enemy Alices and really save the world...

After this weird experience, it was time for lunch. Unscrupulous I invited me myself and met Frank to eat at his home with his wife. So that's a perfect moment to see what Frank has done today:

Frank's Finds & Flotsam

Well, after Ralf's report on his long day here at the show, let me add a few of my own experiences. Today was the only day of the whole SPIEL where I had a few fixed meetings, but I still had some time to roam the halls to look for games which catch my interest.

Once again the SPIEL actually opened about a quarter of an hour before the official opening time at 10 AM, and the reason was simply that too many people crowded around the entrances. So, once again the security guards opened the gates, and minutes later the so far empty halls were teeming with people.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

With a bit of time left before my meetings with Vangelis Bagiartakis, I made my way over into Hall 2 to visit the booth of a game which I had discovered yesterday at the novelty show.

Introduction: Space Race (Boardcubator - 2 D146)

Designer Jan Souka from the Czech Republic has come to the SPIEL with his debut game Space Race, a game themed after the Race for Space of the USSR and the USA in the 1960'ies. However, it's not just a game for two players as the setting suggests, but actually up to four players can participate, and so two two additional players can take the roles of the European Space Agency and of privateer corporation SpaceX. Perhaps not quite historically correct, but nonetheless a nice idea.

[SPIEL]

The graphical design of the game certainly is outstandingly unusual, but more importantly the small gamebox actually contains a quite interesting game which challenges the players to equip and expand their space agencies. Each player contains an identical set of action cards of several values, and at the beginning of a round the players secretly chose one action card each, with the cards being performed in order of the actions and depending on the card values. The actions are Propaganda, Technological Research, the expansion of the Space Program and the discovery of a Breakthrough. All playing cards in the game belong to these four categories, and so the playing of an action card allows a player to take a matching card from the common display (the "universe") and add it to the open cardrow of their space agency.

However, the playing of an action card does not only allow to claim a card, but actually it gives the player an opportunity to activate the card abilities of cards of the same category located in the player's agency. So, the player now can chose to activate permanent or one-time abilities of his cards, and these abilities open up a broader range of actions. So, the players may be allowed to draw new cards from the deck to their hand, reclaim the use of one-time abilities, take additional cards for their agency or place some hand-cards into their laboratories. All cards in the laboratory will count as victory points at the end of the game, but there are also additional possibilities for the players to use these cards otherwise, most prominent to add them to their space agency.

[SPIEL]

In summary, the game offers a finely interwoven set of possibilities for actions, and here the players have to aim to create momentum for their space programme by using windfall effects when using specific actions. In addition, the game also features an element of timing and estimation in form of the card values of the action cards, since the Universe will only receive fresh cards at the end of the round, and so the player order is important when it comes to taking cards. This are just a few examples for the intricacies which can be found in the game, and this list could be continued with special card actions, end game bonuses from Breakthrough cards and more. And to finish the positive artistic impression, the game even includes a small wooden rocket as a tiebreaker token, reminding me a bit of the vehicle used in Tintin on the Moon

[SPIEL]

Jan Soukal has really created a cool space game which is quite far-away from the more typical 4x-type of games. When the convention is over the game certainly will hit my table quickly because I want to explore the action and scoring mechanisms with more detail, but for today this was the perfect way to start my convention day. And, as Jan told me there will even be a Kickstarter in November for an expansion set which features a new faction (China) as well as additional cards and mechanisms, so you might like to check out the upcoming Campaign Page!

[SPIEL]

Jan Soukal for President!

As I continued my stroll through the halls, I also stumbled upon the booth of UK-based publisher DICE SPORTS (6-G128), producer of the strategic Zombie tabletop game Z War One. A very nice thematic element of the game is the fact that each scenario of the game is introduced by a chapter in a coherent comic book which settles around some survivors after a Zombie-outbreak in the UK. This gives the game a quite special feeling, and after the game's initial release I am still waiting for the second part which will contain chapters 3 to 5, the rest of the story arc. Unfortunately I was told at the booth that still no Kickstarter campaign is in sight. Instead, they first want to finish the Exodus spin-off game which is available for playtesting here at the SPIEL, and the campaign for the end of the story arc will follow probably somewhen next year. However, the timeline is not certain, even more because the DICE SPORTS crew now is thinking about redesigning the campaign to do the whole story arc in one shot (with an upgrade option for owners of the game as it is today).

Whatever you decide to do, get started boys!

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

With the morning passing quickly, the time for my meeting with Vangelis had arrived, and at the booth of ARTIPIA GAMES we sat down for a game of Kitchen Rush, a game from David Turczi which was edited and co-designed by Vangelis.

Introduction: Kitchen Rush (Artipa Games - 1 D137)

If I remember correctly, Space Dealer actually was the first worker placement game in which meeples actually were replaced by hourglasses, representing the time which must pass before this token actually might be used for another action. However, whereas this older game kept the players busy on their own engine-building operation for a full 30 minutes, Kitchen Rush is a cooperative game which plays over four rounds of 4 minutes each.

[SPIEL]

With each player possessing 2 hourglass action pawns, the players have to work together to operate a restaurant, from the taking of orders to the preparation of meals, the purchasing of ingredients and the dishwashing. Each action taken by a player requires an empty space for placement of the hourglass at the corresponding location in the restaurant, and after preforming the desired action action the player has to wait until the hourglass is empty (30 seconds) before he may move or remove the hourglass.

When the first orders come in at the beginning of the game, the players find themselves in the comfortable situation that their storerooms are fully of indegredients, and so they can start to prepare incoming orders right away. So, a player who takes and order card (by performing the waiter action) takes the required plates and puts them on his oven-board. He next has to send pawns to the storerooms and the spice cabinet to get all required ingredients for the meal on order, and then he has to man the oven for one or more cooking actions. The finished order will be checked for completeness and turned into money at the end of the 4-minute round, but a player even may perform an additional waiter action to serve it sooner and to earn a bit of additional money.

[SPIEL]

Money is always in high demand, since the player's seemingly well-stocked storerooms will very quickly look rather empty if none of the players go out an shop for new supplies. Latest at this point the cooperative element of the game becomes fully visible, since a player who runs out of ingredients to finish a taken order will be hard pushed to get new stocks if he wants to do all this with his own hourglass pawns. So, the players have to split the tasks, with each one effectively supplementing the others by performing specific actions.

If you have ever seen a movie like The Hundred-Foot Journey, you will probably have an idea of the organized chaos which seems to rule in a big restaurant kitchen, and indeed Kitchen Rush is a perfect simulation of this situation. However, the key to gain money and stars in this game is not only a good cooperation during the round, but actually the players must use the phases between each round to discuss the situation on all parts of the gameboard. Even though it is not possible to plan everything in advance because of new orders being revealed, the first steps of each new round can be planned rather well, and so efficient players will try to make a plan how to proceed during the upcoming round. At this point the chaos will turn into something like organization - but of course there may be errors in the heat of the game which may lead to spoiled food, missing ingredients or an empty cashbox. Of course all this can be rectified, but it takes time - the game's most valuable resource.

As may be guessed from a game co-designed by Vangelis, there are more extras which the players can try to use to their benefit. So, the more stars a restaurant acquired from finishing complicated orders, the better the crew will get, profiting from bonus actions which can be unlocked by stars. The restaurant can even be enlarged with more action spaces if the players possess enough money, but money also is a valuable resource, not only because the players constantly need to acquire ingredients, but also because they need to pay their staff at the end of each round. Staff which cannot be paid may not be used in the upcoming round unless the payment is made, and so staff on strike will pose a considerable setback for the players who strive to reach a certain amount of money, stars and fulfilled orders in the course of the game.

