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

The SPIEL '19 Games Convention
at Essen / Germany

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24th to 27th October 2019

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Index of all convention days - Click here

Sunday, 27th of October 2019

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Ralf's Report - Final Day

Sunday, 27.10.2019! It's the last day of this year's SPIEL, and it feels like leaving home. It was a crazy week with so many awesome games that we all are a little bit out of it. Our warmup, the press-conference, the novelty show, the preview night, the ceremony for the DEUTSCHE SPIELEPREIS award and all the games we talked about and played during the convention. It was just one single week, but it felt like a year. Thanks to all of you who read all the content we produced late in the nights and to all publishers we met for giving us the information we needed to write our daily reports.

This was a great SPIEL 19, surely one of the best since we started our Internet Magazine in 1996. Frank and I talked today, and we both believe that this was the strongest year since 2016. Together with Lutz and Manuel we covered far more than 60 games during the the convention. I hope you found the one or other game you are interested in. We cannot guarantee that we didn't miss the one or other great game, but we hope that we found the one or other gem. Once again we say thanks to all of you!

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But before you now switch off your computer or mobile device, come with us and see what we we were doing at this last day of the convention! To carry on the tradition, today was my family day. That means I had no meetings today, and that I came with my wife and my two sons to play some family and children games.

Playtesting Session: Minecraft Builders & Biomes (Ravensburger – booth 3H110)

When my two sons heard that a Minecraft boardgame would be released at Essen, they went nearly insane. Minecraft was indeed the first game I allowed my older son to play on a mobile device. And soon after my younger son joined in. Now, they regularly build houses, gardens and fortifications in their own digital world.

But now they were looking for the boardgame, a good sign for me as reviewer with so many games to be played. Hopefully my children will love the game and come back more often to the analogue games in the next year.

Minecraft Builders & Biomes really attracts a lot of fans of the digital game. As in the original game the players build new structures and mine for resources, fight enemies and move around the country. At set-up each player gets his or her own player board where new buildings are placed. The buildings can be acquired from a 4x4 grid of new tiles. And in their turns the players have two actions to move their game pieces along those tiles. And after a movement they can acquire the tile adjacent to the game piece by paying the matching resources.

Not all of the tiles are buildings there are also enemies that can be fought. For this you need weapons that you can collect at the sides of the general grid. In the fightings the players draw three of their weapon tokens. Not all of them are hits, because three poisoned potatoes that have no effect at all are shuffled with the weapon tiles of the player.

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The most interesting detail of the game from the standpoint of a reviewer is the mechanism to get new resources. At set up a cube of building blocks is build out of 64 resources in five colours. And at the beginning of a player's turn, two of these block can be collected by the player as long as the block is free. This does not only work properly, it also looks like the real Minecraft.

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During the convention all tables with Minecraft Builders and Biomes at the booth of RAVENSBURGER were occupied all the time I passed by. The game is much more than just a merchandise product, it's really a nice game for your children. After the playtest at the convention, my sons unpacked the gamebox at home at once and began playing the game again. And they even forgot their mobile devices for a long time, which is a very good sign...

My sons were spurred on to play more games now. And our co-authors Lutz and Marco had also arrived, so we quickly moved over to BLUE ORANGE GAMES to play the next games with our children:

Playtesting Session: Pappy Winchester (Blue Orange Games – booth 3M107)

In Pappy Winchester each player takes the role of a heir of Pappy Winchester, a rich rancher. But now he's dead and all of his land must be divided among us heirs. As nothing is written down in his last will about who of us gets which land, we have decided to bid for the land. And that's exactly what we are doing in the game.

19 plots of land, divided by a river and a railway line, have to be distributed among the players. Some of the lands have mines and ranches where we hope to find more money, but most of the land is just land. That does not mean that it isn't worth to be acquired. First there are bonus tokens on every land that can be taken once the land has been come under the hammer. Moreover there are missions to be fulfilled and for that purpose you must possess land in specific regions.

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The auction phase is a very simple one with players making bids in clockwise direction until all players except of one has passed. The winner of the auction then gets the land, but must divide his or her bid among all other players. It's still a heiritage to be divided among the family...

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The player with the most money wins the game. Pappy Winchester was a great fun in my family. It is a simple bidding game, but with a great design. Holding all those dollar notes in your hand is alone worth to have the game. The game went down a treat for the children, so that Lutz bought a second game immediately.

But there were also a lot of other new family games from Blue Orange Games my kids were interested in. I can't go in detail right now, but I took some pictures from you of some of the games at the convention:

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The children were content with the two first games. That was a good chance for me to leave them with my wife and go over to my very last meeting at CORVUS BELLI.

Impression: Infinity Defiance (Corvus Belli – booth 6L109)

Infinity Defiance is an upcoming dungeon crawler in the Infinity universe by CORVUS BELLI. In the game the players will go trough different scenarios. In contrast to Aristeia! the game is cooperative with one player taking the role of hostile enemies. The game will be founded via Kickstarter next year, but here in Essen the publisher already had a very far advanced prototype.

Belen from CORVUS BELLI explained me that the mechanics of Infinity Defiance would be very similar to Aristeia! (read my review if you want learn more about that). But as there are enemies to defeat as a group the game would feel rather different. At the moment it's not sure whether the game will be sold as a regular game after the Kickstarter campaign. But at least for the Kickstarter campaign everything seems to be prepared:

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That was not really a children game. I had to hurry to go back to my family, because my wife wanted to leave us now for a while to look explore some halls without us on her own account. I thought that SIT DOWN! would be a good place to go for the rest of us. After their immense success with Magic Maze last year, I was convinced that they would have something for us this year again.

Half expected, half desired, we first found an expansion and a sequel to the award-winning Magic Maze. Especially the standalone sequel seems to be interesting for players who haven't played the base game yet.

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But I wanted to play something really new today, so instead setting up the maze, we went over to the next free table where houseflippers were hard-working to reach an early and rich retirement:

Playtesting Session: House Flippers (Sit Down! – booth 3O120)

Self do, self have. If that's your motto you are in good hands with House Flippers. After last year's award winning Magic Maze the Belgian publisher SIT DOWN! has set the bar high. As house flippers we are a one-man renovation crew that does everything: buying, fixing renting and reselling estates. And all of this to retire to relaxation one time in a beautiful country under coconut trees....

The first player who reaches this aim wins the game. Three different Golden Retirement objectives are available to fulfil the dreams. But before champagne is flowing like water, we have to work like a slave.

The gameboard has 9 spaces for three decks of Countryside, City and Golden Retirement decks respectively. All decks are shuffled at set-up and placed face-up on the matching spaces. And each of these spaces indicates purchase costs for the top card in form of coloured cubes. These resources must be spent for acquiring the card. As a result the card is taken and placed face up in front of the player.

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So, resources are needed, but how to get them? The solution is easy. They come in form of sandtimers, or more precisely: if one of your sandtimers has run out, you collect rent and take a cube of the same colour as the sandtimer. Of course, you can flip your sandtimer again afterwards. But you must take care by yourself. Nobody will wait for you or tell you that your timer has run out. For House Flippers is a real-time again and all players react simultaneously.

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New cards give us new sandtimers or cubes that can be used directly to buy new cards. You might end a game with four sandtimers at the same time, while in between you have to buy new cards and exchange resources with the bank. This all sounds like a chaotic game. Chaotic it was, but at the same time great and a big fun for me, my family and a guy from England who joined in. However in the flurry of activity I almost forgot to buy from the Golden Retirements that are necessary to win the game.

If you think that this was frantic, you should try Wormlord by the same publisher. In this game all players simultaneously make knots in their woollen strings (that feel like worms). A completed string may be placed on a space of the board. If there is already a string of another player on that space, the player can remove it, but before he carries on with his own knots, he first has to untie the knot of the opponent's string. The first player who will be able to conquer three towers on the board, wins the game.

That's really simple, definitely a children's game as well as a party game without any depth but with a lot of gaming fun.

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Impression: Carnival of Monsters (Amigo – booth 3H103)

At the novelty show on Wednesday I spotted a game by AMIGO that was different from most other games by the German publisher. AMIGO is well known for their great card games as well as games for smaller children. But what I found on Wednesday didn't seem to be a pure card game and was neither a children's game. Carvival of Monsters is rather a more complex card-drafting game with comparable large player boards, great artwork and rich components.

I often passed by the booth of AMIGO in the last days, but I never found an empty table to playtest the game. But I didn't want to let you out without some pictures from the game here at the convention. So, here they are:

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More luck we had at the booth of BRAIN GAMES, the publisher who first released Ice Cool, so let us move over there:

Playtesting Session: Pigasus (Brain Games – booth 1F139)

Pigasus is a quick reaction game that strongly reminds me of some great card games from ADLUNG. It is an easy game in which one player reveals cards from a shuffled card deck and all players (including the dealer) simultaneously try to find pairs. Does that sound familiar to you? It probably does. But Pigasus has a speciality that make the game unique and funny likewise.

Someone has mixed up the propositions of the animals. As a result all animals have become incorrectly shaped, the crocodile has the legs of the giraffe and the ape the legs of the pig etc. But to make it more complicated, it's only the shape that's incorrect. The colour is still the matching colour for that animal. The result are humorous illustrations of the animals.

And so a pair in the game is e.g. a giraffe with legs of the ape and the ape with giraffe's legs. You see you have to think laterally and as usually in pairs games children seem to better in that. Grown-ups have to concentrate to find the pairs, and mustn't freeze starring at the funny cards and just dying of laughter.

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The name of the game results form a pink Pigasus that is placed in the middle of the table and must be grabbed by the player who has found a matching pair. Of course this Pigasus is more a less a gimmick (you don't really need it), but children and grown-ups seem to like it anyway. And it's one more thing you have to keep in mind, because just calling out a pair you have found won't get you anywhere. I think that Pigasus will be a great hit with kids, but can act as a quick, funny filler too. But better don't drink beer before playing the game...

This is the end of my report for today and for SPIEL 2019. It was a great pleasure to meet all of you, to tell you about my finds and thoughts and getting your feedback in our guestbook and in social media. I hope you enjoyed our coverage. Stay tuned and see you all next year again. I turn my computer, but I still leave you with some words from Manuel who helps us reviewing the games since late 2018, and of course with the closing words of Frank.

With best wishes, yours Ralf!

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Manuel's convention notes

Hello people out there, this year I had the chance to join Frank, Ralf and the rest of the G@mebox team for some playtesting sessions at SPIEL19. Unfortunately, I could only be at the fair for one day, far too less to even halfway reach the goals that I had set for this day. Nevertheless I managed to play the one or other games with my colleagues, so I can give you my impressions of the fair.

On our arrival, you could already feel the anticipation of what was to come. Although we arrived very early, the lobby was already fully filled with boardgame enthusiasts.

My first session took me directly to Nocturion, where the Evergreen Empire is on the verge of destruction.

Playtesting Session: Nocturion (Vesuvius Media – booth 2F144)

In Nocturion, you take the role of noble houses that all pursue their own interests. As Emperor Alexius IV is determined to restore prosperity to his empire, he must find out which of the houses of the empire he can entrust with the management of the capital. For this, the noble houses must fulfill quests and proof that they are realy loyal and trustworthy.

Nocturion is a dice-placement and resource management game. Depending on the number of players, a number of dice is rolled, and each player selects one die to place on a specific area on the board. Some areas require higher die results and for each die-placement the season tracker is moved. On the one hand this season tracker is our timer, on the other hand it also influences the output of an action. Depending on the selected location, there are different abilities that can be derived. For example, curses can be pronounced, resources can be taken and / or exchanged or an extra cube can be played.

It is quite important to get resources to summon beasts or fulfill quests. In the action phase you can choose between different actions, for example the activation of a location, the collection of heirlooms or the use of abilities of a beast. An interesting detail in Nocturion is that players can reserve a die for a later round or get a second die to use.

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Rolling and placing dice, acquiring resources and activating various actions. As you can see, the game mechanics are similar to a lot of other games. The rules are quickly explained and you can start playing immediately. The game board is lovely and detailed illustrated and not too overloaded, so that it remains clear. In my opinion, Nocturion is an interesting game with a lot of different actions to use and with 40-60 minutes of playing time for a boardgame evening a really good choice.

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After this first session I joined my colleagues Ralf, Lutz and Marco again for some other interesting playtesting sessions. You can read more about these games in their part of the coverage. I am already looking forward to next SPIEL, hoping that I will then have one or two days more at the fair.

That's it already for my part. I wish you all a lot of fun reading the rest of the reports, and maybe we'll see each other next year at SPIEL...

Best wishes, Manuel.

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Day 4 - The Grand Final

Like every year, this SPIEL week has passed incredibly fast. It's like yesterday when I started this year's report a week ago with the visit to Drachenfels, and now the SPIEL 19 is history. I just received the news release from the conventionists of MERZ VERLAG, and once again this SPIEL has seen another visitors record. Whereas 190.000 people visited the SPIEL in 2018, this year the magic mark of 200.000 has fallen, and it was indeed surpassed by another 9000 visitors. With 209.000 visitors, this truly has been the greatest SPIEL ever, and it's a clear sign that the hobby of boardgaming is stronger than ever.

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With office waiting for me tomorrow, this last report from me will be shorter than usual, so let's dive right away into the halls. Once again my wife Nicole was with me, so it was actually another Ladies' Day with some quite interesting finds. The first game which we played was Kami from publisher OKA LUDA EDITIONS, a Japanese themed small cardgame about warring armies.

Playtesting session: Kami (OKA LUDA EDITIONS)

All army cards which are used in this game are shuffled into one deck, with each player receiving a hand of army cards which he must try to get rid of. The first player to be without cards will be the winner of the round, scoring victory points according to the last card he has played. The gameplay is very easy, with one player playing one hand card to attack, whereas the following player must see whether he can play a corresponding card to block the attack. Usually this must be a card of the same kind (e.g. footman blocks footman), but since all cards come in different quantities (with the quantities printed on the cards), it may well be that a player does not have a matching blocking card. In this case a block may also be initiated with the Queen, but her card is the rarest one, so it's more probable that the attacked player cannot block at all. If that happens, the player looses his full turn, robbing him the possibility to play an attack card. In effect, the player looses time by this, because a turn without playing cards is a wasted turn regarding the goal to get rid of the complete hand of army cards.

If the block is successful, the defender become attacker, in turn now playing an army card to attack which the next player must block. Nicole and I played a two-player variant, so that a row of army cards had been placed between us as a common reserve of mercenaries. In this variant players are allowed to take cards from the middle if they cannot (or do not want) to player a card from their hand. This variant works rather well, so that Kami can be recommended for two players.

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In summary Kami is a nicely illustrated and quick game whereas players always have to make estimations about probabilities. So, if many footmen cards (the most common card) have already been used, it may well work to get through with an attack made by a footman, because the attacked opponent may be out of footmen. However, there is also an incentive to keep rare cards like the Queen till the end of a round, because they have a higher value, and if a player succeed in playing a rare card as his last card he will score more points. In this respect Kami feels more challenging than on first sight, giving the players some options to weighten before chosing their cards to play.

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Nicole and I actually love Halls 4 and 5, because it's the place where the smaller publishers and the newcomers to the SPIEL are located. Whereas the front halls a filled with huge booth with many gaming tables from the big players in the industry, it is here that you discover one or more new games with every 5 meters you go, stepping from booth to booth and changing worlds with every step you take.

Playtesting session: Sabotage (FOWERS GAMES)

Indeed, FOWERS GAMES from Utah was the next booth where we made a stopover, and it was was also located in Hall 5. Here we were drawn to the booth by the looks for the game Sabotage, a game of hidden movement where the players are taking roles either of Supervillains who want to destroy the world or of Spies who have come to their fortress to stop the villains.

The artwork of Sabotage is stylish 60'ies-like, reminding me of Dr. Shark from HURRICANE games which had a somewhat similar setting, pitching a group of agents against a supervillain. However, in terms of gameplay both games are totally different, since Dr. Shark in the broadest sense is a dexterity game which tests the players sense of touch. >b>Sabotage on the other hand is a pure boardgame in which the 2 or 4 players take the roles of the Spies and of the Supervillains, with each side being equipped with a different range of actions so that gameplay is asymetrical.

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The Spies on the one hand have to search the fortress for the generators and the weapons which the supervillains will need to destroy the world, sabotaging their operation by the means available to them. Each Spy can rely on a standard repertoire of actions like moving or - most importantly - the scanning, but in addition each spy also can resort to some unique actions once they are unlocked. This is similar with the Supervillains who can also resort to some special actions, bhut for them it's most important to place traps for the Spies and possibly attack them.

Being a game of hidden movement, each group operates on their own gameboard. These boards have been set up corresponding to each other, but the Spies don't know where the generators and weapons can be found. For this the Spies must move around, performing scan actions whenever they want to search for the machinery of doom. When performing a scan, the Spies player(s) has to ask the Villains whether a scan of an specific area was successful, and the Villains can use this information to make guesses about the whereabouts of the Spies. Some other Spy actions also require information given to the Villains, and so the Villains will have to try to attack the spaces where they suspect the Spies to be.

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However, the action is spiced up by the fact that the players do not simply chose their actions in turn order, but the game uses a mechanism of action programming which also resorts to dice. Thus, the players all roll a hand of dice at the beginning of the round, and each player must use his dice to activate actions which will be performed. When all actions are chosen, it's always the Supervillains which will act first, being given the possibility to use the information which they have gained from the Spies during their last turn. Afterwards the Spy actions will be performed, trying to find and destroy the evil inventions of the Supervillains as quickly as possible.

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Sabotage is a rather convincing game with a very high entertainment value. Especially if played in teams of two players each there is an additional factor of each team spying on each other, because the teams need to communicate and coordinate their strategies and this may not be done away from the gaming table. Coupled with the nice artwork and cute miniatures, all this makes Sabotage are rather well implemented espionage game, distinguishing FOWERS GAMES once again as a serious boardgames publisher. In addition, it should also be mentioned here that FOWERS GAMES has taken care that European fans of their games have a chance to obtain them without resorting to intercontinental shipping, and so games can be ordered from an European warehouse on the FOWERS GAMES online store.

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On the way to our lunchbreak Nicole and I were able to meet with my friend Daniel Schlosser from Second Gate Games. Last year Daniel had received my SPIEL recommendation for Monster Lands, and this year Daniel is back as a visitor, looking for licenses to market games in Spain. However, Second Gate Games also has a new project in the pipeline, and next year you can expect them to be back on Kickstarter with their new cute Western game Cactus Town.

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But let's dive right back into the halls of SPIEL. After finally finishing Hall 5, Nicole and I continued with the small publishers, and in Hall 4 we came upon another game which is going to be released through Kickstarter financing next year.

Stopover: Eila and Something Shiny (CCH)

Once again, we had been drawn to this booth because the artwork of the game looked incredibly cute. On first sight I actually though that Eila and Something Shiny must be a pure childrens' game, but despite the cute looking rabbit Eila greeting us from the gamebox there were mostly grown-ups playing this game.

The next thing which likewise astonished me was the fact that Eila and Something Shiny actually is a solo game, but actually two players can also play it as a team. The game is about the story of Eila the rabbit travelling in the wood, and a wise old tree is setting her to a number of tasks in order to learn more about the wood and its inhabitants. The game is driven thorugh a deck of story cards, with these cards showing different encounters and very often requiring the player to chose between several options for Eila to react. Some cards provide for gaining or exchanging resources like food, coins or energy cubes, whereas other cards actually will add specific new story cards (distinguished by numbers) which will be added to the player's deck after the reshuffle at the beginning of the next day. In turn, a card which has triggered the addition of another card will be removed from the deck, so that the story keeps on evolving over the course of the game.

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The players keep on managing the resources which they gain and spend, trying to keep Eila healthy and to fulfil the old tree's tasks in order to win the game. The whole concept of this evolving deck game turned out to be extremely captivating, keeping me and Nicole playing on until we solve the easy introduction game which was set up for us. Although I usually refrain from recommending future projects, this is certainly a game you should look out for! So, perhaps you should keep a bookmark at the CCH website.

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I guess we could go on for dozens or even hundreds of interesting looking games and prototypes, but the end of the SPIEL 19 was approaching quicker and quicker this afternoon. However, the booth which we chose for our last playtesting session actually brought us right back to the beginning of this week. Do you reme,ber our visit to Drachenfels, the Castle of Dragon'S Rock. This was the place where the hero Siegfried supposedly has slain the Dragon Fafnir, and so no game could be better for ending this SPIEL week than Richard Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung from Spanish publisher GEN-X GAMES.

Playtesting session: Richard Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung (GEN-X GAMES)

Siting down with the game's designer Enrique Duenas, Nicole and I embarked on a journey back to the world of the Nibelung, where famous heroes and villains, gods, monsters and humans all are bound to the fate of the Ring of the Nibelung. In the game, all the characters from the historic legends are represented by individual, beautifully illustrated cards, and the players try to play these character cards in order to use their abilities to the best possible benefit.

The game will be won by the player who has earned most victory points, both on character cards in front of him and on treasure cards on his hand. A new character card is drawn by the players every round, and these cards can be placed in front of the players to join their hall of heroes. Some heroes have abilities which trigger directly on playing, whereas other heroes can be tapped in order to activate their ability. These abilities range from killing or stealing other heroes to tapping or untapping cards or forging new treasure cards. Especially the forging of new treasure cards is important since the value of all treasure cards in a player's hand contributes to his final score, but of course the other abilities are necessra yas well because the players' halls of heroes see new heroes coming and leaving all the time.

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Once you get used to the card iconography, you will discover that Richard Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung is a game with a frequence of character changes, because the players envy each other for the powers of their characters, and so they use their card abilities to weaken each other by stealing or killing characters. For this reason the most constant element for the players are the treasure cards on their hands and not the heroes in their hall of heroes, but of course even the treasure cards can be stolen by some card abilities.

However, a quite interesting twist is the fact that some of the treasure cards do not just show a hoard of gold and a value, but instead they are artifacts which the players may decide to discard and use for their special action. This again gives the player access to a range of additional powers, but due to their onw-time use it's always a question whether an artifact should be used or saved for its victory points.

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Finally, additional player interaction is triggered by the ill-fated Ring of the Nibelung. The player with the strongest hero cards in his hall of heroes can claim the Ring for himself, gaining him an additional treasure card at the end of every turn in which he manages to hold onto the Ring. However, this makes the player owning the Ring even more attractive for the other player's destructive actions, because they will want to weaken him in order to claim the Ring for themselves

Richard Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung is played until all treasure cards are distributed or three Ragnarök cards have been found in the character deck, thus triggering the end of the game, the end of the world and - unfortunately - the end of the SPIEL! It's a rather entertaining game with shifting majorities and powers, and the implementation of the thematic background of the Nibelung has been done with artistic skill. A rather nice last find of the day!

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Kulkmann's Convention Hit

After playtesting so many games here at the SPIEL 19, I am once again faced with the choice to determine which of the games I have played I liked most. This is extremely difficult this year, because the SPIEL 19 seems to be a much stronger year for boardgames than the years before. Indeed, all of the games which I have presented to you have been appealing to my taste for games, but this makes it even harder to chose.

However, after some consideration I have decided to give this year'S recommendation to Museum from HOLY GRAIL GAMES. It is in the best possible sense an old-school Euro-style boardgame with a unique combination of mechanics, bringing together card collecting, their purchase and their arrangement on a museum board. However, the game doesn't stop here, but the core mechanism is enriched even further by rules which really strengthen the thematic backdrop, ranging from the possibility to recruit scientists to events and sponsors. The game succeeded even in including some nicely balanced possibilities for player interaction by including the option to acquire cards from another player's archive, and with all these elements coming together it offers an almost perfect playing experience. For these reasons I think that my special recommendation is well placed with Museum.

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Breaking the news to Georgina from HOLY GRAIL GAMES

Talking about old-school, I hope you liked this rather long written report from the SPIEL 19. We don't run through and you cannot watch anything played here at Kulkmann's G@mebox, but instead we believe that our articles nonetheless provide a strong insight into the feel and playability of the games which we present.

Like every year I have kept looking at our guestbook all week long, and your comments have shown me that you appreciate all the efforts which we have put into this 23rd report from the SPIEL week. In the next couple of days we will put everything in chronological order, adding a complete quick index which will allow you to come back here to look up the details of games without searing too long, and we hope that this report will give you some guidance to decide which games to buy and play this winter.

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Winter can come, we are prepared!!!

As for myself, the week had been exhausting and extremely entertaining at the same time. Like I have expected it, especially the last two days with my wife Nicole had brought to light a treasure trove of unexpected games and meetings, and this is what being at the SPIEL is all about: Finding games, playing them, and making new friends!

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So, wherever you are located: Take care, enjoy gaming, and please be back here in October 2020 for another SPIEL week with Ralf, Lutz, Nicole and myself.

Greetings from Essen, and - of course - full SPIEL ahead!

Cheers!

Frank

Saturday, 26th of October 2019

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Ralf's Report - Convention Day 3

Hi everybody, this is Kulkmann's G@mebox again. We are back at the convention for another day full of new games.

Today I arrived a little bit before the official opening, so I still had the chance to see free tables. But that changed rapidly. Only minutes after the doors of the convention opened for the public, people rushed in and run for the bargains and the tables. Between the two pictures below, there are only 10 minutes...

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As I already told you, most people go to hall 3 and 1 after they arrive, because here they can find all of the big publishers. As a result I prefer going to the other halls until late afternoon. And those halls get more interesting every year. For the start let me take you once again to hall 4 to the booth of LUCKY DUCK GAMES.

In the last year LUCKY DUCK GAMES was the first publisher who convinced me (I didn't know rudy games at that time) that a mobile device is not necessary a foreign object in a boardgame. Chronicles of Crime was an excellent deduction game that proofed that both worlds, the digital device and the board can be combined to make games better. This year the publisher remains true to itself. But it's not the mobile device with the app I am speaking about. It's the category of the game. Paranormal Detectives, the Essen release, is once again a deduction game for 2-6 players:

Introduction: Paranormal Detectives (Lucky Duck Games – booth 4F110)

In the game the players must solve a murder case. One of the players is the Ghost players. This player gets the mission card and reads the whole circumstances of the crime. He is know the ghost of the dead person and wants to help the investigators to shed light on the crime. Yes, the ghost wants to see his murderers in prison.

But he is now a ghost and can only give hints in a paranormal way to the other players. However, those other players are rivals. Everyone wants to solve the case on his own. Unfortunately we were all assigned to the same investigation team, so not every detail can be kept secret from the other players. But our notes are kept hidden from the other players behind a player screen.

To solve the case we must be able to answer some questions about how, where and why the person was murdered. What's easier than asking the ghost some question. In your turn you may ask whatever you want, but – unlike most other deduction games – you may never ask a yes/no question. The ghost must answer truthfully, but not in a normal way by just telling the other players. Remember that he is no a paranormal being and clearly must use paranormal ways to say something.

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How he can answer is determined by the player who asked the questions. For this purpose each player gets asymmetrical, pre-constructed set of interaction cards. One card is played to each question and determines how the ghost must give us the hints.

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Drawing something on the back of the player, drawing with the arm of the player who asked, using mime or pointing at letters are some of the 9 interaction disciplines of the game. All player can take their notes as most of the disciplines give information to all detectives. However some disciplines can only be experienced by the active player (like drawing on the back of the detective's player). And this hidden information can be used by the players to ask in way that the answer will only give detailed information to those players with the hidden information.#

I think that Paranormal Detectives is a funny narrative party game that will be best with a lot of storytelling by the players involved. There are different cases in the box and you can only play a scenario once with the same people (obviously, because otherwise someone already would know the answers). But there is already a companion app with more cases and even cases written by other players will be available after they have been checked by the publisher.

That was a good start in the third convention day for me already. Even better was the fact that ARES received some of their missing games from customs. Some packages of Quartermaster General and arrived this mornig, so let us have a closer look on the first game:

Introduction: Quartermaster General 2nd edition (Ares Games – booth 3E100)

When I think of second world war games, I always remember Axis & Allies, the classic game from Milton Bradley. I still remember endless battles against Frank back in the early 90s of the last century. Frank usually played the Axis, and he also usually won the game, mainly because he was incredible lucky rolling the dice. The result 6 on a die has normally chance of 16%, but when Frank rolled the dice this chance increased to 50% or more. At least, that's what it felt like.

Quartermaster General was first published in 2014. The new version revamps the old game and tries to improve several elements of criticism of the original game. I must confess that up to now I didn't know the game. So I cannot say anything about what's new and what's old.

The game focuses on the whole war, beginning with the expansion of Germany to Russia and France as well as Japan's expansions to China and the Eastern Pacific and with Great Britain's and America's the entry into the war. The outcome of the battles is open of course, but Roberto assured me that a lot of games follow the historical course of events. One of the reasons for that are the unique card decks for every country. The six countries are always in play, either you play with six people or some players must play multiple countries. And these cards are almost everything in the game. They will build your new armies, are used to start battles, evoke events and interact with your opponent's actions. A lot of the cards have historical background information and introduce those historical elements into the gameplay.

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But in contrast to Axis & Allies, Quartermaster General is not a game of endless battles and rolling the dice. However it is game about supply. All units (armies and navy pieces) represent military forces, but also the supply line that is necessary to keep your troops fighting. And it's the players' aim to break the opponent's supply lines, because if a unit is not supplied in the supply phases of the game, it will be removed from the board at once. Battles are resolved only by playing the cards. A battle card simply removes a unit from an adjacent space to one of the player's own supplied forces (of course only, if your opponent does not have a counter-attack card he can use).

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The game seems to be a light, fast-paced and asymmetric war game. The design is quite impressive, so I think that a lot of wargamers should have a closer look at the game. I especially liked the idea of the supply chains. That was unexpected for me and seems to be an interesting approach to the battles. I think I will try to beat Frank in this game. He won't have a chance to roll a 6, because there are no dice. However, luck seems to play a role in Quartermaster General too because the cards are drawn randomly. So you continuously have to adopt your strategy to the new drawn cards....

Two hours had passed since the opening and I realized that indeed today would be the day with the most visitors. Yesterday I still told you that there is now enough room in the passageways. But that was yesterday. Today the convention showed its true face. Traffic jam in the halls:

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I quickly escaped from the gallery and walked to hall 5 where I met Tom Delmé, owner of the Belgian publisher JUMPING TURTLE GAMES. The publisher is well known for their Baby Blues, a convention hit on BGG some years ago. Most of their games they produced since then are cardgames or smaller boardgames. But today Tom came up with a totally new approach: a huge sci-fi area control game, called The Warp.

Playtesting Session: The warp (demo, Jumping Turtle Games – booth 5M113)

The Warp is still a demo, but the rules, the artwork and most of the components are already far advanced. So we could play a test game and it already felt like the final game. Only the pieces on the board were stolen from other games. Tom told me that they plan to use miniatures in the final product and that the game will be funded at Kickstarter in the next year.

In the game we are set in a sci-fi planet Yortar. We take the role of leaders of different tribes that – after years of revolts – try to reoccupy the country. Basically the game is an area-control game as we raise troops, move them to adjacent areas and attack opponents to conquer the land. Every player starts with only a few of the hexagonal landscape tiles. However the unoccupied land is not free of enemies. To the contrary alien tokens with 1-4 alien troops are placed on all unoccupied landscape tiles.

To conquer a land we have to fight and for those fights we roll dice. One die per unit is rolled, both for the attacker and the defender (be it one of your fellow players or the hostile aliens. All dice are summed up and the result is multiplied with the areas level. For the attacker it is the level from where the attack was started, for the defender the level of the attacked landscape tile. So for instance if you attack with 3 units from a level 3 area, you multiply the sum of three dice with the factor 3.

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You see the level of the area is an important factor in the fights. It's always good to be on high-level areas and to change the level we can perform a terraforming action. But the fights are only one side of the coin. As you can imagine the raising of the troops demand resources. For this purpose we have energy plants and gold mines that are also placed on the landscape tiles. But more important than just going for new troops are the numerous missions.

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Next to some military actions there are a lot of side-missions like having X gold mines or producing Y resources in just one turn. Our co-author Manuel and I played against the author of the game and we both made the fault that we concentrated mainly on the area-control element of the game without paying much attention to the missions. So the author easily won the game. The Warp is still a prototype, but it already was very balanced with a lot going on. After our first three or four turns, the game played fast. There is a lot of interaction during another player's turn, often you can follow up actions your opponent did choose. And in the fights against the hostile aliens, you can play cards to support the aliens. As a result the downtime is pretty much reduced.

After this expedition to space I was very hungry. There are a lot of snack bars at the convention. But I was not in the mood for fast food, something more wholesome after all the stress would be more to my taste. Why not fish? A word and a blow and soon after I was having an explantation of Freshwater Fly:

Introduction: Freshwater Fly (Bellwether Games – booth 5J123)

But first a short foreword: last year I spent my holidays in Norway. My wife insisted that I should go fishing there, because she knew that Norway's waters are an anglers' paradise. A word and a blow. One day before our departure I stood in a nearby angler shop and demanded a fishing rod and some baits. I was asked whether I was going sea angling, freshwater fishing, looking for trout, mackerels or cod. What the hell! I had no idea what the guy was talking about. I just needed a rod.

That was my beginning of the fishing career. As it happens, in the end I (accidentally) caught a mackerel, but I didn't really have a idea what was doing. That made me angry and I decided to learn the basics. Here in Germany we also need a fishing licence. So I was sitting in a course soon after my holiday and learnt all things about the different rods, reels, hooks and baits. Soon after I passed my fishing examination and am now allowed to fish in Germany.

A long introduction to this stop at BELLWETHER GAMES. But their new game Freshwater Fly is a very thematically fishing game. The game is the second standalone game about fishing by Brian Shure. And it focuses on the fishing process solely. I mean, choosing the bait, casting the fishing rod, drifting along the waterstream and waiting for a bite. Oh wait, a bite is not the end as I have bitterly learnt in my fishing career. After a bite you still have to reel the fish in. And sometimes the fish can get free and you must begin at the very start again.

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Luckily enough the game let us fish in a mountain stream rich in fish. Nearly every space on the board is occupied by a fish, not only at set-up, but all the time. The only other things we find in the stream are rocks, nothing to fish, but a good fishing space, because a lot of small animals – food for the fish – will be at that place. The stream is divided into rows and lines and below every row there is a space were we can find coloured cubes that indicate the type of bait the fishes in the row are heading for. Only if you have the right bait, you will be able to get a fish in that row.

So, first task is to select a suitable bait. Unfortunately, you cannot go directly to the row you are looking for. You first have to roll some dice and can only choose a row with a matching die. But of course all other players are using the same dice. At this point the game is a a kind of dice drafting game. Once your row is selected you can choose a fish and must draw a card. Eventually you can drift and draw another card, if your first draw was no bite. And after that you must reel the fish. Depending on the type of fish, more or less cycles must be performed. The rondel reel on the player boards is one of the greatest components of the game, you really feel like reeling the fish. Bonus actions and other helps you can derive for example from the rocks help you catching the fish. And the game ends after a player has caught his or her seventh fish.

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I pretty much liked learning more about Freshwater Fly. I mean it is really similar to the real fishing process. But of course I am already prejudiced. To be honest, thematically the game is a niche game. But on the other hand it's something you won't see very often. The components are all great, especially the reel. Maybe it might not develop the highest replayability for players not involved in fishing, but it will be a big surprise from time to time. I know that's there is no bad weather for an angler, but when it will be raining in the next week, I could be trying to fish in Freshwater Fly. I only have to find a copy of the game, because here at the booth it was already sold out.

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Virtual food is not very effective I realised shortly after I had left the booth. The result: fast food again. Right now, I am thinking about a diet after the convention. Maybe that's really a good idea. On the other hand, to live like a bee in clover is also not a bad idea. And who can judge this better than French people? Let me take you on a ride to some of the many awesome games from our French publishers at the booth of BLACKROCK. Here at BLACKROCK more than five smaller publishers are distributed and they all share one booth that's crowded all the time I pass by.

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Introduction: Montmartre (Blam! / Blackrock – booth 3O106)

I really love the French illustrators. Many games from French publishers are art pieces by itself. They are nearly to good to play. And one place in France that stands out for its art scene is the hill of Montmartre in Paris. Many famous painters begun their career in this inspiring, notorious atmosphere.

But life was not easy at the beginning of the 20th century. And before any painter could carry off the bays, she or he had to sell paintings as a bread-and-butter business. That's what we are playing in Montmartre: painters who are seeking fame but who also have to sell paintings to the ordinary people to survive. Each player starts with four hand cards. These hand cards are Muse cards with values between 1 and 9 and in one of four colours. In the middle of the table, accessible to all players, Collectors (cards) who might be interested in our paintings are sorted in four piles. Each collector is interested in a certain kind of paintings, indicated by a colour in the game. And if you want to sell a painting to a collector you always sell the painting to the top collector of the same colour (you get the card as a reward).

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However, it's not easy to sell a painting to a collector. One of two conditions must be met: you either must have more paintings than any other player in the style of the collector (the colour) or you must have painting of a total value higher than any other player. And of course we can only sell a painting once it is painted. That's what we are doing in our turn when we don't sell a painting to a collector. To paint you just place one of your hand cards face up in front of you. Alternatively you can paint two cards with a total value less than 6. If you cannot sell a painting to a collector, you still can sell it off at the market (for less money of course). And once a game you can even draw for a newspaper, a contract that gives the most money.

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As I already said, Montmartre is more than a game, it's a small art piece of Jeanne Landart, the game's illustrator. The paintings are inspired by four real painters. The game itself is a good card game without something really new. But it feels great to play the game. The mechanics work well and interaction is at medium weight, so it's something I will definitely bring to the table at home.

The French journey went on for me with a game from LUMBERJACKS, also distributed by BLACKROCK. I had so much fun with last year's begging party game Peanut Club that I had to see their the new games this year again. I have chosen L'ile de Pan for this report:

Introduction: The isle of Pan (Lumberjack Studios / Blackrock – booth 4D119)

The isle of Pan is once again a very simple game of tile placement. Each turn a player can choose one of the available three hex landscape tiles. Afterwards the player plays this tile adjacent to the existing landscapes and takes animal tokens of the same kind as indicated by the landscape tile to his or her personal reserve. That way, the landscape unfolds until only 2 of the landscape tiles are left.

However, unfolded landscape doesn't mean that it's explored. And so a player – after playing the new landscape tile to the existing board – can move his explorer up to three spaces (keep in mind that one landscape tile consists of three hex spaces). On the target landscape tile of the explorer, the player can either observe the local fauna by playing up to three animals from the personal reserve to the space. Each animal token added to the board will bring the player one victory point. Alternatively – if the landscape is adjacent to a lake – the player can discover a wondrous lake – a new landscape tile full of water – that is played adjacent to the lake.

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Finally a fantastic beast will appear, if there are enough animals adjacent to a lake. That's more or less the game. If you know think that's pretty simple, you are right. But hey, that's the concept. The game is fast and it's a great experience to see the landscape unfold. Of course, we had some similar approaches in other games a lot. Reduced to this point The isle of Pan is nothing new or special. It still is a wonderful experience to see the new world emerging and to observe the animals. I think that The isle of Pan will make a wonderful family game with the great components and the simple rules.

Impression: Feelinks Revelations (Act in Games / Blackrock – booth 3O106)

Feelinks Revelations is a sequel to the children and family game Feelinks. Once again we have to guess the emotions of our fellow players towards a question from a question card. But this time it is a game for the adults only. Six emotions - randomly drawn – are visible around the board. And after a question has been read aloud, every player secretly chooses the emotion that he or she is closest at. Up to here everything is the same as in the original game. But now we come to a difference: two of the available emotions are now chosen randomly and the players must guess how many players have chosen these emotions.

You learn a lot about your fellow players in this game. And it is definitely an adult game, because one category clearly focuses on sexuality. But I was assured that no player can be offended or insulted. Still I think you should try the game with people you know before you play with your colleagues. Feelinks was a huge success three years ago. Let's see how successful Feelinks Revelations gets...

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Still there were more publishers and nany more games to discover her at BLACKROCK. I think I think I spent a whole day at this booth:

Impression: It's a wonderful World (La Boite de Jeu / Blackrock – booth 3O106)

In It's a wonderful world each player expands his empire over four rounds. In each round we will start with a drafting phase similar to 7 Wonders. That means: seven cards are dealt to every player, one card is chosen and the rest of the cards are given clockwise to the next player. From the received cards every player chooses another cards and again the remaining cards are given to the next player. This continues until every player has seven cards that are now in production and are placed visible on the player's production area. To acquire the card, resources are needed. Whenever you have a resource you need for a card, you can put it one the card until all production costs are paid. Then the card is moved from the production area to the player's empire. From now on it produces resources.

The most interesting thing of the impressive boardgame is the phase of the resource income. Resources are produced in a specific order and if you receive a resource you can immediately use it for instance to finish one of your cards in the production are. If this was the last missing resource for the card, the card immediately can be used in the empire to produce resources that haven't been distributed yet.

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It's a wonderful world and it was a wonderful convention day. So many games, so little time. But now let's see what our co-author Lutz and what Frank were doing today. I am out of here until tomorrow. Sleep well, stay tuned and see you tomorrow for a last hard convention day!

Yours, Ralf

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Lutz' Day

After Frank and Ralf already have told you a lot about the Spiel 19, have been at the trade fair for days and are busy putting the reports online, I can finally come to Essen today and stroll through the holy halls of the game world. My first path led me to a real powerwolf.

Introduction: Armata Strigoi (Scribabs – booth 5M118)

The metalhead Poalo Vallerga is one of the authors of the new game of SCRIBABS Armata Strigoi. A song of the powermetal band Powerwolf gives the game its name. Song and game are about the eternal fight between vampires and werewolves, which slowly but surely comes to an end. The power wolves fight a destructive battle in a temple against the last Strigoi vampires. The players take on the role of werewolves (the cards show the members of the band) and try to defeat the Strigoi by skillfully moving through the temple to position themselves for a deadly attack. On their way they also encounter monks and monsters, both of which can be to their advantage or disadvantage. Powerwolves are moved by playing players' hand cards. These indicate how many steps a player can take, what his strength is, and whether he can block a hit, for example. After the werewolves have finished their turn and fought against monsters or a Strigoi, the Strigoi automatically move in the direction indicated on a power wolf card. Depending on whether they can see a werewolf in direct line of sight after their movement or not, they may go to counterattack.

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Here at the fair, the SCRIBABS team brought along a huge game board made up of big hex tiles and painted oversized game figures. A real eye-catcher. I could observe some moves of the game during the explanation of the rules by Paolo and I have to say that the players in this fast game were deeply immersed in the world of vampires and werewolves. For me this is always a good sign, because players can only be really involved in a game if it works really well and is captivating.

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After I said goodbye to Paolo and was able to wrest myself from the world of power-metal werewolves, I felt thematically attracted to another marginal group of society, which can be found more often in the gaming world: Moonshiners!

Introduction: Moonshiners of the Apocalypse (2fat2fly Games – booth 5L107)

At the booth of 2FAT2FLY GAMES I feel like I was back in my student days. At that time I tried one or the other computer game quite intensively. A very funny one had a similar theme as Moonshiners of the Apocalypse and was called Redneck Rampage. The two heroes of this computer game had to save their favourite pig from the evil aliens after an alien invasion. As a player, for example, you ran around with shotguns or other lethal weapons. As a health refresher there is beer and bacon and of course homemade liquor (moonshine). If you have supported your health too much with alcohol, you couldn't go straight anymore, because the control of the computer mouse has changed completely. A lot of fun! Also in the board game Moonshiners of the Apocalypse there was an invasion, but here it is not aliens that endanger the survival of the heroes, but mutated beetles that escaped from a laboratory and infected the corn. Contaminated corn was distilled into contaminated liquor and it killed the people! In the game, the surviving Moonshiners (illegal distillers of liquor) try to collect as much gold as possible by selling their clean liquor to the other survivors within seven days in order to escape the Shanty Town. Since the city has been enclosed by a big wall for security reasons, you can only leave Shanty Town with a hot-air-balloon. But only the hero who has collected the most gold can escape.

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Each player assumes the role of a moonshiner and tries to find resources, build buildings and produce goods by exploring the hexagonal game board. He must win the god-fearing survivors as workers. From time to time it is also necessary to drink the surrounding drunkards under the table and drive them off the board, as they only cause problems. Each player has four actions available per round (day and night). In the day phase, up to two actions are carried out by one player. Then it is the turn of the other players to take two actions clockwise, before all players can take their second two actions. The possible player actions in the day phase are: Explore a hex, scavenge for resources, construct a building, challenge a drunkard and trade with uncle harding (he represents something like an exchange, where the players may convert their scrap, corn or moonshine resources into the deeply needed gold).

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In the night phase, the buildings already erected produce goods, that are needed for the exchange. Depending on how many survivors (up to four) are present in the corresponding hex and in which expansion stage the building has already been developed, the amount and style of the goods differ. The players try to exchange as much gold as possible by exploring the area, building necessary production facilities and producing helpful goods. Of course you have to eliminate some drunkards, because they interfere with the production of goods on the fields where they are in the night phase. By dividing the four player actions into two parts, no player will have to wait long for the next turn. This offers not only an entertaining game, but also other tactical possibilities. I was able to complete a short test round today and have to say that Moonshiners of the Apocalypse will definitely come to my table as soon as possible to expel the drunkards and take a little hot-air-balloon ride.

Additionally, Giuliano Draguleanu showed me the prototype of their newest game Dining with Dracula. Vampires seem to be stalking me somehow today! This time it's about the other head vampire. This workerplacement game is about finding the follower of Dracula's tourism empire. He is quite bored of his luxury life style and thinks that it's time for a new ruler to restore the somewhat run-down destination. The potential followers have to collect resources through the use of their hero and the skilful use of the arriving tourists, which enable them to take their places at Dracula's dinner table and turn their collected heart tokens into victory points. If they cannot gather enough resources to participate in the dinner, they will be bitten by Dracula. A special feature of the game is that the different game actions take a certain amount of time, which is measured on a clock. If a player manages to perform several actions one after the other, there is less time for the other players to collect the required resources or heart tokens. I like the idea of the game very much. Already the prototype looks very good and makes you want to hold the finished game in your hands. I'm really curious when the campaign for Dining with Dracula will start on Kickstarter.

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Today has been quite destructive as far as the themes of the board games are concerned. For this reason, the next appointment with John Zinser and John D. Cleir from ALDERAC ENTERTAINMENT GROUP (AEG) is a welcome change. This time it's more about art and the construction of the first continent.

Introduction: ECOS: First Continent (Alderac Entertainment Group – booth 3K107)

Legend has it that bingo is very popular in old people's homes. A "classic" bag building game. The requirements for the players are not very high, the game speed can be mastered even at a higher age and when a card slowly fills up, the game becomes slowly exciting. Which senior will be the first to call "Bingo"? The basic principle of bingo is also found in Ecos: The First Continent. Pieces with different values are drawn one after the other. Players may mark the corresponding element symbols on their cards with energy cubes. As soon as all open element symbols on the cards are covered, the corresponding player shouts "Eco" and wins. Well at least almost!

From here on the similarities stop and Ecos just really starts. Each player has several cards in front of him, which show different element symbols to cover at the edge of the card. Sometimes four elements are necessary to complete the card, sometimes only two. Once the card is completed, the player "wins" the execution of the effect shown on the card. These card effects expand Ecos: The First Continent in comparison to Bingo very significantly. In Ecos we find a modular game board consisting of hexagonal map tiles. At the beginning of the game there are only four tiles on the table (two water, a grassland and a desert landscape). By completing the game cards, map tiles can be added or changed. In addition, the effects allow a variety of different animals, trees and even mountains to find their way into the constantly growing and changing First Continent.

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On the one hand this looks very good due to the very high quality of the game material, on the other hand a larger and more differentiated game board is created step by step, which can be influenced by the players according to their own ideas and goals, given by the card effects of their cards. The goal of the game is of course to get as many victory points as possible, which also belong to the card effects of players cards. The effects of the cards vary a lot. Both in the number of effects to be executed as well as in its characteristics. If you are sometimes only allowed to play one landscape tile, another card can allow the player to place animals, move them around the board and get victory points.

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I particularly like the fact that the cards available to the player can be reused more or less often. If the energy cube spots are completely covered and the effect has been used, the card can be reused depending on the number of use icons symbolised by leaves before it has to be discarded. This will remove very powerful cards from the game after some time to prevent imbalance. At the beginning of the game, a player has only seven energy cubes, a starting hand consisting of 12 cards (three of which are placed face up) and a dial token. On the one hand, the dial token lists the possible symbols in the bag, since not all symbols occur equally frequently. Furthermore, the dial token offers the possibility to use a drawn element that you can't or don't want to use by turning the token ninety degrees clockwise. After the second rotation, effects can also be triggered by turning the token back to the start position. If the dial token was turned twice, you can get an additional card, if it was already turned three times, you can either get an additional energy cube or play a card. This is the only way to play a card besides a card effect. By playing cards and collecting the additional energy cubes you keep the engine of the game running, as the cards have a limited lifespan as mentioned before. So, the players have to think carefully about how to use the elements in order to have as many options as possible.

Ecos: The First Continent is a very entertaining game, as players don't have to wait for their next move, as each element pulled out of the bag can be used by all players in different ways. Despite the very simple gameplay and the simple rules, the many playing cards with the different card effects result in a very high game depth. This certainly gives rise to many tactical possibilities that cannot be seen at first glance. In my opinion the different game mechanics work together very well. The number of different playing cards alone makes you expect very varied games. While we were talking John Zinser mentioned that for AEG the show is going better than ever this time. Ecos: The First Continent for example is already sold out. For this reason, I would like to introduce another new game from AEG. Here comes the creative part of the day: Atelier: The Painter´s Studio.

Introduction: Atelier: The Painter´s Studio (Alderac Entertainment Group – booth 3K107)

My children are really good at painting and drawing. True works of art are created by the way. Already in kindergarten I painted pictures in action painting style. This means that it was really hard to recognize what I painted. On the whole that hasn't changed until today. John Zinser introduced me to Atelier: The Painter´s Studio so that I could finally manage to paint a real masterpiece. Atelier: The Painter´s Studio is a worker placement, dice rolling and set collection game, which is lovingly designed in the style of a painting studio. The player boards look like painting palettes. There are a lot of wooden paint cylinders and studentmeeples. And of course, there are 40 painting cards, all showing different real existing paintings from the 19th century. The goal of the game is to get as many victory points as possible by using patron cards and painting pictures. The game ends when a player has painted three masterpiece paintings. Of course, I am very happy that there are no pencils, wax crayons and paper in the game box. Lucky for me, I might have a chance to win the game!

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Another important element of the game are the dice. Each player receives four of them. For this reason, players can only perform up to four different actions per turn. Before a turn, the dice are rolled and the dice results can be used for various actions listed on the painting palette. Players can place students to the different colour cylinders, move a student from one colour to another, collect paint (but only from the colours where you placed the majority of the students), paint a picture, and collect an arbitrary colour. In order to be able to paint a picture, the players first need the colours required on one of the seven face up painting cards. So, student majorities have to be placed on the required colours or they have to be collected laboriously and individually via a dice result. This is not so easy if you only have certain dice results available. In addition, the other players can cross the plan by using their dice more cleverly.

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Fortunately, there are also inspiration tokens. After all, every real artist needs a little inspiration. So, every player gets an inspiration token at the beginning of the game. These tokens allow players to perform actions. For one token you can roll all dice once again, for two tokens you can paint a painting (according to the usual rules) and for three tokens you can draw another patron card (which earns you victory points for different goals at the end of the game). You get the inspiration tokens by using a die for a token instead of performing a dice action. Inspiration can thus help to achieve goals and collect points, even if the dice have not fallen as the player wished. But also, the pictures are not only painted to collect points. In addition to various categories that are used for the set collection element of the game, they also possess a painting power recorded on them. For example, this causes one to receive further inspirations tokens when the picture is painted.

As a painter you really have a lot to do and pay attention to. You should also keep an eye on your colleagues and not make painting too easy for them. The game end is triggered, once any player has painted their 3rd painting with a Masterpiece Symbol (a star under the title of the painting). After that the current round is to be completed and one final round will be played. The player with the highest score wins the game, of course. He is the one with the best Atelier! I liked Atelier: The Painter´s Studio very much, because it offers a lot of tactical possibilities although the rules are that easy to learn. The theme of the masters of the 19th century has also been appropriately adapted, so that you almost feel as if you are back at the easel of Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Stopover: All Or None Games - booth 5J109

A day like that at the fair goes by pretty fast. Boredom never happens. Fortunately, I still had enough time to visit some of the publishers whose games I tried out last year to see what new products they had on the way. First, I visited Tobias Hall from ALLORNONEGAMES, whose game Dicetopia inspired me very much last year. In the meantime, Tobias has finished two successful Kickstarter campaigns. On the one hand he developed an extension to Dicetopia, which is already delivered to the backer and can be purchased at the SPIEL. Roll with the Punches brings completely new elements into the basic game. So the actions of the three new locations of the expansion can now also protect dice, besides the goals to be achieved at the end of the game, short turn objectives and toxic dice are also introduced. In addition, five players can now try their luck in Dicetopia. That sounds very promising!

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The second successful Kickstarter project Goons is already financed, but it will take some time until the game is delivered. It will be available for the next game in any case. In Goons the players are henchmen who have to try to respect the local criminals. It is a character development, action selection, area influence game. Players must continue to build their henchmen by participating in the plans of various criminals, adding new equipment and boosting energy so that one day they can be the one calling the shots! The game consist of three rounds in which players take turns choosing Actions by using an Action selection system that lets them draw Action Cubes from an ongoing scoring grid. The players then combine their Action Cube with another Action by covering an Action space on their Goon Board. Actions include going to The Dojo to increase your Energy, shopping for new gear at The Supermarket, earn a little extra at The Local Diner, and mixing things up at The Night Club! But most importantly, Players will use their Actions to Commit to different Villain Schemes by placing Energy Markers on them to increase the chances of success and reward! This is the main way to score points, get money and new energy in the game!

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Dice and cubes are very popular with ALLORNONEGAMES in game design. Personally, I like that very much because it sets it apart from other games. In addition, the dice or cubes are always very well integrated into the overall design. This time the cool design of the protagonists in Goons strongly reminds me of Damon Albarn's comic band Project Gorillaz. I'm wondering if the Goons will play instruments and sing some henchman songs as well?

Stopover: Ediciones Primigenio - booth 5E113

My next path led me to EDICIONES PRIMIGENIO. After releasing Kingdom Defenders, a very well-balanced and varied worker placement game based on the Middle Ages, the players find themselves in the sewer of a post-apocalyptic world with their new game Ratville. Each player is the leader of a group of survivors, each round he has to decide which person to use for a certain task. After all, the group must be defended against monsters living in the sewer and other attackers. In order to increase the population of the group, resources must be collected so that buildings can be erected that support the survival of the group through their functions. Note, however, that a population in a sewer must be fed somehow. There are still some concerns for the leader! The goal of the game is to build a population of at least 20 people. Whoever does this first wins Ratville.

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Unlike Kingdom Defenders there is no need to place workers on certain places on the board. This time the actions are triggered by a combination of cards and dice. After the players' four dice have been rolled, the players distribute them on their player board and assign their character cards to the dice. The 7 existing character cards are numbered 1-7, but only four cards can be used in a round. The cards are then played in ascending order and in combination with the dice result. So be careful! The plan doesn't always work out and you lose a population point. My first day at the fair flew by. For this reason, there was only little time left for me to try out a short round of Ratville at EDICIONES PRIMIGENIO. The first impression of the game, however, is promising. It will certainly be exciting to see how the game mechanism works when a full game is completed. By the way, the play materials don't smell like sewer at all. That's it for today. See you soon.

Yours, Lutz

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SPIEL 19 - Frank's Day 3: It's Ladies' Day!!!

Those of you who have followed my reports in past years will remember that my wife Nicole always comes along to the SPIEL for a day during the weekend, and I am always curious which kinds of games we are going to discover on that day. Although our gaming tastes are similar, Nicole tends to look at some booths and games which would have bypassed, and so let's have see what kind of games will be among our finds today!

However, before entering the halls, Nicole and I spent our breakfast time to take a closer look at a game which I had carried home from the SPIEL yesterday. We have waited for Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated for quite a while, and so we were eager to take a first look at the components.

Introduction: Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated (Renegade Game Studios - Booth 2 F 138)

Welcome to the wonderful world of Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated! No spoilers to be found here!

Why the "no spoilers" announcement? For those of you who are not aware of Legacy-type games, let me explain briefly what makes this type of games so specific. Whereas a normal boardgame starts anew whenever you put it onto the table, a Legacy game requires the players to make permanent changes to the game whenever they play a new round. In Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated this means that the players will change the gameboard by applying stickers, they will permanently destroy playing cards and add new cards from a hidden stash, and the status and achievements of their characters will be recorded and carried on from game to game. All this contributes to a major campaign, and in Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated this campaign will have a length of approximately 10 rounds, perhaps a bit more.

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Click on image to enlarge!

However, play will not be over once the campaign is finished. At that point the players will have created their own unique game which can be re-used for future sessions, and furthermore there are possibilities to mix components from Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated with those from standard Clank!, giving the players a wide range of uses once they have finished the campaign. Even more, it is possible to mix components from different Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated games, so that ever more playing combinations can be enjoyed by the players.

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But what kind of game is Clank!? It's a deckbuilding game about a bunch of thieves entering a dragon's den, searching for valuable artifacts and trying to escape with them. At the beginning of the game each player possesses an identical deck of 10 cards which give them icons for movement, combat and purchasing new cards, and during their turns the players always play a hand of 5 cards, trying to use the displayed symbols to their best possible effects.

In gaming terms, this means that they will use movement icons to go down ever deeper in the dungeon to find one of the desired artifacts, and they will use combat icons to fight monsters, possibly gaining rewards from defeating a monster. Permanently available is a row of new cards from which the players can purchase cards with their purchase icons and add them to their own decks, with the card powers increasing with their prices.

As it is a deckbuilding game, this purchase of new cards means that the player decks will get ever bigger, impaling on their effectiveness and the probability and frequency to re-draw powerful cards. Thus, the players will have to chose carefully which new cards to add to their decks, and it's also very helpful to go for cards which allow the removing of other cards, because this allows their players to finetune their decks to get more powerful and effective.

As the players are thieves, they try to do their business as sneaky as possible, but during the game it is unavoidable that they will occasionally make some noise - or better: Clank!. If such cards are played, the players need to add tokens of their colour to a Clank! stockpile, and frequently during the game the tokens from the stockpile will be thrown into a Dragon Attack bag. It then comes to a Dragon Attack, meaning that a number of tokens is drawn from the bag, and every token drawn means the loss of a Lifepoint for a player's character. Once a certain number of tokens of one player has been drawn, that player will be knocked out and they game is over for him, so that the players cannot linger in the dungeon and waste turn after turn. Instead, the way to be most effective in Clank! is to make haste and try to leave the dungeon is quickly - and silently - as possible.

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Allready the basic game of Clank! and its expansions have chained my wife Nicole and me to the gaming table for many hours. The addiction factor is so high that we even developed our own campaign rules, playing our way through all different gameboards and keeping some cards along the way. However, we were absolutely thrilled when we learned about the arrival of a Clank! Legacy game, and now we finally will be able to enjoy a major compaign in a different world of Clank!.

Coming equipped with nice oversized miniatures, Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated takes the players into the universe of Acquisitions Incorporated, an online animated series telling about a ragtag band of adventurers who are out hunting for the big treasures. The players now can take the roles of different characters from that series, and each player will set up his own dungeon exploration franchise, expanding and improving his business during the course of the campaign.

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As indicated above, the campaign game will bring along a wagonload of surprises which will make additions to the gameboard and introduce new cards. The core element here is a book of paragraphs which contains lots of innovations, instructing the players to adjust the game accordingly. The reading of a paragraph can be triggered by many different situations, ranging from the revealing of a token or the arrival at a gameboard location to the performance of a contract card (a commonly available task). Furthermore, at the beginning of the campaign each player starts with a deck of cards which is identic to the standard Clank! starting decks, but during the course of the campaign the composition of the player decks is bound to change due to the development of his franchise. Depending on a player's performance in the current game, the player will be able to record a number of checkmarks on his status record, and here once again the reading of new paragraphs from the Book of Secrets, the paragraph book, may be triggered. Finally, even the knockout of a player may bring up new game situations, introducing competition in form of Dran Enterprises, a rival dungeon exploration business.

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New stickers, cards and tokens really will spice up every new game of Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated, but it is most important to say at this point: It's will still be Clank!! Indeed all basic Clank! rules have been incorporated on a 1-to-1 base into the new Legacy-concept, with only a few minor tweaks in order to ensure coherent gameplay in the new game. Already the first peaks taken by Nicole and me lure us to start playing and exploring the game right away, but of course this will have to wait until the SPIEL is over!

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At the moment we have amazing weather here at Essen, with daytime temperatures of more than 20 degrees and blue skies. It had been quite a while since I last could walk to SPIEL wearing only a shirt, but due to the good weather no coats were necessary on the way to SPIEL today.

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Explorers in a Pharao's tomb, or doctors performing a rushed live operation. Nicole was amazed by the ideas and the colourful booths this year, and furthermore she was delighted to see that especially in the morning hours we could navigate the halls quite well, despite the weekend crowd pushing in. Once again it turns out the MERZ VERLAG is right to schedule the SPIEL during the Fall school holidays, because the holidays provide for a more even distribution of the crowd on all convention days.

Once inside the halls, we started our own exploration tour, crossing in a Clank!-like manner from aisle to aisle and booth to booth. Arriving in Hall 3, Nicole actually surprised me when we arrived at the PORTAL booth, because she said that she would like to get an introduction to Ignacy's new edition of Pret-A-Porter. With a free table in sight, we sat down and launched our first playtesting session of the day.

Playtesting Session: Pret-A-Porter (Portal Games - Booth 3 O 118)

Fashion design is a really tough business, with the designers being obliged to stay creative for all their career, following and setting trends and being more innovative than their competitors. Years ago Ignacy had chosen exactly this business branch for the creation of a hardcore economic boardgame, and after a very small first edition the second edition of Pret-A-Porter in 2011 had become very popular among serious gamers. In fact, the prices for obtaining a copy of Pret-A-Porter were soaring in the years afterwards, and so the time definitely has come for a new edition of this economic masterpiece.

Even though the game is approximately 10 years old, it has lost nothing of it's attractiveness. Quite the opposite, the strategic challenge to become the most successful fashion designer has been implemented in Pret-A-Porter with a timeless elegance that does not lost its appeal over the years, and so the game doesn't need to fear a comparison with other modern age boardgame. So, if you have already played Pret-A-Porter and finally want to get your own copy, be assured that you will find the same game with a slightly improved artistic design. However, for those of you who have not yet faced the challenge to become the world's greatest designer, let me try to get you into the business.

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Click on image to enlarge!

Pret-A-Porter plays over a total duration of one year. The year is split into quarters, with each quarter consisting of two action rounds and one exhibition round in which the players score with the fashion collections they have created during the action rounds. The action rounds themselves run on a mechanism of worker placement, with the players placing action tokens on different locations on the gameboard which allow them to acquire staff, buildings, contracts, resources and - most important - new fashion designs.

Fashion design cards must be collected in a way in order to be presented in a collection sharing the same trait (sports, leisure etc.) in an exhibition round at the end of a quarter. The more designs are in the collection, the higher the income of the player will be when he sells the collection after the quarterly exhibition. However, Pret-A-Porter is not just a game of collection a matching set of fashion cards - the real challenge starts when it comes to the production of each piece of fashion. Of course the players need the right resources, but the production process in the game also can be upgraded by acquiring staff and buildings which improve the player actions and give access to new kinds of actions, some of which not even needing an action token. So, it's the primary challenge of the players to set up a well working production chain, finetuning it by acquiring additional cards which create ever more windfall effects and increase efficiency.

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However, getting an engine started is one thing, whereas keeping it going is a totally different challenge. As the year is split into quarters, the players cannot simply focus on the exhibition phase at the end of the current quarter, but instead they have to do some long-term planning in order to keep going in the quarters which are still to come. This necessity results from the fact the a player cashes in his finished fashion collection in the exhibition phase at the end of each quarter, and so the players not only have to create a nice collection for the next exhibition, but furthermore they have to plan ahead and collect and finish fashion cards which can be used in the quarters yet to come. So, a player who tries to start from scratch at the beginning of each quarter quickly will fall behind, whereas a successful player will keep an eye both on short-term necessities and long-term scorings at the same time.

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Everything in Pret-A-Porter has been tuned in a way to strengthen this combination of short-term gains and long-term strategy. So, the players also can conclude a contract which will give them some benefits right away, but the contract will grow weaker in the following quarter and is removed in the second quarter after it had been concluded by the player. In addition, the scoring modalities for the quarterly exhibition phases change with every quarter, focusing on ever less traits which the players must represent with their collections. This also facilitates a clear view of the situation at the game's end, since the players get a good impression which approach they should follow to implement a successful long term strategy.

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Click on image to enlarge!

Talking about strategy, Pret-A-Porter is a game in which the players actually are encouraged to give each other clear informations on their current situation regarding the categories in which the next exhibition phase will be scored. Of course this does not go as far as explaining their strategy or which moves they will take, but all general situation about a player's business should be shared openly. This once again emphasizes the fact that Pret-A-Porter is a game in which the players are aiming to make the best strategic decisions - it's not about surprising each other with some collection traits which might have been overlooked.

Pret-A-Porter is as tough as it is honest. It's all about engine building, but in this game it's an engine with many gears which is supposed to power several machines at the same time. The directness of the game makes it a bit hard for newcomers to play against a seasoned fashion designer, because the game does not forgive many economically doubtful decisions due to its puristic approach. However, if played with a group of gamers of an equal level, the tactical fashion battle which develops over the course of the gaming year becomes a truly masterful challenge. The winner indeed is a star designer - of fashion AND of an in-game engine!

This certainly had been an ambitious start for today, and so Nicole and I now were in the mood to go for some lighter games. We took a stroll through Halls 4 and 5 where many small game publishers with some unusual designs can be found, and indeed it didn't take us long to find some interesting looking games.

Introduction: Bilder (Monkeyshine Games - Booth 5 D 104)

The first company where we stopped was MONKEYSHINE GAMES, a small publisher from Belgium which has come to the SPIEL to present his new game Bilder. On first look Bilder looks like a child's wooden construction box. However, the wooden pieces are part of a riddling game in which a player has to use the wooden parts to set up a display, the meaning of which has to be guessed by the other players. However, the player cannot just chose what he wants to build, but instead he has received a card giving him two different terms from two categories, and he can only chose one of those terms to try to build his display.

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The game will be won by the player who first finishes displays from all 5 categories which can be found in the game. Despite the seemingly drastic limitation to use just a few wooden pieces, it was truly astonishing how many different terms the players actually could set up using just a few parts. In a way, this reminded me a bit of a management training session which I experienced at work some weeks ago. My colleagues and me were attending a day of Playing Lego Seriously, using Lego parts and pieces to get started to discuss different situations and strategies at work. At the beginning this felt like a doubtful exercise, but over the course of the day we got better and better and the talks deepend.

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The feeling was quite the same in our testing of Bilder, because you need to start thinking in a somewhat abstract way in order to be successful in using the wooden parts. However, we think that especially with a group of like-minded people this game can really kick off, and so it might be worthwhile to give it a try.

Staying in Hall 4, we stopped again just a few booths away, this time to take a look at the game Bloom Town by the new publisher SIDEKICK GAMES from Denmark.

Playtesting Session: Bloom Town (Sidekick Games - Booth 5 F 106)

After yesterday's playtesting of Cities Skylines, the game Blooom Town is a city building game at a much smaller scale. Instead of erecting a complete city together, the players of Bloom Town compete to build their own cities, trying to place new building tiles in order to score the highest possible amount of victory points witch each new building.

The choice which new building a player can erect are rather limited, because each player only has a hand of two building tiles. During his turn, a player must chose one of these tiles and place it onto his own city board, and only after this placement he is allowed to finish his turn by taking a new building tile from the open display to his hand. However, and here the tricky part of Bloom Town begins, the player cannot freely chose his new building tile from the display, but instead he must take the tile from the slot which corresponds to the symbol which is printed on the building slot which he has used on his city board.

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This connection between the placement of a tile and the taking of a new tile is the main challenge for the players in Bloom Town, because points are scored for a building as soon as the tile is placed. Thus, a player always has to weight whether he wants to score the highest possible amount of points, or whether he should be content with a less attractive building space which will give him access to an interesting tile in the display.

The scoring rules for the placement of a building tile are pretty straightforward, depending on the type of the building and its surrounding tiles. Office buildings score points for other offices connected horizontally a vertically, whereas a subway station scores for every subway station which is connected vertically. Parks score for up to two neighbouring parks, houses for different types of building tiles on adjacent spaces, and shops finally for certain kinds of neighbouring building tiles.

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Click on image to enlarge!

These rules alone make the undertaking of building a city in Bloom Town a rather tricky task, but even more spice is added by the re-scoring tiles which have been added to the stacks with new building tiles. When the second re-scoring tiles of a kind is revealed, all buildings of that type will score again, thus reflecting the return of investment which the player gains for following a design strategy for his city. These re-scoring rules make it even more important not only to watch out for well matching buildings, but also to observe timing in order to be ready for a possible re-scoring. Of course there is a bit of luck involved if the first re-scoring tile of a kind has been drawn early, but nonetheless this luck factor seems to be neglectable.

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Bloom Town played very straightforward, and it didn't take us long to get a feeling for the tactical options the game offers. As indicated, the connection between tile placement and taking is quite ingenious, and the incentive to think in additional dimension is going even further by printing some double-scoring building spaces on each player's city board. Bloom Town is a rather well designed brain teaser, and it seems that it's potential is considerable. As we learned, it's actually Wall Mart which has licensed the game for the whole US market, and now the publishers from SIDEKICK GAMES are looking for licensing partners in Europe.

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Stopover: T-Rex's Holiday & Cat Sudoku - Roll for Kyoto (Taiwan Boardgame Design - Booth 5 T 122)

Did I tell you that Nicole is crazy about cat games? Well, during the previous days I had already bagged Kung Fur Fight from TAIWAN BOARDGAME DESIGN, Cat Café from ALLEYCAT GAMES and Cat Lady from AEG, but this didn't stop us from hunting down two more cat-themed games once again at TAIWAN BOARDGAME DESIGN. The games we found were T-Rex's Holiday, a light-footed pen-and-paper game about furry T-Rex causing mayhem all over the home, and Cat Sudoku - Roll for Kyoto, a Sudoku variant which uses different types of grids for entering the numbers and which can be played by more than one player as a cooperative riddle.

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Nicole and me with Ta-Te Wu, the designer of Cat Sudoku

Have you checked the calendar? In less than two months it's Christmas, and I wonder where the first 10 months of the year have gone to. Time is passing quickly these days, and indeed the time to gather some presents has come. For this reason Nicole and I have split up for a bit, with each of us checking the halls for some nice gifts. As for me, I remembered that Nicole had read in the Spielbox SPIEL preview about the game Mu from BANKIIIZ GAMES, and so I went to Hall 3 to check out whether the game was worthwhile to get.

Playtesting Session: Mu (Bankiiiz Games / Blackrock Games - Booth 3 O 106)

I was lucky, I found free table right away, and so I could start my search for the fabled city of Mu. Wait a minute! I had heard about the city of Mu before, and thinking about it I remembered that Corto Maltese, the famous world traveler and drifter from the comics of Hugo Pratt, has searched for the fabled realm of Mu in his very last adventure. Mus was supposed to be a rich kingdom in the sea, and just like Atlantis it has perished. Corto Maltese had found a way to get there, but now BANKIIIZ GAMES takes us all back to ancient Mu at the peak of its cultural and economic prosperity.

Mu is a card drafting game in which the players build their own city within a period of three rounds. During each of the rounds the players build three buildings on the grid of 3 times 3 building spaces of their own player boards. These buildings mainly belong to 3 classes - military, farming and spiritual buildings. During the end game scoring, the symbols printed on the the farming and spiritual buildings will contribute to a player's total score, with the difference that farming symbols first must be counted against the total number of a player's intact buildings so that all excess crop counts for double, whereas all spiritual symbols directly contribute victory points on a 1 to 1 basis.

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Military buildings are handled differently, because the players' cities are warring each other. At the beginning of the game some attack cards have been drawn, with each of the attack cards showing either a row or column of each player's city which will be part of the end of round battle. At that point all the players will add up the military symbols on buildings within the corresponding row or column, and the player with the highest military score will win a military victory token, whereas the player with the lowest score may loose the use of the symbols of a building ion that row or column due to structural damage.

However, the placement of a new building is tricky, because each of the four edges of a building card shows half of a military, farming or spiritual symbol, and it is helpful if a player succeeds in aligning his buildings in a way that one or even more of these symbols are completed by bringing together two card edges showing the same symbol colour. If a player is successful in doing so, he will gain a corresponding token, and these tokens both count in the final scoring and will also help the player to activate the powers of inventions which are available to his city.

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In general, these inventions add to the player's victory points of they are completed, but furthermore the inventions also offer some special powers. Some of them provide additional tokens, whereas others can help to repair a building in order to reactivate it, or they can give an end game bonus for certain conditions or buildings on a player's gameboard. Due to these aspects, the final scoring is quite diversified, since victory points come from military tokens, from symbols on the buildings, from symbol tokens and from inventions.

Strange enough, Mu feels a bit like different parts of 7 Wonders have been put into a blender, stripping a few things away and then putting everything together in a different way. This is certainly true for the card drafting, the end of round military conflicts and for the endgame scoring which is based on different scoring categories. Nonetheless, Mu is by no means a 7 Wonders clone, but instead it's a very smooth drafting game with lots of strategic options. Especially the placement of each new building card is of utmost importance for the players, both due to the military conflicts and to complete symbols by matching colours with neighboring buildings or with symbols printed on the outer rim of the gameboard. This give Mu a considerable strategic depth despite its lightfootedness, making it a rather enjoyable experience.

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All this makes Mu a game which is rather worthwhile to get, but if you are planning to get a copy, go ahead and get some matching card sleeves right away. The building cards will get a used feeling quite quickly due to their thin quality, and Mu is much too nice again to be left in the shelf due to its card quality.

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Finishing a game with Maria from Spain and Paul from Germany

The day was nearly over at that point, but with an hour left Nicole and I decided to try to get a free space at the booth of MIRAKULUS, a German publisher where we had failed to get a free table all day long. However, now we were lucky, and so we could embark on our last journey for the day, roaming Grimms Wälder.

Playtesting Session: Grimms Wälder (Mirakulus - Booth 2 B 114)

Welcome in the woods!

Grimms Wälder (The Grimm Forest) certainly is one of our most anticipated games here at the SPIEL 2019. Our interest in this game has been kindled by the first images of the game at the Boardgamegeek website, and after reading a bit more about it on Kickstarter we decided that this certainly is a game which we need to check out.

The game takes the fairytale of the Wolf and the three Pigs as a loose thematic background, but once you have started you are going to meet a sheer endless row of other personalities from fairytales and legends, ranging from Snow White to Ali Baba or even Robin Hood. However, it's not only the good characters which are present in this game, there are also monsters like the Giant, the Bridge Troll and - of course - the Big Bad Wolf.

So, how do all these illustrious personalities come together, and what's their purpose in this game? Well, the players have taken up the roles of nephews and nieces of the 3 Pigs from the fairytale, and they now are participating in a Royal contest to be the first architect to finish not one but actually three huts. These huts may be made from straw, wood or bricks, and the resources for the players' building operations must be gathered at three locations which have been placed in the middle of the table.

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During each game round new resources will appear on the fields, in the forest and at the brickyard (or on the market in a four player game), and using hidden movement cards the players will determine where they are going to send their Pig for the upcoming round. If a player's pig is the only Pig present at a location, that player is allowed to take all resources from that location into his stockpile, whereas the presence of two or more Pigs means that the stocks must be equally divided between all present Pigs (or players). The resources then can be used by the Pigs at the end of the round to finish different stages of the three types of houses, provided that a player possesses enough resources of the same type in order to complete a stage of an house of that type.

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Wait a minute. Does this game really run on a simple go-and-gather mechanism? Indeed it does, but the real fun is yet to begin!

This is the place where the fairytale characters and creatures have their appearance, because the players do not only play their movement cards every round, but in addition the players also are allowed to play a Fable card, one card per player. These cards are revealed before the players reveal their movement cards, and depending on the contents of the Fable cards which have been played these cards may trigger directly or later during the round. Most prominent among the fables are monsters, and here the player of such a fable card is allowed to take that monster's miniature and send it to a location of his choice. This monster will have a detrimental effect on any players who have sent their Pig to that location, for example the Big Bad Wolf will destroy one wood or straw house of every Pig at his location. However, the monsters are not the only type of fables, there are also unique locations which can change the effects of a gathering location, and there are all kinds of special actions which may influence the players' gathering of resources, the movement of other players or the players' hand of cards.

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The list of different fable cards very long, and this is partly due to the effect that the Kickstarter for Grimms Wälder had been so successful that a lot of stretch goals where unlocked, allowing the game designers to commission quite a bit of unique artwork. However, in gaming terms these cards offer a whole additional level to the guessing and bluffing which happens between the players. Now the players do not only have to decide about the location where they should send their Pigs, but they also have to think whether they should use a Fable card to increase their gains for that round, or whether they should try to hamper the others by sending out a nasty monster.

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However, there are also the Friend cards to be reckoned with, and all these friends have a beneficial effect for the player who has taken a specific friend as an ally. So, for example, the Huntsman will cancel a monster which has been placed at the location of the player's Pig, Cinderella can let the Pig use her magic coach to arrive faster to gather resources (getting a bonus), or Red Riding Hood (who is an expert in Wolf lore) allows the player to take fable cards with the wolf from the discard pile onto the player' hand. So, beware of innocent looking girls wearing a red cloak!

All these special powers of friends can make quite a difference, and for that reason a player's friends will usually change quite quickly. Whenever a player gains a new Friend card he has to decide instantly whether he wants to keep that friend (discarding his present Friend card), or whether he gives it to another player (who then is obliged to discard his present Friend card).

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Grimms Wälder is a highly interactive game which creates a lot of funny moments due to the high amount of possibilities to spoil other players' plans. A stable strategy is difficult to implement because it is one of those games where the things which you have built in one turn can be lost again with the wink of an eye. However, it's absolutely not the aim of Grimms Wälder to be a full-size strategy game. Instead, the game wants to entertain the players with hilarious moments which are created by the meetings of all these fairytale characters, and if you do not play the game in a serious mood you will have a great time indeed. The absolutely cute artwork completes my general good impression of this lightfooted fairytale rollercoaster, and due to its entertainment value it's certainly a game which you should give a try here at the SPIEL!.

This brings me to the end of today's report, and in fact it's nearly the end of my SPIEL reporting this year. Tomorrow Ralf will be back with another full day coverage, and of course I will let you know which was the best game I have played at the SPIEL. So stay tuned for the grand final tomorrow!

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Greetings from Nicole and me!

Full SPIEL ahead!!!

Frank

Friday, 25th of October 2019

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Ralf's Report - Convention Day 2

Here we are again! I can't think what came over me some weeks ago, when I confirmed my participation on the gaming-breakfast at RUDY GAMES. Not that I don't like breakfast. But I should have known that I would be writing all night long, and that I would need a lot of sleep in the morning. Especially after the computer problem I had yesterday. I turned off the light at 2:30 and my alarm clock went off at 7:30 again. But to be honest, it took me half an hour more to get up. Still enough time to drive to the fair and arrive at the gaming-breakfast at 8:30, 1,5 hours before the official opening of the fair.

That was my plan. But, I assumed that at this time the autobahn would still be free. The opposite was true. A lot of visitors came extremly early this year just to get the best parking places. As a result my arrive was delayed, and I only came to the booth at 9:15. Luckily, still enough time for the breakfast.

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If you don't know RUDY GAMES so far, I have to tell you that this Austrian publisher sets all of his boardgames around an app for a smartphone or a tablet. They try to make the mobile device part of their games. So they can adjust the game in the future to the players experiences and wishes. I had the chance to play one of their games before the fair. It's already an older one, in fact it's their very first one, but I think this game is good to explain to you how the mobile device interacts with the boardgame in front of us:

Review: Leaders – The combined Strategy Game (rudy games – booth 4A117)

The game takes place in the time of the cold war. The board gives us a map of the world divided into the different countries and states. When you look at it, it immediately will remind you on Risk. I still remember a tactic a friend of mine invented in the classic old game. In this tactic you withdrew all of your troops to one of countries in the eastern part of Russia. For more than five rounds you do nothing than building more troops. And then finally you strike back. This was an enormously effective method to come back into play. But it's not good to adopt this strategy to Leaders.

Leaders let you play various scenarios that can be chosen in the app. Depending on the scenario, you start already with preselected countries in which you each place one of your naval seals (the weakest troops). Or you can choose one country in turn order until all countries of the world are occupied by one unit.

In your turn you firstly get a new national event from the app that can influence the rules for the round or make some things possible or impossible to use. For instance, it might tell you that you aren't allowed to use any tanks in your fights for the round. After that phase it is time to command our troops with three steps to follow:

First of all, you can place units from your base camp to any country on the map with at least one of your units. The only thing you have to care about are the area's production limits. At the start of the game you normally don't have many troops in your base camp, but that will change rapidly during the game as you will see.

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The placement phase is followed by a movement phase in which you can move excess units (one of the units always has to remain in a country) in an adjacent country. It is not necessary to keep the conditions of the production limits for movement, so you can attack an opponent's area from two or more sides just by moving troops inside the country. After the active player has moved all of his troops, all opponents of an attack (areas with more units than just from one country) can add troops to the area from their base camp too. But in contrast to the troops that moved in, they are again obliged to regard the area's production limits.

The result of an attack is determined by rolling the dice. Each unit type has its own die with the stronger units having more hits on it. For every hit a unit is removed from the board. Quite simply, similar to the the old Risk again, but very effective.

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In the next phase the mobile phone with the app gets its most important part in the game. It's called the headquarter phase in which you spend your income from all of your occupied countries to buy new units, spies, ambassadors and in which you can spend money on research in different disciplines.

You don't get the results of your headquarter actions at once, however the app will tell you the precise moment. In contrast to Risk your units will not remain on the board all the time. Instead of that, all excess units are removed from the board and are taken back to the base camp at the start of a player's tunr. As a result, the tactic of my friend would not work in Leaders, and the board is always very tidy at the begin of a player's turn.

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Leaders is often compared to Risk. I also did it as you have read. And indeed, there are a lot of similarities. But there are two decisive differences. First of all, there is the app that allows secret information in diplomacy, research activities and choices of new troops. On the other hand the withdraw of all excess units at the beginning of each players' turn changes the game enormously. As already said, the tactic of my friend wouldn't work in Leaders.

I liked playing the game quite a lot, but only if you are able to reduce the downtime in your opponent's turns. The choices on the mobile device may take some time for beginners, but you can use multiple devices, so a player can already begin reading the national events on his device, while the other player ends his actions in the headquarter. The fightings are much more unimportant thand in Risk. and there are missions in which there are almost no fights at all. Of course you can win by using your troops. But often a player also wins by spending a huge amount of money in the field of researches or diplomacy.

After this explanation, I continued my breakfast. But shortly after my last croissant, the tables were already prepared for the newest release by RUDY GAMES, a quiz game for the whole family, called Quiz It. And I also had a first glimpse on an upcoming game that uses augmented reality and seems to further use the abilities of the mobile device:

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Breakfast was good, especially the coffee! Five hours of sleep is not the worst (I heard that Napoleon and Ms. Merkel only need 4,5 hours), but for me that is definitely not enough. Still the coffee helped to go over to my next meeting at HOBBY WORLD:

Introduction: Cassiopeia (Hobby World – booth 1E151)

Cassiopeia (or Kassiopia in the German version you see in the picture below) is a game about terraforming space. After Mars, Moon and various satellites of the gas giants in our galaxy were inhabited, it's time to move forward. Cassiopeia seems to be a fair chance to feed mankind. In the game each player leads an expedition to the constellation in the northern sky and tries to inhabit seven planets. These seven planets are laid out in front of each player at set-up with the inhabited side up.

Six specialists are randomly drawn and placed, accessible for all player in the middle of the table. These specialists are chosen by the players each round of the game (a specialist can only be chosen by one player per round). The choice of the specialists is the first phase in every round, and at the same time it determines the order of the following individual turns.

In these individual turns you either can use the effects of the chosen specialist, or you can trade resources. After that you can try to terraform the planet by “paying” the required resources (that are always given by the card left to the card you want to terraform). As a result of a terraforming, the planet card is flipped to its inhabited side (resulting again in a permanent active effect of the card and new (higher) terraforming costs for the planet right to this card.

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Cassiopeia is a resource management game and that's why there are not only two or three resources in the game, but six. The game is much about exchanging resources, optimally taking advantage of the specialists and observing what resources your opponents might need. Basically, a simple game. But I guess you can spent some time finding an optimized strategy to flip your planets and collecting the necessary resources for your next terraforming plans. And to make thinks more complex, the chosen specialists in a round are flipped to the other side where we can find other specialists. So in reality, there aren't just six specialists in agame but 12.

Stopover: Renegade Game Studio - booth 1E151

One of my highlights since 2016 is the booth of RENEGADE GAME STUDIO. 2016 was the first year for the American publisher to attend SPIEL. Since then they come with more games every year than in the year before. And nearly all of their games are of such an amazing quality that I regularly don't know where to start.

But let's quickly go over some of their new releases. First of all – most anticipated – is the sequel to the great Architects of the West Kingdom. I was told that the new game uses most of the symbols of its predecessor. As a result players who know Architects will understand the new game in just a few minutes. It's again a worker placement game with the task to build outposts and fortifications to save the country from outsiders. It's also necessary to fight the outsiders. And for all that you need resources and helpers. The game is called Paladins of the West Kingdom, and although I had only a short explanation up to now, I am pretty sure that it once again will be among the hits of this year. Compared to Architects it might be a little bit more challenging, at least it is more competitive I was told.

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Then there is Circadians: First Light, a game in which players are a team of researchers on an foreign planet:

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And, for example, The Aquicorn Cove, a narrative game for the whole family:

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I could go on like this for at least four more games. But I think you get an idea of why I am telling you about the good quality of the games. However I was missing one game on the tables. It's a solo game about a fighting maid, and I would really have liked to try this here in Essen. And because I was so excited about the game, I took my copy of the game and set up the game at home tonight. So, let's see how it works:

Introduction: Proving Grounds (Renegade Game Studio – booth 1E151)

Maia Strongheart is a poor girl who has been betrayed. Everyone thinks that she is responsible for her mother's death and the only way to prove her innocence is the Proving Grounds which is also the title of the game. The Proving Grounds is nothing else than a gladiator arena. Maia has to defeat eight enemies, six of them are attacking simultaneously. To simulate that, an encounter board is used with six randomly drawn enemies attacking from all sides. Each enemy is assigned to a die symbol with numbers from 1-6 on this encounter board.

Now, all enemies have their unique battle track, consisting of five spaces each. It's our aim to reach the topmost space of these battle tracks to defeat the enemy. Beginning from a starting point, a marker will move up, if in a round enough dice are assigned to that enemy (e.g. to reach a space with a 3+, it is necessary to assign three dice or more to this enemy). If however you assign a single die to an enemy, the marker is moved down one step. This is quite dangerous, because if the maker reaches the bottom space, Maia will suffer a wound until she dies.

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You might wonder why a player should assign only one die to an enemy if that lead to death. The answer is: insufficient time. The main phase of Proving Grounds is real-time. You have exactly one minute to roll dice from your dice pool, before you must assign all dice to the matching enemies (for example the two dice with the number 2 are assigned to the enemy next to the “2” die symbol on the encounter board). Moreover, you may reroll the dice in the real-time phase as often as you like, but it is only allowed to reroll sets of dice with the same number. A single die may never be rerolled. And of course, a minute passes really quickly, always remember that you have to check the battle conditions of six enemies simultaneously...

If I now tell you, that a lot of enemies will also have special abilities that must be considered, you probably won't be shocked. And if you knew that there were spaces on some of the battle tracks that demand special coloured dice, you still might think it's manageable. But all I have said up to know are only the learning or better training rules. There are six modules that further expand the game and introduce new game elements, so I think that the game ensures long replayability.

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As expected, RENEGADE GAME STUDIO has also spent this solo game a fantastic look. I especially liked the idea of a real-time phase in a solo game. That's why I am really looking forward to play Proving Grounds in the next days (after the convention).

Leaving the booth of Renegade, I recognized that the halls were no really crowded. I am often asked what is the best day to come to the convention. I normally answer: it depends. In the last years Thursday and Friday were often more crowded than the days on the weekend. But I can also remember years in which Saturday or Sunday was the worst day to come. It is always a bet. For 2019 I can now tell you that yesterday was less crowded than today. Although the passageways were broader as we already told you, there were places with no getting through:

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That's why I left the halls near the entrances with the big publishers and made a stroll through hall 4 again. Here I spotted the booth of JAPANIME GAMES that is always an eye-catcher because all of their colourful anime games. There are a lot of people out there who just love the artwork from the Japanese artist. That's why you can also find lot of games that you better forget from the perspective of a reviewer. But during the the last five years, I learnt that JAPANIME GAMES is different from that. All of their games I played so far, are games you can really play, and that you will play again because they are good. So let's have a closer look at their newest game here in Essen:

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Introduction: Kamigami Battles: River of Souls (Japanime Games – booth 4E104)

Kamigami Battles: River of Souls is one of the new sets for Kamigami Battles: Battle of the Nine Realms that was released last year. The game is a typical deck builder that plays in the Mythic Greek era. Players take the role of gods that sends their warriors and disciples against their opponents and fight each other. As usual for Japanime Games the cards are lovely illustrated in an (more or less sexy) anime style. Most of the heros are females, but you can also find some male characters. But let's focus on the gameplay first:

The game starts with a typical 10 cards starter deck for every player. Five of these cards are drawn as hand cards. In the public area that is the “market” we can find new and stronger cards. Here we can find three different disciple decks that are our “normal” supply for new cards. All warrior cards that are much stronger cards are shuffled and divided into 6 even piles in the market. Only the first card of every pile is revealed and can be acquired in the purchase phase.

Playing cards and acquiring new cards from the market follows the typical structure of other deck building games like Dominion, Thunderstone and Star Realms. The currency of Kamigami Battles: River of Souls is faith. Most cards also have special abilities that can be categorized in act and react abilities. Most important to win the game are the attacking abilities (of course an act ability) that reduce the strength of other gods. And once this strength is reduced to zero that player is out of game.

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Nothing particular so far. But Kamigami Battles: River of Souls has some nice features that make the game special in my opinion. First thing is that you can (but you don't have to) play a team match in which one team takes the role of the one gods and the other of the other gods. One of the players of every team is chosen as the main god player. This player starts with more energy, while the support gods only start with less energy. And it's a team's aim to reduce the health of the main god to zero to win the game. It's a more cooperative way to play the deckbuilding game, but at the moment I don't know if it can also reduce the downtime I have when playing most deckbuilder with more than two players.

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The other interesting feature is the colour restraint of the warriors played in a turn. There is normally a limitation to play warriors in your turn to one. But if the colour of a warrior on your hand matches one of the two follow-up colours of the played card, you are allowed to play this card additionally. And this card will give you the new follow-up colours, and you can play a third, fourth or even the fifth card, if you can match these follow-up colours. So you can create a nice chain reactions. Of course, colours and follow-up colours of the cards should be considered while buying new cards.

Coming back to the illustrations: I saw a lot of women play the game, although I would have expected more men, just because of the saucy artwork. But the staff also reassured me that there are much more women interested in a lot of games by JAPANIME GAMES than men. They have no explanation for that, but it seems to be true. That's quite an interesting fact I hat to think about. But I will definitely not do that in just this moment....

Coming from lightly clad women, I felt like going to some real challenge. And why not go to a zone nobody dares to enter: Here comes Zona:

Playtesting Session: Zona: The Secret of Chernobyl (Rebel – booth 2C140)

I recently saw a documentation about Chernobyl in the television. It's been now over 30 years since the reactor of Chernobyl's nuclear power plant exploded. But the movie didn't concentrate on the catastrophe itself, it rather told a story about the surroundings of the power plant and the situation today. I was deeply impressed by an expedition of the film team to the innermost of the reactor. Still today the radioactive contamination is so high that people are only allowed to go there for about five minutes, despite of all the protective clothes. Much is untouched there, for example the shoes and clothes of the first rescue team that was sent to the reactor (nearly everyone of them died shortly after the catastrophe).

It's easy conceivably that there are people who would pay a lot of money for the one or other souvenir from the innermost of the reactor. Also, I can imagine that there are a lot of rumours telling about secrets and experiments of the military in the closed off area. This is exactly where Zona: The Secret of Tchernobyl is leading us. Each player takes the role of a scavenger who is looking for fame and money. It's been said that in the innermost of the reactor you can find a precious artefact, but to reach there, you must find two secret informations at certain locations in the surrounding of the power plant.

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Similar to other adventure board games a player receives a character board with 4 different attributes, a damage track and spaces for items in the hands and in a backpack. Each scavenger starts with her own four starting equipment cards. Next to the damage track on the player board we all get a dial to track our fatigue level. You often can use fatigue to escape dangerous situations, for example make a run to a bunker, but at the end you get exhausted and must take a rest.

The main board of the game is divided into zones of different threat levels. The closer you get to the innermost the more dangers occur. In the game (hopefully not in reality) there are even mutants and anomalies that must be defeated. Now, in the action phase of the game each player takes two actions, moves around, performs actions at their local positions (e.g. a market place where you can buy and sell items), searches the area (which often results in an encounter with a threat) or rests to recover fatigue again.

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After the action phase, there is an event for most players in their current position (each player must draw an event card), and finally a new rumour is drawn that can change game rules and introduce new objectives. Much encounters, local actions and decisions are solved by tests. In a test a player always rolls three special dice with results of +,-,damage and nothing. A + is added to the player's attribute, a minus is subtracted and two damage icons result in an additional damage for the scavenger. Of course there are items to change symbols, reroll dice and neglect effects, as you will already presume.

For me it was easy to get into Zona: The Secret of Tchernobyl. Most game mechanics are well known from the one or other game I know, but together they seem to form an elaborated game. I especially liked the story and hope that the events and rumours tell us much more about it. The components and the graphics are very good and create a suitable game atmosphere. The game length shall be between 120-180 minutes, that's quite long considering the fact that scavengers can die (also that takes a lot of time) and must start at the very beginning after that. In contrast to e.g. Zombicide the game isn't cooperative, so probably there are not many players who will help weak scavengers... To stay alive, you should stay strong, I guess.

But let's leave those dark worlds for some time and move over to something that's everyday occurrence for a lot of people living in big cities: underground lines:

Introduction: On the Underground (Ludi Creations – booth 1D129)

Although I really love railway games, I possess almost none (compared to the total number of games I have at home). At the moment I only have a very old version of Dampfross.

Maybe you can count last year's Railroad Ink from HORRIBLE GAMES also as a railway game. And now LudiCreations might give me my third railway game: On the Underground has clearly to do with rail transport. It is a game that was originally released in 2006 by RIO GRANDE GAMES. 13 years ago, that's almost an era in the boardgame industry. And this year LUDICREATIONS has published a completely revised version of the game in a modern design with two new maps of London and Berlin.

In the game, the players build the underground lines to persuade passengers to take your underground line to move from one space to another. Depending on the numbers of players, each player has more or less lines to care for. The board has already all the stations and after set-up we also know where first passenger wants to go. But at start there are no connections between the stations. So we have to build up the underground lines, so that the passenger doesn't need to walk anymore (he will only do so, if no line can transport him). Now, in a turn a player has four actions that can be used to connect one station to another. And he can use any of his available lines.

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The passenger always moves after a player's turn. If he (or she) uses the player's line, the player gets a victory point. Another way to make victory points is conntecting to special stations. These stations are more important than others, because there is a connection between the underground and for example a railway station, and if you are able to connect to such a station you get additional victory points. And finally you gain victory points if your line forms a loop. Next to building new tracks there is only one other action you can choose from: to take a branch to split your line.

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Both maps have their own special rules that slightly change the gameplay. It's an interesting idea to build up a underground net by following the randomly drawn “wishes” of just one passenger. But the result is amazing: I saw a lot of maps at the booth of LUDICREATIONS ending up with a similar underground net as the real net of the city. I think the main reason for this is the condensed number of stations in the inner of the city. So these station are clearly more interesting, because the chance that a passenger uses a line is much bigger than in the outskirts.

Having never played the original game, I wanted to know what has changed in the game since then. The answer is: not much. There are some minor changes to improve the gameplay, but basically it's still the same game. Only the design is much better than in the original game. Best for me and you: it is available again!

An underground line game would be a good end for this convention day, but as I arrived with my car and did not take the underground, I will provide you with just one more game:

Playtesting Session: Slyville (Hexy Studio – booth 5K105)

Slyville, that's a typical medieval city with all the dishonest and cunning you would expect. Gathering goods to gain influence, that's our goal in this game of bluffing and betraying. In the game each player leads one guild with a unique ability.

Each turn the players place action cards face down to various districts of the city until all players have played a specific number of cards (depending on the number of players). Every player plays with her or his own set of cards in the colour of the player. Additionally each player gets a storage board for collecting resources and a Henchman token that can be sent to the city with the help of the cards. Each district is supplied with big and small deals at the set-up and has its own resources. In the middle of the city we find Prince's Decree Cards. These cards are all bad cards, but only the players who is Prince's Favorite (randomly determined at start and going counter-clockwise every round) knows the top card and can place it to any district of the city.

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After all players have played their cards, each district is resolved. For this all of the played cards to a district are flipped and executed following initiative. First card is the sabotage that enables a player to remove one action card from other players from that district. Second initiative is the takeover. With this action you move your Hencheman to that district which will bring you a resource from that district at the start of the next round. Then there are two cards that puts a player in the position to take the top deal card by spending goods as shown on the card. Of course these deals are our source to gather influence in the city and are necessary to win the game.

The acquisition cards are last in line. These cards are basically money cards and the player with the most money in the district takes from the goods and influence tokens (as long as available) from the district. If there is a Prince's Decree Cards in a district, this is card is carried out first and all players are obliged to go by the rules (for example a Prince's Decree might forbid players to make big deals at the district).

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After all districts are resolved, the cards go back to their owners and a new round begins. You see Slyville is really simple to learn, exactly what I needed at the end of the longest day ever at SPIEL for me. However, the game was really enjoyable, and we had a lot of fun backstabbing each other and talking nonsense to distract our opponents. I think the game will serve as a good party game. It's not too mean (I love mean games, but a lot of my fellow players don't), and it can be played by families too. A perfect end for a great day! See you tomorrow again!

Yours, Ralf.

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Frank's Day 2

SPIEL Day 2 - Here we go!

When I got up this morning, I knew that I had a day full of games ahead of me. For me this Friday was bound to be to the busiest day of the show, and I can promise you that you are really in for a load of great games. So, let's start the day with my visit to Czech Games Edition and their new strategic dice rolling game Sanctum

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Introduction: Sanctum (Czech Games Edition - Booth 1 F 145)

In Sanctum the players take the rrole of heroes who have set out to defeat a demon lord who has been awakened below the realm's capital city. A high reward has been promised to the successful demon slayer, and so the players each battle from themselves, without an element of cooperation.

Being a game belonging to the category of strategic dicerollers, Sanctum offers some basic features which are well known from this genre of games. So, each turn a player decided to move his hero forward on the track which goes over a total of 6 gameboards towards the demon lord, the players have to take one of the monster cards which have been placed openly on current part of the path. These monster cards will be defeated by rolling dice, and each card has a fixed defeat rating which the players must roll when it comes to attacking that monster.

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This brings us already to the point where Sanctum differs from most other strategic dice games, because The players do not simply fight the monster by taking the card and making a diceroll. Instead, the cards go onto the player's hero board, allowing a player to move several times and take more monster cards before battling all these monsters at the same time. Such an action is risky because it increases a hero's danger of losing life points, but of course proceeding this way also means that a player speed up his gameplay, hoping to by the first to arrive at the demon king's lair.

Very interesting is the idea that each monster card has a piece of equipment on its back, and when the monster is defeated the player turns the card over and adds this equipment to his general stock. However, even more important is the fact that each monster belongs to one of three colours - red, green or blue - and the defeat of such a monster will allow the player to move one or more development tokens of a matching colour on the development side of the player's hero board.

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The hero development tokens are connected with a quite ingenious system of upgrading the hero's abilities. For each token symbol displayed on a defeated monster, the player is allowed to move one matching token up one space. Before the game started, the development chart of the player's board has been filled with development cards, with tokens places upon the cards according to their strengths. By killing monsters, the player will be able to slowly free a card from tokens, either by moving the tokens up one space or, if they lie in the top row, by moving the tokens into his general reserve. Any card which is freed of tokens in this fashion will become active, giving the player possibilities to improve his gameplay and to become stronger in combat. As an alternative, the token which a player moves from the top row into his general reserve can be used to active the weapons and other kinds of equipment which a player has won by fighting monsters, and these finished cards then go onto the player's equipment outlay, giving him the possibility to use these cards from now on.

The equipment readied is placed into different body slots in the equipment outlay, and here the cards will offer important possibilities to the player to use the attack and defense tokens available to his character with higher efficiency. In a way, these tokens represent the possible actions of a hero, and the better the active equipment cards, the better the actions will be.

While all this may sound a bit technical, character development in Sanctum indeed is quite diversified but at the same time very intuitive to handle. In stepwise fashion, the player will gain cards which will allow him to prepare of dice rolls, and despite the possible number of quipped cards it is quite easy to keep track of a hero's available powers and possibilities. New equipment, spells and even action tokens can be gained by the players by unlocking development cards, and all this provides for a quite deep character development system which is unusual for a game with moderate playing depth.

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Another factor which I like about the game is the fact that time really matters. All players will have the possibility to get into a fight with the demon lord, in this way coming to the ultimate test of their character's abilities against the final monster. However, a player who arrives later will have to face the demon lord with more obstacles to overcome, and so the players are encouraged not to linger on their way but to keep moving and get towards the demon lord as quickly as possible without neglecting their character's development.

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With these major elements falling into place, designer Filip Neduk succeeded in creating a dungeon crawler with a twist, being streamlined and open to a distinguished character development at the same time. The game offers the players many possibilities to deal with the inevitable factor of luck when it comes to rolling the dice, and from my perspective Sanctum is one of the strongest games in the segment of strategic dice rolling games. If you can, check it out here at the SPIEL. The rules are rather quickly to grasp, and you will come into the gameplay in virtually no time.

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This must have been approximately SPIEL meeting No. 10 for Jana and me

Hurrying through the halls for my next scheduled gaming session, I came upon a very old acquaintance. It had been decades since I last played the game Dune which is based on Frank Herbert's successful novel series. Being first released by AVALON HILL and later by JEUX DESCARTES, this classic game of conflict and area control now once again is back with a new look. However, even this new version still applies the mechanics of its predecessors, making it truly an evergreen game in this quickly changing world of boardgames.

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Arriving at the booth of my next meeting, I had a hard time to locate my contact partners. I was looking forward to play the game Parks from KEYMASTER GAMES, but I couldn't find a single game at the booth of Surfin' Meeple.

Playtesting Session: Parks (Keymaster Games - Booth 5 G 125)

Talking to staff at the booth, I was finally led into a small back office where I met Matt Aiken and Kyle Key from KEYMASTER with a ready to play game of Parks. Asking them why I couldn't find their game on the booth, they told me that their whole shipment had been help up in French customs and that they would not receive their games during this SPIEL. This was actually not the first company having problems with customs this year. Yesterday games from TAIWAN BOARDGAME DESIGN and from RENEGADE also were not available due to customs issues, but these games had arrived today whereas the guys from KEYMASTER had the worst luck of all. The wooden playing pieces which are used in Parks had been dipped in water colors to make them look more natural, and it was this coloring which had found the disapproval of the French customs. The officers had not believed in the supplied papers of good conformity, and so the whole paperwork starts anew, making it impossible to get the games still to the SPIEL. However, Matt had his personal copy with him, and so we were able to play a round of Parks after all. And as Mark told me, as soon as Parks is released from customs after the SPIEL, the game will be available through the MATAGOT online store.

Being a highly thematical gamer, I am always happy to come across games which have chosen fresh and uncommon stories. A game offers even more attraction to me if it alludes to one of my hobbies or interests, and here the new game from KEYMASTER GAMES certainly has drawn my interest. For one, I am rather fond of hiking, doing lots of hikes with my wife when we are on holidays, and in addition hiking in general certainly is a theme which I haven't encountered too often in a boardgame.

In Parks the players have a chance to visit the great American National Parks - something I still need to do in real life. However, why not take the opportunity to do a virtual hike, playing for four seasons and collecting as many cards as possible from different parks. In game terms, these Park cards can be collected by turning in Forest, Mountain, Sunshine, Water and Wildlife tokens which the players can collect during a season's hike, and apart from the Wildlife tokens (which can be used as jokers) the players need to have the exact combination of tokens to collect a certain Park card from the common display.

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The mechanism for the collection of the tokens is rather straightforward, with a player being allowed to take the tokens corresponding to a trail site once he enters the site with one of his two hiker meeples. This may sound quite easy considering the fact that a player can freely chose the trail site to visit, as long as his hiker meeple keeps moving forward on the trail. However, things get tricky when you consider the facts that only one hiker meeple can visit a trail site at the same time, and furthermore the first visitor to each trail site will be able to collect a bonus token for getting to that site first. In addition, the time which the players can spend during a season's hike is limited by the facts that a bonus waits for the first hikers to reach the trail's end, and that the last hiker meeple on the trail must instantly be moved to the trail's end once all other hikers have finished the trail.

As you can see, in its essence Parks is a game of timing, where the players need to consider how much time may be left to them due to the movement of the other players' hikers. Getting a good collection of tokens along the way may sound attractive for the collecting of Park cards, but lingering too long means that other players probably will have collected the currently available Park cards when they have arrived at the trail's end. This possibly leaves the late player with a new choice of Park cards which is not matching his tokens…

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However, there are lots of ways to mitigate the problems and to give the players some possibilities for tactical decisions. So, the players have the possibility to acquire canteens and other equipment, with these cards giving them a bonus for collecting Park cards, options to trade tokens etc. Some trail sites along the way also allow special actions, like the taking of photos (which count as bonus points) at a vista or the exchange of tokens in a lodge. However, sometimes even the best laid plans may fail, with a hiker being blocked access to a highly necessary token. But even though this is a setback, it's possible to save a Park card (instead of taking it directly) and turn it in at the end of one of the following hikes.

Some further spice is added by season rules which may slightly change the functions of the trail sites, and by Year cards which are drawn at the beginning of the game, giving the players a goal for the collection of special Park cards in order to gain bonus points. All this contributes to a varied and enjoyable gameplay, and due to the fact that the trail will get longer with every season, the players' challenge is changing with every round.

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In essence, Parks is a quite straightforward collection game of low to medium playing depth, and the timing aspect has been fleshed out rather well especially by the facts that the hiker movement is done without any luck factor and by giving each player two hiker meeples to move along the track. Due to the second hiker the players can try different approaches, looking for opportunities in which the actions of the hikers supplement each other well. This alone makes the game quite enjoyable, but an additional factor which makes Parks really shine is the artistic design which is really outstanding. The artwork on the cards with individual illustrations for each park is rather beautiful, and all other game components have been harmonized to match this impression. With these points coming together, Parks certainly is a recommendable, highly thematic addition to a game collection which puts special focus on games well outside the mainstream.

Matt and Kyle promided me that the game will be available after thei SPIEL trough their European partners, and I can only hope that this gem will find its way to all interested gamers.

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The day went on, and indeed I had another meeting just in the next hall, this time looking at two games from Spanish publisher GDM GAMES. The first of these games was Troia, and I was scheduled to meet for a playtesting session with the game's designer Eloi Pujadas.

Playtesting Session: Troia (GDM GAMES - Booth 4 J 105)

Despite the epic story, the battle for the city of Troy is a theme which had not yet been chosen often for a game. As for myself, I am quite fond of Greek mythology, and I must have read the saga of the Tojan War nearly a dozen times during my various visits to Greece. Quite interestingly, it's now Spanish publisher GDM GAMES which gives the game implementation of the story a new try, and after seeing the announcement for the new 2-player game Troia I was getting quite interested how the game would turn out.

Adapting a graphics style which is similar to the illustrations on ancient Greek artifacts, the gameboard provides a fitting setting for the epic conflict. It is divided into five zones, with the main battlefield in the middle and each player's protection zone - the city of Troy and the Greek invasion fleet - on either end. Six different Heroes begin the game located in the central battlefield, and during the course of the game the players will strive to move two or more of these Heroes into the opponent's protection zone. If the Greek player is successful in this task, he is allowed to build a part of the Trojan Horse, whereas the Troy player - if he is successful - may move a Trojan Heroes token one step towards the destruction of the Greek fleet. Both of the player goals take 4 steps to complete, so that the players have to strive to move at least two Heroes into the opponent's protection zone four times during the course of the game.

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The movement of the Heroes between the different zones of the gameboard is initiated through cardplay, with each player possessing a deck of 27 cards which may be used to influence the different Heroes on the gameboard. Each of the Heroes is linked to a God or Goddess at Mount Olympus, seeing that God as their patron during the Siege of Troy, and the players will use their card decks to make offerings to the Gods in order to move the respective Hero one or two steps towards the opponent's protection zone. However, each of the Gods prefers a different kind of offering, and in addition the amount of offerings necessary to please a God varies during the course of the game.

Especially this variation of a God's demands has been implemented quite cleverly, because each God has a tile which is moved on an offerings scale between the players. If a god has not received and offer for some time, he will be easy (cheap) to please, whereas a much higher amount of offerings is necessary if a player wants to make a sacrifice to the same God twice in a row. In addition, the God's favour is fleeting, and so it will be cheap for a player to make an offer to a God who has just received an offer from the opponent. The Gods are greedy indeed!

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Depending on the cards drawn by the players, you might expect this mechanism to result in a constant standoff, but this is prevented both by the deck composition and by the different powers of the Gods. For one, the player's can't wait to get the right cards to influence a God which has just received an offer from the opposing player, and so the players need to make the best of the cards which they have currently in their hand. In addition, an offering also gives the player a single use of the God's special power, and these special powers range from additional Hero movements to the drawing of additional cards or the granting of free offerings.

As can be seen, the players constantly have to compare their hand cards with the situation on the gameboard, looking for good opportunities where a sacrifice to a specific God offers a good combo of Hero movement and the God's special power. If these combinations are used well, the Hero movements can be initiated in a way which allows a scoring on the way towards victory.

Troia is a neat little game which offers a lot of tension, with the battle raging back and forth between the players. Additional tension is build up by the fact that the game doesn't necessarily last until final victory, but instead it will be over once a player's deck of cards is depleted. In this instant the side which is closer to victory will be considered to be the winner, and due to the limited size of the player decks with only 27 cards the pressure to keep moving can be felt right from the beginning.

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In addition, I really like this game both for its thematic and artistic approach. As indicated above, the graphics are an imitation of ancient Greek artwork, and the whole playing mechanism also is a quite good reflection of the story of the Trojan war. In fact, it was the Gods who took major influence in this war, and very often they switched their allegiance between the Greek and Trojan forces in the midst of a battle. This dependence of the war's outcome on the moods of the Gods is perfectly implemented in Troia, and so the game is a very good example to the thematic depth which can be achieved even within a small game.

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The second game which I was interested to see was the fantasy adventure game Mythgate by designer Maria Perez.

Introduction: Mythgate (GDM GAMES - Booth 4 J 105)

Coming with unusual colorful design, it's actually not the graphics which have kindled my interest in Mythgate. Instead, I had heard before that SPIEL that it would be a game with asymmetrical player powers, and indeed the parties in the game have to rely in two quite different playing styles. On the one hand there is the evil conjurer who has opened up a dimensional portal, intent on bringing creatures into the realm which will steal all of the King's gems, whereas on the other hand 2 to 5 heroes come together to thwart the monster attack and defeat the conjurer's forces.

To further his plot, the conjurer can draw on his own deck of cards, offering him a choice of options which makes gameplay harder for the players, at least for a certain time. However, most important for the conjurer player are the monsters which can be found in this deck, because it will be the monsters which the conjurer needs to move across the gameboard into the king's castle. Once a monster reaches the treasury, the conjurer player can remove a life point from the monster in order to steal one of the 10 gems, and so tougher monsters with more life points will be able to steal more than one gem.

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However, it's the other players as heroes of the realm which try to prevent exactly this from happening. The players have a basic allowance of actions each turn, using them to move around and - possibly - challenging a monster to a fight. The outcome of a combat is handled in a semi-random fashion, with the players adding the result of combat card(s) played from their hand to the character's strength value, and the monster's strength receiving a boost from randomly drawn combat cards. If a hero is successful, he can move the monster backwards one step, and it will loose a lifepoint which is precious to the conjurer because he uses lifepoints to steal gems.

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However, during the course of the game, the conjurer's monsters will get more difficult to defeat, and so the players will strive to improve their equipment. For this, the heroes can go on side quests and reveal cards from location decks of the gameboard regions, and the contents of these cards range from minor combat to the gaining of specific resource tokens. In a combat also resource tokens can be gained, and the hero players will need these resources to perform actions at the forge, spending the tokens to improve their character abilities in form of movement allowance, combat boni and cards and combat boni. All these improvements are represented by two-sided overlay boards which can be placed at the different body slots of a character once the piece of equipment has been forged. However, the needed materials especially for forging the best equipment are hard to come by except by fighting a monster, and so a player has to defeat some of the conjurer's monsters in order to gain some rare commodities.

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Once the heroes start to improve themselves by forging equipment, they will get quite more powerful quickly, and so the conjurer player has to speed up his operations in order to keep a chance to win the game. In combat situation the conjurer can resort to the use of special strategy cards which may give him an extra punch, but nonetheless all this will not help the conjurer if the heroes get too strong. So time is of the essence!

So far I only played Mythgate with a cast of 3 players, so I wonder how it all works out with a total of 6 players. What I really like is the way in which the hero players can improve their equipment, this has been implemented graphically and in terms of gameplay and iconography very smoothly. In a way, this felt a bit like this morning's Sanctum, but of course it's much less sophisticated. However, keeping in mind that Mythgate can be played by up to 6 players, gameplay must be streamlined in order to avoid too much downtime, and this goal has been reached quite well. Overall, Mythgate is an interesting variant of the typical gamemaster games, because the role of the conjurer is more than being a gamemaster. Although quite different, none of the players' powers is so strong as to unbalance the game, making Mythgate an unsual side find of this SPIEL.

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A short break in gaming provided two meetings in the afternoon. One of them was scheduled, and like every SPIEL I mad a visit to Ignacy Trzewiczek from Poland, visiting him at the booth of PORTAL Ignacy is celebrating this year his 20th anniversary as a game publisher, and so we sat back for a bit and looked back at his beginning all these years ago.

In the end, Ignacy started out like many other game designers. Teaming up with 3 friends, they had created a roleplaying book on the world of Neuroshima, and believing in the quality of their product they has pooled their remaining funds in order to publish the book. It had been a great success in Poland, and the money was reinvested into the production of the very successful Neuroshima Hex boardgame which Ignacy had brought to his first SPIEL more than 10 years ago.

Fortune favours the brave they say, and indeed this first appearance at the SPIEL had been the foundation for the further careers of Ignacy and his 3 friends. Michal Oracz for example has become really successful as a game publisher under the label of AWAKEN REALMS, and of course Ignacy is also quite successful as a publisher himself.

Looking back, Ignacy told me that the biggest thing which had changed for him in recent years is the fact that he cannot handle all issues in his company alone anymore, especially when it comes to game editing. For this reason he has hired a skilled new editor, and he is slowly increasing the size of his company to keep pace with his increased market presence. In fact, he said that he has created a quite dedicated team at PORTAL, giving him the possibility for a late arrival at the SPIEL with everything around the booth already taken care of.

Even though Ignacy and me only meet once a year here at the SPIEL, it's always a meeting of old friends, and 20 years is the game business for Ignacy is nearly the same time span as my own 23 years as a reviewer. We both have grown a bit older in all those years, but in our hearts we are still the gamers from 20 years ago…

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My other meeting this afternoon was by pure chance. I cam upon Mandy, Daniela and Tim, friends of Nicole and mine who are also attending the SPIEL from Thursday to Saturday. Asking me for a game to check out, I have sent them to take a look and possibly play a round of Museum, to my mind the best game which I had seen yet this year. Mandy showed my also their lootbags full of games, and once again the SPIEL turned out to be a really wonderful source to fill your game collection, because they had been able to get quite a few slightly older games for bargain prices…

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After this nice break of course my playtesting continued, and this time I visited my Greek friends at the ARTIPIA booth. There I was lucky to get a free table for a round of Rush M.D., and together with Desiree and Rik from the Netherlands we tried a new career as surgeons in a hospital…

Playtesting Session: Rush M.D. (ARTIPIA GAMES - Booth 1 D 137)

In 2017 ARTIPIA GAMES came to the SPIEL with Kitchen Rush, a real-time restaurant game in which the players had to use hourglasses as action pawns in order to perform the actions necessary for outfitting, cooking and serving customers in a restaurant. This had been the second real-time game for the ARTIPIA crew after Project Elite, and as it seems the ARTIPIA guys have taken a liking in this type of games, because this year they are back with another game which uses hourglasses as pawns: Rush M.D.

As the title suggests, this is a hospital game in which the players cooperatively have to treat patients according to their symptoms. In fact, the players are responsible for the whole operation of a hospital, from the admission of patients, the performance of diagnostics and surgery to the logistics of stocking the necessary equipment and organs.

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This sounds familiar? Indeed, gamers who have played Kitchen Rush may be tempted to think that it may sound like Rush M.D. is an imitation of Kitchen Rush, because the logistical process and the cooperative approach seem to be quite similar. However, you can put those doubts aside right away! Rush M.D. is much more than a thematic reskinning from restaurant to hospital, but instead it has taken the general mechanics and the use of the hourglasses and has driven the whole concept one step closer to perfection.

The gameboards in Rush M.D. show all important areas of a hospital, going from admissions and the outpatients clinic to wards, diagnostics, surgery, apothecary and the blood bank. At all these areas the players are able to perform actions by placing an hourglass on action spots, and these hourglasses only can be removed (and used again) once the hourglass has finished. Depending on the type of action, the players either can use their own hourglass (a doctor) or one of the green common hourglasses (the hospital nurses). However, due to the limited number of both of available hourglasses and action spots on the gameboards, the players always will have to wait a bit before an action spot or an hourglass becomes available for a new action, and so the players will have to coordinate their actions to a very high degree because a 4-minute round of play of play will pass very quickly.

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But let's now take a look at the process of treating patients. In admissions, the players can add new patient cards, and these stay in the waiting area until the players move them to one of the six beds which are available in the two hospital wards. These beds aren't printed on the gameboard, but they are low-edge boxes in which not only the patient cards are placed, but furthermore the tokens for all administered treatments also will be collected there. However, before a treatment can be administered, the patients need to undergo diagnostics, and for this there are facilities for taking cultures, making blood exams, X-ray and MRI. Once the diagnostics are finished, a matching diagnostics card is assigned to the patient, and this card lists which treatments must be applied and whether surgery is necessary.

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In general, the administration of treatments means that nurse hourglasses need to be placed in the ward in order to add different kinds of medications from the apothecary to the patient's bed, but things get more complicated if surgery is needed. Surgery needs to be aseptic, and so all organs and medications which are added during surgery can only be touched by the players using tweezers. In addition, blood and intravenous medication only can be applied with syringes, and so the players have to place real syringes in the patients' beds which have been filled with the right medication tokens. Furthermore, as some actions can only be performed by doctors OR nurses, the players have to make sure that they use the right kind of hourglass for a specific action, e.g. only a doctor can add an organ token during surgery.

However, before any treatment can be made, diagnostics must be finished, and here each of the four types of diagnostics available in the game requires the players to perform a different procedure. A cultures examination requires the players to turn cultures tokens and find a specifc token before the diagnosis card can be drawn, whereas a blood examination requires the players to make a matching exercise by rearranging some tokens with their tweezers. X-ray on the other hand requires the searching for a specific card in the deck of diagnostics cards, and MRI finally needs the doctor's hourglass to be balanced on the corner of the patient's bed until the hourglass has run through.

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In addition to the treatment process, the players also need to keep an eye on the hospital's stocks, and so hourglasses also can be used for re-stocking both the apothecary and the blood bank. This procedure will give the players the tokens which they need to deal with the patients.

There are some additional elements like epidemics and research cards with special actions which add further to the playing experience, but the process of how to treat patients which is outlined above should give you a general impression of the procedure. At the end of each of the four rounds of play, all hospitalized patients will be checked whether the correct treatments have been applied, and if this should be the case the patients will be discharged, allowing the players to score accordingly. However, if a patient has not been treated (or was wrongly treated), the players are penalized and furthermore the patient's condition will grow worse. If this happens with a patient whose condition is already critical, the patient will be removed from play (guess what happened!), resulting in a grave loss of points for the players. After all, they have to run their hospital properly, and loosing patients quickly may result in a game over.

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Already Kitchen Rush had been a nice implementation of the operation of a restaurant, but to my surprise the playing experience in Rush M.D. feels even better than its predecessor. The game features some small but rather cool ideas like the syringes, the tweezers and the patients' beds which add both playing depth and new challenges, but even more important is the fact that the gameflow is even better structured. Due to the fact that the beds with the patients are moved through the hospital, the process of diagnostics and treatments can be shared even better between the players, because the relevant information can be seen very quickly on the patient's bed and diagnostics cards. In contrast to each player preparing their recipes as individual cooks in Kitchen Rush, the hospital process needs even more player interaction, and so the cooperative approach is really strengthened in Rush M.D..

In addition, the use of the tweezers and the different types of diagnostic "mini games" to be performed also add a bit of variation to the gameflow, since the players now do not just move some tokens around, but instead they will have to adhere to different procedures in order to keep going. These procedures are straightforward enough not to become cumbersome or overburden the game, but nonetheless it feels less repetitive than preparing food items and placing them on a plate.

As stated at the beginning, from my point of view Rush M.D. is much more than an old gaming concept with a new theme, but instead the game is even more fun to play than its predecessor. The whole theme is damn well implemented, and as I could experience during the first testing rounds the playing fun is considerable. If real time gaming is something for your gaming group, go ahead and give Rush M.D. a try. It will be a blast!

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Staying with Greek gaming companies, I also paid a visit to my friends from DESYLLAS in Hall 4. They have come to this year's SPIEL to present their novelty Turbo G.E.M., a children's dexterity game which uses a small bag bellow to move mining spaceships to collect gems from planets.

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Making a few test moves, the game turned out to be rather funny, and so I guess that many a family will enjoy yet another lightfooted game from DESYLLAS after last year's Yummy Monsters. However, there is even a possibility to add a tiny bit of tactics, because the players can sell the gems they have harvested back at the space station either to fulfil mission cards to gain victory points, or to obtain spaceship upgrades which give them further options for actions in the following rounds. As always, product manager Michael has made a rather charming discovery…

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Okay, just a bit of time life for one more playtesting session for today, so let's have a look at a game which I have discovered at the news show on Wednesday. My friend Rustan Hakansson had presented there his newest game Cities Skylines, and I was really curious to play his newest creation for the first time!

Playtesting Session: Cities Skylines (KOSMOS - Booth 3 B 112)

The world keeps turning, and I still remember playing the very first version of the computer game Sim City on a PC with a monochrome screen. The game was the forerunner of all city construction games, and out of curiosity I just looked up the release date of this computer classic. It was released in 1989, so it celebrates its 30th anniversary this year - this reminds me that I have grown 30 years older since then…

The game had many follow ups, and currently one of the most successful of them is Cities Skylines. Do to 30 years of age difference you cannot compare, both of these games regarding the options available to the players or the game functions, but quite interestingly I was very strongly reminded of Sim City when I first played Rustan's new boardgame crossover of Cities Skylines.

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In this new game produced by KOSMOS the players face the challenge of constructing a city cooperatively, trying to score as many happiness points as possible by providing their citizens with a well working infrastructure. In essence, the playing mechanism for the city construction is rather streamlined, with the players playing and paying for building cards which allow them to place new buildings on the gameboard. However, this is not just about finding a correct space where to place a building, but instead each new placement will influence the city infrastructure on several factors, all of which are recorded on a city administration gameboard with different scales. This board features scales for energy, water, waste, pollution, traffic and the crime rate, and in addition there are also scales for the job market and citizen happiness.

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Each new building added by the players to the city map will have an influence on these scales, on the one hand representing the consumption of energy and water and the increase of pollution, and on the other hand an increase of citizens and city taxes. As you can see, the placement of each new building is a balancing act because it must fit with the current levels of the city on the administration board, and a new building may not be placed if its placement would push one or more scale out of the absolute limits. However, the tactical aspect of the city construction comes with the fact that the players should aim to make placements of buildings which do not just trigger the basic functions of the building, but instead the players should strive to trigger the windfall effects which can also be found on many building cards. For example, building a housing area will bring new citizens, but if it is built in a quarter with other houses this also will increase the general citizen happiness. A new business park on the other hand will increase pollution and traffic levels, but if it is built in a quarter with houses, other businesses and industrial parks it will instantly create some income for the players' city treasury.

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Those of my readers who have played the first version of Sim City 30 years ago probably will discover that this balancing of different factors is Sim City at its best. The players are challenged not to add new buildings on randomly, but instead they need to plan ahead in order to make new additions to their city at the best possible times in order to take most gains from a new building. In a way, this feels a bit like cooperatively doing a puzzle, but of course it's much more communicative than just placing puzzle pieces. In addition, there is a further challenge, since due to the building cards the players always have a restricted choice of buildings which they can place at a given moment.

Once the general rules are mastered, the players can add some levels of complexity by adding modular expansions. On the one hand there are unique buildings with high preconditions and possible gains, and furthermore each of the players can receive a job card, giving him special powers which can be used throughout the game. On the other hand, further variation is added by the use of building regulation cards and news cards. These cards are shuffled into the deck of building cards, and when they are revealed they may cause instant shifts of the scales on the administrative board or even a minor rules change, and in effect these cards put some additional stress on the players to keep their cities balanced. In a way, this also reminded of the stress tests which could be triggerd by the player in Sim City, but in City Skylines there are no monster attacks or earthquakes…

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For my final summary I would actually like to refer to a small cardgame from designer Tom Lehmann. I always liked The City because of its city building theme and the quick and easy way in which the players could construct their own micro-city, but I am always sad when the game is over because the game ends just too early to create lots of nice combos. However, my thirst for a large city building game of comparative attractiveness finally is quenched by Cities Skylines, because here the players can build a real metropolis instead a micro-city. In addition, Rustan has implemented the cooperative aspect rather well, giving the players lots of opportunities to discuss their plans and expand their city together. Especially when the modules are added it is actually possible to lose the game if too many things get out of hand, but it feels much more satisfying to aim for an ever higher highscore with every new game. From my perspective all this makes Cities Skylines a great boardgame crossover of the successful computer game.

This actually ended the SPIEL day for me, but since I had received an invitation to join the booth party at REPOS PRODUCTION, Rustan and I changed over to Cedrick's booth for some nice Belgian beer!

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Cheers and see you tomorrow! It's Ladies Day!

Frank

Thursday, 24th of October 2019

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First SPIEL 19 Public Day

The SPIEL 19 has begun!!!

This morning I entered the halls at 9.40, an quarter of an hour before the official opening. Sometimes a press pass is really handy, and so I was able to use those 20 minutes to get 4 games which I did preorder. That was really helpful, because I could get all those games home when I left around non for lunch…

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But let's not talk about lunch. Everybody was anxious this morning for the SPIEL to start, and when the gates opened thousands of people were streaming into the halls all at once. Some running to get the most desired games right away, most of them walking at a steady stride, knowing exactly where they wanted to go first.

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One thing which I could observe all day long was the fact that the more spacious design of the aisles and many booths really helped to stretch the crowd out, allowing for better movement in the halls without constantly resorting to taking shortcuts through the courtyards with the trucks. As usual, the halls were kind of warm and noisy, but for a breather you could always go out and take a breath of fresh air.

But now, without further ado, let me hand over to Ralf, who will tell you all about the first public day at the SPIEL 19!

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Ralf's Report - Convention Day 1

As usual the official opening begun for me in a queue. People arriving from everywhere, nobody knowing where to go and everyone in hurry. But with the new gate South and a better traffic guidance, the waiting time was considerably reduced compared to former years.

The new strategy to split the stream of visitor was not only noticeable on the street, it also made an impact on the inside of the halls. In the last year there was always a huge crowd near the two entrances of hall 1 and 3. On the other hand the halls south of the galaxy were nearly empty. This year, all visitors who are entering through the old halls at gate South enter those halls right after they have left the cash decks. Much better, if you ask me.

Only one thing remains the same: the queues before the bargain stores. I took some pictures from different halls and I also measured the one or other queue: 50 metres was by far not the longest queue I have seen. And always remember: the fair had only just opened....

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This was really astonishing. I mean, over 1500 new games and only 10 minutes after the opening the people were queuing for bargains. And then again– only one step further – there were so many tables empty, waiting for people to arrive:

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Stopover Dragon Dawn Production – booth 2B101)

At the booth of Dragon Dawn Production I once again met Timo Multamäki who wanted to show me a lot of new things from the Finnish game design studio. However, much of the new games is not yet available in Essen and some of it must even be produced. But things were quite interesting, so I am giving you the information to be prepared for next year already (or maybe the one or other KS campaign.

But let's begin with something you can already buy here in Essen. It's an expansion for one of the best dungeon crawler I have ever played: Perdition's Mouth – Abyssal Rift and it's called Perdition's Mouth – Cannibal's Howl. It's already the third expansion for the base game, but I think it's one of the most interest one. The one reason for this is that you get a popular hero that was up to now only available in the first KS campaign. The other – more important reason for me is, that you get a new map with a complete different setting. Instead of a dark dungeon you find a comparable colourful island with palms and footbridges, sharks and other typical island things. The campaign comprises seven scenarios and are more challenging than the original game.

Speaking of more challenging games, Timo lead me to an upcoming major expansion to the Perdition's system. Perdition's Mouth – Soul Spire comes with a completely new map system with gaps you must jump over, and a new scenario system. Timo told me that this game – although the base game already demands a great deal from some players – stretches the players to the limit. You must have knowledge of the base game and additionally you must learn the new rules. And it comes with a long story that has to be told (Timo still works hard on this). Also, for the first time you can play the game form the perspective of the Cult of Change. You even can switch the perspective during the game. And it is most important to choose the right hero for a campaign, otherwise death can hardly be avoided. That's definitely a gamer's game.

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The card game Dwarf is already on production and will be released next year. It's an easy to learn worker placement game in which 9 cards are placed on the table. In their turns players place their workers on the cards to perform the action of the card. Three different resources can be collected or exchanged, and it is the players' aim to forge with these materials. But the cards are changing continuously, because at the end of each round two cards are exchanged and more challenging cards come into play like enemies that have to be fought. I played several turns with the designer and learnt that players sometimes have also to cooperate, because otherwise the game might not progress. Dwarf is quite the opposite of Soul Spire, as it is much easier to understand and faster played.

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One last picture shows Timo explaining his upcoming Gray Eminence to me. A game that covers a lot of actual politics and in which players take the roles of gray eminences who influence important divisions for the whole world.

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By now, the halls of the convention became more crowded, but with the new broader passageways it was no problem to hurry from one booth to the next.

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I took my chance to walk to my next appointment at the booth of CRANIO CREATIONS. At least that's what I thought. But this appointment begun with a mistake. If you visit SPIEL regularly – like we do – you get used to the halls, all shortcuts and the exact position of the booth of many publishers. I even remember most post positions of many publishers in the old halls (now these are called new halls – how fast time is progressing...). This memory is kind of necessary to survive for us. If I would search for the booths and queue in the masses, I would certainly miss the one or other appointment I had made in advance. Now, CRANIO CREATIONS had moved. Instead of their familiar position right next the entrance of hall 1, they are now in hall 4 (again next to the entrance). So I came some minutes late and was already under time pressure. That's why we should hurry to have a closer look at their new gamers game Barrage right now.

Introduction: Barrage (Cranio Creations – booth 4A117)

Lorenzo il Magnifico was the proof that the Italian company has much more to offer than just funny family and children games. Although it wasn't their first game for the experienced, more strategical players, it was definitely their most successful one. One year later, Newton was released and once again the appreciation was high.

But, with Barrage they definitely up the ante once more. In the game each player rules an international company in the 1930s. The upcoming wars had exploited the fossil energies to a maximum and the only way to produce more energy was to use hydroelectric power by the rivers.

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Hydroelectric power means dams, branches from the rivers to build pressure tunnels and huge hydroelectric power plants. All of this has to built, before power can be drain from the river. Unfortunately water only flows where we find rivers. And rivers aren't everywhere. And a rapid stream is clearly better than a small streamlet. As good managers our task is to find the best locations and claim them for our company. After that we have to build the necessary machines and structures. That part of the game takes place on an innovative construction wheel and is a massive resource management task, because the actions – as well as the resources on the same wheel – are only available after a full turn of the wheel. So planning ahead is asked from us.

The other really great innovative mechanism is the flow of the water. As you know, water always flows downstream. And once it is branched, it does no longer follow the original way. That means that, even if you have found the optimal position for your power plant, it is only snapshot in time. If one of your opponents build a tunnel upstream of your plant, a lot of the water will follow the new path and your plant gets less efficient. That's not only mean, that's nearly sabotage. You must be able to take these blowback, otherwise Barrage probably won't please you.

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Machines have to modernised, dams to be raised and engineers to be employed. There is so much to think about that Barrage demands all of us players. This is definitely no game for families. It's so challenging that I think that – even if you have little to do during the other players' turns – you must be extremely attentional of what they are doing. If you further want to expand your companies, you can already buy a fist expansion, Barrage – The Legghwater Project. And there is also a kickstarter campaign, running one more week for a new fifth player expansion. I wondered if the fifth player doesn't lead to too much downtime, but I was reassured that you will still be so involved, watching what the other players are doing and planning your next moves, that this is no problem at all.

One last word about the components. If you read about the game at BGG you see a lot of comments about problems in the kickstarter campaign. But CRANIO CREATIONS changed the questionable components already, and the purchase variant is now of excellent quality. I hope that all backers will get the chance to get those new components too.

One more game at CRANIOCREATIONS aroused my interest. Mystery House – Adventures in a Box is a new attempt to play on the exit and escape theme. You use the box as a 3D puzzle with inserted enigma cards at set-up. On each edge of the box you have windows to look through, but at the beginning of the game most sight is blocked by the enigma cards. An app tells you what to do and you have to solve riddles comparable to escape rooms and exit games to progress. The aim is to reveal a secret in the centre of the box, but you are only allowed to remove enigma cards when called upon to do so. The base game comes with two scenarios that can only be played once (as in every escape game you know the answer after that). But you can use the box for further scenarios again. I haven't played the game yet, but here are some photos to get an idea of the game:

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After this challenging game at CRANIO CREATIONS I quickly move over to an easier game I was also really looking forward to:

Introduction: Nanty Narking (Phalanx Games – booth 2C122)

When I first saw Nanty Narking I fell immediately in love with the game just because of the graphics. Those lovely Victorian characters and the fictional map of London where you can find historical or better literary historical places and buildings are exactly to my taste. I must confess that I didn't know anything else about the game, not even that is was designed by the great Martin Wallace. I also didn't know that it is basically a classical reborn. Classical? Can you truly say that after only 8 years? I suppose you can in our fast-moving boardgame world, when even successful games are sold off after just one year...

The original game was set in the Discworld and it was called Discworld: Ankh-Morpork. Don't get me wrong, I really love Terry Pratchett's Discworld, but I think the Victorian time even fits better to the game, at least it is more trendy and , and more people will be attracted to the game. And also I still remember the older game, I have never played it. So some times good things take time and even get better. Let's now see how the game plays like:

Nanty Narking is something like an area majority game. But not in every game and mostly not for everyone. How this? The reason is that at set-up every player secretly draws a character who all have their own goals to win the game. And this aim is kept hidden from the other players until the win conditions are met at the beginning of a turn. And while the one character demands the player to occupy X or Y areas, the next character wins with a majority in a certain district and still the other asks to care for a specific number of trouble-markers on the boardgame. But you never can be sure, which goal a player really pursues. All players start with their characters in three different spaces on the board. From there they can expand, establish buildings (that also bring benefits for the player), move on, assassinate other players' minions or displace trouble-markers.

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Trouble-markers are an important detail of the game. They come into play whenever a pawn is placed on a space with at least one other pawn already. Normally every player should have an interest that there are not enough trouble-markers in the play, because you never know if there is a character whose aim it is to create trouble in the game...

All other rules are given by the cards you play. In your turn you just play one of your hand cards and do what the card says. Most cards have several symbols that must be carried out from top to bottom. And some cards even allow you to play another card. The rules are indeed very simple, but the expansion on the map and the hidden player's goals seem to create a strategic and immerse gameplay. I was told that the differences to Ankh-Morpork aren't big, but the little changes improve especially the replayability of the game. Great art, great game!

On Sunday Frank has already explained the old game Drachenherz from KOSMOS to you. And he has also told you that a similar game will be released by RUNES EDITIONS this year. Today I had the chance to play the new version, so here is what I think about the game:

Playtesting session: Opale (Runes Editions – booth 4G105)

A trapped giant dragon that is the guardian of a fantasy kingdom and a maleficent witch who sends her army to our beloved country. But two heroes are man enough to confront the with and free the dragon. A simple story for the little, fast playing card game Opale. And although Frank has already taught you the rules of the original game, I will repeat some of the details for you now, so you don't have to switch between the two articles.

In the game two players take their own card deck, draw a hand card of five and play cards to designated areas on the small underwater board for that's where the dragon is imprisoned. Each turn one card or multiple identical cards are played to the board. All cards are played face-up, but piled, so players only see the top card, until the effect of the area is triggered (a specific number of . Two different areas can be distinguished: spots where you can play as many cards as you like and spots with limited spaces.

When a spot is triggered the player normally gets all cards from an adjacent place as given by the top card. These are the score points for the end game. Scoring points, I wondered? Isn't it enough to free the dragon. Well, we are still in a fantasy world and heroes want to be heroes. So there is a struggle between the two heroes, because only one will we the first and will earn all the admiration from the ordinary people. Who knows, perhaps there is even a princess waiting for the liberator.

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Anyway, dreaming about princess is nothing that gets us ahead. Some of the special spots on the other hand will. Triggering the effect on some spots are different from just taking cards from adjacent spots. There are 9 special spaces that for example let us take cards from spaces far away or let us place cards under the board that again can be derived from yet another spot. The turn ends with refilling our hand to five cards again.

Taking cards, playing cards to the board, triggering effects and taking new cards. You see Opale is a fast-paced, simple card game. Much depends on luck, because if you do not draw a good hand, your options for the next turn are limited. But the game doesn't want to be strategic or complex. It reminded me strongly on some of the great two player card games from KOSMOS. And if you have read our coverage right from the beginning, you already know that this is right. Opale is a re-implementation of Rüder Dorn's Dragonheart, a game that was published all over the world by a whole bunch of publishers, KOSMOS among them.

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The new design, blue in blue as we are in a underwater world, is to my taste great (but the original game illustrated by ingenious Michael Menzel is in no way inferior to it). But even more interesting for us players: The new version comes with two new variants from the author: a foreshadowing variant in which players can choose three cards at the beginning of the game setting them aside for later uses. Instead of drawing from their draw pile at the end, a player can now alternatively draw from these cards. That definitely makes the game more strategic, because you can draw at least three cards in the right moment.

The other variant introduces sea seashells that have a similar effect to the strategical gameplay. They enable a player to draw a specific number of cards at the start of a turn and discarding the same number of cards afterwards.

Board & Dice that merged with NSKN GAMES earlier this year, had a really big booth compared to the last years. And after their big success Teotihuacan in the last year, they also raised high expectations. If you just went for the quality of the components of their new release Trismegistus: The Ultimate Formula I would say that you cannot be disappointed:

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And if you need more variety for Teotihuacan and Dice Settlers, you will find new expansions for the games:

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However, I was here today for their hit at GenCon, so let's have a closer look at this one:

Introduction: Sierra West (Board & Dice – booth 2C112)

It's hard for me to cover any games that are set in America's time of colonization. You must know that normally Frank catches all games that somehow have to do with the American frontier. But I really like those games too, and this year I was faster...

Sierra West plays in the late 1840, the time when settlers set out for colonize the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the region of today's state of California. It's a game with a lot of options for the players, with a great production and an impressive look after set-up. The main part of the game forms a mountain that is built up by 20 cards. Sierra West comes with four different modules that change rules, missions and components of the game. Five cards of the mountain are such special cards that come from one of the modules, for example in the first module, Apple Hill, those cards are apple trees.

Now, in the game the players explore the mountain with their frontiersmen and can claim cards from it. Some of the cards are taken in the personal supply where they extend the player's abilities and count as victory points. Other cards, like the apples in the module Apple Hill, are added to a general row below the mountain and can be reached by wagons of the players for further actions. Those wagons are always moved forward and once the sixth special card is added below the wagon trail, the end game is triggered. So, exploring the mountain, finding those special cards and reap the fruits of one's labour is the main goal of the game.

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But that's only what's happening on the general “board”. Sierra West most sophisticated part takes place on the players' boards. Those player boards consist of five cabins, where you can sent your pioneers and a general mule you can obtain from certain actions, Tracker spaces you can use to make some off-turn actions during the other players' turns and a path section. I guess that this path sections demand most attention (and maybe is also responsible for some downtime in the first games). Why this? At the beginning of each turn of player this path renewed by a clever mechanism. The three hand cards that players draw at the end of their turns are composed to form two paths where the players can amble along with their pioneers. Each step of a path enable the player to do certain actions like moving their frontiersmen, their wagons, drawing event cards, acquiring resources that again are necessary for other actions and many things more. Each card basically has three symbols for those actions, but the cards must be arranged in the players boar in such a way, that only two symbols of two cards and only one symbol of the third card is visible. It's hard to explain, just have a look at the picture.

Sierra West seems to be complex, but the game played quite fluently in the two turns I took. I still think that there will be downtime in your first games, because there are a lot of symbols everywhere you must learn and there are also many options to take. But hey, that's what experienced gamers are looking for, isn't it? And you always can begin with a small player number and even a solo mode (that shall be one of the best solo modes ever, I was assured) is included in the game.

I have to end my day now, because my computer was doing some update stuff and didn't work properly for nearly one hour tonight. I wanted to tell you much more about the games I have played today, but this hour is really missing. You want to hear more? OK! But just one more game:

Introduction: The King's Dilemma (Horrible Guild – booth 3E100)

Would you abandon democracy and establish a totalitarian dictatorship? You probably wouldn't. But if you knew that dictatorship would be the only chance to raise food production, and half of your folk would depend on it. What would you do then? Or would you murder two men to save 15 others from certain death? Would you allow slavery if you had the power to do so? Would you come into war even if you knew that this would mean endless harm to millions of your people without even the chance of a victory, only to support a small and unreliable ally? What would be your choice?

Most of us aren't in a position to make such far reaching decisions (although we all know these questions in microcosm. But The King's Dilemma let's us participate in the decisions of the powerful. In 15 sequenced scenarios in a fictional medieval country we – as heads of influential houses – must counsel the king in his decisions. Every player takes over one of the houses with individual aims. And while the story unfolds the country as well as the houses develop and attributes are changed. Questions after questions in form of closed envelops that are opened only when indicated face up to our crown counsel. And after a short discussion all players must decide what's good for the country and what's good for their own reputation.

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All stats of the realm are registered on the realm board. Next to the stats of five essential resources and the resulting stability track, there is room for a balance area, the story cards, a time counter and spaces for chronicles that are stuck on the board. The same applies for the house screens where we mark different stats and achievements.

Opening closed envelops (75 in number), sticking and writing on game material, maybe even tearing something apart...Yes! The King's Dilemma is a legacy game. Once you have played all 15 scenarios, the game will be destroyed. And you won't even have seen all of the envelops. It all depends on the decisions of the players.

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I must confess that I am normally no fan of the legacy games. But The King's Dilemma seems to be something very special. I was told that the story is very strong and most players want to play on and on. Of course it is also recommended to play the whole game with the same group of people. But I was also told that it's no problem to substitute the one or other player, when the previous story is shortly repeated by some other player. Of course I cannot say anything about the gameplay right now, but I know the author Lorenzo Silva and together with the design and the knowledge of last year's hit Alone, I am almost sure that The King's Dilemma will be a gem and surely a candidate for my personal convention hit.

You really wipe the floor with me! But as we are now at Horrible Guild, here is one more picture from their new series Similo, deduction games with different artwork slightly similar to Unusual suspects, but without the mean prejudices. Seems to be funny to play:

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Sleep well, I hope I do. Tomorrow will be even more exhausting for me. See you and stay tuned!

Yours Ralf

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Frank's Day at the SPIEL

With my shopping done, I had no fixed meeting directly on opening, and so I choose the booth of OSPREY GAMES from the UK as my first destination. On the way through the halls it was just great to feel the special SPIEL atmosphere once again. Happy playing people everywhere, and on these few days boardgaming once again becomes the most important thing in the universe for SPIEL-freaks all around the world.

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Introduction: Embers of Memory (OSPREY GAMES - Booth 5 H 124)

Already at the news show I had spied their cardgame Embers of Memory, and I was a bit curious to hear a few more infos on the game.

As you might remember from yesterday's report, the game is based on the Throne of Glass novel series from Sarah J. Maas. It is set at the climax and final book of the series, and the players have to help the captured heroine Aelin Galathynius to focus on resisting the torments of her captors by relying on positive memories. An unusual plot, but I like the novel series, and so the game certainly is appealing for me.

The appeal is increased by the fact that it is a pure two-player game, and since I often play games with my wife Nicole this one will be an interesting challenge for us, especially since player communication is restricted despite the cooperative approach. Talking to Pete from OSPREY, he also confirmed my initial estimation that the game contains its own campaign modus. The two players have to act together, trying to win their way through a series of 7 chapters by solving gaming riddles of increasing difficulty. More and more rules and story twists are revealed in stepwise fashion by revealing cards from a special story deck, and Pete told me that the game is fully replayable even if all 7 chapters have been solved. Okay, game bagged.

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Playtesting Session: Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter (OSPREY GAMES - Booth 5 H 124)

However, there was another game available at the OSPREY booth which I had spied upon during my SPIEL preparation, and this one was Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter. I am familiar with the 2000 AD comic book series around Judge Dredd and the judges of Megacity One from my adolescence, and it is exactly this time - many years ago - when I last played a Judge Dredd boardgame. At that time GAMES WORKSHOP had two boardgames and an RPG which focused on the 2000 AD comics, but now the theme has been picked up about 30 years later by OSPREY GAMES.

In Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter the worlds of the Judge Dredd, Sláine, Strontium Dog and Nikolai Dante comics will collide, with dimensional portals opening up in Megacity One to bring characters from each of these books together in a vicious battle. Each of the up to 4 players takes one of the factions, coming with 4 or 5 characters with different abilities and weaponary. Of course, due to their different backgrounds the characters will have quite different combat styles and skills, and so the players must try to make the best of their team's abilities in order to win the game.

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Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter and The Cursed Earth - 2 new 2000 AD games.

Talking about winning, despite Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter being a skirmish combat game, the main key to winning is to collect shards of a dimension portal which are distributed over the battlefield. So, each of the factions is trying to get together five matching shards, allowing them to use the portal and win the game.

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The game features a collection of nice ideas which gave it a quite unique feeling. For one, there is a hidden deployment system which the players use to bring their characters onto the gameboard in stepwise fashion. Each player assigns their characters spaces where they will appear, but whereas an early entry possibly allows the collecting of shards, a later entry of a character may give advantages when it comes to ambushing other player characters and gaining strategic positions.

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Furthermore, the system of action cards used in Judge Dredd: Helter Skelter is easy and smoothly playing at the same time. Each player has his own deck of action cards, and the cards show the portraits of one or of a player's characters. If a player wants to act with a character, he has to play cards showing that character, with the number of cards needed depending on the type of action the character wants to perform. In this fashion the game is both streamlined and kept at a high pace, because a player cannot lean back simply to collect more cards and watch the others make progress towards the final goal.

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Supplemented by strong artwork and nice miniatures, the game is really great for fans of the 2000 AD universe and skirmish gamers alike. Similar to the Wildlands system, is plays quick and hard, but due to the number of characters available to each player it stays entertaining from beginning to end. Sometimes temporary alliances will be formed, but in the end it's each player fighting for himself!

After this excursion into the futuristic world of Judge Dredd, I finally went for my scheduled, visiting the booth of HOLY GRAIL GAMES from France to take a look at Museum, yet another game which has been successfully financed via Kickstarter.

Playtesting Session: Museum (HOLY GRAIL GAMES - Booth 2 F 146)

Do you remember Marcus Brody? I will give you a hint: He is a character from the Indiana Jones movies…

Indeed, Marcus Brody was a supplementary character in the movies, Whereas Indiana Jones was adventuring, rescuing damsels and acquiring of rare artifacts, it was the role of Marcus Brody as museum curator to exhibit and present all the rare finds which had been "retrieved" by Indy. So, the time certainly has come for a game which doesn't focus on the adventures of a field archaeologist, but instead on the job of the people at the museum who will have to find a place for all those objects which have been acquired.

The design team of HOLY GRAIL GAMES had taken up this setting, developing a game which takes the players back into the 1920'ies where archaeologists are unearthing rare artifacts all around the world. In Museum the players take the roles of Museum curators who try to get the most valuable artifacts into their museum collections, thus increasing the acclaim and renown of their Museum in the professional world.

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In essence, Museum is a set collection game in which the players try to acquire valuable artifact cards and sets of artifacts which are either from the same civilization or fall into the same scientific domain. In the final scoring each player will add up the values of his artifact cards, but he will also gain bonus points for matching collections of cards. So, the more matching cards a player acquires for a collection, the more bonus points each collection will be worth in the final scoring. However, while this general approach may sound quite straightforward, it's the intricacies which make Museum much more than a simple collection game.

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Whereas new artifact cards are added to the player´s hands by drawing them from one of the four geographical areas on the gameboard, the players cannot simply place artifact cards from their hand into their collection. Instead, the value of a card must be paid by the player in order to play it, and this payment must be made with other artifact cards from the player's hand which sum up to the same value. So, each card in a player's hand has a possible double use, either to be added to the player's museum or to be used as payment.

However, a really nice twist in Museum is the fact that cards which have been used as payment do not go into a common discard pile, but instead they go into a player's individual discard pile, his archive. A player is allowed to use his turn action to pick up the cards from his archive again in order to get these cards back into his hand, but while the cards are in a player's archive pile all other players actually are allowed to acquire them from the current owner. So, if a player thinks that a card in another player's archive would be a great addition for one of his collections, he may force the current owner of the card to make a trade by giving him one or more cards which sum up to the same value of the desired card. From my perspective this mechanism is a great twist to the standard play-or-pay mechanism which can be found in games like Race for the Galaxy, because it increases player interaction and at the same time it enables players to do a bit of engine building by tuning their hand of cards in a way which allows the playing of more valuable cards.

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However, the unique features of the central game mechanism of Museum go even further, because the artifact cards collected by the players actually have to be arranged for exhibitions in their museums. For this reason each player has his own museum gameboard, allowing him to arrange his acquired artifact cards in the different halls. Just like in a real museum, the arranging of the cards is important, because collections of cards from the same civilization or scientific domain only count if the cards are exhibited in adjacent halls of the museum. This neat twist challenges the players to arrange their exhibitions in a way which will generate the highest scores, and furthermore the space limits of the museums require the players to consider their museum size when acquiring new cards. In addition, bonus points can be scored by filling the main halls with one collection or by completely filling the museum, so that the museum board in effect adds a completely new layer to the playing mechanism.

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Further additions are patrons (which offer bonus points for certain collections), event cards and specialists (with special abilities), so that Museum in many ways really feels for the players like they have taken over the full management of their museum. Many interesting combinations are possible, and the seemingly well-known core mechanism of set collection has been adapted and enriched to allow a quite atmospheric and diverse gameplay.

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Enjoying a round of Museum with Femke and Wouter from the Netherlands

For those players who want to go even further, there exists a set of 5 expansions which can be used to expand Museum in many different ways. The Black Market adds player interaction, the archaeologists can be sent out to acquire new objects, and the Cthulu artifacts cater for all kinds of trouble. All the expansions come with new playing mechanisms, so that they mean new layers for the game. In total, Museum and its expansions make for a multilayered game which the players can adapt to their personal playing preferences. All this comes in combination with up to date artwork and a fresh new theme, making Museum a really recommendable alternative to the SPIEL mainstream games.

And if you should be interested in the game, don't miss the next Kickstarter project for Museum. It will be a complete big box edition!

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Georgina from Holy Grail Games with the complete Museum collection

As it seems, I was doomed to switch back and forth in time today, and so my next game actually once again had a rather futuristic theme, leading me into icy post-apocalyptic wastelands.

Playtesting Session: Last Aurora (PENDRAGON GAME STUDIO - Booth 2 C 114)

Usually I focus for my SPIEL coverage on games which are available here at the SPIEL for purchase, but as I have told you during this week more and more publishers are using the SPIEL to showcase new games for which a Kickstarter project will be started soon. Somewhere in between is the current status of Last Aurora from Italian publisher PENDRAGON, because the Kickstarter for it has finished but the game will be released early next year. However, PENDRAGON is still accepting late pledges until 11th of November, and due to the interesting theme I decided to have a closer look at this game.

After a conflict of epic scale, a lasting winter has hit the countries of the northern hemisphere, making living there nearly impossible. The player take the roles of clan leaders who are trying to steer a caravan through the icy wastelands, hoping to reach the last icebreaker "Aurora" which is cruising the waters in search of survivors.

With this setting each player takes control of his own little convoy, consisting of a simple truck and trailer at the beginning of the game. Furthermore, each player has two clan members, his leader and a driver who form the core of his expedition team. During the game, everything the players acquire will have to be stored on storage slots of their trucks and caravans, from resources like food, fuel and ammunition to all clan members which each take up a slot as well.

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The clan members form the basis for the players' actions, because the activation of a clan member allows a player to take a new card from the expedition row in which all discovered cards will be placed. If a card is newly added to the row, its price is highest so that only very few characters (like the players' leaders) can go for this card, but the longer it stays in the row the easier it is to activate a character to take or use the card.

The usefulness of the cards in the expedition row is determined by their type. Most prominent are locations which can be looted to find new resources, but some of them actually are contaminated, forcing the players to add a radiation token to the character who has visited the location. In future turns that character will loose one activation point for each radiation token, up to the character's death if all points are lost. However, there are also possibilities to heal a character, so radiation tokens also can be removed.

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Very interesting for the players also are cards of new clan members and new vehicles for their convoy. Better trucks and trailers can be acquired, and furthermore it is possible to gains superstructure cards to add them to the top of trucks and trailers, giving the player additional storage space, weaponry or armor.

Talking about weapons and armor, these are necessary to fend off the evil meaning inhabitants of the wastelands which want to steal the player's resources. Cards of these attackers are shuffled into the exploration deck as well, and when such a card is revealed it will usually cause damage to the players' convoys, forcing them either to fight the outlaws with their weaponry or to try to outrun them. Fighting the outlaws is difficult because it takes time and resources, but valuable rewards can be gained like new clan members or equipment cards.

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As said above, the players' actions are triggered by activating their clan members, and all clan members which have been used become exhausted. It takes a player two consecutive turns before that character is ready and can be activated again, but this time can be halved if the player can spend a food unit for the character, thus making him available again in his next turn.

Fuel must be spent for moving a player's truck token on the main map towards the "Aurora", and here the players really must make haste because the "Aurora" won't wait for long. At least one player must reach the "Aurora" within the required number of turns, and then the players will score in the order of their arrival and for their clan members. If the ship leaves before a player can reach it, the player's clans will be left to make a living from scavenging the wastelands, and in this case the mainly the equipment of their convoy will count towards victory.

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Despite a really easy to handle core game mechnanism, Last Aurora is a quite tough game. The players first have to get used to the game's rhythm and possibilities in order even to reach the "Aurora", because otherwise they will end up like me and my Italian co-gamers today, seeing the ship out of the harbor well before our arrival.

From my perspective the game is really fun to play, both from the strategic and from the thematic point of view. The idea to build and maintain a convoy has been rather well implemented, and the resource management mechanism is gaining and additional level of consideration due to the players limited storage space. Furthermore, Last Aurora also can score with its interesting action mechanism, forcing the players to manage their characters in a way as not to run out of possibilities to act. And even though the players have to cooperate a bit to get rid of outlaws, in the end they will face a tough competition for the best clan members, upgrades and resources. Altogether, this makes Last Aurora a game which can be really recommended.

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Changing the setting once more from the future to the historic past, I had some appetite to try a deepcore strategy game, and this brought me to Hall 6 where FRIA LIGAN - FREE LEAGUE from Sweden had hired a booth.

Playtesting Session: Crusader Kings (FREE LEAGUE - Booth 6 C 114)

Computer games going cardboard are always a tricky venture, especially for popular computer games which have a big followership of users. In these cases many gamers will be aware of the possibilities and playing atmosphere on the computer, and this will kindle expectations which are sometimes hard to meet by game designers who have taken up the challenge to create a boardgame version of the computer game.

FREE LEAGUE now has taken up the seemingly impossible task to create a boardgame version of Crusader Kings, a game of military conquest, dynasty building and intrigue in medieval Europe. The announcement of the project alone had given the design team a finance boost of nearly 500.000 Euros at Kickstarter, and the game now has been delivered to the backers and is presented here at the SPIEL.

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It always takes a lot of playtesting to fully review a deep strategy game of this scale, but what I can do today is give you my general estimation how the game feels and about its potential. In Crusader Kings it's the ultimate goal of the players to become the most powerful dynasty in Europe, and this is measured by the size of their kingdom, in their efforts in building castles and bringing forward inventions, and in their successful participation in the crusades for the Jerusalem. All this is decided over a total duration of 3 eras, each subdivided into three rounds in which the players take their actions.

Some of the actions like building castles or playing inventions are pretty much as they can be expected for a strategic boardgame of this category, so let's focus here on the peculiarities which make Crusader Kings a quite unique game. For this I would like to refer to two older strategy boardgames which probably rarely hit the table nowadays, but which from my perspective are still a benchmark for some very specific gaming approach: AVALON HILL's Diplomacy and Blood Royale from GAMES WORKSHOP.

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Even though it must be stressed at this point that Crusader Kings is totally different than both of these games, there are some core traits of each of these two games which can be found in Crusader Kings and which highly contribute to the game's attractiveness. Beginning with Blood Royale, Crusader Kings also features a sophisticated mechanism of dynasty building, challenging the players to ensure the survival of their ruling house for the duration of the 3 eras. In gaming terms, the player's king can marry, have children and - over the turns - will grow older and finally die. For this occasion the players need to take precautions, marrying early and - hopefully - getting children which may take over rulership.

However, ensuring succession on the throne of the kingdom is not the only reason for marriage. Just like in Blood Royale, marriage is a political instrument in Crusader Kings, allowing players to peacefully extend their kingdom by marrying their king (or the children) to suitable candidates from neighbouring kingdoms. It's even possible to form an pacts between the houses of two players by a marriage, but of course this is only temporal because all players will strive to ensure victory.

Quite important and innovative at this point is the fact that each new member to the player's dynasty will come with a character trait token, showing either positive or negative traits. These traits will supplement the player's stock of trait markers for trait checks, another core element of the game since the success of many actions will have to be ensured by a trait test. If such a test is failed, additional attempts to pass can be purchased for gold, but this is rather costly. So, in Crusader Kings the character of the player's family members really matters because it will change a player's trait pool, and depending on the current composition of a player's trait pool a player well may wish that certain family members wouldn't be there. However, there is always a possibility to send an unfitting heir to the crusades, hoping that this may move up the wise second son in the throne succession list…

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However, there is also the possibility that one of the player's characters may be removed from the game for a different reason, because family members which have been assigned a duchy in an allied kingdom will be killed if that kingdom should be conquered by another player. In addition, Crusader Kings has a very strong element of political intrigue, giving the players access to a range of covert operations which may cause turmoil in another player's kingdom. Unrest can be incited, counsellors can be bribed, and there is even the possibility to plot the murder of another player's king. All this does not only cause setbacks for the other player's, but furthermore these actions - if failed - may give the target players a casus belli (a reason for war) which is a precondition to wage a military campaign against other players.

Talking about conquest, this is the point where Crusader Kings offers some parallels with Diplomacy, because the battle system which can be found here reminds me a bit of the older classic. So, there is no stockpiling of military units, buildup and dice rolling like in Axis & Allies, but instead a player first has to mobilize a region in order to place a unit there, and this unit then can be used for an attack on another region. The outcome of such a battle requires once again a trait check, and the probabilities of this check be influenced by several factors. So, the attacker can increase the probability to pass the check by sending forces from more than one region, whereas the check will get harder of the targert region is mobilizied, if it has a castle, or by other modifiers. In addition, pacts formed by marriage also may have an influence of the outcome of the invasion of the allied power is present in a neighboring region, and so - even though there is a basic element of luck in military conquest - there are more than enough possibilities to ensure that the desired outcome will be reached. It is this high degree of predictability which reminds me a bit of Diplomacy, because military conquest in Crusader Kings is all about manipulating the situation in a way to ensure victory.

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The description of these core elements should be sufficient to give you an impression of the uniqueness and high attractiveness of Crusader Kings, because the mechanism for dynasty building and the determination of military actions requires a way of thinking which is quite different from many other games with a comparable thematic setting. But of course there is even more playing depth due to the possibilities to invest in the crusade for the Holy Land, the options to hire counsellors and make inventions, and all these items come with additional rules which enlarge the range of options available to the players. Taken together, all these elements have been finetuned to allow complex but nonetheless fluent gameplay, and in this aspect the game really outshines many old-school competitors.

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In summary, the design crew of FRIA LIGAN really has done a great job in creating a rather modern and elegant boardgame version of the popular computer game, making Crusader Kings a must for fans of games of conflict and intrigue. The game has a potential to entertain for many nights to come, and just like Diplomacy it will be best if played with a full cast of 5 players. In this constellation there will be potential areas of conflict all over the gameboard, thus putting additional pressure on the players to outsmart their opponents.

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After these expedition into the endless ice and on the crusades, I looked for something more lighthearted to end my day in the SPIEL halls, and I did make a find with the team of TAIWAN BOARDGAME DESIGN in Hall 5.

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Playtesting Session: Kung Fur Fight (TAIWAN BOARDGAME DESIGN - Booth 5 C 122)

Cats and dogs doing Kung Fu(r) fighting? Well, if you didn't know this before, it seems to be their favourite past time activity! In Kung Fur Fight, two rivalling cland of cats and dogs fight for supremacy, and the two players have to see to make their clan winning.

On first sight the game seems to be a simple hidden placement game. Each of the players possesses a hand of clan members, cats or dogs, and these members have different strength values and abilities. Using screens to hide their placements, at the beginning of a turn each player distributes three of his hand cards into three opposing combat slots, choosing any distribution they like. Indeed, several clan members can be placed into the same slot while leaving another slot empty, but in this case only the special ability of the topmost clan member, the leader of this pack, will be activated.

When making the placements, the players will take into account the reward cards which have been drawn for each of the combat slots. In each slot the players will find a card which will be won by the player who has placed the strongest clan members into the slot, and these reward cards are really powerful. Some of them are combat moves reducing the opponents health score track, whereas others are special actions which the players can use later. Very interesting also are other animals, allies which can be won and gained for a player's clan, giving the player a broader variety of cards to chose from.

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As indicated, the strength values of the clan members which the players have placed into the combat slots will be added up and compared once the screens have been lifted. However, that's also the time when the special abilities of the pack leaders will be activated, giving the players interesting options which may turn the tide in combat. For example, the cats have ninjas who can use their dagger tokens to increase their card values, whereas the dogs are tough, fighting even harder when their score is lower than the opponent's score. In this way each player can try to make efficient use of his clan's special abilities, while at the same time trying to take into account the abilities of the other player's clan members.

An additional factor of consideration is added by the rule that used clan members will not go back into a player's hand. They will only come back if the player uses his weakest character, and so there is an element of calculation and estimation for the other player who may try to guess at which moment his opponent might be most vulnerable.

Due to its pretty straightforward rules, Kung Fur Fight quickly develops into a fast exchange of blows in which each player tries to gain and keep the upper hand. Brining the oppent's health score track down to zero is one way to win the game, but it is also possible to win a series of victories in the combat slots, thus giving a player a leadership position in the victory track which may also lead to total victory.

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The game picks up even more pace in a quite clever way. When a player has lost a certain amount of health points, he is allowed to place a forth, and later even a fifth card into the combat slots. As defeat looms on the horizon, the fighting gets more desperate, and so the placement of more cards represents a player's clan bidding up all their power to fend off the final defeat.

However, despite all these martial terms, Kung Fur Fight is a wonderful 2-player luffing game. Trying to outsmart your opponent makes up for a high part of the game's attractivity, and the comparatively short playing time of 15 to 20 minutes guarantees an instant whish for replays. Cute and fun - these guys from Taiwan really have a hand for cool games…

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Yunus Hsieh, the designer of Kung Fur Fight

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Meow!

However, the day had not quite ended yet. Due to the newly introduced preview night which took place yesterday evening, the awards ceremony and dinner for the Deutscher Spiele Preis had been shifted to tonight. So, when the SPIEL closed at 7 PM, Ralf and I got changed and re-entered the press center once again.

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The halls of SPIEL during nighttime

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The winner of the Deutscher Spiele Preis is found by a public poll, and this year the prize went to Flügelschlag, the German version of Wingspan by Elizabeth Hargrave. However, also the winners of the Deutscher Kinderspiele Preis have been honored tonight, and here I was extraordinary happy to see that this year's awards went to REPOS PRODUCTION, because my friends Cedrick and Thomas had shown a good hand in publishing Concept Kids Animals by Gaetan Beaujannot and Alain Rivollet. Congratulations to the winners!!!

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But now Ralf and I would like to say goodbye for tonight. We better get some sleep - and dream of games…

Good night everyone!!!

Frank

Wednesday, 23rd of October 2019

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Frank's SPIEL Warm-up - Press Day

Hello everyone!

Sunshine at Essen! It's always the same during SPIEL week. Despite that fact that it's October the sun is mocking all the SPIEL visitors with some wonderful weather, whereas we stay in the halls of gaming in order to enjoy our favourite activities for rainy days. It's really amazing how often the SPIEL was accompanied by very good weather, and indeed the temperatures here at Essen will rise to 22 degrees or more in the next days - that's quite high for this time of the year.

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However, not everybody in my family is obliged to go and do some SPIEL reporting, and so our balcony developed into the day's most popular location. Resting leisurely in the sun, Kira and Pegasus give me a sleepy farewell upon me leaving home, putting special emphasis on the fact that they do not really want to be disturbed for the rest of the day. Cats….

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As it is usual for convention week Wednesday, the first real program point of the SPIEL is the press conference which starts as 11.00 AM. Teaming up with Ralf, we met each other in the press center, enjoying a nice second breakfast and then getting ready for the things to come!

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The conference was once again hosted by Ms. Dominique Metzler from MERZ VERLAG, the conventionists responsible for the whole organization of the SPIEL. However, unlike former years where much of her presentation was focused on games to be released during the show, Ms. Metzler now gave many more informations regarding the SPIEL and the game's scene in general.

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The facts alone of the SPIEL 19 are gigantic. The total exhibition area once again has grown by another 6.000 square meters, now reaching a record area of 86.000 square meters. This comes along with yet another increase of exhibitors, and so 1.200 exhibitors will attend this year's SPIEL, coming from 53 nations. These publishers will present a total of approx. 1.500 new games, once again an amazing record.

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However, this is even more awesome due to the comparison which Ms. Metzler did between this year'S SPIEL and the SPIEL 13. According to the floor plans, in the last 6 years the exhibition space had been doubled, and furthermore the booths even of medium sized publishers are getting ever bigger, a clear sign of the enormous sale volume which is generated during the 4 SPIEL days.

However, not only the exhibition area has grown, but furthermore the number of visitors is ever increasing. Last year it had been more than 190.000 people, and this year Ms. Metzler sees the possibility that 200.000 visitors may come. The presale of tickets is going rather well, and from the preorders it can be seen that people from more than 100 nations will be attending the SPIEL.

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The growth of the convention also is a driver for new concepts, and so this year'S SPIEL will see a series of new side activities which will be introduced. On the one hand, tonight there will be the first SPIEL PREVIEW night, an event for 550 gamers who want to take a first peak at some new games. More than 70 companies will attend this event, and apart from a few press tickets the whole bunch of tickets was sold online within 2 minutes. Ralf is going to attend this event, and I am sure he will tell you more about it soon!

However, there is even more to happen during the next 4 days. On Friday, there will be the SPIEL Educators Day, and on that day as series of panels will be hosted on the educational value of games and the possibilities how to use games for teaching purposes. The panels will continue on Saturday with a choice of other games-related subjects, ranging from the coverage of boardgames in the digital media to a totally unknown subject - the boardgames scene in Iran. At this SPIEL originally a larger group of Iran-based publishers was going to exhibit games, but these publishers had a hard time both to get a visa and to get their games to Germany. No logistics company accepted the order for the transportation of games from Iran to Germany, out of fear to lose their US business. In the end those publishers who were allowed to come arrived with suitcases full of games, and so there will be an exhibition of games from Iran, even if it's small than originally intended.

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However, there are also some good news. Many of the games which will be played during the preview night and a few more all have been donated by the publishers to be sold for a charitable cause. The MERZ VERLAG has organized a sale of game "surprise bags", and these will be sold at a special booth in Hall 5 (5 A 113) for a very attractive price of 25 Euro each. First come, first served, as long as stocks last!

In order to deal better with the expected high amount of visitors, Entrance East also will be opened. As I told you yesterday, people entering through this gate will walk through Halls 7 and 8 before they reach the crowded halls, but it's only a short walk and you will actually see the old halls where the SPIEL used to be. In addition, the cloakroom at this entrance (Hall 8) will take care of your large bags, which can be refilled as often as you like during the day. The price per bag is 3 Euros, refilling your bag costs 2€ extra, once. From then on you can return and deposit as many games as you like at any time during the whole day.

If you need any information for the coming days, the website of MERZ VERLAG is a really good source for all kinds of SPIEL news, including the official programme and the floor plans. An excellent SPIEL GUIDE is available for free download there!

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After the press conference finally the boardgames part of the SPIEL is about to begin, and this is traditionally started with the news show in which many publishers have set up a copy of their news games in order to show them to the press representatives. Making our way over to the foyer of Hall 1 and then going into its basement, we entered the news show to check what kind of surprises we would find there.

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Of course the sheer flood of new games was simply amazing, but Ralf and I have come prepared, knowing quite a few of the new games from the research which we have done ahead of the SPIEL. So, I was especially keen if I could find some games which I did not hear much about before the SPIEL, and I would now like to present you a few of those finds.

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A boardgame coming from an insurance company? Everything is possible here at the SPIEL!

The game Sarah's Vision had been created by BALOISE GROUP, and insurance company from Switzerland. The game had been created by the company in order to train their management how to solve problems cooperatively, and together the players (or managers) have to face a coup which has been plotted to bring down a future society.

The game is fully cooperative, with the players working their way through different scenarios. The scenario will tell them which threats they have to face, and it is their main aim to prevent assassination attempts against key leaders of mankind. The plot against those leaders is supported by a society of old-fashioned companies and conservatives, trying to prevent a further development of society which may bring down their businesses.

In gaming terms, the players will have to react to each new plot card which is revealed, showing threat tokens which may endanger the leaders of mankind at the different locations in the city. The players will have to use their hand of action cards to move these leaders or remove tokens, but most important also is the use of resources. These resource bars come from a Jenga-like tower which represents the players' agency, and the players have to discuss and cooperate which resources should be removed from the tower and used. If the tower collapses, the current plot advances very quickly, bringing the players close to losing the game.

Sarah's Vision sounds like a great combination of a cooperative strategy game with a dexterity element. Last year the game had been described in Spielbox magazine, and it had been dubbed the "Erlking" of all boardgames because of its rarity. However, BALOISE GROUP has heeded the pleas of many gamers, and now the game which had been created for their internal training is available to the general gaming public. You can check it out at booth 2 F 111.

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An absolutely cute looking game is Grimms Wälder, the German version of The Grimm Forest which has been done by MIRAKULUS (booth 2 B 114), a new German publisher of localizing boardgames. The game does not only offer very cute graphics and miniatures, but it actually sounds like it's a very quick and entertaining collect-and-build game. There are plenty of opportunities in hampering the other players in their building efforts, and you will meet dozens of fairytale personalities during the game, some of them helpful and some of them increasing your problems. This is certainly a game which I will check out.

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Coming from Israel to the SPIEL, Lior Keinan and has publishing house TYTO GAMES have returned this year with GladiGala, a cute looking game about gladiators warring in an arena.

In this game each of the players commands a group of different gladiators, and the players are trying to capture the banners of the other players and bring it to the center of the arena in order to win the game. The core element in GladiGala is an action programming mechanism, but unlike games like Roborally the players do not chose the actions from a limited hand of cards, but instead each gladiator has its own movement and fighting capabilities according to his weapons.

Each player has a standee for each of his gladiators which is placed in front of him, and using magnetic tokens the players will secretly program the movement and attackting actions for each of their gladiators. This may sound fiddly, but the handling of the magnets works extraordinary well, and it allows a speedy resolution of the actions during the action phase.

However, the game is not just about outsmarting the other player(s) where to move and where to attack. There are also possibilities to place bets in which order the players will lose gladiators, thus giving the players additional incentives especially in the four player game not to team up permanently against one player.

The game's theme may be martial, but from my perspective it's still a family game which sounds rather well accessible. It offers a quite interesting variant to standard programming mechanisms, including more actors but less steps to program. Coming with cute miniatures, the game seems to be quite worthwhile to check out here at the SPIEL, so you should look out for the booth of Tyto games (both 5 K 123).

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A game which seems to have received a lot of preorders before the SPIEL is Aquatica from the new Russian publisher COSMODROME GAMES (booth 2 D 113). Indeed this game about the building of underwater kingsdoms looks quite fabulous, and so I was quite interested in the main gaming mechanisms.

In the game the players recruit the help of characters to perform different type of actions, most prominent among them the acquisition of new undersea areas with resources. However, on the bottom of the sea commodities are rare, and so the area cards which are acquired by the players will slide into their player boards, using a scale to display if and how many resources can be used on the next step. Some of the areas are straightforward, with resources being available for every step for which the area is slid into the player board, but other areas are more difficult to harvest, having blank spaces which can only be skipped if the abilities of other area cards are used. With this very interesting mechanism Aquatica is a resource management game without any resource tokens, and furthermore it poses an interesting challenge to the players to acquire areas which will grant them access to well matching abilities.

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a second interesting aspect of the game is the fact that the player as Kings of the Sea can rely on the help of their trusted manta rays. These creatures can be activated to provide boni, and they become ready again through some character or area abilities. However, if a player fulfills the conditions the manta rays also can be sent to scoring missions, increasing the players' endgame scores but removing them permanently from a player's ranks. New manta rays can be recruited during the game, but it's all a question whether a player possesses enough resources to do so.

In summary, Aquatica seems to be a rather promising resource management game with some unusual new twists. The gaming materials are of very high quality, and I will try to check the game out during the show.

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A game which seems to be highly thematic comes from UK-based publisher OSPREY GAMES (booth 5 H 124). Based on the successful Throne of Glass novel series from Sarah J. Maas, the cardgame Embers of Memory takes the players into the world of Aelin Galathynius, a young assassin which is turning against the king.

The game may look quite unspectacular, but nonetheless fans of the series will be attracted by the fact that many characters known from the books appear on the cards. The cards actually represent memories which the heroine is trying to recollect to gain strength during her captivity at the series' climax, and and gaming terms the players will have to cooperate playing cards which allow them to solve the current scenario. During the course of several rounds these challenges will increase in difficulty, so that Embers of Memory seems to contain its own mini campaign mode. From my perspective this sounds interesting not only for fans of the series.

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A truly strange game comes from the riddling specialists of IDVENTURE which can be found at booth 4E124. Coming without any instructions, the players receive a strange looking wooden cube with cogwheels, levers and some carvings. Getting no further clues, the players face this cube together as an Escape-riddle, challenging them to solve how to open the cube within 60 minutes. If successfully opened, the cube will contain a little surprise, giving its owner the possibility to put something else into it and present it as a gift to a friend. What an extraordinary concept.

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Finally, those of you who have followed my reports from previous years will know that I am rather fond of strategic dice games. I was aware that a new dice game was coming from CZECH GAMES EDITION (booth 1 F 145), but nonetheless I was quite overwhelmed when I came upon Sanctum in the news show. It is a game in which the players go on a quest against an evil demon lord, gaining equipment and facing all kinds of henchmen and monsters on their way. Already the big player boards suggest that the player's characters have lots of possibilities to equip and develop, and for me this is a game which I definitely have to carry home from this year's SPIEL.

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On my way out of the news show I stumbled into a neat fight between a Geisha and an ogre who has escaped from the battle at the Last Bastion, so I better looked for a safe detour to avoid those combatants.

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However, this detour turned out to be the best possible choice, because I passed the booth of KOSMOS where I came upon my friend Rustan Hakansson from Sweden. After the successful release of Tribes: Dawn of Humanity last year, KOSMOS had picked up another game from Rustan. With Cities Skylines Rustan has designed a boardgame offshoot of the popular computer game, and this is certainly another game which I will check out during this SPIEL.

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I always feel like a Hobbit when I am standing next to Rustan…

While I have been in the news show, the buildup in the halls had nearly finished, and so lots of nicely looking booths received me when I finally returned to the halls in the afternoon.

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For this afternoon I had a meeting scheduled, and so I hurried along to Hall 4 the booth of the new German publisher TAVERNA LUDICA GAMES. Having specialized in German editions of international boardgames, Florian from TAVERNA LUDICA has brought two games to the SPIEL which I definitely wanted to check out.

Playtesting Session: Robin Hood and the Merry Men (TAVERNA LUDICA GAMES - Booth 4 I 110)

Even though there have been some cardgames in recent years, it has been quite a while since I last saw a Robin Hood themed boardgame, and to be honest the last games which I remember - Sherwood Forest by EGGERTSPIELE and (even older) Robin Hood by LAURIN - are not games which would stand well in the competition of modern-age games. Sherwood Forest on the one hand had been quite unusual for the fact that it focused on the robbing of coaches, featuring and interesting mechanism for "in forest" travels, but due to its limited thematical focus it had grown repetitive quite quickly. LAURIN's Robin Hood on the other hand had been a nicely illustrated adventure game with different missions for the players to be played, but despite the different missions in the end it turned out to be mostly a game of moving around and solving simple tasks. So, the time certainly has come for a new take on the famous outlaw of Sherwood Forest, and this time Robin Hood and the Merry Men are brought back to the gaming table by FINAL FRONTIER GAMES in cooperation with the new German publisher TAVERNA LUDICA GAMES.

The return to Sherwood Forest certainly is done in style, coming as a lavishly outfitted big boardgame which is beautifully illustrated by Mihajlo Dimitrievski, an artist who has gathered lots of reknown in recent years by his skillful illustrations in games like Raiders of the North Sea, Estoril - City of Spies or the Valeria series. In these terms Robin Hood and the Merry Men certainly is absolutely up to date, but what about the game itself?

A view of the gameboard suggests that there is plenty of things to do for the players. Among helpful tables and scales there is Nottingham Castle with archery grounds and a jail, there are different action locations and there are roads on which coaches will transport the collected taxes to the castle. All this calls for a worker-placement mechanism, and indeed Robin Hood and the Merry Men runs to a major part on the fact that the players - acting as the Heroes of Sherwood who are running a competition for leadership of the outlaws - will have to send their Merry Men to the board locations in order to perform actions there.

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In essence, the Merry Men can collect resources at different locations, and they can go to the Construction Yard where the collected resources can be turned into barricades and traps which can be used to block the coachways and to entrap Royal Guards. In addition, Merry Men also can be sent to the Armoury to gain Weapon dice which can be used in different other actions, or to the Town Square where money can be robbed from the rich on a push-your-luck dicerolling base. Finally, Merry Men can also be sent to King Richard's crusades, allowing the players to spend resources and weapon dice in order to activate King Richard's Task cards which will give bonus points to the activating player at the end of the game.

While this may sound pretty straightforward, the mechanism for the placement of the Merry Men is enriched by the additional necessity to play a Merry Men card, and this results in a second layer which I have not yet seen in conjunction with a worker placement mechanism. In effect, each player needs to play a Merry Men card from his hand whenever he wants to place one of his Merry Men meeples. However, the Merry Men card can either be played into the common discard pile or into the player's own "band of outlaws", a pile of Merry Men cards which can fit a maximum of 6 cards. The difference between both ways of playing the card is the fact that a card which is played into the discard pile permanently is lost to the player, whereas cards played into the player's band of outlaws may generate bonus points for the player at the end of the game. However, playing a card into the discard pile also means that the player may use the card's special ability, meaning that the possibilities of the location where the Merry Man is going to be placed can be used for a higher result. In contrast to this a placement based on a card being added to the player's band of outlaws only triggers the generic action of the location, and this is not as efficient as when a card's special power is used.

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During the game even Merry Men cards from the players' band of outlaws still can be used and moved to the discard pile, a necessity if the band of outlaws is at its maximum and the player wants to add another card for the end game scoring. This means that the players constantly have to balance their need for short term gains against the possibilities of additional scorings at the game's end, and due to the different card powers of each Merry Men card this concept poses some interesting strategic challenges to the standard worker placement mechanism.

However, this wouldn't feel like a complete game of Robin Hood if there was no role to Prince John, Guy of Gisborne and the Sheriff of Nottingham. So, each round a Villain card is drawn, and this card triggers the three notorious villains to travel around the board to hamper the players in performing their actions. In addition, the card also triggers the placement of Royal Guards, and these evil henchmen may capture the Merry Men which have been placed by the players. A captured Merry Man will be moved to the prison in Nottingham castle, and at the game's end a player will receive a penalty for each Merry Man in prison.

That's the point where the Heroes come into play, because each player also has an individual pawn for his hero which will travel between different board locations once the placement of the Merry Men has been finished. After all, the performance of real deeds requires the presence of a real hero, and so the players' Heroes now will use the weapon dice collected by the players to ambush carriages, free captured Merry Men or even compete in an archery competition. Quite interestingly, many of these actions can be performed on a semi-cooperative basis, and so a player actually is allowed to free Merry Men of other players who have been captured. However, this is not done out of goodheartedness, but instead the Hero's player will receive bonus points and resources for such a noble deed.

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Indeed, the level of player cooperation goes even further, because there are possibilities for the players to lose the game altogether. For one, if too many coaches reach the castle unhampered, too much money will have been taxed from the population, and in this event the game is considered lost. In addition, the presence of too many Royal Guards also will trigger the game's end, and so the players also can send their Heroes to give back some money to the poor, thus enlisting the population's help which allows the removal of excess guard figures.

With these neat twists Robin Hood and the Merry Men poses an interesting combination of depth levels and challenges to the players. On the one hand, each player will strive to maximize his own gains, but at the same time the players must keep an eye for each other, because there is a growing risk for the game being lost altogether. As indicated above, the thematic background of Robin Hood and the Merry Men is the Heroes of Sherwood competing to become the new leader of the outlaws of Sherwood, and a leader's skills certainly must include a knack to make other people do unwanted tasks. In gaming terms, this means that Robin Hood and the Merry Men offers some possibilities to the players to wait for the villains to develop some strength, and if a player does this with a good feeling for timing he will be able to make other players spend time and deal with the problems resulting from the villains. All in all, this is a quite fitting reflection of the game's thematic background.

In terms of design and outfit Robin Hood and the Merry Men is top notch, and - even more important - the gameplay is varied and atmospheric at the same time. The generally good impression is supplemented even more by three modular mini expansions which can be included to vary gameplay even further, so that Robin Hood and the Merry Men indeed can be seen as a new milestone regarding Robin Hood themed games! Tally Ho!

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However, there was an additional game which I was interested in. Coloma will be another German version of a very successful international game, but here at the SPIEL Florian will only have a demo copy. The finished game will be available in November, and it can be preordered here at the booth

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In Coloma, the players set out for the American Goldrush, trying to gain a fortune in the Wild West. In essence, the game features a micture of worker placement and engine building elements, but it offers some nice variations to this classic mechanisms which seem to make the game really worthwhile. For one, worker placement will be influenced by a magnetic wheel on the gameboard, continuously changing the action available at a certain location. In addition to this, the wheel will also serve as a cover, partly covering the location where most pawns have been placed. This will reduce the effectiveness of that location, thus introducing a nice variation to the classic placement rules.

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In addition to this, a really outstanding factor about Coloma is that it belongs to the category of games where the players really can follow quite a few different ways towards victory. They can go for gold, they can defend the town against outlaws, they can work as land surveyors and bridge builders, and they can even become colonists, using coaches on a small map in order to collect resources and settle in surrounding regions. All this will be augmented by the players constructing houses which can improve the efficiency of certain actions, so that the player slowly will narrow down their strategy to the one or two approaches which seem most efficient for them.

With these elements coming together, Coloma sounds like it is a very nice, deep strategy game, and it is certainly a game which I will check out in the future.

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Talking about checking out, it was high time to leave the halls to start typing this report. Making my way back through the halls, my very last stop actually was at the booth of CZECH GAMES EDITION in Hall 2. Petr Murmak and his crew were giving the booth its final touches, and I was lucky to be there. Petr equipped me with the very first copy of Sanctum, a quite nice booty for the end of this day at the SPIEL!

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But now enough of the preparations - let the SPIEL begin!!!

See you tomorrow - either here or in the halls!

Full SPIEL ahead!

Frank

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Ralf's first day at the convention

Hey Ho, here we are again. Our home for the next couple of days is prepared. My day began early shortly before the press conference. After a first stroll through the convention hall, I met Roberto from ARES GAMES at his booth. Or better: that was what was planned. I arrived, but Roberto was still preparing for the novelties show. So I waited some time until I decided that someone else could explain me the new games too. I knew already that there would come a new version of Quartermaster General. But, what a mess! The game has not arrived yet. I learnt that a whole bunch of new games is still in customs. Quartermaster General among them, but also the anticipated Dungeology – The expedition. They still hope that some of the games will arrive until Sunday. I will check that continuously. If they arrive in time, I will tell you and add some more details of these two games, at the moment I can only present a first shot of Dungeology from the novelty show:

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Fortunately, ARES GAMES has more to present than just these two novelties that are both cooperations with other publishers. Otherwise they would have had a lot of tables (like many other publishers they have a bigger booth this year) but no games. Most of their other novelties are expansions for their successful games from the last years.

Introduction: Battlestar Galactica – Starship Battles (Ares Games – booth 3E100)

First of all the fleet for Battlestar Galactica has grown. In the picture below you can see that there are now a lot of new ships to choose from. And there is an expansion just with four new control panels. Four control panels are already included in the base game, but if you want to play with more than 4 fighters, you have now the option to buy either another base game or just the expansion with the two new control panels.

In the game players take control of spaceships that face each other and fight until complete destruction. The game features a clever movement mechanism. Similar to Wings of Glory there is no board, but the fighters freely move on the table. The direction and the distance is given by maneuver cards that are secretly and simultaneously chosen by the players. The control panels have the function to adjust the ships current speed, height and rotation. Depending on the current speed of the spaceship it follows one of three paths on the maneuver card. The card is placed in front of the spaceship for that purpose, and the ship is moved along the path to its end. Then the maneuver card is taken away again.

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At the end of each movement a spaceship fires. If there is another spaceship in range (measuring tools are included), a die is rolled and depending on the result a damage is inflicted. There are a lot of details and optional rules like boosts, special damages, fuel, tailing and pilots. But you can adjust the game to the players' experiences gradually and not everything is needed to play a demanding game.

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Fans of the movie will love the new fighters, they are detailed miniatures of the original movie spaceships. The game needs to be played on a big table, especially the bigger new spaceships need room. If you like XWing or Wings of Glory and want to play in the Galactica world, you should check this out. It plays fast, the miniatures are pre-painted and off excellent quality and the varieties – especially with the new expansions are manifold.

But of course there are expansions for Sword & Sorcery too, new heroes and a big expansion with a very impressive hydra-miniature. Time was passing fast now, and I had to leave to hurry for the press conference. Frank has already told you much about it, so let's go over to the novelties show where I had my next appointments with Corax Games and Heidelbär Games:

Introduction: Reavers of Midgard (Corax Games – booth 2B114)

Reavers of Midgard is a sequel to the successful Champions of Midgard. As the older game it is worker placement game that plays in the Viking time. But Reavers of Midgard is more than just fighting against monsters. It's now time to confront the real Viking times: raiding of keep, villages and whole territories, that's what a real Viking is born for.

What sounds to be bloody and murderous, turns out to be a solid worker placement game. Fights are taking place (how else could be a raid resolved), but they are limited to a single roll, so they are really very minimalistic. I would think that Reavers of Midgard is much more an Euro game than Champions of Midgard that had nomerous rolls to be taken. Actions are manifold in the game: trading, raiding villages (with 4 subcategories), raiding keeps (again with 3 subcategories), conquering territories, sea battles, journeys and landbattles.

Similar to Puerto Rico all players participate in a chosen action. After a player has chosen his or her action and has performed it, all other players also take the same action but with lesser rewards. Another interesting feature is that players assign reavers who are recruited in form of cards in three different ways to their personal player board (a ship).

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Reavers of Midgard really offers a lot to do. It's seems to be more complex than Champions of Midgard, but I still think it's a medium weighted game. Maybe you have some problems to decide between the one or other action at the beginning. But as you always have the chance to perform the same action (as long as you can pay the costs) you do not fall behind too soon. Reavers of Midgard looks awesome when you see it and seems to be a solid game as far as I can say that after reading the rules and looking at the game in reality. Maybe it lacks the very big “Oh”, but I guess it's fun playing it and it definitely further expands the world of Midgard.

My next stop at the novelty show was at Heidelbär Games. Since they left the Asmodee group they have renewed some of their old cooperations, and one of the first publisher that came back is Horrible Games. Or better Horrible Guild, that's what they are called since the beginning of this week. A lot of the old games from Horrible Guild will be published in German once again by Heidelbär Games and the same applies to their new games. But I have already an appointment with Horrible Guild tomorrow, so let us today concentrate on another game from Heidelbär Games:

Introduction: Wordsmith (Heidelbär Games – booth 1B139)

When I was still a young boy, my mother often made me play Scrabble. Seven drawn letter-tiles to form a new word on the gameboard. Admittedly I was not what would you call an enthusiast of the game. Words with more letters were more valuable than short words. The games usually resulted in a lot of down-time, because players took much time for looking for new words. We later played Letra-Mix that came with a sand-timer to reduce the down-time. But still you had nothing to do during the other players' turns.

Wordsmith definitely changes this. As all the Scrabble variants out there, it's thematic is to find words. But it's real-time for all players. And it is much more than just finding words, rather you have to find the letters first.

That's really a mess! We only get letter pieces in form of small semitransparent plastic tiles in four colours. And these pieces must be put together to form the letters. Not everything is allowed, the possible compositions are given on each side of the gamebox that is placed in the middle of the table, one side towards each player. This position is not only needed for seeing the possible letter compositions, it is also necessary for getting new letter pieces from the box.

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Although we already start with some of the letter pieces, it is not always possible to form a word. Moreover, if you don't use all of your pieces, you will get minus points for every single piece that is left over. And, of course, longer words also earn you more points at the end of the round. That's why we have a die that – once rolled – indicates which coloured letter piece we can take from the box.

Just one word, everyone involved all the time and a short real-time game round. That sounds like a great game to overcome my Scrabble trauma. Still it is a modern variant of the all-time classic game, let's see what my mum says about it....

After the press conference I had a first playtest at ZOCH. As usual some of the publishers had invited the press to exclusively test their games. And after ZOCH won this years' innoSPIEL award for Ab durch die Mauer I was really excited to play some of their new releases. However although there were only press people here, all tables at ZOCH were crowded. As a result I was only able to play a small card game, but I was not in the least sorry about that, because it turned out to be a very entertaining one:

Playtest: Beasty Bar: Born to be Wild (Zoch – booth 3J108)

Beasty Bar: Born to be Wild is already the third standalone game in the Beasty Bar world. In the game by Stefan Kloss the players try get their horde of animals into the famous Como Dragon's Beasty Bar. It's party time and everybody in the animal world wants to involved. Unfortunately there is not enough place for all animals and the nasty doorman gives access only bit by bit and some of the animals are even send home.

Every turn each player sends a new animal (card) to the queue in front of the entrance. Once there are five waiting animals, the first two may enter, while the last animal is removed from the queue. So far, so good. But of course there's more to it than that: Each animal has a special ability that is carried out after placing the animal in the queue. And so, the animals push, shove and the order in front of the entrance changes continuously.

Of course the game is no heavy-brainer for the grown-ups. It's a family game, but I think for the smaller ones it's already challenging enough. I liked the various abilities of the animals that even allowed to play a little bit tactically, because you always have four cards in hand with the option to plan ahead. I must confess that I hadn't played one of the former versions of Beasty Bar so far. That's why I had to ask what's different in this version of the game. The answer is that the game follows the same rules, but the abilities of the new animals are even meaner and allow more cunning moves than in the former versions.

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ZOCH had also come with an expansion to the great Menara, one of my favourite games of last year (check my review, if you haven't read it yet). It is called Menara: Rituals & Ruins, and it is a scenario-based expansion. Next to the scenarios you find new floors and construction plans, but also a lot of smaller and greater new game elements that change the rules of the original game. In my opinion a must-buy for all fans of Menara.

One last game I was interested in is called Ausser Rand & Band. Today it wasn't possible to play it for me, but maybe I come back on Sunday, my traditional family day, with more information. For today you only get two pictures:

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This ends a long day for me. I can't believe that it's still Wednesday. I already have seen and played so many games that it feels like Saturday. But stay tuned, much more awaits you the other days. And thanks for all the words in our guestbook, we really need that to stay awake.

Yours Ralf

Tuesday, 22nd of October 2019

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Frank's SPIEL Warm-up - Day 3

Hello everybody, welcome to the second day of the SPIEL buildup!

When I entered the halls today I was once again amazed how far the buildup had progressed. In former days activities in all halls were still on highest level on Tuesday, but with the convention haven grown considerably many publishers now are setting their booths up using professional help, so that the booths in Halls 1, 2 and 3 were seeing their finishing touches and the games started to arrive.

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Actually it has been a while since I did the last G@mebox Special feature during the SPIEL, but for today I have something special to tell about. When I met my friend Cedrick Caumont from REPOS yesterday, the buildup of the booth had progressed quite well, giving Cedrick and me some free time today to sit down and look back at the REPOS history here at SPIEL. We were joined by Nicolas Pastor, REPOS who is responsible for PR at REPOS, and we had a nice long chat about the years gone by…

G@mebox Special: The Repos SPIEL Home Story

Like many other small game publishers, many years ago Cedrick first came to the SPIEL as a visitor. It was a time when the boardgames market had been much more categorized, with some "nerd" games from companies like AVALON HILL or GAMES WORKSHOP, but with most family & friend games coming from German producers like KOSMOS.

At that time Cedrick decided that he wanted to try to get a foothold as a games producer, and with luck and determination he and Thomas Provoost started REPOS PRODUCTION with two fun games which fall broadly into the category of party games: Time's Up and Cash'n Guns. I have first met them when they introduced Cash'n Guns at the SPIEL 05, but as it turned out Time's Up had been even more important for the beginning of REPOS, since this highly entertaining team riddling game quickly turned out to be a topseller, and it still is today. Funny enough, it was at the SPIEL where Cedrick and Thomas came upon the game and were able to get the license…

In the years to follow REPOS PRODUCTION released more than 50 games, and their newest creation - Last Bastion - is about to debut here at the SPIEL. However, this year had been very special for the guys at REPOS, because their last game Just One actually had won Germany's most prestigious gaming awards, the Spiel des Jahres. Here in Germany this awards makes a game an instant-buy for thousands of families, and it boosts the production numbers of a game into hundreds of thousands. As Cedrick has told me, this is a feat he had been always dreaming about, something like an open checkbox on his list of life goals or - in a gamer's terms - one of his open secret task cards.

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In a way, the fact that a game from REPOS has won the Spiel des Jahres brings Cedrick back to the years when he still visited the SPIEL as a gamer. At that time it had been the German games companies which produced the most interesting games, and Cedrick remembered spending hours to cut and past stickers onto German games which he had brought home from the SPIEL to localize them in French. Even Belgian and French gamers always kept an eye out for the Spiel des Jahres winners, and now it's finally a Belgian publisher who is able to win this prestigious awards.

Being friends with Cedrick, I followed the fate of REPOS PRODUCTIONS ever since our first meeting 14 years ago, and for me it's almost incredible to see how the company had developed. Beginning as a small venture of two friends releasing a game, they now have grown into a big player with 20 permanent employees. Really helpful had been the boost which they have seen by the release of 7 Wonders. This evergreen game had won the freshly created awards of Kennerspiel des Jahres in 2011, and it has been the foundation for all later success. In a way, 7 Wonders formed the missing link between family games and games for hardcore gamers, since it has moderate playing depth while at the same time conveying the feeling of a civilization-type game. Once again Cedrick and Thomas made first contact about this game with designer Antoine Bauza here at the SPIEL, and just like Time'S Up the game turned into an all-time evergreen, solidifying REPOS' foothold on the games market and their attractivity as a publisher of party games and serious games.

Asking Cedrick whether this year's success of Just One has made a change for REPOS (apart from the economic side of course), Cedrick actually referred to 7 Wonders being the real gamechanger for them. As indicated above, the winning of the Spiel des Jahres certainly is something Cedrick always had hoped for, but things already started to change when REPOS started producing boardgames like Ghost Stories and then later of 7 Wonders. These games changed the public perception of REPOS from a producer of party games to a serious producer with a broad portfolio of different types of games, and this in turn - of course supplemented by the awards which they have won - makes them even more attractive for game designers who have developed outstanding new games.

Having established their foothold, I can only concede that REPOS is following a very unique philosophy regarding the production of boardgames. Of course it's easy to say that a publisher strives to release games which are fun to play, but Cedrick and his team put special emphasis on the fact that any game which is to be released by REPOS really has the potential to convey lasting playing fun to it's players. In a way, they try to create games which will often see an instant replay when a round is over, and this means that a lot of editorial work is done by the REPOS team until a game is finally released. Like a maker of wine, Cedrick and his team give a game time to develop, always testing new twists and tweaks which provide an even better playing experience. This sometimes is a hard business because many game designers are rather proud over the prototypes which they have created, but their past successes give the REPOS team the necessary standing to convince designers that revisions are necessary. In this way REPOS had grown to become a big publishing house like the established German producers KOSMOS and RAVENSBURGER, because it's the amount of editorial work which distinguishes small publishers from the big players.

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Perfection everywhere - REPOS has created an IKEA-syle handbook for booth setup

As an example, 7 Wonders had taken the REPOS team 9 months of daily playtesting of at least 4 hours, and only after this long time the team and the designer had been happy with the final result. Linked to this is another factor which I find quite fascinating about REPOS, the fact that they have developed a sustainable approach regarding the lifespan of their most successful games. Whereas other producers of award-winning games try to make economic gains as quickly as possible by putting out a chain of expansions in short succession, the 7 Wonders family is expanded very slowly with big intervals between each new product. Cedrick explained this with the aforementioned development time, and indeed it had taken REPOS 7 years to finalize last year's 7 Wonders Armada, but nonetheless it is an approach which allows the survival of a successful game long after it's initial release. More than 1000 game's released at this year's SPIEL tell all about the transience of the games market, and here REPOS is refreshingly different because their games are cared for even if their initial release has been many years ago.

From my perspective it is exactly this approach which makes REPOS PRODUCTION refreshingly different, and I would wish for more companies choosing an approach of similar sustainability. Getting out a game which you have grown to love over the years is always like meeting an old friend, and if this game then is supplemented by a carefully designed new expansion it will feel like a great reunion indeed. In this terms we all can still expect a lot of things from REPOS, because some new stuff for 7 Wonders, like the Mythology expansion which I mentioned in a SPIEL report some years ago, are still under development.

As it seems, Cedrick and Thomas still have a load of interesting new ideas and their sleeves. In Belgium, REPOS PRODUCTION is even enlarging their scope of activity, now offering a group of Escape Rooms which can be found in and around Brussels. However, once again the guys from REPOS follow their own special approach, designing the Escape Rooms with the player's fun as their primary aim instead of going for the most difficult riddles. Teaming up with well-known franco-belgian comic designers, the Escape Rooms have themes coming from Lucky Luke or other successful comics, and this in turn makes the whole concept of Excapeprod.com highly enjoyable for the visitors.

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At the end of our talk Cedrick couldn't resist from equipping me with a casket of freshly brewed Last Bastion beer, but I am not the only one who will receive some goodies today. In fact, Cedrick equipped me with a copy of Just One plus a full Last Bastion package including the game, pre-painted miniatures and all convention goodies, and this package now is up for raffle in our annual G@mebox SPIEL Prize Draw!

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PRIZE DRAW!

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Sign our SPIEL Guestbook to participate in the Prize Draw!

Back in the halls, I spent the afternoon moving back and forth, looking for posters and games announcements which I might investigate during the convention days. In Hall 1 I made a discovery at the booth of ASMODEE, seeing an poster of a Kickstarter for a new 2nd edition of Zombicide. Nicole and I love this game, and so I will have to check this out either during the SPIEL or afterwards.

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Resuming my stroll, quite striking was the fact that more and more publishers come with very nice booth design. Colourful posters with backlights, huge banners and sometime unusual playing tables all can be found here, and in addition, all kinds of constructions are set up to hide the games' stocks and offices. It's nice to get some first impressions before the convention starts.

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This ends my visit to the halls for today, but my boardgames day was not yet over. Tonight Nicole and I had guests for dinner, Brian and Dale Yu from the USA. Our joint dinner at the beginning of the convention week is a tradition for some years now, and since Cedrick had equipped me this morning with the newest REPOS game we also had a game on the menu for tononight.

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Is it really 11 years since the team from REPOS PRODUCTION released Antoine Bauza's Ghost Stories? Indeed it was back in 2008 when this wuxia themed cooperative tower defense game first was introduced at the SPIEL convention, and in the years to follow it was extended by two expansion sets which added more playing depth and a possibility to add a fifth player, taking the role of Wu Feng, the players' evil nemesis.

Playtesting Session: Last Bastion (REPOS PRODUCTION - Booth 3 D 103)

When I first saw the new REPOS GAME The Last Bastion I was instantly reminded of Ghost Stories, and indeed the new game is a re-theming of the older title. Apart from the switch from the defense of a village in ancient China to a castle defense in a fantasy setting, the main playing mechanism of the games is identical, so that the question must be asked whether The Last Bastion contains enough innovations in order to justify this new release.

But let's first take a look at the game in general. The players take the roles of different fantasy heroes, ranging from Paladin to Elf or Halfling, who have been chased by evil hordes to the bastion of the ancient kings. Setting up a valiant defense, it's now up to the players to keep the fortress intact against the monsterous onslaught until they finally succeed in killing the evil Warlord, leader of the horde of monsters. In gaming terms, this means that the players have to fight their way through a deck of 42 monster cards, surviving long enough until the 43rd card, a randomly drawn Warlord, is revealed and - hopefully - defeated.

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Moving between the 9 locations of the fortress which have been placed in a 3 x 3 grid, the players take positions on the ramparts to fight the monsters which are placed in the zones outside the fortress. Each player turn a new monster is revealed, and it is placed according to its colour on a zone adjacent to one side of the fortress. To fight a monster, a player has to move his hero to an adjacent fortress location, and then take a roll of the combat dice in the hope of rolling enough symbols matching the monster's colour in order to defeat and remove the monster.

However, this is not as simple as it sounds, because the monsters have all kinds of effects which may trigger when they enter play, when their zone is activated or when they are killed. Especially the entering and in play effects mostly are detrimental to the players, ranging from the loss of a combat dice to the blocking of fortress locations or - one monster is rarely alone - the addition of even more monster cards. If the heroes are not quick enough in removing enough monster cards, the constant arrival of new monsters may quickly fill the zones, thus triggering even worse effects and slowly draining the heroes of their life points, leading inevitably to a "game over" once the last hero is killed.

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However, the game also offers a lot of options for the heroes to fight the monsters with more efficiency. Instead of fighting, a player also can use his turn action to interact with the fortress location currently occupied by his hero. Each of the nine locations offers a specific benefit like the healing of life points, the placement of traps (which can destroy a monster card on arrival) or the acquisition of equipment tokens which the players can spend to get additional hit results when attacking. There is even a possibility to bring back a defeated hero, so that no player is defeated too quickly.

Talking about the heroes, each of the 8 different heroes possesses a special ability which the players also can use to fight the monstrous horde in the most efficient way. For example, the Paladin can attack and interact with a fortress location in the same turn, the Halfling can ride his pony to move to any castle location, or the Elf can use his hand crossbows to shoot monsters from a distance.

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Good player communication and cooperation are the key to prevail in The Last Bastion, because the fact that a new monster card is revealed each player turn really puts a lot of pressure on the players. So, the players need to look for ways to defeat at least one monster each turn, getting equipped and positioned in a way which ascertains a high success rate when it comes to the rolling of the combat dice. There are even possibilities to fight more than one monster in a given turn, for example by standing at a corner of the ramparts which allows the battle against two neighbouring monsters at once. However, due to the restricted number of combat dice it's difficult to be successful with such an action, and so the pressure slowly increases until the final climax, the battle against the evil Warlord.

The whole gameflow in The Last Bastion indeed is identical to Ghost Stories, but if you look at the details some adjustments and improvements can be discovered. The abilities of the monster cards have been cleared up, and in addition the functions of some fortress locations have been adapted in a way as to provide a more efficient gameplay. Furthermore, the players now have 8 different heroes to chose from, giving them an even broader range of special abilities which can be combined in any possible combination. Finally, the functions and detrimental effects of the horde zones also have been cleared up, adding helpful iconography and also improving the general gameflow.

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On the whole, the game also has been optically updated, keeping the great art style of the monsters but adding nice miniatures and individual hero dashboards which also add to the playing atmosphere. All this qualifies The Last Bastion to be a bit more than a revised second edition of Ghost Stories, so let's call it a refurbished new game. Mind you, already Ghost Stories is a challenging game with a lot of merits, but it has rarely hit our gaming table in recent years. I think this will be different with The Last Bastion because all the minor changes and additions really make the game attractive on its own merits, and - knowing Antoine Bauza and the guys from REPOS - I am sure that some quite interesting additions are already in development.

And even though Nicole, Dale, Brian and myself tried hard, we were beaten twice tonight. So Last Bastion by no means is easier than Ghost Stories, but it plays a bit more smoothly…

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It has been a splendid evening for the the four of us! You can find Dale's thoughts on our gaming session at his website The Opinionated Gamers. Good night, sleep well, and see you all back here tomorrow for the press day!!!

Full SPIEL ahead!!!

Frank

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Ralf's Warm-up - continued

Once again it's time to say hello to all of you. I hope you are as excited as I am. Tomorrow will be the first day at the convention for me. That means: today was the last day to prepare and to relax (although I don't know if reading rules again is really relaxing). I have another game for you tonight that I played quite often this year. A Kickstarter campaign that was delivered to most backers this summer. A great game to be sure. And a game I had an eye on for more than two years. So, here is Nemesis:

Review: Nemesis (Awaken Realms / Rebel – booth 2C140)

After my first play of Nemesis our co-author Lutz asked me whether it's a good game. I answered: Great, I tried hard to strive against a nasty alien queen after I was locked in two of the control rooms of our spaceship with all doors locked. Already handicapped, sitting in a wheelchair, I finally succeeded in setting up a shot. But instead of hitting the alien queen I only managed to shoot in my leg. As I was already wounded, that meant death to me. On the same time my fellow players were hurrying around, checking the engines of our ship and setting our coordinates for mother Earth, our final destination. Occasionally something got broken, and a fire started in one of the various rooms. Well, the ship was not in the best condition, but repairing wouldn't have been a bigger problem, if there hadn't been all that aliens: larvaes, crepers, adults, breeders and finally the queen. Like in the movie Alien the creatures were using the ventilation trunks to move from one end of the ship to the other.

Admittedly my fellow players fought hard, and together killing the queen was no problem at all. But finally all the things that happened were too much. The ship collapsed and all characters of the players were killed. Ah, almost all. One of us was able to use the evacuation section just in time. And this player also won the game, because his secret mission was to kill all other players and to escape afterwards.

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Something like that is a typical story for a game of Nemesis. But is it great, Lutz asked once again, with all those characters dead in the end. Yes, indeed it is. The game has so much to discover that a defeat is no loss at all. It's hard to win a mission, and sometimes it is also luck-dependent. But the players dig deep into the story and must coordinate all the time. It doesn't matter if you play cooperative or competitive (both modes are possible), you have to talk about what you are doing, and you must put things in tune.

Depending on the number of players, there are more or less rooms to discover. Nobody knows which room is where at the beginning, because something went wrong with our hibernation sleep, and we wake with a severe headache and with a lapse of memory. And so rooms must be discovered, while on the same time the threat level gets higher. Aliens have captured the ship and are coming to wherever a character makes noise. Two goals are common in every mission: we have to go to the cockpit and set the right destinations for our mission. The cockpit is at the front of the ship, but we have to go to the back of the ship too. Here are the three engine chambers and only if at least two of the engines are in function, we are able to reach our destination.

[Nemesis]

But setting the coordinates and checking the engines are secret actions, and you can lie about the actual values. This is important to know because if you are playing semi-cooperative, each player has a secret mission that often differs from the common goals. So it is sometimes better to check the values twice, just to be sure. Not every player is so stupid to reveal his hidden missions by too obviously doing something odd.

But you must hurry: all the time a track counts down the remaining hours for us. A second track will be triggered by certain events or actions, and this is a self-destruction track. Maybe useful for the one or other player with a secret mission to destroy the ship or all characters. But definitely not a common goal.

There are so many details that I could keep talking all night. But I think you got a rough idea of what's going on. That all said, you might think that is a mess to learn. But that's not the case. OK, there are nearly 30 sides of rules, and it takes some time to remember all of your different options. But – as the rooms are only discovered one by one - you can teach the special functions of the rooms gradually. And the same applies for the aliens and their various abilities. I made the experience that the game can be explained in less than 20 minutes that's good for such a complex game.

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I personally came in contact with Nemesis at SPIEL 2016 where I had the chance to play an early prototype with the author Adam Kwapinski (some of you might remember). Much has changed since then. Just to get an idea of the design process, I post one of the old photos here once again:


Nemesis with its author in 2016

Although the prototype was already well-thought out, it is amazing what agreat game has come out in the end. Nemesis is definitely one of my favourite games in the current year. A great cooperation between AWAKEN REALMS and REBEL!

Enough for today, tomorrow will be a hard day for me already: my first appointments, the press conference and the preview night. Stay tuned, it's getting hot!

Yours Ralf

Monday, 21st of October 2019

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Frank's SPIEL Warm-up - Day 2

Welcome back everyone!

The time since the last SPIEL has passed quickly, and already it's the first day of the setup phase. Looking at the press notices from MERZ VERLAG, the SPIEL has once again grown. After the hall refurbishment, the Messe Essen now has a total of 8 halls, and from these 8 halls the SPIEL will take six full halls this year! That's once again a new record!

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After spending this morning changing the tires of our car and shopping groceries for the rest of the week, I made my way down our street and into the convention halls this afternoon. As always, I kept an eye out whether some friends had already arrived, and I first came upon Konstantinos Kokkinis and the crew from ARTIPIA who had freshly arrived from Athens.

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After the success of their real-time cooperative restaurant game Kitchen Rush two years ago, Konstantinos is back this year with another real time game using hourglasses as playing pieces. However, as it seems the players now will have to face a task with much more responsibility, assuming the roles of doctors in a hospital in Rush M.D.. As Konstantinos has told me, the game will also include some dexterity tasks now, and I am already curious how this fits in with the general mechanics of a real-time game.

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There were a few things which I couldn't fail to observe on my first stroll through the halls. For one, the buildup had proceeded quite a bit farther than in previous years. Okay, the halls with the small publishers were still quite empty, but especially the bigger publishers must have arrived on Sunday this year, and the result is that many booths were nearly finished.

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Furthermore, the sheer size of the halls is somewhat overwhelming this year. Whereas in former years parts of halls 5 of 6 had been left empty, these halls now filled up to the limits. Sometimes spaces for bigger booths are left, but the size of the halls alone is awesome. Indeed, the fair has grown so much that some of the major publishers have decided to set up several booths in different parts of the convention, for example there is now an X-Wing-sale booth in Hall 6, whereas the rest of Asmodee ist in Hall 2.

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Some of the finished smaller booths also confirmed an observation which I made during my preparations for the SPIEL. This year the number of booths presenting a yet-to-come Kickstarter project is going to be bigger than in previous years. Whereas the SPIEL always had been a convention for playing and buying games, in the past it was very rarely the case that prototype games were displayed at the show. However, due to the new possibilities of Kickstarter financing, many newly established smaller publishers now are trying to attract backers here at the SPIEL, and so there are going to be much more booths showing games which are yet to come - that is, if the Kickstarter projects will be successful.

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Marching on from Hall 6, I finally came into an area devoid of any booths. It's Hall 7, former Halls 10 and 11, the ancient home of the SPIEL when it was much younger. Those of you who have visited the SPIEL in the last decades will remember these halls, but it seems like it was a different century when the SPIEL still was so small.

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However, this year the halls will be back in service, even though they will only be used for arriving visitors. It had been announced that the original main entrance of the Messe will be used for the SPIEL again, offering the people an even bigger choice of different entrances to enter. People arriving by subway now can use a different entrance than many of the visitors coming by car, and the conventionists hope to split the visitors more evenly between the different entrances in this fashion. So don't be scared if you enter a shiny foyer and then come upon some cash desks in a bare hall. You are at the right place!

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Another game which I have read about during my preparations will be released by REBEL from Poland (2 C 140). Zona - The Secret of Chernobyl sounds like it is going to be a very special adventure game, but I couldn't help to ask myself how far a boardgame should go regarding its theme. Okay, there exist probably more than 1000 wargames, but nonetheless the choice of the atomic power plant of Chernobyl as a setting for an adventure game sounds a bit scary. Even though I grew up in Germany, this was a quite grave disaster which happened during my adolescence, with thousands of "Liquidators" being sent into the reactor to prevent an even bigger catastrophe. It feels somewhat strange now to set out in an adventure game to explore the sarcophagus of the power plant. But we will see about this, Ralf or myself will bring you some details on this game in the days to come.

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Finally, on my way out I visited my friend Cedrick Caumont from Belgium at his REPOS PRODUCTION booth. With Just One winning the prestigious (and valuable) Spiel des Jahres 2019 awards, REPOS has seen another considerable boost, making them one of the truly big players here at the SPIEL. Once again the REPOS booth is of considerable size, and Cedrick was quite happy to show me that - for the first time - REPOS even received one of those rare window alcoves to set up a full compartment of offices.

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No photo without a Sombrero…

This should be enough from the SPIEL halls for today, I will continue the exploring tour tomorrow. However, before we will focus on all the new games to be released, I would like to tell you about an older game which is really worthwhile to grasp if you can find a copy during the convention.

With more than 1000 new games released at the SPIEL each year, it's getting virtually impossible to see even a fair share of all the new games during the four convention days. In fact, it never has been easier to skip or miss promising new games, and sometimes it may take years (and sheer luck) to stumble upon an outstanding game which may have fallen under the radar at the time of its release.

Review: Invaders (WHITE GOBLIN GAMES - booth 3M118)

Today I would like to introduce you to Invaders, a game released by WHITE GOBLIN GAMES at the SPIEL 2013. After Revolver, this has been the second asymmetrical cardgame designed by Mark Chaplin, and in this two-player game the players take their roles in an alien invasion of Earth. On the one hand you have the alien invasion fleet, monsters from outer space who have taken a liking for "harvesting" a planet's resources and inhabitants, and on the other hand there are Earth's stalward defenders, a confederation of Nations lead by the Earth President and a handful of heroes and scientists.

The individual player targets are easy to grasp: The aliens have to shatter Earth's defenses, either by forcing the Mankind player to deplete his deck of cards so that no more defense units are available, or by killing all 13 leaders of Earth, the Heroes of the Resistance whom the Mankind player will use for special powers and to lead the peoples of Earth. Earth's defenders on the other hand follow an even simpler approach: Make the aliens pay for it! So, the Mankind player will try the lure the Alien player into stretching his resources too far to be worthwhile to maintain the campaign, and so the Alien player also can loose by depleting his deck, or if he fails too often to inflict damage on the Mankind player's resources, thus loosing precious time in the Earth conquest campaign.

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The backbone of each player's military resources is a deck of cards containing military units which can be played into Eurasia, Pacific Rim or Africa, the three invasion zones of Earth. Furthermore, the player decks contain single-use effect cards, ranging from weapons which allow the quick destruction (and removal) of units to rare cancellation cards which can be used to cancel a card played by another player. Quite crucial for both players are the military units, and here Mark Chaplin uses a deployment mechanism which is well know from other cardgames like Race for the Galaxy. So, each player has a hand of cards which is replenished by the beginning of each turn, and if a player wants to play a military unit from his hand, the player will have to discard other hand cards in order to pay the costs of the card which is deployed. As can be guessed, powerful cards are more costly, and so it's always a matter of decision and strategy how many hand cards a player can afford to pay.

Already the decision which cards should be played and which cards should be used to pay is a quite interesting challenge for the players, because all cards discarded by a player go into his discard pile and will be out of the game for good (apart from some very rare possibilities to get cards back into the game through other card effects). Since the player decks are highly individual with lots of unique cards, it requires a good degree of overview from the players to decide which cards are - momentarily - too valuable to be discarded, and which cards may not be necessary.

However, using cards for payment is not the only way in which especially the Mankind player can loose precious cards from his deck. The Alien player deploys his military units in the three Earth invasion zones in order to get more military power there than aggregated values of the zone and all Earth units deployed there. At the end of each Alien player turn it is checked whether the Alien is more powerful in one or more invasion zones, and if this should be the case the difference in power values will be the amount of cards which the Mankind player must "drain" from his deck of unused cards, putting them into his discard pile without a chance to use them. Every card drained by the Mankind player will bring the Alien player one step towards victory, and so the Alien player will try to use his units most efficiently to keep pummeling Earth's defenses. However, this comes as a cost for the Alien player as well, because his most efficient military units are quite costly, forcing the Alien player to pay with many of his hand cards and thus draining his own resources too.

The defense units available to the Earth player often are rank-and-file, possessing low power values but having very low costs. This is one of the points where the asymmetrical composition of the player decks is most visible, but the decks have been finetuned in a way as to balance the relation of cost and effectiveness of each unit in order to allow the different approaches for each player. However, things get really interesting when the players start using their one-time effect cards, because these will bring a wagonload of surprising twists and turns which make each game of Invaders a quite unique experience.

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It's quite difficult to describe here in depth the different card effects, but let's imagine you are watching Invaders - The Movie. Here it comes, alien Warcruiser Xenobia which outpowers all defense units of Eurasia. Mankind reacts by sending a Hero of the Resistance, General Shazia Barnes, to assist in the defence of Eurasia. The Aliens try to get the General out of their way with a cloud of Nanobot Killer drones, but Mankind resorts to "Project Chainmail", a stratagem which cancels an assassination attempt against a Hero. However, all of a sudden some alien creatures called Deathworms appear in Eurasia, adding even more power to the Alien attack, thus forcing the Mankind player to suffer drain damage by the end of the Alien player turn.

However, it's now time for mankind to react. Having planned carefully for several turns, the Mankind player sees that the alien player has not yet mounted a strong attack force at the Pacific Rim. Mankind therefor launches a Nuke to remove the only alien unit at the Pacific Rim, and then deploys one of their most valuable cards, the Black Narcissus Wapons Array. This special card allows the Mankind player to counterattack by inflicting drain damage on the alien player, and so the Mankind player deals out a nasty attack by the end of his turn after reinforcing the Pacific Rim with the Nimitz Aircraft Carrier and some Hovertanks.

For sure, the Alien player wants to have the Black Narcissus Weapons Array out of play as quickly as possible, but the Mankind player counters the alien's Fist of Xerxes destruction card with his Black Shadow Resistance Ream. And that's just the beginning…

As you can see, in Invaders you will find tension and memorable moments galore. Mark Chaplin succeeded in creating a game which keeps thrilling the players from beginning to the final climax, and the more skillful the players get in handling their versatile decks of cards, the more they will enjoy the game. In fact, during the first one or two games of Invaders this may be a bit frustrating for new players because they first have to learn the value of each card's abilities. However, this time to discover the game is rather well invested, because once the players are familiar with their decks, a rather enjoyable game about an epic conflict is open to them. As a matter of fact, I have played many games of Invaders with my wife Nicole, and apart from the strategic challenge the game always feels like a movie, with new developments and events happening with every round we play.

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As an add-on, the Invaders Armageddon expansion was released some years after the basic game, offering the players four expansion modules which can be added as preferred by the players. Two of these modules, the attack on the alien mothership and the battle for important cities, feel a bit cumbersome in comparison to the general elegance of the game. In effect, these modules open up additional battlefields on which units can be deployed, but to my taste this did not really enrich the game much. However, the verdict is different for the other two modules. One module introduces an additional deck of Reinforcement cards for each player, and these decks are really worthwhile since the cards which can be found there open up quite interesting new possibilities. However, once again Mark Chaplin has done a great job here, since the new cards do not throw the game out of balance, but instead the reinforcement rules smoothly integrate with the basic game. The same also is true to the six new stratagems which now are available to the player. At the beginning of the game each player receives three of these stratagems on a semi-random basis, and so the players usually will have new strategies available in every game. All this enriches the general playing experience even further, so that I think that Invader really qualifies as a SPIEL gem which shouldn't be missed, even if it's initial release dates back six years!

I hope all this will have increased your appetite for the days to come!

See you tomorrow! Full SPIEL ahead!!!

Frank

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Ralf's Welcome - continued

A warm welcome back to all of you. I hope you enjoyed our first warm-up day for this convention year. While Frank has already walked through the halls, I still provide you with reviews of games I have played in the last weeks. Today I have a game about a crisis in Axia from LudiCreations, so let us see how we can manage this crisis:

Review: Crisis (LudiCreations (2016/2018) – booth 1D129)

Axia is a land with a great past, but at the moment it is in a deep crisis: political crooked, economical a disaster and social shattered. How can an industrialist survive in this situation? Well, I know that some of you will think: by exploiting the underclass. But is this really sustainable? Believe it or not: there are a lot of industrialists who think further than just for a year. Especially family companies are deeply interested that their company will still exist in decades.

And this only will work, if the country goes well. And so, in Crisis every player takes the roll of an industrialist who on the one side wants to make the best of the country, while on the same time want to make his or her company as profitable as possible. A round of the game follows a strict order of more than 16 steps: firstly, a new event is drawn for the round. However, events depend on the current status of Axia. The more unstable the country becomes the greater are the consequences of an event. That's the first hint, that a company only will work well if the state is in a good condition.

What follows after the event are the next bad news for the companies. Interest on borrowings are becoming due. During the game each company can raise several credits, but of course you have to pay for it in every round. And after that annoying payment, the core of the game takes place: the planning phase. In this phase the players send their managers to the various action spaces on the main board. 14 of such spaces are available, many of them limited in space for the managers. Four managers are given to each player as set-up, another one will be obtained if an industrialist possesses a specific number of factories with manager symbols (see below).

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The planning phase is the most important phase for winning the game. In this phase you often have to decide between two options, and you must choose wisely, because once your fellow players place their managers to spaces you want to go, they might be no longer available. It's too long to explain all that 14 spaces in detail, but let us have a closer look at the most important ones. These are the factories, the workers and the market places.

Factories are necessary to produce goods, and by sending your mangers to the factories on the board, you are able to buy those factories. After the purchase you take the factory and place it in you personal player area. But to produce goods with your factories you still need workers. So, employing those workers is another important action to take for your managers. And then you still have to send your managers to the production space, otherwise your workers will be left out in the cold.

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If you are lucky, your factory will produce the goods. But, most factories also need electricity and resources. Either you have a power plant as a factory yourself, or you must buy those energy from the energy market, another important place to send your managers. And then there are the spaces for import (for buying resources you don't produce but that you need for your productions) and the export (for selling your final products). Imports and exports are not only important for your own business, they also influence the trade surplus of Alexia, our beloved country. And so, at the end of each round, a new trade surplus for Alexia is calculated that is dependent from your and your fellow players' actions. If the country, after this, goes bankrupt, the game is lost for every players. Yes! Believe it or not! Even in a crooked country you must be (or better play) co-operative, otherwise everyone will be tumbled into the abyss.

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I must confess that Crisis was only accepted sceptical by my gaming group. “Oh, an economy game. So many options to send our managers. Why can I not produce without employing those silly employers?” Those were the question I was confronted with. To qualify this statement I have to explain that my gaming group mostly loves fantasy games. Crisis isn't fantasy, it is bloody reality. I would think that the similarities to Greece aren't accidental. LUDICREATIONS is a Finnish company, but a lot of the guys behind the publisher are of Greek origin.

Fantasy or not, after playing the game, me and my gaming group were convinced that Crisis is a great game. Yes, it is the economic (stupid), but it is still no complex game. It is mainly a worker placement game with a strong (and realistic) thematic. I played the game with various player numbers. All numbers played well, I even liked the solo game. You can always adjust the difficulty level – that influences the conditions when the country will collapse and all players will loose, so the game can be adjusted to the players' experiences. Maybe the event cards could be a little bit more rich in variety. But to my mind, the rest of the game is really worth to convince your fellow players to play with you, even it is economic. My gaming group absolutely liked the game in the end....

This already ends my report for today, Just one game from me, but you must consider that I still was at work today. Now, I am getting some sleep, and tomorrow I will be prepared for our next journey towards the opening of SPIEL 2019!

Sleep well, stay tuned and see you tomorrow again!

Yours Ralf

Sunday, 20th of October 2019

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Lights on, Camera ready, Micro open...

"Full SPIEL ahead!"

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

It seems almost incredible, but once again a year has passed, and now the SPIEL 19 week has started! For Ralf and me that means that we are once again ready for a full week of daily SPIEL reporting, our 23rd report since 1996!

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Looking back, that's nearly a quarter of a century of boardgames reviewing and SPIEL reports, and it seems so long ago since I started this website in order to bring you news about German boardgames and the world's best games convention here at Essen. Over the years we have covered more than 1000 games, and in the time the games market has changed considerably. Today, more than 1200 new games have been announced for release during this SPIEL, and from a gamer's perspective this number seems to be nearly absurd. Which games should you play during the convention, and how should you decide which games to carry home as your SPIEL booty?

That's where Ralf and I come aboard, and like every year we will try to point you to the hottest blockbuster games and the most obscure gems here at the SPIEL. As usual we have done extensive research during the last weeks to find out some games which might be worthwhile to cover, and so you will be in for a wagonload of game reports and of course the one or other surpise.

So, whether you are at home to follow us from afar, or whether you are actually visiting the SPIEL yourself: Welcome to the 23rd SPIEL report of Kulkmann's G@mebox! We promise you that this week once again will be a great ride!!!

Fall is coming quickly here in Essen, but with the last few rays of sunshine and a week of full convention halls, extensive boardgaming and nighttime typing ahead, I wanted to get at least a bit of fresh air before the mayhem starts. As it has been tradition here at the G@mebox for the last decades, my wife Nicole and I have made a pre-SPIEL trip. This time we decided to go for a nice dayhike, driving about 100 kilometers south of Essen to an area called Siebengebirge (The Seven Heights).

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Taking the ferry over river Rhine south of Bonn, we approached the small city of Königswinter at the foot of the most famous of all the seven heights, the Drachenfels (Dragon's Rock). A ruin of a castle sits on top of the hill, keeping watch over the Rhine, and it's a place which is supposedly the location of an important part of the Nibelung, a Germanic heroic legend.

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Keeping an eye out for Dragons, Nicole and I left our car at the foot of the hill, starting our hike through the woodlands. Drachenfels was our final destination, but we planned to visit some others of the seven heights on our way, and as the weather was splendid we were really looking forward to this day out.

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Gaining height quickly, we were in for a few magnificient views. From most of the hilltops you have a great view of Castle Drachenfels, and in the back there is the mighty river Rhine.

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But a hike is not complete without a hearty snack at noon. In the midst of the woods we came upon a lone farm which had been turned into a restaurant, and here we enjoyed a nice break before resuming our hike.

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Finally tackling the slopes of Drachenfels, we were passing Schloss Drachenburg, a neogothic castle which seems to be sprung right out of a fairytale. It's a spectacular sight, but it was built by a privateer as late as 1880 and it now serves as a museum for the State of North Rhine-Westphalia.

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And here we are! After a short last climb, we finally have come to the ruins of Castle Drachenfels. It's a very popular destination for day trippers, and you can find lots of young and old people up here due to the old rack railway which connects the castle with the city at the foot of the hill.

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But can you feel the breath of history surrounding the castle? It is here were Siegfried, the tragic hero of the Nibelung, killed the Dragon Fafnir and then bathed in its blood to become invulnerable…

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But let's return for a minute to the world of boardgames. Talking about dragons and dragonslayers, I would like to begin this year's games reporting with a view backwards. Some 10 years ago, KOSMOS released one of my favourite two-player games, Drachenherz (Dragonheart) by designer Rüdiger Dorn.

Introduction: Drachenherz (KOSMOS, booth 3 B 112)

Despite its age, this small cardgame quite often hits the table when Nicole and I are looking for a short game for a free hour. It's a game which constantly challenges the players to look for the best scoring possibilities, with each player trying to take the most valuable cards from the gameboard by placing new cards onto the board.

On first sight the gameboard actually looks like a fantasy story: a Dragon, a Knight, a Huntress, a Troll and a Princess can be found there among some other features, and the players decks of cards show these different inhabitants of the gameboard, with each card type coming in different values and quantities. During his turn, a player can chose one type of cards from his 5 handcards, and he can place one or more cards of the chosen type on the corresponding location on the gameboard.

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Sometimes the cards will only be placed there, but as said it's the aim of the players to place cards which allow the taking of other cards into the players' victory piles. For example, a Dragon card allows the player to take all Treasure cards on the gameboard, whereas a Knight can either slay a Troll or save a Princess (taking the card(s)). The Huntress on the other hand can take out Dragons, and both Huntress and Knight cards can be taken with Ship cards, because they will leave for distant lands when their quests were solved.

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This are just a few examples of the card playing and taking mechanics, but as you can see the mechanism - even though it's quite simple - goes along very nicely with the story corresponding to the different types of cards. There are some special rules for some of the card piles, so there are limits for some cards whereas other cards can be placed during one turn in unlimited quantities. However, the player's always are restricted to play one type of cards from their hand of 5 cards (which is replenished by the end of each turn), and so they are challenged to outwit each other, e.g. speculating whether it's save to place some Treasure cards, because the opposing player has used a Dragon on his last turn, perhaps opening a possibility for the active player to take the cards in his following turn. So, it's all about observing the actions of the opposing player and making an estimation on card quantities, but since the decks are quite big it's not really feasible to try counting cards, and so there is always some element of surprise. And in addition, you never know whether your opponent actually has kept back a Dragon card, playing only one from his hand just to lure you to lay down some Treasures...

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An easy but very challenging playing mechanism coupled with a rather well implemented thematic background - sometimes a great game can be very small. As said above, this is a game which Nicole and I really have fallen in love with, both for its playing experience and the wonderful artwork by Andor designer and artist Michael Menzel. The game is out of print now for some years, but this SPIEL a new version will be released. Switching the scenario to an undersea setting, publisher RUNES EDITIONS (4G105) is going to release Opale, a faithful new edition of Drachenherz with new artwork and two new variants from the designer.

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Returning to the real world, Nicole and I finally took the last steps up to the castle, and although no Dragon was waiting for us up there, the view of Rhine river valley in the autumn sun was truly magnificient.

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A Dragon, a castle and the Nibelung - what a day! Nicole and I decided that the hours of walking deserved a fitting reward, and so we ended the day with a dinner in the nearby city of Bonn, the former German capital and the home or the Merz Verlag, the organisers of the SPIEL convention!

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In the end, all roads lead to Essen!!!

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Full SPIEL ahead! Come along, the week has begun!!!

See you here tomorrow!

Frank

[SPIEL]

Ralf's Welcome

Hi everybody! Welcome back to our 23rd year reporting from world's biggest boardgame fair. And stay tuned for the next crazy coverage week. Although preparing for SPIEL gets harder every year, we are still keeping on. Yes, indeed we are already thinking about our 25th birthday in less than two years. Some of you are old companions, others are joining in.

We hope that you are still appreciating our old-fashioned Internet Magazine. Hopefully it's a welcome change to all those video reviews. But, time goes on, and so we are also trying something new. This year, for the first time, we want to accompany our experiences on Facebook. If you like, find us there and follow us. Of course, we will also send our tweets on Twitter, so it's up to you to choose the social media channel.

We've had enough forewords. You wanna read about some games, right? So, let's start with a game I discovered at the German fair SPIELdoch in Duisburg earlier this year. It's a detective game with riddles very close to a real escape room. At the time I played the game it was only available in German, but I think there is an English version now (at least that's what the publisher was planning). Reason enough to tell you more about the game, because me and my fellow players had a wonderful time with it:

Review: Detective Stories: The Fire in Adlerstein (iDventure – booth 4E124)

To be honest: that's my first review of a detective game. It's hard to begin. How can I tell you more about the game without blowing secrets out? I mean, you are the players who should solve the murder. For that's what has happened. A fire has destroyed a house in the small town Adlerstein. And the homeowner has been recovered dead. The police also has a suspect, or better this suspect is on the run from the police.

And he thinks he's innocent. Why else should he send us his criminal report and ask us for help? That's where we are starting. No more rules, no more explanations, just the criminal report. Inside: Some papers with notes from the police, photos we can't make any sense of, a newspaper with daily news and some findings from the crime scene. Or wasn't it a murder? Was it just an accident?

The answer is: you can never be sure. Oh wait, that's not correct. You cannot be sure most of the time you are playing the game. I mean: it's all there. All hints, clues, riddles, the persons. Nothing is hidden. In contrast to e.g. the Exit games, you have no chronology order you must follow. You can begin wherever you want. And other players – if you are playing cooperative – can start with different hints. Not everything makes sense at the very beginning. But gradually things are beginning to match. And hopefully, in the end, you will be able to ascertain what has really happened.

Detective Stories: The Fire in Adlerstein has deeply impressed me. The game is designed as a realistic criminal case, that's what the publisher promises us. I cannot judge if it's really realistic, but I can assure you that it feels like. You really have no idea at the beginning what you must do. Then you begin reading the newspaper looking for something noticeable. Another player looks at the photos and talks about the persons he sees. And still another one tries to make sense from the notes someone has written down. And you dig deep into the criminal case, forgetting all other things around you.

It's not easy to solve the case. Definitely no kids game! But try to make use of your smartphone, this might help (and maybe you even need to use it, who knows...). I am sure that most of you will solve the case in the end. For me, the only bad thing you can say about the game is that you can only play it once. But if you are careful about the game components, you can still give the game to some friends of you, because nothing must really be destroyed. A perfect detective game by a small German publisher!

Wow, that was a great game to start with in our coverage week. And here is another one: yesterday night, our co-editor Marco Klasmeyer has sent me his review about last year's, Black Skull Island, so here it is:

Review: Black Skull Island (Strawberry Studio – booth 2C112)

Sail Ho! Pirates! After a tremendous plundering it’s time to divide the booty, so the pirates meet at Black Skull Island to gain gold and treasures. But as you are pirates, of course you try to trick and cheat the others with your special pirate abilities for your own advantage as much as possible.

Black Skull Island is a fast and simple card game for 2-9 players explained in a couple of minutes. All you need is up to 19 pirate character cards, 72 booty cards (44 coins and 28 treasure cards) and a brief pirate character overview for each player. The pirate character cards are divided into sets depending on the numbers of participating players, so not all capabilities and characters are used in every player constellation. Each player only gets 2 pirate cards that he may look at and one booty card. The number of characters for all players in a set is always odd, thus one card is laid aside as the removed card. It may come back into play since some pirate characters can access it. Each player may play one card face down and keep the other one in his hand – that’s all. The played cards are flipped face up simultaneously and resolved in ascending order as depicted in the upper left corner of each card (values from 0-15, some values/characters may appear multiple times). Each character’s special ability is carried out completely before the next character card is on turn. These abilities comprise taking booty cards (simple coins or valuable treasures), exchanging face up or face down character cards, stealing or exchanging booty cards from the other players.

Each of these abilities is explained in detail on the appropriate character cards and as a short summary on the overview cards, which each player has for easier look up. After all character cards have been carried out the players take back the character card in front of him, however this might be not the card he has played before as the character cards might have been exchanged during the resolution phase. If a player has obtained 7 or more booty cards, the game will end and all booty cards will be evaluated (sum up depicted coins). The player with the highest number of coins wins. It is worth to mention that simple booty cards have only the value of 1 coin where treasure cards yield 0,2,3 or 4 coins. Booty cards are kept face down in front of each player as to not reveal the number of coins to the others, so the number of cards is just an indication but no evidence who is the player with the most coins and likely to win the game.

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There are pirates that let you draw booty or treasure cards, some pirates allow stealing booty cards from other players, but there are also pirates that exchange cards between players and thus change either the current or the upcoming turn order. The turn order is important, especially when you want to collect coins (and keep them).

Some examples:

  • The Witch character card for instance (turn order 5) allows you take a booty card from another and swap the hand cards at the same time.
  • The Boatswain character card allows you to draw a treasure (may score 0-4 coins) and exchange a booty with another player (ideally give one coin of your own and steal a 3 or 4 coin treasure card from your opponent).
  • Finally, the Siren (turn order 15 – the very last) allows you to take any card – face up, face down, on hand – and exchange it with the Sirene and resolve the gained character card immediately.

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Having explained the simple rules so quickly you might ask yourself where is the thrill and fun of playing Black Skull Island? The main points are the pirate’s special abilities, because they provide all the little nasty tricks and advantages to outplay the other players. Having only the choice between 2 cards seems to be a quite hard restriction, but it is also the key factor of the game. The turn order number and abilities of the pirates are known (at least after several rounds have been played), so all players do well know the pirate characters in the game. Most cards include two actions and involve other players, thus Black Skull Island is a quite interactive card game and allows you to directly take influence on your opponents. What works quite well in Black Skull Island is the back and forth of the treasury distribution. What you have gained in one turn you are likely to lose in the next and so on. And suddenly one lucky pirate has gathered the required 7 booty cards and the game ends – it can be a quite fast game. However, finishing the game does not automatically mean to win the game as the booty cards score very differently. The tense remains up to the very end of the game. Black Skull Island is also a fast game and should only take some 10-20 minutes. This encourages to play several wild chaotic rounds of treasury plundering.

That was it from me (and Marco) for today. Stay tuned and see you tomorrow back again! Yours Ralf

Hall Plans & free SPIEL Guidebook


You can find the official Hall Plans and a free guidebook at the Website of Friedhelm Merz Verlag, along with other useful informations all around the SPIEL.

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...


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Copyright © 2019 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany