[Headline]

The SPIEL '13 Games Convention
at Essen / Germany

[SPIEL]

24th to 27th October 2013

Prize Draw

Click here to sign the SPIEL Guestbook !

This is necessary if you want to participate in the SPIEL '13 prize draw to win one of these games plus a set of promo cards for the new PORTAL games!



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Sunday, 11th of November 2013

We finally got around to draw the winners of the Prize Draw! And here they are:

Archon - Glory & Machination

Marcus


Shadows over the Empire

Doe


Primate Fear

Derek


Notifications have been sent! Congratulations to all winners!


Sunday, 20th of October 2013

3...

2...

1...

Lights on, Camera ready, Micro open...

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

It's quite incredible, but a year has passed and in just a few days the SPIEL'13 convention will open its gates, once again hosting hundreds of publishers who will present their new games to an eager crowd of gaming enthusiasts from all around the world.

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Like in previous years I have spent the last weeks cruising the database of Boardgamegeek for interesting novelties, and during the evenings I have read many a rulebook in order to prepare for the show. As a matter of fact, more and more publishers now publish the rules of their new games weeks before the convention, and gaming enthusiasts like me will welcome this development because it helps to keep an overview which games might be worthwhile to check out at the show.

Another development which I could observe is the fact that more and more small publishers now open up webstores where games for the SPIEL can be pre-ordered. This is still a minority of publishers, but still some well-known names like MATAGOT, ARTIPIA GAMES, WHITE GOBLIN GAMES or FUNFORGE can be found among them. Some of these publishers even use crowdfunding to implement their pre-order system, and it will be interesting to see whether this development well get more pronounced in years to come. Especially small publishers may use a pre-ordering system to get an estimation how many games they should bring to Essen, but this also may result in more games being sold-out during the SPIEL. This has rarely happened in previous years (apart from the one or other rare gem or willfully limited editions like some games from SPLOTTER), but with the pre-ordering trend picking up speed such a development may get some more fuel.

Looking at my schedule for the convention week, I am hopeful that I have a good choice of interesting new games which I can present, and at the same time I will keep my eyes open for the one or other chance find which so far has avoided my focus. However, in good tradition with my coverage from previous years, I would now like tell you a bit more about the city of Essen and its other attractions, and so my wife Nicole and I today undertook a small trip to an interesting place which can be found just a few kilometers away from Essen.

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The homo ludens (the 'gaming human') certainly is a modern species to which many of you will belong, but one of the oldest human species in the world actually is the homo neanderthalensis (or Neanderthals) who has roamed the surface of the Earth until approximately the year 20.000 BC. Many fossils from this species have been found in Europe and Africa, but the name of this subspecies actually goes back to the valley Neanderthal, and this actually is located just a twenty minutes drive away from of Essen!

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This is not a joke! In the 1850ies the bones of a human subspecies had been found in a cave in the Neanderthal by workers of a closeby quarry, and these bones had been presented to teacher and natural scientist Johann Karl Fuhlrott who lived in the neighboring town of Wuppertal. Fuhlrott examined the bones and he claimed that they must belong to some kind of stone age human. For this time such a thesis was rather daring, and it actually was the same decade when Charles Darwin published his evolutionary theory. Only many years later modern scientific methods could prove that Fuhlrott was right, but by that time the original appearance of the valley had been destroyed due to heavy quarrying of limestone so that only some sparse excarvations still were possible.

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Today, the State of Northrhine-Westfalia has built an interesting museum in the Neanderthal, and apart from wax replicas of stone age humans the museum's exhibits focus on telling the story of human evolution. Visitors are lead in slowly climbing circles through the museum's different parts, and apart from showcases and text panels the museum also uses video installations and interactive audio guides. In addition, there are some interactive stations for kids, and so the museum certainly is worthwhile a visit for the whole family.

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Returning to the topic of boardgames, the Neanderthals have been the inspiration for some great games like Stone Age from HANS IM GLÜCK. So, if you ever should arrive at Essen a few days ahead of the SPIEL, why not visit the Neanderthal Museum? All tables and guides are available in English as well, and it's just a stone's throw away from Essen!

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See you tomorrow - perhaps with some first photos from inside the convention halls!

Boy, it's great to be back on air...

Monday, 21st of October 2013

Welcome back everybody for another day of this year's pre-SPIEL warm-up!

Since its beginning the SPIEL had been located in the Eastern part of the MESSE ESSEN convention area, and from humble beginnings in Halls 11 and 12 it had grown to cover a total of eight halls. However, despite a rather tight public budget, the city council of Essen is moving towards a major refurbishment of the convention area, and these plans include a demolition of halls 4 to 12 and the Galeria (which is more than half of the exhibition space of the MESSE ESSEN).

These plans face the opposition of the Green faction in the city council because the projected costs for the refurbishment amount to 123 Million Euro, but at the moment it looks like the plans will be carried out. For this reason the MERZ VERLAG (the organizer of the SPIEL) has agreed to shift the SPIEL for the coming years into halls 1 to 3, and this means that all visitors of the SPIEL now will have to deal with a completely new layout of the halls.

Taking a stroll through the halls this afternoon, it was visible right from the beginning that it would take a bit of time to find especially the small publishers within the rather big halls. The stalls of the different publishers are organized in clusters of different sizes, with small publishers sometimes hiding on the backsides of bigger stalls or in other remote corners. If you should be planning to visit a particular publisher at the SPIEL, you better prepare yourself with a set of hall plans, since otherwise you might spend hours searching for the booth you are looking for.

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For rough orientation, many of the bigger publishers like ASMODEE, REPOS, KOSMOS or QUEEN GAMES have their main exhibition spaces in hall 3, whereas small foreign publishers more often will be found in hall 1. Hall 2 will be hosting many stalls with Live-RPG equipment, and furthermore the booths of the COMIC ACTION also can be found there. However, a few small publishers like GEN-X GAMES or HOMOLUDICUS also are hidden among the maze of hall 2, and so it might be worthwhile for gamers to consider visiting this hall as well.

In previous years an inner courtyard had been a welcome abode for a break with some minutes of fresh air, and such a courtyard now can be found between halls 2 and 3. It's a bit smaller than the former courtyard, but it's still a place where you can go if you want a short break from the halls.

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During my visit this afternoon, many booths of bigger publishers already were in an advanced state of preparation, and especially hall 3 was bustling with assembly workers. The situation in the other halls was different, but that's no surprise because the small publishers usually start to appear on tuesday.

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Only a few of my friends had arrived so far, but one of them was Cedrick CAUMONT from REPOS PRODUCTION. I found him opening a palette to check out the freshly arrived copies of Concept, a new deduction game from REPOS. Cedrick quickly demonstrated the game to me, and despite my general preference for strategy games I have to confess that Concept follows a quite interesting approach. A deck of cards lists the words which must be guessed, but instead of giving oral hints the players use a huge gameboard with various symbols and colours. The active player marks some of these symbols matching attributes of the word which must be riddled, and if these hints are not sufficient additional hints may be given. As indicated, the gameboard features a huge amount of symbols and pictures, and Cedrick demonstrated to me that even personalities like Vincent van Gogh could easily be descriped by these symbols: Historical personality, artist, ear and knife. A quite catchy mechanism, and as Cedrick told me many playtesters had spend hours just enjoying riddling. There are victory points included, but these are just for German players who need a mechanism for winning a game…

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I also used the occasion to ask Cedrick about the upcoming new expansion for 7 Wonders. The expansion is called 7 Wonders - Babel, and at the moment it is in the final stage of playtesting. Cedrick is hopeful that it will be available in spring 2014, and perhaps there will be the possibility for me to check out a prototype of the expansion here at the show.

Another friend I met was Konstantinos Kokkinis from Greek publisher ARTIPIA GAMES. After a great debut at the SPIEL '11 with Drum Roll, Konstantinos now has established ARTIPIA as a brand for extraordinary independent gaming, and this year he will be presenting several new games here at the SPIEL. In a way, ARTIPIA GAMES is a perfect example for a small publisher gaining momentum due to the SPIEL, and this development is positively assisted by the German secondary gaming industry. Thus, Konstantinos and his crew can design their new games in Greece, but for presenting their games at the SPIEL they have the possibility to turn to a games manufacturer like LUDO FACT. So, the new games can be produced here in Germany and they will be delivered right to the SPIEL, and so the ARTIPIA crew just had to take a plane to get over here, mount their booth and present the games. I hope that they will be able to continue this successful story in the years to come!

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This actually seems to be the moment for leaving the convention halls in order to elaborate a bit on the topic small publishers. In 2012 newcomer author Ryan Laukat released his first boardgame Empires of the Void under the label of his own publishing house RED RAVEN, and apart from the rather beautiful artwork which Ryan created himself the game showed some rather promising approaches because it tried to tackle the well-known topic of space opera boardgames from a new angle. So far many games of this type are time consuming behemoths, but Ryan had found some interesting mechanics to give the average playing duration of his own game a considerable decrease. Shortly after this succesful debut, Ryan announced that he would be starting to work on another big game, and so the last few months passed with eager anticipation what kind of game Ryan would create this time. When the game finally was announced on Kickstarter, I joined the ranks of the backers, and in spring 2012 I finally received a parcel containing a copy of this new game…

Review: City of Iron (Red Raven)

The new game City of Iron is set before a Steampunk-background, with the players taking control of small city-states which are trying to enlarge their sphere of influence by trade and conquest. However, before getting even a first glimpse on the mechanics of the game, the first sight of the gamebox and the playing components will attract the interest of many a gamer, since once again Ryan has outdone himself with the graphic design of the game. Ryan's history as an artist is longer than his career as a game designer, and he has created some cards for trading card games like the Adventurer-card for Dominion. However, for his own games Ryan is doing all of the artwork, and so he has equipped City of Iron with a rather lavish set of graphics which makes the game stand apart from many other products on the market.

However, after this initial praise for the great look of the components, let's now turn to the "meaty" part - the game's mechanics. City of Iron initially operates on a deckbuilding engine, with the players purchasing new cards in order to increase their possible range of actions. However, several elements differ considerably from other deckbuilding games, and these differences start with the fact that each player does not build just one deck but actually two. So, each player possesses a Civil deck which will contain cards for building, trade and exploration, whereas a player's Military deck contains cards mainly for conquest. Due to different uses of each card there is some partial overlap between both decks, but each new card which a player adds to either deck during the course of the game will be unique and a bit different from all other cards in the deck. For this reason each player possesses an identical stock of civil and military cards available for purchase, and it will be up to the players which of these cards they will purchase to enhance their decks.

Another big difference to the "classic" deckbuilding mechanism can be seen in the fact that the decks are not shuffled upon their exhaustion. Instead, the player takes the appropriate stack of discards and turns it around to form a new deck for drawing. This gives the players a much higher control of the efficiency of their decks, since the order in which cards are used and discarded now will determine the order in which the cards will get back into the player's hand. This can result in some rather useful strategic moves, but in order to prevent the game from becoming an arduous memory exercise the players actually are allowed to check through their decks and discards any time they desire - so there is no need to memorize the order of the cards.

Rather interesting is also the mechanism which Ryan has found for allowing card combinations. The players do not just determine the order in which they use their cards, but furthermore the use of the cards' abilities often requires additional "booster" symbols to power them up. These "booster" symbols in form of a hammer and a compass rose can be found in different combinations on all cards in the player's decks, and so it will be up to the players to decide which cards on their hand they are going to use for their abilities, and which cards then will be discarded for their hammer and compass rose symbols in order to "fuel" the choosen abilities. This is always a tough choice, because the players usually would love to use the abilities of each card on their hand instead of simply discarding them to fuel other cards' actions.

However, let's return once more to the rest of the playing mechanism. Each round of play the players will be allowed to perform three actions, with some of the actions like building being always available, whereas the availability of other actions depends on the Civil and Military cards on the player's hand. The aforementioned action of building is rather popular, and it stands for the players buying new building cards which are available from a common display of buildings which changes from round to round. Many of these buildings are used to increase a player's production of different kinds of trade goods, but these goods will not be physically available but instead the production capacities of each player for each kind of goods simply are recorded on the huge gameboard which shows scales for every kind of goods. When a round is over, each kind of trade goods will be evaluated, and the player producing most of a kind will gain some money, whereas the other producers of that good will go empty handed. In addition, the leadership in different kinds of trade goods is one of the key factors to win the game, since the deck of building cards which is used to feed the display of available buildings contains three cards which announce a scoring. When such a card comes up, the current round is played to its end, and afterwards the leading players for each kind of trade goods will not only receive money, but they will also be assigned victory points.

However, the players do not only need money to erect new buildings, but for the more advanced (and thus more valuable) buildings they will also need to pay Science tokens. These Science tokens may be gained by the use of some of the player's cards, but they may also be gained if a player decides to erect an academy building. However, each new building acquired needs a building slot in the player's city, and at the beginning each player only can build a maximum of five different buildings in his city. There are different ways for the players to tackle this problem, and one is by the acquisition and use of the "Mayor" civil card. This card allows a player to add a district to his city, giving him some more building slots. Another, more costly, alternative is the use of the "Explorer" civil card. If equipped with a fitting vessel and fueled with enough compass rose symbols from additional cards, the explorer can reach far away countries where the players can build new cities. These cities have slightly more building slots than districts, and in addition valuable bonus-points will be earned in the end of game scoring by the most efficient explorer. Choosing the right approach is a matter of timing, and of course it's all part of the players' decisions how to compose their decks of Civil and Military cards.

Talking about Military cards: These cards have military strength values, and if used together with some compass rose symbols from other cards these cards can be used for the conquest of some smaller towns which are also available from a common display. These towns will increase their owner's production capabilities for different kinds of goods, or - if you are lucky to own the Kickstarter edition of City of Iron which includes additional towns - the towns also may provide some other useful in-game abilities. However, the conquest of towns is not without risk, because towns owned by a player actually can be chosen as a target for another player's attack. This way the towns actually may change ownership in the middle of the game, and this may result in considerable changes of the positioning of each player. The conquest of a different player's town also is the most direct form of player interaction which can be found in City of Iron, but there are also many other - more subtle - occasions in which the players need to interact. So, the players compete for the best buildings available each round, and they will also need to keep a constant eye on the current levels of all competitors on the trade goods scales on the main gameboard. Likewise, the players will try to analyze the Civil and Military cards purchased by their competitors in order to guess what the others might be up to, and all this contributes to a rather enjoyable, highly interactive contest.

Many other yet unmentioned aspects of the game are finely interwoven with the core rules presented above, and some examples here are the fact that the number of cards which each player may draw from his decks for the upcoming round depends on the number of districts/cities owned by the player plus the ownership of some special buildings which provide additional card draws. Another example are the already mentioned Science tokens, since these tokens are not only necessary for the purchase of some buildings, but also some of the more sophisticated Civil and Military cards are listing Science tokens as part of their purchase price. As a body, these rules work perfectly together, and it becomes clear that Ryan has spent a high degree of care to finetune City of Iron.

All in all, the rather unusual approach to deckbuilding gives the game's main mechanism a unique feel and - even better - it kindles a strong wish for the players to play more and more games of City of Iron in order to try different combinations and build even better decks. This rather high addictiveness is facilitated by a comparatively low playing duration, and so the complete game with two to four players usually can be finished within a frame of about two hours. This is rather astonishing for such a multi-facetted game which satisfies even serious hobbyists' demands of real decision making, but it certainly is a proof of the modernity and elegance of Ryan's design, since the current trend in boardgaming leads away from time-consuming monster-games.

Unfortunately RED RAVEN will not attend the SPIEL, so I doubt that City of Iron will be available here at the show. However, the game was catapulted straight away into my top-ten most favourite games, and for the moment I doubt whether it will ever lose this status. For this reason I thought that I should present the game during my SPIEL warm-up…

We will actually return to Ryan Laukat at some later point of this year's reports, but for today I will leave you with the promise of yet another round through the convention halls tomorrow afternoon…

Tuesday, 22nd of October 2013

Welcome back everybody!

It's almost amazing, but with amazing regularity many convention weeks have begun with a time of extraordinary nice weather. It's not different this year - blue skies and temperatures around 23 degrees Celsius greeted me when I went in the convention ground of MESSE ESSEN this afternoon. According to the weather forecast it will get wet in the days to come, but today we really had Indian Summer here at Essen.

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The fact that this year's SPIEL will be located in the newer part of the convention area can best be seen in the foyer of the western entrance. This part of the MESSE ESSEN was built just 14 years ago, and it certainly looks quite different from the entrance you might be used to from a previous visit.

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Today the halls were bustling with activity, but once again one of the first people I did run into was Konstantinos Kokkinis from ARTIPIA GAMES. He had just received a first delivery of games, and so I could proudly present me fresh copies of Archon: Glory & Machination and Shadows over the Empire. However, I did not just get a glimpse of these two games, but I am proud to announce that Konstantinos has sponsored a copy of each game for this year's SPIEL

PRIZE DRAW !!!

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Many of you will know this tradition from my previous reports, and every year some publishers sponsor games and goodies for a prize draw during the time of the SPIEL. All you need to do in order to participate in the Prize Draw is to leave an entry in this year's guestbook.

Click here to sign the SPIEL Guestbook !

As always, the buildup for the show was progressing well, and as you could see by the example of ARTIPIA many publishers now were receiving their games. For some smaller publishers this meant a palett or two, but for major publishers this means dozens of pallets with hundreds of boxes. Even more, big publishers like HEIDELBERGER have their trucks parked just outside the halls, and all over the convention days they will keep a constant flow of games coming in.

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With many booths getting closer to completion, one of the interesting aspects during buildup is the fact that some posters will catch a bypasser's eye. One particular poster I found at the booth of QUEEN GAMES, and here all the mini expansions available at this year's SPIEL were shown. From my perspective the use of goodies like mini expansions to get people interested in a new game is a legitimate way of advertising, and it's certainly fun when it comes to hunting down a particular item. However, I can understand gamers who are sad if they miss a convention and thus cannot get a particular promo, and so the strategy of QUEEN GAMES to sell their promo items as "Queenies" certainly has a positive side. However, looking at the poster shown below, I had to ask myself whether QUEEN GAMES is pushing all this a step too far. Not less than 26 (!!!) different "Queenies" will be sold here at the show, and so it seems that QUEEN GAMES is using these expansions for a market strategy which aims explicitly at collectors and completionists. Hmmm, I am not sure what I should make of this… Yet more expansions for the expansion's sake?

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Another banner my eyes fell upon was the announcement that Zombicide now would be available in Germany. I had traded in a copy of Zombicide at the beginning of the year, and despite the fact that it is highly luck dependent with a lot of dice rolling my wife and I are rather fond of the game's high pace which reminds a bit of arcade games. This experience actually caused me to join the Kickstarter campaign for Zombicide Season 2 which ended in spring this year. It was a rather successful campaign, earning GUILLOTINE GAMES and COOL MINI OR NOT over 2 Million US$. As a backer, I will profit from the fact that many promo miniatures will be included in this campaign, and so I have been waiting eagerly for the arrival of all the goodies. However, as it turned out, this is one of the campaigns where the publisher is having problems to keep his deadlines, and so myself and many European backers at this moment still are waiting for their deliveries. Falling into a backlog is not that bad, but it was sad to see that COOL MINI OR NOT at first failed to openly address these issues. This created quite a storm of negative feedback, and in the end this resulted in a more open way of communication. This would have been something many backers would have whished right from the beginning. I just hope that the Season 2 items will not appear here at the SPIEL - from my perspective this would be a complete disaster in face of many backers still not having received their delivery.

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Talking about banners, I did find Uwe Rosenberg at the booth of FEUERLAND SPIELE and handed him the banner for this year's INTERNATIONAL GAMERS AWARDS which was won by Terra Mystica. It's amazing to see that Uwe did not just win this year's IGA 2-players awards with Le Havre: The Inland Harbour, but he is also involved as a publisher with FEUERLAND SPIELE. I had a short chat with Uwe about the IGA at this occasion, and he considers his repeated winning of the IGA a great recognition of his work as an author. From his perspective the IGA is getting more and more important because it is the only true international awards, and with the ongoing globalization of the gaming market an international awards simply creates more public awareness than domestic awards which are appearing in more and more countries.

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Not too far away from the booth of FEUERLAND in hall 3 the booth of Friedemann Friese's 2F-SPIELE can be found. Here Henning Kröpke was busy checking through all the boxes with the new games and expansions, but he also showed me something of which I had not yet heard. Coming in the form of foldable postcards, the new Falter mini-games (or better: riddles) are a spontaneous invention Friedemann made when trying to find something to keep his children occupied. The eight different cards show labyrinths of different grades, and in order to solve such a riddle you need to find your way from a starting point to a finish. However, the cards are printed double-sided, and in order to find the way through the maze the cards need to be folded (in German: "falten"). Thus, the folding of the card will lead through the front and backside of the maze in order to finally reach the finish. As I said, it's not really a game, but nonetheless it's an interesting kind of riddle which can actually be sent in an envelope as a small present. A typical Friedemann invention...

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If you imagine going to a games convention as an exhibitor, you would think that your main activities would be to set up the booth and put games onto a shelf. However, there is a lot more to do than just these few activities. Sometimes games still need to be assembled or sorted, promos need to be bagged and other goodies need to be prepared. Returning to the booth of REPOS PRODUCTION I found Nicolas busy folding ever growing stacks of T-Shirts. REPOS will be handing out quite a lot of these, and Nicolas was just working his way through the first box. But at least he had immediate access to Belgian fermented vegetable juice… Do they really call it "beer"?

(Just kidding, I really like Lindemann's "Kriek", a fruity cherry beer coming from Belgium)

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In the meanwhile Scott Alden and the crew of BOARDGAMEGEEK also had arrived at their booth in hall 1, and they were busily preparing their booth until it was discovered that the electrical sockets at the booth were dead. Aldie told me that they had filed all necessary application forms to get energy today, but as it seemed this had been to no avail. Electricity was available from sockets on the halls outer walls, but unfortunately this was about 30 meters away and no other exhibitor could spare such a long extension cable. So I hastened home to get one of my farther's old cable reels, and after a bit of searching in the garage I found one with a cable which was long enough. Back in the halls the cable was instantly mounted, and so Aldie and the others could continue setting up and testing all their electronic gear. However, being the "light bearer" meant that Aldie promoted me to the rank of "Honorary Geek", and so I finally got one of those cool BGG-jerseys…

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After this final highlight, the day in the convention halls was ending and I went back home. However, like yesterday I would like to present you with yet another review, and tonight I would like to draw your attention towards the futuristic town of Ginkgopolis.

Review: Ginkgopolis (Pearl Games, Booth 1-C136)

With several hundred games being released at the SPIEL convention each year, it gets more and more hard to keep an overview of the potential hits and flops among all these new releases. A game which I had failed to address during my reports from the SPIEL '12 was Ginkgopolis from PEARL GAMES. I had pre-ordered a copy because of its interesting looks, but I did not get a chance to play the game at the SPIEL and so it ended up on my stack of games to play. It first came onto the table several months after the convention, but after an initial game it quickly became one my all-time favourites!

In Ginkgopolis the players share the common task of building a city, starting with a small town of 3 times 3 single-storey buildings which is slowly enlarged during the course of the game. As indicated, the initial town is made up of a total of nine buildings, and these belong to groups of three different colours (red, blue, yellow) and have values ranging from "1" to "3". Spread around the outskirts of the town are expansion-chips featuring the letters from "A" to "L", and these chips stand for the plots of land where new buildings can be placed. When a new building is placed there, the letter is moved outwards, so that the area covered by the town will slowly expand. Alternatively, new buildings also can be placed on top of existing buildings, thus representing a new higher building. So far, all this may sound familiar, but before taking a closer look at the performance of the building activities let's first examine the starting equipment of each player.

A the beginning of the game, each player will receive a hand of three Characters, and these cards offer different kinds of special abilities which will increase the efficiency of actions which may be chosen by the players. In the introductory game the Character cards come in fixed decks in order to give everybody comparable starting conditions, but in the advanced game the Characters will be drafted so that the players can decide whether they want to focus on enhancing specific kinds of actions. Apart from the in-game ability, each Character card also lists a number of Building tiles, resources and victory points which the player is allowed to take at the beginning of the game, and when all players have taken these items the game may finally start.

The game is driven through a deck of cards, and at the beginning this deck contains 12 Expansion cards from "A" to "L" (representing the expansion chips) plus 9 Building cards which represent the initial buildings which can be found in the town. During a round of play, each player will have a hand of four of these cards, with three of the cards coming from his right neighbor (from the previous turn) and one additional card drawn from the deck. All players simultaneously chose one of these cards, and then they will reveal their cards on perform an action with it. When all actions have been performed, the round is over, the remaining cards are passed on and this process starts anew.

A player may opt to play any of these cards either with or without a Building tile from his own stockpile. If the card is played without a Building tile, the player will receive a benefit depending on the nature of the card. If it's an Expansion card with a letter, the player will receive a Building tile or a resource (his choice), but if it is a Building card, the benefit received will be determined by the colour and height of the building. So, yellow buildings provide victory points, blue buildings new Building tiles and red buildings resources, and the number of items which may be taken depends on the height of the building depicted on the card. At the beginning of the game all buildings have a height of only one level, but this will increase during the course of the game, thus making the action more efficient.

As indicated, the chosen card also may be accompanied by a Building tile coming from the player's stocks, and in this case the Building tile will be placed upon the property (expansion chip OR existing building) depicted on the card. Thus, the town will either expand its size (expansion), or one of the buildings will grow in height (heightening). Depending on the height of the newly placed Building tile, the player needs to place resources from his stockpile onto the newly placed building, e.g. if the new tile increases a building to a height of three levels three resources must be placed on the building. If the player does not have enough resources, the building may not be placed.

If a new Building tile from the player's stocks is brought into play, the player takes the corresponding Building card from the card stocks and places it close at hand. At the next exhaustion of the deck, this Building card (and other new cards) will be shuffled into the deck, so that the new Building card now can be used by the players for new actions.

Both actions which are accompanied by a Building tile (expansion or heightening) once again provide the player with a bonus, but whereas expansion grants the player victory points, new Building tiles and resources, heightening means that the Building card of the now overbuild building may be kept by the player who has performed the action. Like the Character cards, the Building card will give its owner a new special ability, and this either means that an in-game action gets more effective or that the player has a possibility to score additional victory points at the end of the game.

In fact, apart from owning enough resources the placement of new Building tiles often depends on the number of the building, since it is easier to overbuild a building with a lower number with a building with a higher number. It is possible to build in the opposite order, but this forces the player who does so to lose some victory points. Even Building tiles placed by other players may be overbuilt, and in this case the player who had placed the now overbuilt tile will get back his resources plus an amount of victory points depending on the height of the building. As can be seen, the numbers of the Building tiles are really important for a player to decide on his actions, since high numbered tiles may be quite useful in the endgame to replace some other tiles. However, the tiles with high numbers also have the best benefits on their Building cards, and so players may be tempted to play such a Building tile early in order to bring its card into play.

Trying to explain the rules of Ginkgopolis within a review is no easy task, but despite this observation the game offers a rather well constructed gameflow, and it is rather multi-facetted even though the players can only chose between three types of actions. Quite ingenious is the interrelation between the placement of a Building tile and the adding of its Building card to the deck, because a player who places a new building cannot be certain that he will later be able to collect this Building card. The other players will long to collect high-ranking cards as well, and since a card can only be collected through the "heightening" action this means that the player who has initially brought the card into play by placement of the Building tile then will be displaced by the placement of yet another tile.

In fact, tactical displacement of other players is crucial to win the game, because victory points will not only be collected by fulfilling the conditions listed on Building cards owned by the players, but when the game is over there will also be an evaluation of the city itself. The players will be awarded additional points if they are able to dominate a city district (having most resources in an area of two or more Building tiles of the same colour), and so they will often use the heightening action in order to split and create city districts or to change the current majority situation in a district.

Taken together, all these elements give the game an astonishing playing depth, but this does not come at the usual price of the game getting overburdened with intricate rules. While it is true that one or two games are needed to get to grips with the general mechanism, the game continues in a charming and light-footed atmosphere which is quite rare for this tactical level. The whole playing experience is augmented even further by a rather nice graphical design (including individual drawings for many Character cards), and to my mind all this makes Ginkgopolis one of the most underrated games of the gaming year 2012.

So, if this review made you curious, why not check out the booth of PEARL GAMES if you are planning a visit of the SPIEL?

Talking about visiting the SPIEL, I am rather sad to announce at this point that I will not be able to attend the convention for the next two days. Work is calling and I have to go to a conference, and so I will only return home by thursday evening. However, for the next two days my G@mebox co-author Ralf Togler will take over, and looking at his coverage in previous years I am sure that he will be able to present you some interesting news from the SPIEL.

Myself, I will be rejoining Ralf on friday, and from that point onwards both of us will once again guide you through the highlights of this year's SPIEL!

See you soon!

Wednesday, 23rd of October 2013

Hello everybody ! It's nice to be back on air!

With Frank leaving Essen for a conference of his real job today, it is now up to me to lead you through the next two days. Although I cannot provide you with such a huge input as Frank regularly does (my children just won't let me do what I want), I hope you still enjoy my impressions of the fair. But today, as I am not having a press card, I cannot show you anything from inside the fair halls. I – like most of you – are not allowed tot set a feet in those holy halls before the official opening tomorrow morning. But today that was not really regrettable, because my younger son has a heavy cough and we could not send him to the kidergarten. Although the Indian Summer said goodbye today, I could enjoy my free day with my sons at home.

As some of you will remember, I moved back to Essen the very last year. Now, after one year I can tell you that I did not regret it. Not only that I moved back to the home town of the SPIEL. In a lot of the southern districts of Essen you can really see the change of the town. Once Essen was the city of coal and iron. The name Krupp, once Europe's largest company, will forever be linked with the city. I never forget my mother telling me, that in her youth you could not hang up white shirts in the morning without having them grey in the afternoon. That really changed dramatically. Essen has now developed a strong tertiary sector of the economy, especially the health care sector has grown strongly over the last 20 years.

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With this new orientation it is no wonder that the appearance of the city changed, too. OK, there are still districts in the north, where I would not move, maybe not even enter. But here in the south, most visitors are really astonished at the varied landscape. Yes, we also do have woodland here in the Ruhrgebiet...And especially the southernmost borough Kettwig, where I moved, is nearly pastoral in these days. A lot of visitors enjoy the medieval old town with a lot of old half-timber houses, the old halls of the cloth mills, that are altered to modern, expensive flats and of course the picturesque atmosphere of the river Ruhr. I shot some photos yesterday (still with the Indian Summer) to give you some proof of what I am saying and I think you will admit that I did not get the worst of it.

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But now let us come back to the SPIEL and to games. Of course, despite of the good weather, I also used the day to prepare myself for the SPIEL. Having checked all new publications in the last days, I am really looking forward for the next day, when the gates of the fair finally open. But before we come to this I must tell you of a real first for me. Due to the absence of Frank, I got the chance to visit this year's awards ceremony of the DEUTSCHER SPIELE PREIS. And I can tell you that I was really excited. Two hours before the beginning of this event I changed into formal clothing. The invitation explicitly said so, so I changed into jacket and a white shirt, familiar at the job, but I never wore those clothing when going to play games. But of course this evening was not about playing games but about honouring, so my clothings felt right.

I found a seat at a table with Jörg Meißner of KRIMI TOTAL and some other guys of various magazines. Together we watched the ceremony and had some good conversations, too. After the official ceremony there is always a big buffet, so there is enough time for doing some small talk.

Finally the ceremony began with the traditional award of the Essener Feder. As some will know or remember from former years this award is given to the game with the best, excellent rulebook. This year it was Die Paläste von Carrara by Wolfgang Kramer / Michael Kiesling that got the award. Indeed, HANS IM GLÜCK, the publisher of the game, really made a good job editing the rules. Over the last years they continually improved the rulebooks for their games. Their concept to explain the rules with a lot of illustrated examples and highlight the most important rules, has already found its successors. With this concept it is very simple to find back into the game after some weeks and it is also helpful to find important details, if you have some rule questions during the game. Also the concept of adding the advanced rules in a closed envelope, so that you are not distracted by complicated rules at the beginning, seems to be well received.

What followed afterwards was a big Stefan Feld show. Three times he was called to the stage in order to claim his awards. We have already given you the review for Rialto by PEGASUS, which made it up to place nine. Bora Bora by ALEA (place 4) and Brügge (place 3) were the other two games who made it up among the top 10. So Stefan Feld could repeat his feat from 2011 and once again he is one of the most successful authors of the year. I did some playtesting of Bora Bora in the last weeks, so I give you the review following the ceremony.

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The first two places however were given to Tzolk'in of Simone Luciani and CZECH GAMES EDITION, and Terra Mystica by H. Ostertag and J. Drögemüller (FEUERLAND SPIELE).

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CZECH GAMES EDITION already has announced an expansion to the successful Tzolk'in and probably I will have a try-out the other day, when I have an appointment with Vít Vodicka of CGE. About Terra Mystica I only remember the permanently crowded table at the booth of FEUERLAND SPIELE in the last year. Probably that is why they won the award, but for my part I up to now can't say you anything about the game. Terra Mystica has also won the International Gamers award, so I hope there is the chance for me to have a closer look at the game in the next days. I will surely try, because the laudatory speech by Dominique Metzler really made my mouth water.

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As you will have noticed, the winners of this year's award SPIEL DES JAHRES were not under the top four this evening. These winners followed on the places five (Die Legenden von Andor) and six (Hanabi). So you once again see that the opinion of the jury (SPIEL DES JAHRES) can differ from the opinion of a huge number of gamers, who regularly vote for the DEUTSCHER SPIELE PREIS.

Also the award for the best children’s game differs from the choice of the jury of the SPIEL DES JAHRES. The award of the DEUTSCHER SPIELE PREIS goes to the game Kakerlakak by Peter-Paul Joopen of Ravensburger, a battery-driven game for the whole family.

So a nice evening came to an end, at least for me. When I left the hall, there was still a lot of talking and arguing, but seeing what still comes in the next days, I chose better to go and get some hours of sleep. But before I end for today, here is the promised review:

Review: Bora Bora (Alea, booth 3H-108)

Stefan Feld and ALEA. This always sounds to be interesting. As it is already Feld's sixth cooperation with ALEA he is mainly responsible for the success of RAVENSBURGER's trade mark in the last 10 years. Most of the cooperation were a success with outstanding games like Notre Dame, In the year of the Dragon and Macao. The newest offspring is named Bora Bora and is settled in the mysterious island world of the famous atoll. Of course you cannot expect a simple family game of the cooperation. Compared with Rialto, one of Stefan Feld's other games in 2013, Boro Bora is much more complex and you have to let yourself in for the game. The set up alone is a challenge for casual players and – although there are good player aids, you will need some time to recognize the benefits of the various game material. Typical for Feld are also the many ways to score. So it is always hard to decide what is the best way in a given situation. Only when you are quite familiar with the game, there is a chance that you make the best choice.

As a result, in the first game most players are too busy to have an eye for the final scoring conditions. They are more engaged by understanding all the different symbols on the game material to know what is really important to win the game. But let us have a closer look to the game mechanisms:

At the beginning, all players are equipped with a comfortable player board. Next to luxurious player aids we find spaces for building materials that we can gain in the game, for building tiles, tasks we have to complete and spaces for huts as well as for man and woman tiles. We start with three tasks, building tiles from 1-6 and all of the 12 spaces for huts/women or men occupied by one hut each. On the main board we find the atoll divided into 12 regions with mountains, beaches, forests and plains. Each player starts with one of his huts placed in one of this region. This is his starting point to explore the atoll. One half of the main board is blocked for our supply for men/women, jewleries, new tasks. Additionally the board serves as a scoring, status and temple track.

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The game lasts six rounds, with each consisting of three phases. The first phase is the most complex one. All players simultaneously roll their three dice in the player's colour. Then in turn order and one by one, they place these dice on 5-7 different action tiles (the number depends on the number of players). Several dice on one card are allowed, but only if the new die shows a value that is lower than the lowest value already on the action card. This rule results in some very interesting tactical moves, because most actions become more valuable with the value of the die. The corresponding actions are carried out right after placing the die.

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With these actions the players can expand their influence on the map by placing a new hut onto a region adjacent to one with another of the player's hut. But this is only possible if the path that connects the two region has a number less or equal to the die that were placed on the action tile. Other actions are for taking new woman or man which results in various positive effects for the player in the next phase. Here the result of the die expands the selection of tokens a player can choose from. An important action is the helper action. Depending on the die result, a player can tattoo several of his men, which brings him forward on the status track or collecting shells with his women. The status track not only determines the order for the next turn, but it also brings victory points at the end of each turn. Shells on the other hand are necessary to take from the jewellery tiles, also in phase C of each turn. There are a lot of other help actions like taking god cards for altering the rules for the player, taking building materials, temple actions or just taking some victory points. Also you can build from your unbuild tiles on the player map, which can fulfil tasks and can bring you a huge advantage in the final scoring. Besides this – like the temple action – results in a fire bonus for which you can either take a god or an offering card and gain one status or one shell. You see there are a lot of possible moves for the players.

This continues in phase B, in which you can use the special powers of your men and women. Again there are 12 different kind of bonuses like taking god cards or shells, use special paths on the map and so on. And also in phase C in which we assess the right half of the game board, there are a lot of various things to go through. In this phase it comes to a scoring of the status and temple track and we can buy of the jewellery tiles with our shells. The turn ends after each player has completed one of his tasks and has taken a new one. At least he should complete a task, because otherwise this results in 0 victory points while the other players got up to six for completing the task....

In contrast to the simpler Rialto, Bora Bora can really be called a Feld game. Masses of game material and multiple ways to score are nearly a mental overload for new players. But after some time, most players found into the game and loved the various possibilities to score. As usual ALEA has equipped the game with very good game material and a rulebook that leaves no questions unanswered. Although we have seen some of the mechanisms like the temple track in other games by Stefan Feld (here Luna), the author has put the different game tiles together to a completely new and atmospheric game feeling. Perhaps Bora Bora cannot please every player. My biggest point of criticism is that it is difficult to keep track of the chances of the other players to win the game. And there are only very limited possibilities to interact with the other players. These interactions are mainly concentrated on phase A when placing the dice on the action cards. But apart from that, Stefan Feld once again has provided us with a perfectly balanced and entertaining game for the experienced players.

Now that was it for today. So stay tuned for tomorrow when the real show begins...

Thursday, 24th of October 2013

Hello there again!

3..2..1..0

10 AM, Thursday morning. On the tick the doors of the fair finally opened for the public. Again a day without Frank, but I am glad that he will be back tomorrow. So it is one more day you must deal with me alone and I hope you will survive it...

As usual many people were queuing long before the opening to get their tickets and to gain admission. But in contrast to the last years, there was much more room for the people and there were also more entrances to go through. The more modern halls to which the fair moved this year - as Frank already told you – at this moment already had passed their first test. Inside the halls you also could see a difference. Again much more room for the people to pass, bigger booths, especially for the smaller publishers and a better mix between the established and new publishers. In some of the old halls the publishers changed every year while other halls remained more or less the same year after year. Another big advantage is that you are much faster reaching one point from another, because the halls are better connected with each other.

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For me the day began with children games. This morning my wife decided to visit the fair, too. My older son, who has holidays right now, agreed at once. So far, so good. But, after we reached the fair, my wife decided to go to the halls alone and so it was up to me to take my son with me. With his seven years he is still too young for many games I planned to look at, but he is slowly beginning to play more complex family games, too. So we scanned the halls for funny, small games with a short game duration and we made a find soon after.

The game was called Chop Chop by JOEN and could be found at the booth of Korea Boardgames (3-O119). It is a game in which each player must take fruits of an outlay with the help of chopsticks to fill his individual plate of three different fruits. The difficulty is that all players do so simultaneously and there are not enough fruits for everybody's plate. So you must be fast and often it results in some fights with the chopsticks. A very funny, entertaining game for in-between.

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At the booth of AMIGO we tried Mölkky and Speed Cups. The first game is a mixture between bowling and darting, the latter a further development of the successful Halli Galli. We liked both games as quick party games, something that you can play in-between or use as an icebreaker.

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After that I met with my wife and said goodbye to my son. I will be back with him at the fair on Sunday, but for today I wanted to concentrate on more complex games:

When I hear the name CRANIO CREATIONS I always think on the crazy Dungeon Fighter. Last year Lorenzo Silva told me that maybe this year they once again would publish a similar crazy game. So I was anxious to see what they brought along to this fair. When I approached their booth I at first glance saw that a lot of players played indeed Dungeon Fighter. Well, at least this looked very similar. But why did they throw the dice through a gate? When I moved closer I saw the reason for this unfamiliar behaviour: Dungeon Fighter – Fire at will, an expansion that seems to bring new crazy die shots and new characters with it. That surely is a must-buy for me, because my son really loves the game.

Playtesting Session: Steam Park (Cranio Creations, Booth 1-A118)

But I had an appointment with Lorenzo, so I moved forward and found him with another new game by CRANIO CREATIONS. This one is called Steam Park. Lorenzo explained that in this game each player is the owner of a Steam Park at a fair for robots. For robots, I asked? Yes, he told me, the robots of the merry town Roboburg are working so hard in the factories, that once a year they are in need of some amusement. They are really looking forward to this great show and of course they want to spend their money. And it is this money we are longing for. Each player builds up his own Steam Park and tries to attract as many robots as possible to earn as much money as possible. Sounds crazy to you? Well I must agree to you. But after this introduction I was really excited and wanted to find out if the gameplay could cope with this crazy story.

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First of all we all got our own starting, empty ground tiles. This is the area where we can build rides and stands during the game. We were also equipped with six dice with strange symbols and a Pig board. That is already enough to begin the game. At a command all players begin rolling their dice. Similar to last year's Escape you should roll your dice as fast as possible. Re-rolling of any dice is allowed, only dice that has been placed on the Pig board may not re-rolled again. But why should we roll the dice as fast as possible. The reason is that the first player who has placed all of his dice on the pig, takes the first turn order token, the second one the second token and so on. And having one of the first order tokens is a big advantage, as you will see. The only annoyance is that you should also take care what symbols you place on your pig, because these dice determine what you can do in the next phase.

But before we come to this another real nuisance takes place. Those robots really have the brass neck to produce dirt and the city council does not really like dirt in their city. Dirt can really ruin your whole Steam Park, because there are big penalties if you leave your area too dirty. Now the advantage of the order tokens take their full effect. While the player with the first order token (the one who was fastest) can get rid of 4 dirt tokens, the player who took the last order token must take two new dirt tokens. Apart from that, dirt can be produced by some dice symbols and each visitor at a Steam Park produces dirt, too.

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But after that it is time for actions. With our dice we can build new rides to make space for more visitors, build stands, that give us various bonuses and attract new visitors. These visitors must be drawn randomly from a bag. Only if we have build the right rides (of the same colour as the visitor) they are attracted, otherwise they say good-by. Of course, my visitors always seemed to feel uncomfortable in my park and left as soon as they came...Also we can use symbols to get rid of some of the dirt, play bonus cards from our hand and expand our park. That is all very nice, but what really counts in the end is the next phase. In this income phase we are paid by each of our visitors and then finally you know what you were working for.

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Although I did not win the game, but was lost in all of my dirt, I really liked playing Steam Park. Depart from the story it is not so crazy as Dungeon Fighter but with its funny background, the fast gameplay and its easy access for new players I guess it is an enrichment for every game collection. At the moment I do not know if there is enough substance for playing it over and over again, but the various benefits of the stands seem to make the game much more strategic than it seems to be. I must admit that I – in my first game – was not able to take care for this different abilities, I was just happy to remember more or less the meanings of the different symbols. If you have the chance you should have a try out, you really cannot miss CRANIO CREATIONS, because it is directly next to the Southern entrance.

After that I went to the booth of CZECH GAMES EDITION to meet Vít Vodicka and to try the new Tash Kalar. But when I reached the booth, Vít told me that he had expected me tomorrow. One of us must have made a mistake. We tried to make the best of it, but there was no free table, so I came off empty-handed again and have to wait until tomorrow for another try.

With my free time, I went over to Michele Quondam by Giochix.it. But, right before I could say hello, my attention was drawn to some people who showed their mobile phones to Michele and his crew and got some die for free instead. What the hell was that, I wondered. My own mobile phone at hand, but no clue what I could show them, I shyly asked, what could be so interesting on my phone, that GIOCHIX.IT would present me some nicely die (you can NEVER have enough!). The explanation was disillusioning, but simple: Nothing! But how that? Why had those other guys gotten their die? Well the reason is, that they all have participated on the Romolo o Remo contest. In this contest the box cover of the new game by Giochix.it can be redesigned by any person and other guys rate the result. There are some interesting prizes for the winners (including the new Romolo o Remo), so if you want to find more about it, you should go the homepage of GIOCHIX.IT or directly to their booth (1-C123). I exchanged a couple of words with Michele afterwards and we scheduled a demo-meeting for the new Romolo o Remo for Saturday.

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Having bridged some of my free time, I afterwards went to the booth of ADLUNG to see what they had brought to this fair. ADLUNG is a specialist for small card games. Most of them are educational, but with great illustrations and the right amount of fun, so that a lot of grown-ups – myself included – really love the games. This year's novelty is Zweins a game in which you must comprise a word out of two that must be connected with what you see on the cards. One player one by one throws cards with different pictures in the middle of the table. As soon as a player can form a word out of two of the cards he gets one of the two cards. Quite simple, but I had a lot of fun.

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But now it was time for my final appointment for today. Roberto Di Meglio waited for me at the booth of ARES GAMES. The Italian publisher came to the fair with three new games. We had a closer look on two of them. The first one was Inkognito by Leo Colovini. What? A new game you will say? Indeed, Inkognito was first published in 1988 by MB and in these days it also won the award of Spiel des Jahres. But now, after 25 years, ARES GAMES has published a new edition with slightly improved rules. The biggest difference to the original is that it now can be played by 5 players. This is possible, because one player takes over the Ambassador. His goal is to identify all other players. For this, when other players contact the Ambassador, he gets all cards the player show each other, too. ARES GAMES could again engage the original illustrators, so the new version seems to be a perfect continuation of the successful game.

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After this Roberto gave me an introduction to their new Sails of Glory:

Introduction: Sails of Glory (Ares Games, Booth 3-C123)

Sails of Glory is inspired by the successful Wings of Glory of the same publisher. This time it are Napoleonic ships that must be manoeuvred through the sea to fight against each other. Players simultaneously choose one of their manoeuvre cards. Then each player places his chosen card in front of his ship and moves it on the given path on the card. In Sails of Glory the wind plays a major role and must be considered when choosing the card. Dependent from the wind direction and the orientation of the ship, the movement range differs enormously. When fighting it is extremely important to present the fire broadside towards your opponents to unfold the whole firing power. I would say that if you like Wings of Glory you will sure love Sails of Glory, too. For all others who like miniature games and do not know Wings of Glory I would recommend to have a closer look.

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I saw Sails of Glory in the final production and it really looked great. In my opinion it is more impressive than Wings of Glory. But unfortunately they did not sell it at this fair. The reason is, that the final production only just started and because it was a Kickstarter project, the supporters should have their games before the rest of us. Pity for the rest of us, but a very laudable decision by ARES GAMES.

Before leaving the booth, I asked Roberto about his new project, The battle of five armies. This game was once announced for late 2013, but is delayed and probably comes in the early 2014. Based on the great War of the Ring it is a further development and not a sequel. Also it is a stand-alone game, so you do not have to posses the War of the Ring to play it. Roberto explained that they had made the characters much more individual and stronger, so it is extremely important to use their different abilities. Finally he proudly presented my some of the new miniatures for the game.

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I would say, that these miniatures look much better than the figures of the old, standard War of the Ring. This made my mouth watery and I wish it would be already next spring... With this new highlight I end it for today. Tomorrow will be another day and then Frank finally will join me to provide you with much more information and new impressions. See you again the next day.

Friday, 25th of October 2013

Hello everybody!

After spending two days at the lovely town of Bad Godesberg at the southern border of Northrhine Westfalia to attend a conference, it took me three hours on the Autobahn to return back HOME TO Essen yesterday evening. There was a lot of traffic jam, but knowing that some great days at the SPIEL were ahead of me the driving time passed quickly. And now, I am finally back at the SPIEL, joining Ralf for another public day here at the show!

As you might guess, at this moment I am sitting on my desk in order to type the experiences of this great day. It's deep night here, our cats are sleeping in their "snuggling caves" behind me, and a steaming pot of tea is waiting to be consumed while I do the typing. But here we go!

When I entered the convention halls this morning, I had scheduled an early meeting with Ignacy Trzewiczek from PORTAL PUBLISHING, and I was eager to get a look at his new publications Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy and Theseus: The Dark Orbit. Due to my conference it had been quite hard to find a fitting time to meet in our schedules, but in the end we met an hour before opening, and that certainly allowed me to get a taste of both new games.

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Playtesting Session: Theseus: The Dark Orbit (Portal Publishing, Booth 1-E142)

We started off with Theseus: The Dark Orbit, a game for two to four players who take the roles of different factions who want to gain control over a derelict space station. The available factions are the Space Marines, the Aliens, the Scientists and the mysterious Grey, and each of the participating races will dock onto the space station with its own home module. Together with the three modules of the station (The Corridors, the Control Room and the Tech bay, all modules are arranged in a circle to form the whole space station, and each of the player will place three units into these modules to represent his forces on the station. Two units will be placed at each faction's home module, and one unit can be placed freely within any other module.

When the units have been placed, each player will receive his own unique deck of Tech cards, and he will shuffle these cards in order to draw a hand of three. One of these Tech cards can be "installed" on any module of the players' choice, whereas the other two Tech cards will go into preparatory slots on the players' home modules. That's all preparation needed, and at once the players will go into a vicious battle to become the predominant conqueror of the station. This will be measured by wounds dealt to the other factions, and the player with least wounds at the end of the game actually will be declared winner.

During his turn, a player has to move one of his three units in clockwise direction along the modules of the station, and the number of modules is determined by the number of units (own and enemy) in the module where the unit starts its movement. When the unit has arrived at its new module, several steps have to be resolved:

  • First off, the active player will have to check his own and enemy Tech cards which may be installed in this sector. There may be enemy traps which need to be resolved, or useful Tech cards installed by the active player which now may give him some kind of bonus.
  • If there four units in the module, a combat round will be initiated, and the active player's units in the module will deal their combat damage to present enemy units.
  • If the module actually was full (4 units) before the new unit moved in, one unit of the active player's choice will be ousted into space. The owner of this unit may use one of his following turns to re-enter the space station, but he must forfeit all other actions during this turn.
  • After these immediate effects were resolved, the player next may use the action associated with the module he has entered. If it's one of the space stations' own modules, this may trigger an additional movement (Tech Bay), a combat round in all modules (Corridors) or a movement of a Malfunction token (Control Room) which the active player may place on any enemy Tech card within the station. If the player has moved into his home module, he will instead be entitled to an Update token. These tokens may be collected and used as the player whishes, either for upgrading his units or for increasing the efficiency of his installed Tech cards.
  • Finally, the player has to check whether a Tech card is in the preparatory slot of the module. If it's one of his own cards, he may now install it within the module, whereas an enemy card can be discarded and replaced by the next card from the player's own deck.

During the game the players will install more and more Tech cards which will either hamper the other players on their way through the station or will give the owning player some kind of benefit when he enters this sector. By using his Tech cards in clever consideration of the modules and their powers, the players will try to develop a pattern which will give them useful windfall effects like double actions or additional attacks, and despite the fact that the players are allowed a free choice which unit they will move during their turn there are plenty of possibilities to set up more and more complex patterns of Tech-card traps which the opposing players will have to tackle. These effects can be increased even further through efficient movement of a player's units, since a well-timed move into a module containing many enemy units may not only trigger a combat round, but - due to the correlation between the movement allowance and the number of units in a module - this may also force an opponent to make a move which he does not really like because it leads straight into a trap.

The author of Theseus: The Dark Orbit actually is Michal Oracz, and many of you might actually recognize this name because he has already created the brain-teasing sci-fi conflict game Neuroshima Hex. His name stands for gaming quality, and indeed Theseus: The Dark Orbit does not need to shy away from a comparison with Neuroshima Hex. Both games share the fact that the are highly strategic if played with just two players, and they get slightly less predictable if three or four players participate. However, the playing mechanism found in Theseus: The Dark Orbit is rather different, because the players do not move freely within the limits of a hex-gameboard, but instead they follow a galactic "carousel of doom" within the confines of this sinister space station. The players always need to watch their back and keep an open eye for the activities of their opponents, since inattention may lead to fatal errors which are hard to correct in the second half of the game. This poses a great tactical challenge indeed!

Overall, the game offers everything needed for many interesting rounds, especially due to the fact that the factions all have their unique units and Tech cards. In addition, the game even includes a fifth faction which may be used by advanced players, and so I would like to recommend this game to everybody who loves a tough challenge with a sci-fi background!

However, as said earlier, this was not the only game which I was scheduled to test at the booth of PORTAL, and so let's continue right away!

Playtesting Session: Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy (Portal Publishing, Booth 1-E142)

When the first boardgames using the worker placement mechanism appeared some years ago, gamers were fascinated by this new idea, and a virtual flood of games followed which varied the mechanism in the one or other way in order to offer enough originality to allow publication. As with all gaming trends, some of these clones were good and some were awful, but even today the use of this mechanism has not subsided.

I have read about Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy that it would be a loose variation of worker placement, but I had not yet read the rules and so I was quite unprepared what I should expect of the game. Ignacy introduced my to Michiel Hendriks, the author of Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy, and together we launched a two-player game.

Behind the somewhat unusual title hides a game about French aristocrats in the pre-revolutionary time from 1720 to 1780, and the players tke the role of head of families who want to lead their family to fame and glory. However, the game does not simply focus on the deeds of the player's character as the family head, but it will actually run for three generations in which the players will marry, have children and grandchildren. Through marrying interesting partners, the children and grandchildren all will provide the player with interesting extra options or other bonuses, and so the ever growing family tree of the players stands for the gaining of power of the families.

As indicated, the whole game is driven through a worker placement variant, and here it can be found in a way that a player usually can choose two or three actions during his turn. Actions eithetr may be chosen on each player's own (identical) family board or on the main gameboard, with the different that a token placed on one of the actions on the main gameboard will block all other players from chosing this action for this round.

The actions found on the main gameboard are focused on the major deeds which can be performed by the players. They can acquire titles or estates, they can start an enterprise to increase their income or they can get mission cards which - if succesfully performed by meeting their requirements - will bring a bonus to the player. The family board of the players on the other hand displays some of the more family related actions, and these can be chosen as often as a player wants to. These actions are marrying, getting children, socializing or getting money, and these actions give the players access to different elements which they need to build up an "effective" family.

Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy offers a rather versatile playing mechanism, with many elements tuned in a way which allows them to interact with other parts of the game. So, the player's do not just need money to invest in various elements, but another main commodity of the game are personality cards which can mainly be gained through the socializing-action, but which some other actions will provide as well. Whenever a player may take personality cards these will come from an open display or a shuffled deck, and a player will need to build up a hand of male and female personalities in order to find fitting partners for himself and for his children and grandchildren. As indicated, all these personalities have various attributes, and these range from the provision of money or victory points to many different special abilities which may be helpful at the one or other point during the game.

Depending on the fact whether the player has personality cards of a matching sex on his hand, he may use the marry action in order to pair a member of his family with this personality. When a marriage is done, instantly a child card will be drawn, and so the freshly wed couple either will have a son or daughter, or the birth will fail killing child or mother (these were hard times!). More children can be born through another action on a player's family board, and the main board even offers a doctor action which allows the birth of two children at once.

As indicated, the players are highly dependent on marrying their offsprings to well chosen partners, and they will use the benefits gained from these partners to work on other actions like gaining titles, increasing their income or arranging charitable events. As I could experience, an effectively organized family is the key to keep up in this game, but there are a lot of possibilities for combining the effects of various personalities so that the players won't face the problem of running into a dead end.

Of course, there is one limitation, and this certainly is the number of available actions. As indicated, the game is split into three generations, and each generation offers an ever growing number of round which will be played by the players. However, like in many games the number of available actions never will be enough to perform all actions desired, and so the players will need to focus on taking the most important actions while at the same time keeping an eye on the main gameboard in order to make a timely block of an action which otherwise would have been useful for an opposing player.

At the end of each round the players will collect income, and at the end of each generation victory points will be assigned. These are depending on the number of family members in the current generation, the families' fame and other factors, and at the end of the game after the third generation additional points can be gained through successfully completed missions.

On first sight I wasn't sure what I should make of this theme - playing through several generations by making beneficial marriages. I asked myself whether this would be interesting enough to warrant a boardgame, but even after the first rounds here at the SPIEL '13 I have to confess that I am seriously hooked to this game! It's absolutely fascinating to see your family grow during the course of the game, an it's even more interesting to consider how a player's power increases through clever marriages and the use of the finely interwoven available actions. The cartoon-like graphics of the characters first may suggest that Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy is a light game, but this first impression is wrong because an intelligent and rather enjoyable playing mechanism is waiting for the players. What a great start into my first real convention day!

I had spend the better part of the morning at the booth of PORTAL, and the convention now was now fully going with crowded tables and people marching in the corridors. However, it all seemed a bit less "thick" than usual, and so the change of the halls and the increase of the available space really seemed to have some positive effect.

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Navigating my way through Hall 1, I came upon the booth of FRAGOR where my friends Fraser and Gordon Lamont greeted my with a copy of their new game Mush Mush! Snow Tails 2. The game is a further development of Snow Tails, including a mounted gameboard with a great number of alternative tracks printed on both sides. However, the novelties do not just stop with the board, but the Lamonts also have tweaked and finetuned the rules in order to get the game even more fluent than it's predecessor. This allows the inclusion of 8 players in the dog sledge race, and so the rulebook even feature a new competition mode which is based on playing three games in a row. All this is rounded up by some buildings with special functions and some modeling trees, giving the new game a rather unique look. As the Lamonts told me, the game is well received by the public. Nearly a thousand copies were preordered for the SPIEL, and of the remaining 160 freely available copies only 50 were left today.

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Before doing anything else, I next visited the Press showroom for new games. This is always a very useful place in order to get a quick overview of the new games, and once again it proved quite useful that the SPIEL had changed into a different part of the MESSE ESSEN. The Press showroom on first floor now is rather large, and it offers ample of possibilities to present the new games in all their grandeur.

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After checking the showroom my lunchtime had arrived, and this certainly is a good opportunity to check what Ralf has been doing all day!

Hello back again. Frank has finally joined me again and so I can concentrate on the important things (Frank is now again doing all the uploading and other things). Today I was at the fair alone and so there was plenty of time to do the playtesting.

Right after I entered the halls I had an appointment at the booth of REBEL.PL with Maciej Teleglow to try their two new games. So let us right start with my first playtesting:

Playtesting Session: Vikings-Warriors of the North (Rebel.Pl, Booth 1-E142)

Vikings: Warriors of the North is a card-driven game about Viking Jarls, who are fighting for the Konung`s crown. The aim is to bring three daughters of thane from different villages to the player's own war camp. Although Vikings is mainly a card game, we need a board. This shows us part of the Northern sea, with the harbours of up to four players and sea spaces, on which the long ships of the players sail to the villages of the thanes. Also we can find the surrounding lands with a lot of small islands. On our way we have to bear up against the other players (fightings are allowed and desirable) and a sea monster, that is placed in the middle of the board at the beginning of the game. A player's turn consists of three steps. First two new cards are drawn from a deck of action cards. Then a hero card may be played. And finally the player may perform as many actions as he wishes.

Three different type of cards can be found in the game: First the wind cards to move a player's long ship on the board, if that is possible, as the wind cards give us a direction in which we must sail. Second we have event cards. These cards are used in many ways and have quite various effects. A lot of cards are used to influence other player's actions or movements (e.g. to move a long ship of an opponent), some even are played as reaction cards (e.g. to cancel an effect). And then some of the event cards can also be used as wind cards with a given direction. Finally there are hero cards: characters that are played on one of the three spaces of the player boards. The power of most hero cards can be used once per round, but some also have a continual effect on the player's actions. Daughters of thane are also hero cards as long as they are in the player's long ship. There they are of no use, but they block space for other heroes and can be stolen by other players when confronting the ship. After a player has taken his actions, he may also row to move his ship one step further without taking a wind card.

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Next to the actions from we can have from the cards and the special action rowing, there are some standard actions a player can choose from. Most important is the attack. A player can announce an attack if his long ship is in the same space as an opponent's ship or if he moves into the space of the sea monster. The result of the attack is determined by a roll of a dice adding or subtracting bonuses from event cards that were played by the one or other player. The winner of the fight may draw one card from the opponent's hand and takes another one from the action card. If the victory was a decisive one, the attacker may additionally take one of the crew members (hero cards on the player's board, so there is another way to steal one daughter of thane from another player). In case of an success against the sea monster, the player may move it to any space on the board. In our game this was quite useful to block other players. The block works in two ways. On the one hand, the sea monster must be fight to defeat it. But what happened to me, was another way of blocking. Because I had no wind card to move in the direction of the sea monster, I could not attack it, because rowing ends a turn and I was not able to fight the sea monster, so I couldn't do the move. So I had to go back the way I came.

Vikings-Warriors of the North comes in a big box, but it is a fast and easy to learn game. So it seems to be quite simple, but with last years Slavikia and especially Drako, that was published the last the year, REBEL.PL has proven, that they know how to make games with simple rules most fascinating. With Slavikia it took me some time to understand this and I had to play plenty of rounds to really love the game. Vikings-Warriors of the North at once fascinated me. First you think it is just sailing around and you use your cards mainly to move from one point to another. But when you feel that someone is in front, you try to attack him and you learn to use the various effects of your cards. Also a clever use of the sea monster helps winning the game. For me, the blocking of the sea monster helped me, because when I went back the way I came, I moved my ship on a whim to another player and with the help of my heroes I could easily steal him his daughter of thane. So I had tow daughters of thane in my ship and I made it home, before any other player could react.

Vikings-Warriors of the North especially pleased me, because of the great illustrations on the cards. The game took us about an hour, and I think that you could be even faster, if you know the game. For me the game was especially attractive, because of the various effects of the different cards. All this is crying out for an expansion and when I asked Maciej he confessed that the first version had about 200 cards in play. So there are enough ideas for expansions, but before they do it, they have to match the balance and the game durations, because the first version took over 2,5 hours. The final version is now much more pleasant and can also be played several times in an evening. Let us see the success of Vikings-Warriors of the North, maybe there will be an expansion in the next year. From what I saw up to now I would say, that I would love it.

After that I also had a try-out of Rebel's other new game.

Introduction: Mount Everest (Rebel.Pl, Booth 1-E142)

Mount Everest is based on the successful K2. It is a stand-alone game, but it can also be combined with the older mountaineer game. This time we must lead a group of tourist to the top of the mountain. Next to experienced climbers there are also the normal tourist, because nowadays everybody wants to look for the real thrill. We are playing the guards and have to accustom our tourist to the height. This is best done in the lower heights, where there is still enough oxygen. Each of our two guides can carry a camp, oxygen and support some tourist. The more a guide takes from the material, the less tourists he can guide.

Because the tourists are not used to the rare air, the camp is extremely important. If placed in the lower heights, the tourist still can accustom and so they will get more oxygen. Oxygen is very important, because right before to top, the air is extremely thin. This not only results in more movement points you must spent to reach the space, it also reduces the oxygen of each guided tourists enormously. So it is often necessary to use additional oxygen and place an oxygen card instead of a movement card. For only if we are able to guide the tourist to the top and back we are given the full victory points. If however a tourist dies, we loose some of our victory points again.

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At the beginning Mount Everest seems to be an easy game. But when you reach the higher levels of the mountain and oxygen gets low, it is extremely important to find the best places for your camp, and use your movement cards in the right order. In contrast to K2 Mount Everest seems to be the more complex, more difficult game. But I am sure, if you like the older K2 you will master the new game, too, and you will like it. Unfortunately we did not have enough time to reach the top of the mountain, but up to this point, I had a very good feeling about the game.

The games at REBEL.PL took me nearly three hours, so I hurried up to get to my next appointment. At the booth of RAVEN DISTRIBUTION I had an introduction to the new game by ALBE PAVO.

Introduction: Carnival Zombie, Albe Pavo, Hall 1)

For four years now, ALBE PAVO provides us with refreshing new games out of Italy. Founded by three friends, who love playing boardgames, they seem to have made the breakthrough. Especially last year's Winter Tales seems to have found its way to many shelves of boardgamers out of their home country. New cooperation with big distributors like HEIDELBERGER and FANTASY FLIGHT GAMES are a logical consequence. This year I found their new game at the booth of RAVEN DISTRIBUTION, another new successful cooperation.

The game Carnival Zombie takes us in the abyss of Venice's underground. An evil Leviathan lies on the lagoon's bottom and the whole city lies on his back, so the old stories tell us. Now in the game this ancient power comes back to life and sends his servants to overrun the city. No sooner said than done! After this promising introduction every player was seated with three five other followers and was given a character sheet. Additionally we were told, that our task was to flee the city together with our fellow players, who all took over their individual characters, too. Easier said than done. Because what followed was a description of all the horror one can think about.

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Led by Bosses, the most dangerous enemies we can confront in the game, our group must fight its way through Goliaths, Molochs, Incubus and Vermins, all of them former citizens of Venice, who changed into Zombies and want to prevent us from fleeing the city. To face the horror we can equip our characters with various items, especially weapons with fire seems to be extremely useful on those creatures. The game is divided into several rounds of days and nights. In the hours of the nights we must bear up against the evil creatures. This is done in the main section of the board. Each night, a new setup of the surroundings takes place, depending on the actual position of the players on the map of Venice. Besides we may put Barricades on the map, blocking the enemies. What follows is a hide and run and of course lot of attacks by the zombies. Barricades explode next to us due to the attacks of the bosses and other infected. Whenever a player's character is to hit by an enemy, his stress level increases. This can result in a serious prey to the terror and ends in a incapacitation. The goal of each night turn is survive until we finally can take an exit out of section by the end of the night. OK, to die is not possible, but if we have a serious incapacitation it is nearly a death.

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Luckily enough what follows is a day turn. And in this we can reinforce our barricades, equip us with new items, rest to reduce our stress level and even reactivate one of the incapacitated. This is quite useful, because we can only win the game, if we are able to flee the terror together. And then of course we use the day time to travel along the roads of Venice. The goal of the whole game is to escape Venice or - if you fell strong enough - to kill the leviathan. There are three different finals, depending to where our feet carry us. But the game seems not to be too easy. Although played in the beginner level, people were far away from reaching one of the finals, so I cannot tell you about this one right now.

On the other hand I can tell you that Matteo Santus (the author) and ALBE PAVO once again have surprised me. Next to the unconventional, but excellent illustrations by Jocolaris, I found very many new ideas in the game. Still - from my first impression - the game seems to be perfectly balanced and to work very well. As usual if you take a game of ALBE PAVO you don't have a casual game in your hands, but some refreshing new ideas combined with a new game feeling and outstanding artworks. Casual gamers could be unable to cope with the game, but I recommend all experienced players to test at least one of the games by this publisher. The new Carnival Zombie in my opinion does not seem to be the worst for this test...

After that I looking for something faster. Having screened the big booth of G3 the last day, I went to find a seat for their new Enclave: Zakon Kranca Swiata. I had an appointment with Bartosz Kanafa, but when I reached there there was no free table. So I came back after twenty minutes and this time we had luck and found a table.

Introduction: Enclave: Zakon Kranca Swiata (G3, booth 1-F139 )

In the game we are retrievers who try to steal inventions and devices from an enclave of former Masters of the manhood. For this we visit different places every round to do the various things. There are six different places we can go, but we are only allowed to visit four in a round. First of all, the order of going to the visits is determined by the players. Beginning with the start player and beginning with order token one, each player places the next order token to one of the six places. This determines the order in which the places are dealt with.

After that we secretly one by one choose a place we want to visit in the round. For this we have tokens of every place and we secretely choose one. After a command every player reveals where he plans to go. If there is only one player who chose a place in that turn, he places a cube on the next free position at this place. If however there are two or more players who have chosen the same place at the same time, the order is determined by an order track, that is set at the beginning of the game. The order on this track can be changed in another of the places. After we all secretly have chosen four places we want to visit and have revealed the places and thus determined the order of the players at every place, the places are dealt with in the order we have determined before. In some places we can buy new items to improve our skills (mental and physical), get protective cards to take with us into the fights or to increase our machine power (to take more cards into fights and to get better prices when selling items). But the cards must be paid, so there is the possibility to go to a kind of bank to get some more money, too. At this place for example the order of the players determine how much money a player receives. Fightings take place in another place where we go on missions. These missions are extremely important to win extraordinary power and additional money. In the fights we first choose which protective cards we take with us (up to the number of our actual limitation). Then in most cases trap cards are drawn to determine the final attacking level of the physical and mental power. We can use our protective cards to block those attacks, but if this is not enough we must take the damage to our retriever. In case of a success, if we did not reach our limit of physical or mental points, we are rewarded with new items (that can be sold immediately instead of taking them), knowledge points and - if we are lucky - tree points. Those tree points can be very important to end the game early, because four tree cards in one hand determine the winner, too. Of course there are also healing potions to buy to regain mental and physical power.

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Another important place we can visit are tree cards, where we can do some additional actions and can exchange our knowledge points into victory points. Each round a different tree card is dealt with and there are more cards than you use for one game. At the beginning we randomly draw tree cards for this game, so each games differs from another slightly. The game ends after the fifth round or if one player has collected four of the tree cards.

When I first saw Enclave: Zakon Kranca Swiata it seemed much more complicated that it was in the end. It is the great board that evokes a feeling of complexity. But in the end it is all about choosing to where you are going and fulfilling the available actions in the places. Although I expected something totally different, I liked playing the game. Together with Bartosz I did a two-player game. That was OK for learning the game but I think the game is designed for three or four players. In that case the order of the players at the various places is much more important. If you see an item in the outlay you want to buy, you should choose this place very early, otherwise another player could be faster and take it away. It is the same with the tree cards. There is only a limited number of knowledge tokens we can exchange for victory points in a round. So when the guys before you had already exchanged too many tokens, you won't have the chance to exchange more of them. Enclave: Zakon Kranca Swiata looks great and is also a very nice game, but I think it won't please everybody. Probably it is especially interesting for players who like games with a great story, great illustrations, but without too much complexity. I also think that if you are familiar with the game it can be played very fast. I really would like to play the four player variant to tell you more about the game, but for today I had to hurry up to do my final playtesting.

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Finally for this day I went to the booth of CGE, where I have been yesterday already. This time Vít Vodicka was prepared and had reserved one of his tables.

Playtesting Session: Tash Kalar: Arena of Legends (Czech Games Edition, Booth 1-D140)

Is there still anybody, who does not know Vlaada Chvátil? A line of extraordinary and successful games over the last ten years should be proof enough for everybody. If you still not know a game of this author, here comes another game, that seems to be worth trying. Tash Kalar: Arena of Legends, again published by CZECH GAMES EDITION, of course a kind of home publisher for Vlaada, and it is a game about masters of magic. Two or more players, formed in teams or fighting for themselves, demonstrate their power in a arena fight. In my testing round I only played with Vít and so it was a fight one against one. As magicians we do not fight in person, but we summon powerful beings, that try to destroy the other beings of our opponent. Don't get your hands dirty, just send your servants! Magician seem to be a desirable profession. It is only hard to learn. Up to now I did not summon anything, but I am still trying...

OK, back to the game. Before we started, we had to choose between two game methods. The first one is called the high form, because you not only fight your enemy, but you score points for fulfilling various task that are given by a special task board. The other variant is to simply kill as many enemies as possible. We started with the first variant. After we both got our individual and unique set of cards (and beings), divided into decks of flares and legends, we could begin fighting against each other. For this we choose between two actions (2 actions per turn are allowed): placing a common piece on any empty square or summoning a new being with the help of our cards. Now you could wonder, why someone would like to place a common piece instead of summoning a powerful being.

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The reason is, that we need a specific pattern to summon a powerful being. The cards show us where a being is summoned on the map and what requirements we need to summon it. This requirement is always a specific pattern of some of our beings already on the map. So there could be a pattern necessary with two common beings next to each other and another higher being two spaces away from these beings. All beings summoned by cards have there special effects. And these special effects increase in power with the complexity of the pattern used to summon the being. If the target square is occupied the piece on this space it is destroyed. Some beings really have strong effects, for example to do three combat moves in which you can destroy up to three more of your enemies. Or there is a gun turret, that destroys every piece in a straight line in front of it.

Bering mainly a card game, Tash Kalar: Arena of Legends needs the board to show where your and your opponent's being are located and which pattern is necessary to summon the being. The game was very simple to learn. It took me only about 5 minutes to understand the rules. But despite the simplicity of the rules, the game seems to turn into deep tactical fights. It is extremely important, but at the beginning not too easy to see the required patterns on the board. Here an experienced player has clear advantages. But I learnt fast and in my second game, I was already much better. Having played two games, I must say that the game is really great. For me, up to know, it is one of the real highlights of this year. I especially liked the unique and individual decks of each player. The texts on the cards give the players a lot of different actions, so that your opponent will often be surprised and all of his plans must be abandoned. And then, of course, it is a Chvátil, that alone is reason enough to have many other try-outs. For me definetly another must-buy.

With this great game I will leave it for today. It is late in the evening and I will get some rest for the next day. See you again tomorrow...

With my lunch of pasta with tuna finished, this seems to be the right time for me to go on. My next stop was planned to be the International Gamers Awards ceremony at the Boardgamegeek-booth, but on my way I stopped at the booth of GIGANTOSKOP (1-D117) where Peter Hansson had invited me to collect something for the Prize Draw. So, I visited Peter, and he sponsored a copy of Primate Fear which I will add to the raffle!

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Walking just a few booths further, I arrived at the BGG-booth, and here the IGA-jury was coming together to hand out this year's awards.

International Gamers Awards Ceremony

The SPIEL is the one occasion each year when many members of our jury come together, and the awards ceremony probably is the best occasion to meet all present committee members on one place. On the photo below you see Ronal Hoekstra, Andrea Ligabue, Mik Svellov, Alan How, Knut Wolf, Stuart Dagger and Han Heidema (left to right), but Ferdinand de Cassan, Scott Alden and me also were present.

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As usual, Stuart Dagger was hosting the ceremony, and the awards in the Multiplayer-category was given to Terra Mystica by Jens Drögemüller and Helge Ostertag which had been published by FEUERLAND SPIELE.

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Now Alan How took over the hosting from Stuart, and in the two-player category he could hand the awards once again to a well-known IGA winner from former years. Uwe Rosenberg could claim this awards for Le Havre: The Inland Harbour which is published by LOOKOUT GAMES.

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After the ceremony the committee members once again spread out to follow their own interests, and for me it was high time for some more playtesting! I went into Hall 3 to vist the booth of REPOS PRODUCTION, and here I checked out two of the new games.

Playtesting Session: Mascarade (Repos Production, Booth 3-C104)

It's quite unbelievable, but it has been 13 years ago when Bruno Faidutti first published his rather successful cardgame Citadels back in the year 2000. As a core element, this game was focused on the players taking and changing the roles of characters at a medieval court, and all of these different roles came with different special powers which then could be used by the players. To give the game a certain degree of uncertainly, the players only had a vague idea which roles the others might have chosen for the upcoming round, and this usually resulted in surprising situations since the special abilities of some characters allowed the players to steal from or even murder another character, and the victim of such an action might well be a different player than originally intended. In the end, the players tried to use their characters from round to round to gain enough money to build a certain number of buildings, and once a player had succeeded in building eight buildings the game came to its end. Victory points were assigned on the basis of completed buildings and some minor extras, but the winner was quite often the same player who had caused the game to end by placing his eighth building.

Why am I telling this as an introduction to Bruno Faidutti's new game Mascarade? Well, the answer is easy enough, since first contact with Mascarade may leave the impression that the game actually is a simplified clone of Citadels. In its core mechanism the players once again take changing roles at a medieval court, but all the fancy extras like different types and functions of buildings have been abolished. Instead, the game focuses on the characters and their special abilities, with the notable difference that the players will not always know which character they currently represent.

At the beginning of the game each player is randomly assigned a character card and six coins of gold, and before the game starts all characters will be revealed so that everybody knows who is who at this moment. Then all character cards will be turned face down and the game will start.

During their turns the players can perform one of three actions:

  • A player may take his own character card and the card of another player, mix them both under the table and then return one character to himself and one character to the player from whom he has taken the other card. This may result in the players changing their characters or both of them staying the same character. Only the active player knows whether he has changed the cards or not.
  • If a player has forgotten who he is (or if he is not sure anymore), he may use his turn to look at his character card. But he may do nothing else during this turn.
  • Finally - and that's where the spice comes into the game - the player may announce that he wants to use his character's ability. Now in turn all other players will be asked whether they claim to be the same character. This may result in different situations. If only the active player claims to be the character whose ability he wants to use, he may use the ability and keep his character card secret. However, if one or more other players proclaim to be the same character, the character cards of all involved players (including the active player) will be revealed and only the player who really is the character in question may perform the character's action. All other players have to pay a fine to the bank.

As I have indicated earlier, all characters in the game have different abilities, and the players will try to use these abilities to be the first player to collect 13 or more coins. If a player successfully collects this sum, the game is instantly over and this player has won.

Looking at the different character abilities, some of the characters like the King or Queen have very straightforward abilities, simply offering the players to collect 2 or 3 coins from the bank. Other characters collect money in a more interactive way, like the Thief who steals money from the player's right and left neighbors, the Judge who takes all fines from the bank or the Peasant (the only character available twice) who collects more money of both Peasants are revealed during the same turn. The Spy and the Fool on the other hand have abilities allowing their players an exchange of character cards plus the checking of a card's identity or the gaining of an additional coin, and the Cheat even allows a player to win with 10 instead of 13 coins. Quite nasty is the Witch who allows a player to exchange his fortune with the money collected by another player, or the Inquisitor who may challenge another player to correctly guess his character card. If the guess fails, that player must pay some coins to the Inquisitor.

This information is actually all you need to know to envision Mascarade in action, and as you can see the players need a good memory and outstanding bluffing abilities to prevail in this game. Thus, if an exchange of character cards is performed by the active player, all other players constantly will try to guess whether the active player really has changed the cards or whether the involved cards simply were returned to their respective owners. As this kind of guessing is the most predominant feature of the game, it becomes clear that individual planning and strategy is far less pronounced because of the constant interference of the other players. Especially if played with a high number of players (the game can be played with a range of 2 to 13 players), a player may well find himself involved in two or three card exchanges before he will take another turn. This makes it virtually impossible to plan ahead, but instead a player has to rely on the bits of information he might have about his current character, executing his character's abilities whenever the chance appears. Here it comes in handy that a player is allowed to challenge a bluff of another player, so that the players do not always have to wait before they become active player once again.

Despite the fact that special rules are included, the game cannot really be recommended for two or three players because the additional rules seem to overburden the game's generally slim and elegant design. Instead, Mascarade shows its real strength if played in a larger group of people, provided everybody is willing to invest a bit of care into the ongoing character exchanges. If everybody tries to follow the game, the game offers both atmosphere and hilarious situations - and that's everything needed for a great group experience.

Staying at the booth of REPOS, I was lucky because a group on a table next to me just ended a game of Rampage, and so I could just change over in order to continue there.

Playtesting Session: Rampage (Repos Production, Booth 3-C104)

There had been some rumors about a destructive monster game from REPOS PRODUCTION already before the SPIEL '11 convention, but now - 2 ½ years later - the new game Rampage finally has hit the shelves. Just like King of Tokyo, Rampage challenges the players to take the roles of movie monsters on a destructive trip, but instead of solely fighting each other the players now have a new primary target to crush, crumble and chomp - MEEPLE CITY and its "meeplish" inhabitants.

Of course, fighting among the player-controlled monsters is allowed and encouraged, but the most important aim of the game will be the consumption of meeples. Before the destructive trip can begin, the players set up a three-dimensional city gameboard, featuring six buildings of different size and height. Each of these buildings consists of several floors, but instead of pillars supporting the floors a number of meeples will be placed on each floor in order to support the placement of the next floor. From a monster perspective, the buildings look like a lovely sandwich of floorboards and tasty meeples!

Now comes the decisive question: can this all be turned into a strategic boardgame? The answer is simple - no, it can't. Indeed, Rampage does not even try to be a normal boardgame, but instead it belongs to the species of dexterity games where titles like Carrabande, Dungeon Fighter or Safranito can be found. So, there will be no dice to be rolled and strategic decisions to be made. The players will simply have to rely on their primitive monster instincts and go straight into the fray!

The monster figures start the game in the corners of the gameboard, and each figure actually is placed onto a round disk which forms the feet of the monster. When a player wants to move his monster, he removes the figure and then flicks the feet-disk with his fingers, placing the monster figure once again upon the top of the disk when the movement is over. If a monster comes to stand next to a building, it's demolition time! The player takes the monster off its feet, holds it above the building and drops the figure upon the building. This usually will result in the partial collapse of one or more floors, and all meeples falling from these floors into the same neighbourhood can be eaten by the active player at the end of his turn (with the number of eaten meeples depending on the number of teeth in the monster's mouth).

Meeples leaving the board during such an attack have escaped, and they will be placed on a special runaway board where they will be sorted by colour. Whenever one of the coloured areas is full, the active monster will suffer a detrimental effect, so that the escape of red "Hero" meeples may effect a 'heroic save', forcing the player to return some eaten meeples to the gamebox, whereas green "Soldier" meeples may call in an 'Air Strike' which results in the monster loosing some of its teeth.

If a monster is in the same neighbourhood as a vehicle, the active player can opt to toss the vehicle by placing it onto his monster's head and flicking it with his finger. This is an effective variant because it allows the attacking a building from its side instead of its top. Finally, a player also may opt to place his chin on top of his monster's figure in order to blow a destructive gust of wind into the city. No garlic is allowed here!

To give the game some variation, each monster has been assigned a random Special Power by the beginning of the game which allows some kind of special action which is available to that player for all the game. In addition, each monster also gets a Secret Superpower which only can be used once, and a Character card which will be used during the final evaluation. Taken together these powers give the monsters some "personality".

The game is over when the last floor of the final building has been destroyed, and now all players will calculate their victory points on basis of consumed meeples and floors and remaining teeth. Each set of six differently coloured meeples will score some victory points, and the Character card of each monster will list some conditions for bonus points. So, a "Romantic" monster will get bonus points for each pair of Hero and Blonde meeples eaten, whereas a "Pacifist" monster will earn bonus points if it has eaten more Soldier meeples than all other players. A "Brawler" even gets bonus points for teeth taken from other monsters, and a "Scrap Merchant" wins points if vehicles end the game on ruins spaces. There is a sheer endless list of possible combinations of Character cards, Special Powers and Secret Powers, and while the basic rules prescribe the random distribution of all cards, a variant suggests that a choice of cards should be given to each player in order to get tailor-made monsters.

Rampage is a pure entertainment game, and it scores very high especially with children who quickly fall in love with the destructive approach taken in the game. Likewise, gamers who are in for some movement and action also may go for a round of Rampage, and for these target groups the game offers some high-class nonsense. Authors Antoine Bauza and Ludovic Maublanc really have left their normal hunting grounds for the creation of this loony game, but it must be conceded that all rules correspond well and that the destruction of Meeple City is a hell of a fun!!! All that's missing now is a fifth player expansion, allowing that player to take the role of the army with tanks and airplanes - but who knows what the future may bring…

The afternoon had passed on quite well by now, and on the neighboring KOSMOS booth I saw Michael Menzel, the author of Legends of Andor who was quite busy signing and hand out mini-expansions for his game. I had observed earlier that the queues of waiting people had been more than 50 meters long, and Michael had been signing for a long time to satisfy all waiting people.

[SPIEL]

Many of you will remember that I had presented you my thoughts on Legends of Andor during my reports from the SPIEL '12, and now - one year later - I am rather happy to see what has become of the game. Die Legenden von Andor turned out to be one of the big surprises of the SPIEL '12 convention, and the game was deservedly awarded the Kennerspiel des Jahres awards in 2013. The game offers a well-constructed, unusal cooperative mechanism, and - in contrast to other fantasy games - it is absolutely no hack 'n' slay dungeon crawler, but instead the players need to plan their actions carefully in order to avoid running out of time.

But now, let's dip a bit deeper into the world of Andor!

Introduction: Die Legenden von Andor - Der Sternenschild (Kosmos, Booth 3-B118)

Die Legenden von Andor offers a good degree of variation, a quite surprising fact for a game which is basically split into five missions (two of which are tutorials for learning the game). This variation is reached by the use of several variants for crucial mission cards, and it gives the players a good replay value even if all missions have been played through.

However, the most avid fans of the game will have reached a point where all the included variant cards have been played through, and now they will long for new missions because they would like to get even deeper into the world of Andor. This is the point where the new expansion Die Legenden von Andor - Der Sternenschild comes onto the stage, and in this expansion hard-bitten Andor-fans once again should find enough new playing materials for long hours of play.

With Die Legenden von Andor winning some prestigious prices, there have been some hopes that a big expansion for the game would be released, including a new double-sided gameboard with new settings for even more thrilling adventures. These hopes have not been fulfilled, and so Der Sternenschild comes in a rather small box which includes just a deck of mission cards and some punchboards. However, the expansion is sold for approximately 12 Euro, and Andor-fans will get real great value in return for this comparatively low price.

Quite astonishingly, the whole expansion includes just one single new mission, but as the comic-like rulebook suggests this mission can be played in a lot of different ways. For the creation of the expansion Michael Menzel has focused on the strength of the basic game - variation of missions by including variant cards, and for the new Sternenschild-mission the amount of these variant cards has been greatly increased. In fact, mission assembly requires the players to add a variant card at three positions, and for each of these positions exists a choice of four or five variant cards so that these variants should allow for many different ways to play Der Sternenschild.

Without giving a spoiler here, a bit of the new mission elements can be gathered from the gamebox and an overview of the materials from the new punchboards. So, the expansion includes a dark temple, a catapult and a siege tower as major 3-dimensional elements, and in addition a lot of other parts can be found. New non-player characters of a Thief and a Cartographer can be found alongside with new monsters like a Fire Ghost or a horrible Kraken, and in addition other tokens for fire, light, tree trunks, mushrooms and a key hint at the various situations which may be found on the new mission cards. A few new items for the heroes are includes as well, but it's hard to guess for which reasons a flute, an hourglass or a torch may be used.

Lurking prominent on the box cover, the players also will find a wolf included in the expansion. Actually, it's not just one wolf but a pack of three, and concerning these wolves some hints can be found that they are not just a new type of enemies, but the players also have a chance to befriend the leader of the pack, making him a valuable ally to their cause…

But enough of this speculation. One thing seems to be certain, and this is the fact that Die Legenden von Andor - Der Sternenschild seems to be packed up to its brink with exciting new ideas which will bring interesting new challenges to senior Andor players. Judging by the great implementation of the various elements of the basic game, Michael Menzel seemed to have cared the same way about the creation of an harmonious expansion, and so there is no doubt that players will quickly grab their equipment and return to the world of Andor!

This quick check of the components of the Andor-expansion ended my day at the SPIEL, and I went over into Hall 1 were I was meeting with Ralf and Melanie and Michael, two friends from Cologne who visit the SPIEL each year. After leaving the convention halls Ralf headed home in order to prepare his own report, but Melanie and Michael came along to my own home where Nicole was preparing dinner after this long day at the SPIEL!

So long, and so you back here tomorrow for another day of SPIEL-madness!!!

[SPIEL]

Saturday, 26th of October 2013

Hello again!

Phew, after last night's long typing session I had been sleepless for some time, and so this morning saw me back at the show with barely four hours of sleep. Well, it's a bit different tonight. Even though I still have some hours of typing in front of me, we will have the change of the daylight-saving time tonight, which means that the clock will go one hour backwards. That means hour hour more sleep tomorrow morning - a great relief indeed!

But enough of these time issues, let's go right into the SPIEL where I had scheduled a meeting with my friend Konstantinos from ARTIPIA GAMES in order to play Archon: Glory & Machination.

Playtesting Session: Archon: Glory & Machination (Artipia Games, Booth 1-D137)

Over the last two years the team from the Greek publisher ARTIPIA GAMES has surprised us with some rather interesting novelties, ranging from the worker-placement based Drum Roll to a deckbuilding game like Briefcase. In 2012 they have actually discovered the usefulness of crowdfunding, and after the successful release of Briefcase and Among the Stars they had launched yet another crowdfunding-project in 2013. This time they are taking us to the medieval city of Cardis where the players take the role of Archons competing for the King's favour, and the winner of this contest will be found after a total of three seasons during which the players will score victory points by their activities.

Each of the aforementioned seasons once again is subdivided into three rounds, and during each round the players have the possibility to send up to five pawns which represent their courtiers to different municipal buildings on the gameboard. As can be guessed from this, the basic element of the game Archon: Glory & Machination is a worker-placement mechanism, since each of the available municipal buildings features different attributes which can be used if a courtier is sent there. Depending on the number of players, all of the municipal buildings feature a limited number of slots where the players can send their courtiers, and so the number of available slots shrinks as the round is progressing. Only after the end of the round all courtiers are removed and all municipal buildings become once again available for the next round.

Most of the municipal buildings on the board help the players to set up a "production chain" which ultimately leads to the gaining of victory points. So, some municipal buildings allow the collection of resources, gold and recruitment tokens, and these in turn may be spent in different combinations in other municipal buildings to purchase Arts and Science cards, to hire warriors for the Royal Guard or to build player-owned buildings. These player-owned buildings offer the players some special abilities which will benefit them for the rest of the game, with most of them making actions at particular municipal buildings more efficient. In addition, each round some special kind of action is possible at the King's Palace due to a card which is revealed there, and so the players will face some additional variety when choosing their actions.

By the end of a season, the players will turn their Arts and Science cards into victory points with their value depending on a King's Grant card which was revealed by the beginning of the season, and their hired warriors will be used to defend the city against an invasion force which has arrived to attack the city. If the total strength of all warriors hired by the players is equal or higher than the strength of the invasion force card drawn for this season, the players will successfully defend the city, but if the total number of warriors is not strong enough the city will be plundered and the players will lose resources and other commodities depending on how many warriors they have provided for the (unsuccessful) defense of the city.

As a matter of fact, the splitting of the game into seasons, coupled with the use of the municipal buildings and the end of season attack of the invasion force gives Archon a superficial likeness to the older dice-placement game of Kingsburg, but in Archon no dice are used at all, and in addition the worker-placement mechanism used in Archon has been varied in a quite interesting way. Thus, the players do not simply pay an amount of gold or resources when placing their courtiers at the municipal buildings, but instead each player possesses a hand of Courtier and Magister cards which must be used to pay for a placement. This needs to be explained with a bit more detail:

At the beginning of the game, each player receives a deck of 8 identical Courtier cards, and in addition each player is allowed to hire two different Magisters which also become part of the player's deck. Then the player separates his deck into two sets of five cards, taking one set as his hand for the current round and leaving the other set to become his hand during the following round. The distribution of the cards into both sets is left to the player, and so the players have to decide in advance in which round they want to get which card. This is repeated by the beginning of the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 9th round, and at these instances the players have do some advance planning to decide on the best use for each card.

At the beginning of the game this process is rather short since all 8 Courtier cards in the players' decks are identical, but during the course of the game the players will hire additional Magisters which will replace the Courtier cards in their decks. Apart from the fact that Magisters are more valuable when it comes to paying for making a placement at a municipal building, each of the four available types of Magisters also has a special ability which comes to bear when the Magister is used to make a placement:

  • If the Tax Collector is used, the player places a special token together with the courtier which he has sent to a municipal building. For the rest of the round, all other players who want to place a courtier at that building have to pay a coin to the owner of the Tax Collector.
  • The Cleric allows a player to send a courtier to a municipal building where all slots have been taken. Thus, he provides an additional free slot in excess to the slots given on the gameboard.
  • When playing the Scribe, the active player is allowed to take an additional turn, thus making two placements of courtiers in a row.
  • Finally, the Merchant allows a more efficient placement at a building which generates resources, gold or recruitment tokens, since he collects one more unit than usual.

As can be seen, Archon is no normal worker-placement game because the Magisters and their handling add another dimension to the whole placement process. Of course, guessing the other players' actions for two rounds still remains somewhat unpredictable, but the players still are able to get a general idea which targets their competitors may try to reach. With this understanding they will try to distribute their Magisters in a way which seems fitting for the upcoming two rounds, and so the players certainly are challenged to do some more advance planning than in games using a "pure" worker-placement mechanism. Coupled with its unusual artwork, Archon can score with a high degree of originality which sets the game positively apart from the usual mainstream, and it should really be tried by all players who want to experience a placement mechanism with a new twist!!!.

[SPIEL]

After this interesting experience I walked through the halls to get to DAYS OF WONDER in order to try to test another game which had captured my interest, but I actually came upon a second booth of Czech publisher CGE which made me stop. For the last 1 ½ years I have been playing the one or other boardgame adaption on my tablet computer, but now I saw an announcement that CGE actually would be publishing a computerized version of Galaxy Trucker. Talking to a CGE representative at the booth, I was told that the release of Galaxy Trucker was planned to happen within the next two or three months, and the game will be published for all major systems. Even better, work on Through the Ages, another great game from CGE, was progressing well, and the program designer responsible for the project told me that he was hopeful to finish the project by the middle of 2014. However, he pointed out that this was a rough estimation, especially because he wants to develop a good artificial intelligence which poses a real challenge to the players.

[SPIEL]

Resuming my way, I reached the booth of DAYS OF WONDER, and here I was lucky to instantly find a free place on a gaming table.

Playtesting Session: Relic Runners (Days of Wonder, Booth 3-E102)