Wow, even though I was a bit skeptical about the theme of cooking, Kitchen Rush fascinated me by the seemingly authentic feeling about the operation of a major kitchen. All actions and possibilities offered by the game come together quite well, and ARTIPIA GAME also has taken the effort to create a large amount of wooden ingredient pieces in order to give the players not just some stereotype cubes which they need to handle and staple on their plates. Even though the first game will hardly be won an errors will be made, the player's quickly get used to their new jobs as Maitre d' or Kitchen Chief, and together the crew of players will strive to satisfy the critics. For our game Vangelis and I have been joined by fellow gamers Mareike and Mark from Bremen, and in the end we nearly made it through the easy game. One order and a coin was missing for victory. If you like real-time gaming, go and check this game out if you should be attending the SPIEL!

[SPIEL]

Mareike and Mark - Gaming enthusiasts from Bremen

While walking through remote Hall 8 this morning I also stumbled upon a game which I wanted to give a closer investigation, and so I returned there in the afternoon to take a closer look.

Introduction: Sub Terra (Inside the Box Games - 8 A145)

Created through a Kickstarter-campaign, the game Sub Terra sees the players in the roles of cave explorers who have gotten lost in an unknown cave maze. However, it's not just the vastness of the cave and the fading light of the player's lamps which pressures them to get out quickly, but there is also something alive and hungry living in these caves, adding a certain element of horror gives a game a very special feeling.

[SPIEL]

Each of the players chooses a character with some special abilities like Climber, Diver or Medic, and together they take turns discovering new cave tiles and overcoming obstacles which can be found there. The game resorts to a manageable bit of dicerolling to solve some events like cave-ins, but in the end it is up to the players' cooperation skills to get out of the cave as quickly as possible. Due to the time limit, the game qualifies as a push-your-luck-type of game which forces the players to take some risks to get forwards quickly, and in their despair they may try to be even quicker if they are hunted by a relentless horror which is trying to track down an explorer. If this should happen, or if another event causes the loss of health points, a character may fall unconscious and may need healing from another character. However, death is not possible in this game, and so no player will drop out and be condemned to watch the others for the rest of the game.

Back in 2012 Adam Kaluza presented his cave exploration game The Cave here at the SPIEL. On first contact Sub Terra may feel similar, but the cooperative approach totally changes the angle in which the players need to look at the game. Cooperation is necessary to make best use of the character abilities, and additional playing depth is reached through elements like ropes, ledges, treacherous terrain or cave diving. And for those players who want to immerse even deeper into the gaming experience, INSIDE THE BOX is offering the ultimate experience. The Collector's Edition of Sub Terra which is also available here at the SPIEL does not only feature the basic game, but a wagonload of extras like beautiful resin miniatures, art- and comicbooks, additional game modules with new rules and characters and more. As a thematically influenced gamer, this ultimate version of the game met my taste quite well…

[SPIEL]

When returning to the bigger halls I actually met my friends Brian and Dale Yu from the OPINIONATED GAMERS, and as usual we exchanged a few views of games which we have tested so far. Of course this was also the time for our annual foto, and when we examined the result all three of us couldn't help that we are a lot more grey and bald than we used to be on our first meeting many years ago…

[SPIEL]

So you want one more game for tonight? Well, here you go with a real highlight!

[SPIEL]

Introduction: Rising 5 - Runes of Asteros (Portal Games - 3 O118)

To be honest, I would not have given this game a closer inspection if my friend Ignacy would not have told me to do so, since already the cover reminded me of the rather mediocre Guardians of the Galaxy movie. However, sometimes it is good to let a friend correct your prejudice, and when I came to Ignacy for a meeting today he quickly organized a table for me to sit down and play the game.

My irritation grew when he actually told me that it was based on Mastermind, a classical code breaking game which was released back in 1971. I had played it a few times in my youth, but in the modern world of boardgames I would have called this game to be rather outmoded indeed. So is Rising 5 just a new version of this oldtimer, spiced up with modern graphics and a space theme to generate sales? No, it ABSOLUTELY isn't - I couldn't have been more wrong ideed.

[SPIEL]

While it is true that the core challenge of the players remains to find a code of four coloured seals, the whole mechanism of codebreaking has been very cleverly enriched by several mechanisms which turn the game nicely into a full family game. The players jointly will take control of five hero characters who have to break the code of the seals before their planet is lost, and the players use their hands of character cards to move the character cards around and perform actions on different locations at the planet. Monsters must be defeated, allies recruited and artifacts uncovered to help them on their quest, and all actions must be done with a high efficiency because it is one possibility to lose the game when the code is unbroken and the deck of action cards is used up. So, the players have to discuss which actions they should perform, and they also have to chose wisely which characters they should use for the action, since the activation of a character also means that they will use the character's special ability, allowing an additional bonus action which usually is quite helpful.

The defeating of monsters is quite important too, since the deck of action cards also contains interruption cards at certain intervals. When an interruption occurs, the values of all monsters still on the board will be added up, pushing a corresponding counter towards game over quickly if too many monsters are on the board. So, the players have to defeat monster's efficiently, and even though combat is dealt with by using a dice, outcome can be modified if more than one character are at the location of the combat.

[SPIEL]

The defeat of monsters on the other hand will generate energy cubes, and whenever a certain amount of cubes has been collected the players may trigger a codebreaking action to see how the current aligment of the seals corresponds to the code they want to beat. Here modern technology once again is helpful, since the position of the gamemaster which was needed in Mastermind is replaced by a smartphone app which allows all players to play together instead of one of them managing the game. However, the game may also be played in the oldfashioned way with a gamemaster if your mobile's batteries are empty…

Even though Rising 5 is no strategic heavyweight, the game is a great and entertaining family game which seems to have a high addiction factor. The level of difficulty can be influenced by adjusting the number of interruption cards in the deck, and designers Gary Kim and Evan Song nicely succeeded in dusting off the old classic. A rather nice find to end my day here at the show, and of course I told Ignacy and Merry that my initial verdict had been wrong indeed!

[SPIEL]

This was nearly the end of my SPIEL day, but right for the end I had actually kept a visit to DESYLLAS GAMES (7 F110) from Athens. Over the last few years the Desyllas team has not only provided us with some quite attractive games, but a visit to Michael Kanellos always is a nice opportunity to chat and enjoy some spirtited Greek hospitaly. No different today, and so the day ended very enjoyably with an easy going testing session of their new cardgame Pinata Loca, a card placement game with action cards in which the players try to gain the pinatas with the most valuable cards. However, as every second card must be placed face down, there is only limited information available for the players. A cute cardgame for up to 6 players with a nice twist!

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

See you tomorrow! Yammas!!!

Thanks Frank. As you see Frank takes things easier this year (laughing)...

As some of you will know, I have two sons, both of them gamers like myself. But while my older son is already 11 and ready to test all type of games with me, my younger son is only 6 and so I am also looking for interesting children and family games during SPIEL. Both Ikan and Kill the unicorns by the French publisher Morning seem to be such interesting games, so I made a stop at their booth to once again meet Valentine. Both games are not yet available in Essen, but they will be published in the next months. The games they presented, however, were nearly finished, so it was no problem testing them.

Introduction: Ikan, Morning, booth 1-F131)

In Ikan 2-4 players take the role of the fabulous figures Yaga, Ikan and the nebulous The Master of Shadows and The Skeleton. The game is played in teams with fixed roles for the individual character. So in a 2 player game it is Ikan against The Master of Shadows and with 4 players Yaga joins Ikan and The Skeleton The Master of Shadows.

The story tells us that The Master of Skeletons tries to build a maze to catch Ikan. It is Ikan's task to memorize this maze, and kill the Stone Snake. To be succesful he must first activate a statue with a special key and after that find the Magic Spear to kill the snake.

Easily said, much more difficult made: The maze is build by various maps types. While the Master of Shadows player sets up the maze as he wants, all other players are watching. With the moment the Master of Shadow player has finished the Maze, a sandtimer is turned and after 15 more seconds a huge screen is placed in front of the Maze. Then the Ikan player must move from memory through the Maze (still he has to get the key and the spear). Whenever he does a wrong turn (controlled by the Master of Shadow player) he takes one wound. In case there are more than 2 players, the other players move from memory too, but they either wants to intercept Ikan or hep him.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

From what I saw today, I would say, that Ikan is a perfect children game. A nice story, loveable characters and an easy gameplay. As usual for MORNING, the game has a great artwork and a high component standard. But the game has to offer more than that. The building of the teams with the necessary coordination and interaction challenges children and parents likewise. So it seems also to be a good family game and a game for the more experienced players too.

Playtesting session: Kill the Unicorns, Morning, booth 1-F131)

Kill the unicorns is a family game too. But I think a lot of older people will also have fun with the game. It begins with the weird theme: Killing unicorns. How can someone explain this to our youth. In the time of political correctness, it must be forbidden to kill unicorns. But if there are too many?

Kill the unicorns is a pure card game, very fast-paced and with funny artwork and texts on the cards. Basically you make bets to shoot a unicorn, the more points you play in a bid, the better the chance to be the one who kills the unicorn. Normally the player with the highest bid, wins and may shoot. But at the beginning of each round, 4 new unicorns are dealt to the table and each player must play a top secret card to a unicorn. Those secrets can change the normal bidding rules (for example cancelling the highest bid) or change the unicorns (so you could win a farting unicorn that is much less worth than before. Really funny.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

Most of the time all tables, especially in hall 1 and 3 were occupied. So I only can recommend to go over to halls 6,7 and 2 in the morning and the early afternoon, there are great games too. Compare it:

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

But gradually the convention halls emptied, and so I was able to meet some friends in kind of quick meeting. One of this quick meetings was at the booth of 2mt. Maybe you remember their great Ninja Arena boardgame from last year. It was successful founded with Kickstarter earlier this year. Encouraged by this experience 2mt plans to start another campaign soon after the convention. With my experiences with Ninja Arena and the look of the prototype, I would say you should keep this game in mind. At the moment it only has a German title: Chaos in der Bibliothek, but it is language independent.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

My next stop was at CRANIO CREATIONS. Last year the Italian publisher scored a coup with the great worker placement game Lorenzo il Magnifico. A new expansion Lorenzo il Magnifico: Houses of Renaissance is the logical consequence of this success. With nearly 50 new development cards, a fifth tower and new leader mechanisms, players are sent back in time again to fight for power and prestige. One of the most interesting aspects of this expansion is the implementation of a fifth player.

But the expansion was not the main reason for me to visit the booth. Next to the complex gamer games, CRANIO CREATIONS has released some very interesting children and family games and games for the occasional gamer in the last years. And indeed, their new A tale of Pirates once again seems to be very innovative and unique. So let us have a closer look:

Playtesting session: A tale of Pirates, Cranio Creations, booth 2-D153)

When I heard that A tale of Pirates needs a mobile phone or a tablet to be played, I wondered how CRANIO CREATIONS would present the game on the convention. More and more publishers try to combine the classical boardgame with electronic elements. Sometimes this works good, sometimes worse. I must say that I personally am always a little bit sceptical towards electronic devices, but of course, I was also anxious. The app more or less leads us through the game. But it does not really interact with the players, but it briefs how to set-up the game, explains new rules that are gradually introduced and acts a counter. So the mobile phone lays next to the board and does not disturb the players. Despite my initial reservations, I liked the guidance of the app.

[SPIEL]

A tale of Pirates consists of a huge three dimensional ship with a lot of holes in the bow. These holes are our action holes and are used to hold sandtimers. To perform an action, every player has his or her own sandtimer that must be put in one of the free action spaces. First thought of me was that you have time to do your action as long as there is sand in the upper part of the timer. But it's the other way round: you have to wait until all sand has fallen down, before you can perform your chosen action. So, what do you do in this time? Well, it is the time to plan and to coordinate your next actions with your fellow players.

[SPIEL]

As you will presume, A tale of Pirates is a real time game. And as a result, all players do their actions simultaneously and so coordination is more than important. It is necessary to win the game, because our ship has multiple tasks to fulfil. The game is story-driven with consecutive missions, each in a sealed envelope. So it is advisable to play an adventure with same group of friends, because more and more rules are introduced and the challenges become more and more complex.

The missions are manifold: sometimes passengers must be carried from one place to another, sometimes pirates threaten our ship. As the challenges so our actions: we can move, shoot, navigate and a lot of other things during the game. But not everything will work. And so the ship can be damaged and more and more of the action holes become unavailable.

[SPIEL]

Playing A tale of Pirates was a great experience. For the first time in a game I had the feeling, that the smartphone was not a foreign body, but really belonged to the boardgame. So I better charge the battery of my mobile phone for the next board game party, just to be prepared...

Walking over to my last meeting for today, I learnt how Conan could look like, if I was a skilled painter and if I would have plenty of time:

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

And here comes my last demo meeting for today:

Playtesting session: Aristeia!, Corvus Belli, booth 2-D114)

Aristeia! is a kind of sportsgame, in which two players fight against each other. Each player has a team of four unique characters, all with their own stats and skills. And then the teams are sent into an arena with hexagonal fields, called the Hexadome. All this reminds me strongly of an apocalyptical world, indeed you all the time expect Mad Max to enter the arena. CORVUS BELLI has created this world with its miniature tapletop wargame Infinity. But Aristeia! is independent from this much more complex game, only the world is the same.

Each round of the game it is the player's aim to occupy a scoring zone that is determined of the weakest player at the beginning of the round. So to move into the scoring zone is not the worst action you can do. But of course that is something your opponent wants to do too. Alternatively the characters are activated and so we are soon confronted by our opponent's characters. Now you must know that Aristeia! is no family sport. It is the definite blood of the Human sphere. So it is time to fight. Of course our characters have hyperpowers to use and very interesting weapons too.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

All outcomes of the fights are determined by special dice of different colours. The character card tells you how many and which dice you must take. Both attacker and defender can roll dice and basically each success is defended by a block. But there are many special powers you can use and activate, so for example to displace your character or any other character in your distance.

The hexadome can be equipped with a lot of obstacles where you can hide and carry out surprise attacks. Characters can take a specific number of wounds. If the wounds exceed the maximum, the character is taken from the hexadome, and has to be recovered. From now on, he is handicapped and has less actions in a round.

[SPIEL]

Aristeia! was the perfect end for this long and exhausting day. It plays very fast-paced, made a lot of fun and seems to offer a lot of re-playability. There are missions for setting up the hexadome, you have unique characters with different abilities and there is much more planned. As a first step there will be expansion packs with new characters, but CORVUS BELLI is already planning a global league in which players can fight against each other.

Pfhh, what a day! I have seen a lot of really awesome and innovative games. Maybe one of the games will already be my convention hit, but who knows. There are still three days to go. So stay tuned, there is still much to be discovered. Take care, sleep well and see you tomorrow again!

Quick Index of previous convention days

Wednesday, 25th of October 2017

SPIEL '17 - Press Day! Welcome to the world's boardgame metropolis!!!

And here we are, finally the first official day of the SPIEL has dawned, and once again a wagonload of new boardgames waits to be discovered in the days until sunday. Usually wednesday is packed with events, and today was no different. Press Conference, Novelty show and later in the evening the awards ceremony for the Deutscher Spiele Preis 2017. All this promised a long day, and it actually got a bit longer than I originally intended.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

Today I would actually like to start with the day's last event - the awards ceremony and the following dinner. Both Ralf and I had once again received an invitation to the event, and in the last years it has become a tradition to sit together with Dagmar and Ferdinand de Cassan from Austria, listening to their sheer endless fund of stories all around games and their wonderfully spoken Viennese view of some of the events here at Essen. However, with Ferdinand having passed away, I have sought out Dagmar during the press conference this morning to see whether she would be going once again to the ceremony.

She told me that the last thing Ferdinand would have wished for was a change of schedule and proceedings here at Essen, and at once we were agreed to go once again together to the awards ceremony. So, it was nearly an evening like in those years before, with Dagmar, Ralf and me chatting about news and buzz from the boardgaming scene, and it seemed that Ferdinand never was too far away, since our conversation resumed in the same way as it used to be.

It has been a very nice evening, and after escorting Dagmar to her car I got home much later than originally intended. So, I better hurry up with my typing….

[SPIEL]

But let's not forget that there was actually an awards ceremony going on! The first awards of the evening used to be the Essener Feder, a prize for the game with the best-written rulebook. However, the City of Essen together with the Merz Verlag has decided that this prize needed to be modernized, since many games are supposed to contain innovative rules these days So, a new awards now has been created, the Innospiel. This awards is assigned by an expert jury to the game with the most innovative playing mechanisms, and it had been awarded to Magic Maze by Kasper Lapp. The jury pointed out that they liked the cooperative approach that the players have to move all meeples and not just their own, with each player only being allowed to make a specific kind of move. This requires strict cooperation to move the pawns of Barbarian, Elf, Dwarf and Sorcerer through a mazelike fantasy mall, and for the jury's taste this new approach justified the awards.

Runners up were Fabelsaft by Friedemann Friese and Lyngk by Kris Burm, and it has been a bit of bad luck for Friedemann that the Essener Feder was not awarded anymore. I am sure that his new Fast Forward approach which allows to learn a game while playing would have earned him that awards, but with the change that chance was lost. And to be honest, I think there are still many horrible rulesbooks, and so an awards for well-written rules doesn't seem to be outmoded.

[SPIEL]

The evening's most prominent awards, the Deutscher Spiele Preis went to Terraforming Mars by Jacob Fryxelius. Mars games seem to be rather popular this year, probably following a trend established by the blockbuster movie The Martian with Matt Damon. Runners up were Great Western Trail by Alexander Pfister and Ein Fest für Odin by Uwe Rosenberg. Finally, the Deutscher Kinderspielepreis for the best children's game went to Ice Cool by Brian Gomez, and that actually was a funny moment because the designer had to confess that the cute game about flicking penguins actually never has been playtested with children before publishing.

[SPIEL]

But now let's return to the morning, the time of the official opening at the press conference. At this point I would actually like to hand the report over to Ralf, since we attended the press conference together and he has provided a writeup of the conference.

Ralf's comments from the press conference...

Hello everybody, this is the first official day of SPIEL 2017, the day for the press. At 11o'clock it was time for the press conference.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

As usual Dominique Metzler was opening the convention. As it is the 35th anniversary for the SPIEL, Miss Metzler began with the story of the convention. Although I am from Essen and I know the fair still from the early years, I learnt a lot of new details.

As usual chance played a major role in the story. The protagonist was a local radio reporter, who made a marginal note about the convention. The basic intention of the Friedhelm Merz Verlag was olnly to arrange a bigger meeting for players to play and test some games. So Friedhelm Merz asked the mayor of Essen at this time, and together they decided to go to the local community college.

11 publishers wanted to show their games, and visitors had to register in advance. Unfortunately the latter was a detail, the radio reporter didn't mention. As a result, on the day of the convention, there were not only the 700 registered visitors, but 5000 people wanted to enter the convention. Chaos on the street, a major police action and the understanding that something must change for the next year, were the logical consequence.

And they did change something: in the following year they not only rented the community college, but also a bigger school in the close proximity. But this time 15.000 people came, and nothing was better than in the year before. There was only one solution: only the fair halls in Essen were big enough to host such a big crowd of people. And so one thing led to another, and all of a sudden, the Friedrich Merz Verlag was the organizer of a huge fair.

[SPIEL]

And this year? There are not 11 publishers, but over 1100, 65% from foreign countries and the convention is the biggest SPIEL ever.

For all of you, who will come to Essen in the next days, Dominique Metzler had some more pleasing news. The number of subways from the central station of Essen to the fair will nearly be doubled in comparison to the last year. And there should be more parking spaces too. So hopefully the huge traffic jam and the long waiting times won't happen again.

And the Hall layout has changed! Don't miss Hall 2, there are boardgames in there now!

[SPIEL]

Now let us see what Frank has seen at the news show. See you all tomorrow with some real fair experiences.

[SPIEL]

On the way to the news show below the lobby of Hall 1 we once again had to cross the halls, and as could be seen many booths either were ready or were finishing the preparations. The trend continues that even small publisher tend to have their booths ready at Wednesday, and as I could observe later today this is quite sensible because many journalists actually roamed the halls today, looking for games to report on.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

The strangest forklift operator in convention history…

The news show once again has seen a considerable size sourge, and so it proved to be a wise decision that the place for this event had been moved into the subterranean Hall 1A a year ago. Once again the place was bustling with journalists, and as it is good tradition quite a few games were advertised there with some fitting costumes.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

But what games did catch my attention down there? As you know, I am visiting this SPIEL virtually unprepared, and so I was walking through the news show with a very high degree of curiosity, looking here and there for games which seemed to match my taste. Here is a choice of some things which I found down there.

[SPIEL]

Medical Frontier - a game about creating and testing pharmaceutics. A fresh theme!


Taiwan Boardgame Design, booth 7-D108

[SPIEL]

Nice graphics, cool 60'ies Space-theme.


Boardcubator, booth 2-D146

[SPIEL]

Presented by my friend Servando Carballar and his wife Marta…

[SPIEL]

Hexcalibur - a nice looking 2-player game with an evergreen theme.


Gen-X Games, booth 6-H106

[SPIEL]

New expansions for Catacombs, introducing new heroes, monsters and obstacles.


Schwerkraft Verlag, booth 3-P124

[SPIEL]

Dice Forge - you alternate your dice's faces during the game.


Libellud, booth 1-D101

[SPIEL]

Lovecraft at his best. Card-driven communication blocks between the players!


Iello, booth 3-M109

Well, that was a choice of the things which I discovered at the news show, and before going home to change for the awards ceremony I scouted the halls a bit, bumping into a few friends who had just arrived.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

Rob van Zyl from PLEASANT COMPANY GAMES (Booth 7-L109) has returned to this year's SPIEL with a nice choice of novelties. On the one hand he has come with a fresh new dicechucker named Konja, with the cute Vodoo-artwork once again being created by Rob himself. However, to please fans of his games he has also returned with mini expansions for his previous games, and so Snowblind is going to receive a mini-expansion in form of additional cards, whereas Ancient Terrible Things will get new custom dice, including special resource-dice with some new cards to use them.

But there is also some good new regarding our Prize Draw!!!

[SPIEL]

Tom Vasel once again has sponsored a Dice Tower…

[SPIEL]

…and Ignacy Trzewikzek has supplied a copy of First Martians!!!

Well, this actually brings me to the end of today's report, and right for this occasion I have saved a nice fotos which was taken today by Henk Rolleman from boardgamephoto's at the news show. Henk always has a very good eye for interesting situations, and he actually was able to take a picture just when I was robbed of all my convention funds. How should I buy all those new games now???

[SPIEL]

Take care, good night and see you tomorrow at the SPIEL!!!

Quick Index of previous convention days

Tuesday, 24th of October 2017

SPIEL '17 warmup - Day 3: We are nearly there!

Okay, the major part of the waiting is over. Tomorrow already will be the press day, and on Thursday the SPIEL finally will open its gates. But before the gaming can begin, still a lot of work needs to be done. Building booths, setting up furniture and unpacking games - today everything seemed to be happening at the same time. And of course - let's not forget the health & safety stickering of thousands of gameboxes, telling every customer that gaming parts should not be eaten by children. Welcome to the world of German regulation!

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

So the ARTIPIA crew has found some chairs…

[SPIEL]

Regulation madness - an English warning is not enough…

Among the first of my friends whom I met this afternoon was David Liu from Taiwan, and this time his publishing house MOAIDEAS GAME DESIGN has returned to the SPIEL with three new boardgames.

Stopover: MOAIDEAS GAME DESIGN - 7 F100

David gave me a quick intro to each of the games, and from what I could gather both Tulip Bubble and Mini Rails have already received quite a bit of positive buzz, being in effect very purist implementations of classic gaming elements. Mini Rails focuses on the building of railroads, with the players only being allowed either to build track or to acquire shares in a railroad company. Within two rounds each player must chose each action once, so the game will have a considerable pace, with the players competing both for the laying of rails and the purchase of shares. Tulip Bubble on the other hand confronts the players with a very catchy market mechanism which is set in the time of Holland's Tulip Mania. With the prices of the tulip bulbs varying on offer and demand, the players try to gain the best profit margin by managing their stocks.

[SPIEL]

However, the game which really caught my interest was Libertadores by Yan Yegorov.

Set in the time of ancient Rome, Libertadores is a game of hidden roles in which the players follow a different agenda which they want to fulfil. If played with a full cast of six players, three of the participants will be republicans trying to kill Caesar, whereas two the players will be Caesar's Agents who try to uncover the conspiracy. Finally, the last player is the Competitor, trying to kill Caesar but at the same time striving to acquire most victory points in order to become his successor. The main element of the game are Citizen cards, showing either personalities or normal citizens. As long as these cards remain with a player's family board, the player can draw on the special powers of these cards, but it is also possible to recruit these characters for the cause of Caesar or the Libertadores, thus adjusting the current score balance accordingly. So, the players have to decide which cards they actually want to have in their family, and since some of the cards also have interactive powers much will depend on timing. At first sight Libertadores sounds best if it is really played with six players, because in this constellation the secrecy of the roles can be kept for the longest time. However, for me this is just fine, because I am always looking for deductive games which can be played with this number of participants. And the cute graphics actually stand for themselves, including a special Cleopatra-promo card which will be available here the SPIEL!

[SPIEL]

But let's continue the trip through the halls. In Hall 6 I met Scott Alden and the team of Boardgamegeek, just readying the booth's technical equipment for the first test runs. Usually the BGG booth is a good place to stick around for a while, because it is a popular port of call for gaming enthusiasts from all around the world, and indeed I met my friends Dale and Brian Yu who had just arrived in the halls.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

When walking through the halls I had noticed that quite a few booths actually are bearing a banner with the Kickstarter-logo. This is not used to announce a newly published game, but instead these companies have hired a booth to present a prototype game, trying to make people aware of the game and an upcoming Kickstarter-project which will be started to fund the game. Chatting a bit with Dale about this observation, he confirmed that this trend is even stronger in the USA where crowdfunding is enjoying even more popularity. At GenCon a high percentage of games is presented for upcoming Kickstarter projects, and this actually brings up the question whether the Kickstarter-boom is good for a game's quality. Having sponsored quite a few projects myself, I like the fact that Kickstarter allows the production of off-mainstream games which otherwise might not be published. However, sometimes the fact that a game designer cannot find a publisher comes from the reason that the game may be lacking coherence, depth or simply ingenuity, and so a game may rightly fail the editorial boards of big publishing houses. With Kickstarter, everybody can be a publisher, and with so many new games being released I have become more selective about the projects I back, carefully studying the rules and the (possible) history of the publisher.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

Continuing my stroll through the halls, it was notable that the booth design of many publishers is getting more and more professional. In the field of the computer games mass market, hight-tech booths can be commonly found at all major events, but here at the SPIEL a certain degree of the unique SPIEL-feeling comes from the fact that not everything used to be highly polished. Many of the small booths used to have this special pioneering spirit, and this spirit still can be found if you look for it. So, first time visitors shouldn't take the appearance of Halls 1 and 3 for granted, but should continue much deeper into the convention area, crossing the gallery and entering the more remote halls including Hall 8. In this area you will still be able to experience the SPIEL like it had been 20 years ago, and so you shouldn't miss the opportunity to explore both sides of the SPIEL!

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

Talking about distances, I also bumped into my friend Cedrick who was roaming the halls with a Scooter. Now, that's a really useful means of transport for the buildup days! (But don't get fooled - it will be totally useless once the show has opened…)

[SPIEL]

On my way out I actually met a few more friends. My fellow International Gamers Awards Jury Colleague Melissa Rogerson and her family have arrived from far-away Australia, and we teamed up with illustrator Klemens Franz from Austria for a short chat. I also was able to meet Vangelis Bagiartakis from Greece at the ARTIPIA booth. He gave me a first glimpse of the new ARTIPIA games, and we actually managed to play a very quick round of 13 Ghosts, a highly addictive micro-cardgame which needs only 13 cards to be played. But as it is getting late now, any closer information on these novelties will have to wait until my official visit to ARTIPIA on thursday.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

Just a bit more patience - it's nearly SPIELtime!!!

Ralf's warmup:

A last day at work for me before the SPIEL finally starts, and of course a very stressful one. But work is finally over for this week, so let us immediately go over to my next review:

Review: Conan (Monolith, booth 6-B116)

Today I would like to to present you Conan, a game that I already told you about during our daily reports from SPIEL 2014. At that time, Conan was still a prototype, but in the years to follow, I regularly showed you new impressions and photos of the miniatures from the SPIEL. Then last year my huge gamebox from the Kickstarter campaign finally arrived, and this spring the three expansions followed. So now I am finally in a position to tell you how the game really feels like.

But before we finally begin, I would still like to go a farer field. A few words have to be said about the Kickstarter campaign. Although there were a lot of well-known designers in the team, it was MONOLITH's first game to be released, and in my opinion they really did a great job. Some people were complaining about the long time between the start of the campaign and shipment. Also, there were some minor problems with the production process and the first version of the rules. But the whole time the backers were perfectly kept up by the Monolith team. 215 updates up to know! That's record-breaking. Although they failed their initial time-line, they were doing the best they could. And I think that's exactly what Kickstarter was made for. It is not a preorder platform, but you are investing in a idea, that must be developed to a game. And throwbacks can and will happen in this stadium. But if you are kept informed, you can forgive the one or other miscalculation. In the end, all the waiting was worth it: Conan is now a great miniature game with a unique game mechanism.

For all of you who do not know anything about the game, let me explain that Conan is an asymmetric scenario-based miniature game. One player takes the role of an “Overlord” and controls the evil horde. So he plays several different characters at the same time. All other players have only a single hero with unique skills. Of course the heroes are much stronger and with their special skills, they can perform mighty actions. But on the other hand the Overlord has much more units and can attack the heroes from several sides.

Of course, Conan is a game of fights, thefts and rescues. Like in the stories of Robert Ervin Howard, the plots of the scenarios are simple. XY has kidnapped some daughter of a king and Conan and his friend must free her again. Of course, she is held in a village of skeletons and is guarded by an evil warlock. Or Conan is kept imprison in a castle and must break through to rescue some friendly tribes. But what do you expect: This is Conan, and if you want true literature, you better read Tolstoi.

So each scenario has a unique set up. Conan comes with lots of different huge boards, so it is not only the enemies that change, the whole setting changes from scenario to scenario. Once you are in a village, another time on a boat and a third time in a castle. All this contributes to a great atmosphere for each scenario.

Conan uses a unique action system. Each hero gets his own hero sheet with different actions the hero can use, unique skills and a huge zone for placing energy gems. Those energy gems are the players' action points, but only as long as they are in a reserve zone. In a turn a player can use these gems to assign them to an action space to perform this action. The number of gems normally determines how many dice a player can use to perform the action. For example, if a player uses two gems for his melee attack, he throws two dice. The same applies for ranged attacks and guarding. Other actions are more complex, but basically the more gems you spent the better the result.

All used gems are placed in the fatigue zone at the beginning of the next round. From this zone only a limited number of gems is returned to the reserve zone in a turn, the exact number depends on whether the player chooses an aggressive stance or a cautious stance that only allows him defending actions in this turn. Most interesting, the players can interact in this phase to their wishes. They freely can coordinate their actions, so that one player could throw a weapon or something else to another player first. Then the second player could take the weapon and attack an enemy and after that, when the way is free to move, the first player could run to the next tipi to move in. This freedom is a little bit unfamiliar for most players, but after a while it feels perfectly right. In reality you wouldn't do it different. When you are used to it, you automatically do things right. This concept runs like a common thread through Conan. So, for example, a room on the board is occupied, when there is no room for the miniature that wants to enter. This is very intuitive and makes things easier to play. After reading the rules you still have a lot of question, but you will find that most situations can be solved by the players themselves.

To determine the hits and fails, both in the fights and the trials (for example to open a chest), you have various dice. The action space tells you which type of die your character has to use. For example, Conan uses a red die to attack that has much more hits on it than the yellow die of Hadrathus (well, he is just Conan). All actions can be influenced by equipment like weapons, armours and spells too. And new equipment can be found in various places on the game board.

If a hero suffers damage, energy gems are moved to the wound zone and must be healed, before they can be used for the actions again. So let us have a closer look at the enemies that are controlled by the Overlord player. This player uses a tablet, called the Book of Skelos to control his units. The available units are set up in the lower part of this tablet, in the so called river. To activate one type of the units, the Overlord player has to move a number of energy gems from his reserve zone to the fatigue reserve zone. The number depends on the position of the unit tile on the river. It is cheapest to activate the leftmost tiles, but whenever a tile had been activated by the player, the unit tile is moved rightmost on the river again. That makes it extremely expensive to activate the same type of unit in succession.

The activation enables the player o move and attack all units that belong to the tile on the board up to their limitations. In contrast to the heroes it is not necessary to spend the gems on the actions itself, it is enough just to activate the unit tile. This makes the movement of the evil guys much easier, but on the other hand the Overlord must control a huge horde.

The different ways to play the good and the bad guys, but also the very individual skills and abilities of the heroes, makes Conan extremely asymmetric. On the other hand this different way to play is very attractive to most players. In my personal view Conan is a very fantastic and awesome miniature game. Some scenarios are pure hack and slay games, other are more puzzle games because you have to do something in a given time. Sometimes the board is crowded like hell, sometimes there are only 2 enemies on the board after set-up. So the game is rich in variety, offers enormous playing opportunities and is intuitive to play. What else do you want?

See you tomorrow!!!

Quick Index of previous convention days

Monday, 23th of October 2017

Welcome back to Day 2 of this year's SPIEL warmup!

With Ralf still being at work for the next two days, I will still be your main host for this time, and like tradition demands I entered the convention halls today for the first time, checking whether any friends yet have arrived and how the buildup is proceeding. Living very close to the convention area, I also was curious to see have the refurbishment of the convention area of Messe Essen is getting along, since the city of Essen is spending Millions of Euros to turn the Messe Essen into a modern exhibition centre.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

I entered by Hall 1, and to be honest, the halls itself didn't look like anything had changed. Ever since 2013 the SPIEL had been in the more modern part of the Messe, and it seems that these halls are not seeing any kind of refurbishment. So, I could focus on the layout of the booths, and it was striking that the whole eastern end of the halls now is occupied by one big area hired by ASMODEE. With the fusion of ASMODEE and HEIDELBERGER it could already be suspected that those two big players now would form a giant, and indeed their whole exhibition area takes up nearly half of Hall 1. Time certainly moves ever on, but this development means that quite a few more traditional booths now will have been pushed out of Hall 1, and among them also is the booth of ÖSTERREICHISCHES SPIELEMUSEUM. I still remember that my late friend Ferdinand de Cassan told me last year that he would put up a fight to keep their traditional booth in this prominent hall, but now Ferdinand has passed away, and the booth of SPIELEN.AT now will be found in Hall 2 (2-D121).

[SPIEL]

I am going to miss Ferdinand a lot, because over the last years we traditionally went together to the celebration of the DEUTSCHER SPIELE PREIS, and the dinners have been much more enjoyable with Ferdinand and his wife Dagmar. Both of them were long time gaming enthusiasts, and their sheer endless stock of game-related stories would have filled volumes. When I passed by his booth in former years, Ferdinand always invited me to stop and chat for a while, and with him a large part of SPIEL tradition will be gone.

[SPIEL]

Ralf and me with Dagmar and Ferdinand at the SPIEL '16

[SPIEL]

Two years before with Ferdinand and my wife Nicole at the SPIEL '14

But the show must go on, and so I continued my stroll through the halls. Well, actually it's not only halls, but at the site which used to be Hall 4 I actually came into a tent tunnel which served as a passage from the main Galeria to Hall 6. Hall 4 has been demolished and was replaced by an inner courtyard, offering additional parking spaces for the trucks of conventionists.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

Over the last years Hall 4 had been part of the area used by the SPIEL, and since the number of exhibitors and the total space used once again has grown this year, the SPIEL once again is reclaiming part of its former area. So, the SPIEL now is occupying once again Hall 8, and for the moment this is the maximum exhibition space which is available, since the older Halls 9 to 12 still are part of the refurbishment project. As a result, the layout of the SPIEL is more complicated as ever, with booths hiding in alcoves and being located at the far end of the halls. So, if you are looking for any specific publisher, make sure that you have checked the Hall Plans for the correct booth number.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

Convention Monday always is the first possibility to meet some friends from international publishing houses, and once again REPOS PRODUCTION from Belgium was among the first to arrive. The boom triggered by 7 Wonders still is unbroken, and so REPOS will be releasing some small expansions for their blockbuster game. I still remember that Cedrick Caumont told me about a Seafarer's Expansion which had been in design already several years ago, but once again this expansion is not yet in sight. However, instead of flooding the market with quickly designed expansions, so far the strategy of releasing a well-balanced expansion every now and then has kept 7 Wonders on the gaming tables for the last 7 years, and it seems that the game is well on the way to become an evergreen in modern boardgame history. As Cedrick was busy setting up the booth, I scanned his staff for some known faces, and indeed my friend Nicolas was among the crew. Being father to a young daughter, he once again had not yet been able to play this year's novelties from REPOS, and so we agreed that we need to start a gaming session somewhen during the SPIEL!

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

I still need to get even with Nicolas for last year's beatup in 7 Wonders Duel!

When I wanted to leave the halls in the late afternoon, I actually came across Konstintinos Kokkinis and his crew from ARTIPIA who had just arrived from Greece. It was a happy reunion after our last meeting in Athens, and they had been surprised this morning to find themselves in yesterday's report. Well, I didn't tell them in advance, and so yesterday's pictures had been a surprise for them when they waited for their plane at Athens airport.

I joined my Greek friends for an inspection of their booth, and this actually gave me a first-hand experience of all the things that could possibly go wrong at the SPIEL on arrival day. Not only had the partition walls of the ARTIPIA booth not been mounted according to their current layout plans, but in addition the whole furniture of the booth was still missing. They had ordered the furniture for setup today in order to have the booth fully prepared for the press day on Wednesday, but today the organization crew of Messe Essen could not be reached anymore because their office had closed at 4:30 PM. Bad luck continued because it was also too late to organize access to their truck's prebooked parking space, and so the beginning of their setup will be postponed until tomorrow morning.

As you can see, it's always good to arrive a few days ahead of the show, since sometimes things may go wrong despite the best advance planning. I have very often experienced the arrival of small publishers just on Wednesday, and this usually results in a chaotic hustle and bustle because of the limited access time for trucks. However, some detours also will be triggered by bureaucracy, and so the ARTIPIA crew still will have to sticker hundreds of games with German "Chocking Hazard" stickers. In May German customs actually has seized and destroyed tons of Fidget Spinners for missing the correct German warning labels, and so the game producing industry has been warned that there may be custom controls here at the SPIEL. For this reason the MERZ VERLAG as the organizer of the SPIEL will provide stickers for all publishers to label their games with a proper warning, and so Konstantinos and his crew will be quite busy tomorrow, stickering all their games properly to comply with German health and safety regulations.

Being a civil servant myself, I cannot help but wonder if all this regulatory madness sometimes goes way to far…

[SPIEL]

Athens to Essen - Konstantinos, Nikos and Theo

Goodbye from me for tonight! But let's now see for Ralf's first article to this year's SPIEL!

Ralf's warmup:

Hello everybody, welcome on our day 2 of the warmup 2017. Although I still have to go to office today and tomorrow, I would like to take the opportunity to say a first hello too.

And what could be better than to begin this convention week with a review of a great game (although I think the publisher won't be in Essen):

Review: Mechs vs. Minions (Riot Games)

League of Legends by RIOT GAMES is a multiplayer online video game, in which players meet in an fighting arena with their champions to battle against a team of other players. All champions have unique abilities that can be unlocked while rising in levels. Far over 100 million people are playing the game, each month! So it is one of the most successful video games in recent years.

Now, as you know, Kulkmann's G@mebox has and will only review boardgames. So, why I am telling you all this stuff about video games? It is quite simple: in the last year RIOT GAMES has published a tabletop version of the game. Mechs vs. Minions is its name. And only recently they released a multi-language version of the game. Well, it is not exactly the same game as League of Legends. But as in the video game, players are set in a battle arena to lead their champions, called Mechs in the boardgame, against a horde of enemies, the Minions. So it is kind of a merchandise product, you might ask? Yes and No. Of course, if a video game publisher releases its first boardgame in the world of its most successful video game, it is only logical to associate this baordgame with a merchandise product. But would they be in need of it? Aren't 100 million players each month enough?

When I first saw the gamebox and what's inside, I was sure that there must be more behind the facade. A sheer mass of game material, awesome miniatures, a campaign modus with a scenario-based introduction of the rules and a game mechanism similar to one of my all-time favourites, Robo Rally. Nobody would publish such a sophisticated game only for reasons of merchandise. At least, that's what I was hoping. To come straight to the point, my initial assessment was right. Mechs vs. Minions is definitely one of the hottest games of the last and the current year. So let us have a closer look at the game mechanics:

Unlike the video game, Mechs vs. Minions is a fully cooperative game. 2-4 players take the role of Heimerdinger, Tristana, Corki, and Ziggs, who are Yordle mechanics who have built their own Mechs. A Mech is the abbreviation for mechanical battle suit. And this suit has to be programmed to move, rotate and shoot on the gameboard. As said, the game is scenario-based. Ten different missions introduce the rules consecutively. At the beginning these missions are still secret, as they come in sealed envelopes. And the same applies to a lot of the game material. Only all miniatures, most of them without function in the first missions, are visible to the players. But additional game material, for example new type of cards aren't accessible at the beginning but embedded in the sealed envelopes.

So, the start of the game is very simple: In the school of Rumble, the headmaster of our mechanic school, we are introduced how to program Mechs and after a short reading we immediately can begin to play. This concept is followed up in the missions. Every sealed envelop contains more rules and often the rules in these missions are introduced gradually. This is called Escalation, or in other words: as soon as certain conditions or circumstances are met, a new rule comes into play. For example, minions could spawn or a bomb could explode in response to certain player actions. In the end, we never have to read more than about 5 minutes, before we can start or restart to play. A prerequisite, however, is that all player already know the rules from previous missions. So it is recommended that you play the campaign with the same game group, or at least that most players are the same. I think the latter is enough, because the basic rules are not very complex as you will see.

After the set up, unique for each mission, the player start with an empty command line with 6 free slots for their command cards. New cards are drawn and distributed at the beginning of each round. We normally start the round with 5 new cards from which 4 are taken by the players, one by one. Depending on the number of players, each Yordle gets one or more new cards that he or she can program into one of the six slots. As a result, you always start the mission with a stupid Mech. Mechs vs. Minions distinguishs three different type of Command Cards: Move Commands, Turn Commands and Attack Commands. The first two types are similar to the programming cards in Robo Rally, although some are a little bit more complex or triggered. The Attack Cards are sometimes triggered too, and can be best compared with the cards in Tash Kalar. They usually deal one damage to one or more opponents on the board in certain directions.

However, there is a one big difference to Robo Rally: those Command Cards are left where they are until they are scrapped or another card is played on top of it. In other words: If you play a Command Card that allows you a 90° rotation into your second slot, your Mech will do a rotation as a second step in this round and all rounds to follow. We already know something similar from Robo Rally when your robot is damaged, with the result that some of the slots become jammed. So it is very important to look ahead for your next turns too, or you will end up endlessly ramming a wall...

After all Mechs have performed their movements, the minions move too. This movement again is dependent on the specific rules of the mission, in one case it is a dice and in the other a specific aim that determines the direction. After that, we usually receive new opponents that spawn on the board. And finally, the minions or more dangerous opponents are attack us. This again results in damage in form of damage cards. Again we can distinguish three type of cards: Slot damage is the worst sort of damage, if you ask me, because it disables one of our slots. But we have also Glitch Damage that does an immediately effect and System Damage with permanent dysfunctions.

I would like to draw your attention to one more detail: I already mentioned the possibility to stack Command Cards. This works only on the condition that both cards are of the same colour (called element in the game). Up to three cards can be stacked in this way, making the top card stronger with every new card. For example a card that normally would allow you to deal one damage to a target within range 1, would increase the number of opponents you could attack as well as the range itself, if one or two cards are under this card in the same slot.

I guess you already have concluded that I like Mech vs. Minions. In a certain sense, I really fell in love with the game. I mean, all the excellent and well packed game material, the funny story-driven campaign and the simplicity, but ingenuity of the rules: all of this definitely is worth a G@mebox Star.

Star

That lead us to the final question: Is Mech vs. Minions better than Robo Rally? Well, that depends: First of all both games demand visual thinking from the players. So if you don't like this, you probably won't get along with any of the two games. If you prefer cooperative games with a lot of (necessary) coordination among the players and puzzle elements, I would think Mech vs. Minions could be the better choice. Robo Rally on the other hand is the more chaotic and competitive variant. And it forgives you wrong programming, because each turn you start with an empty command line again. If, however, you ask me: I think both games are a must-have. So that's all from me for today. Sleep well and see you again tomorrow!

Sunday, 22th of October 2017

3...

2...

1...

Lights on, Camera ready, Micro open...

"Full SPIEL ahead!"

Folks, here is Essen, the boardgaming capital of Germany !

[SPIEL]

First off: I just checked the guestbook out of curiosity, and nearly a dozen people already has left an entry - days before the show! You are amazing guys!!!

But okay, let's start with some news. As many of you will remember, last year we celebrated the 20th anniversary of this website. When I started reviewing games all those years ago the SPIEL convention still has been rather small, no comparison to today's mega-event with more than 150.000 visitors. At that time I have been able to cover all major releases just by writing my evening reports, but those times are long gone and today this kind of coverage takes a lot of preparation in order to present at least a fraction of the new games released. Back in 2008 I have been joined by my schoolmate Ralf who shares the same crazy streak about boardgames, and over the last few years our preparation started ever earlier in the summer months, with me and Ralf studying rulebooks and making up plans for the show.

For me last year's report has been something very special, and if I look back I think it has been my best report yet, bringing together odds and ends from 20 years of life and SPIEL reporting. To be honest, I don't think that I will be able to top that report, and with my daily work having increased considerably over the last 12 months I am not nearly as prepared for the show as I used to be. So, Ralf and I have decided that it is time for a change, and for this reason I will be handing over the position of Gamebox chief editor to Ralf. Whereas Ralf has contributed an ever increasing portion of co-reports since the SPIEL '08, he will be your host this year, taking you through the halls and bringing you news right from the SPIEL floor. I think he will do a grant job, and I guess we all can look forwards to the new things which he will discover this year!

[SPIEL]

Don't fret, I am not fully gone! Of course I will be here as well, writing comments and presenting some pictures from my own experiences at the SPIEL '17. After a very busy summer and fall it's just that I need this week for a breather (if you can EVER find respite at the SPIEL…), and so my own contributions will be much shorter than they used to be. But hey, after 20 years it certainly will be an unique experience to return to the SPIEL almost like a visitor, and not with all days filled up to the brink with meetings and test sessions. It actually sounds like it's going to be fun!!!

But now it's time to start with the usual pre-SPIEL reporting, and since I am still holding the stage tonight I am going to take you on the usual pre-SPIEL trip. However, this time it's not to the close surroundings of Essen, but we will take the plane to southeast Europe!

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

Last year I have been doing some seminars with colleagues from Greece, and in January this year I have done a counter-visit to Athens, seeing once again a few friends from last year. However, with a bit of free time left on the schedule, I made a call to Vangelis Bagiartakis from ARTIPIA GAMES, arranging for an afternoon visit to their office.

[SPIEL]

As some of you may remember, back at the SPIEL '11 Konstantinos Kokkinis and his crew from ARTIPIA made a notable debut with their great circus game Drum Roll, and the game actually had become my convention hit that year. However, after 6 years ARTIPIA GAMES now has grown into a fully sized publishing house, and at their main office at Athens I was able to see their considerable portfolio of games all presented at a large showroom.

[SPIEL]

Taking up a whole floor on a typical Athens building, the ARTIPIA headquarters features quite a few office rooms and a big games archieve, but most interesting of course was the testing area where the prototype of one of this year's SPIEL novelties was spread out in an early test version. Unfortunately I didn't have enough time for a playtesting session, but it was nice to have a pizza with Vangelis, and it certainly gave my trip to Athens a very boardgamish touch.

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

[SPIEL]

Following the progress of ARTIPIA for all these years, I was delighted to see the considerable size of the ARTIPIA premises, and when I remember the small ARTIPIA booth back at 2011, Konstantinos and his team stand for all those positive aspects of the SPIEL convention and the boardgaming hobby. You start out with a dream and an idea, and with lots of work and dedication you can turn your dream into reality. In Essen or Athens!!!

[SPIEL]

Konstantinos, Vangelis, Nikos and me - an amazing bunch of boardgame geeks!

See you all at the SPIEL '17!!!

Prize Draw

All winners have been notified! Once again a big THANKS for all those great guestbook-entries. It is always a big help to read them in middle of the night after finishing a day's report! It helps us to stay awake! Many thanks also to all the publishers that gave us games for the prize draw!



Hall Plans


You can find the official Hall Plans at the Website of Friedhelm Merz Verlag.

Opening times


From thursday to saturday the convention is opened from 10 AM until 7 PM, on sunday from 10 AM to 6 PM.

Travelling to the Messe Essen


If you arrive at Düsseldorf International Airport, it takes about 20 minutes to get to the Messe Essen by Cab. If you hire a car at Düsseldorf Airport, you go onto Autobahn A44 (blue signs), and at the next motorway crossing you go over to A52, direction Essen. Take Exit "Essen Rüttenscheid".

You can also go by train to Essen Central Station. If arriving there, go to the basement and take the Subway U11 directly to the Messe Essen.

If you want to arrange lodging at Essen, you best contact the Essen-tourism-center by phone 0049/(0)201/19433 or 0049/(0)201/88720-46 or -48. Perhaps they know where some Hotel-rooms are left...

If you travel to Essen by car, please notice that Germany restricts access to many cities (including Essen) for older cars. While the convention area does not fall under these environmental restrictions if you follow a specific route, you might want to check out the route details at the official Messe Essen website. An even better alternative (especially for those of you having a hotel in Essen) would be the acquiring of an Envirnomental Badge which can be ordered at the offical website of the German Technical Inspection Authority.

Hotels close to the convention

All distances are rough estimations!

If you want to have a look at my coverage of previous conventions, follow these links. But you should bring along some time, especially of you want to read the younger reports...


[Gamebox Index]

Google Custom Search
Kulkmann@aol.com

Copyright © 2015 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany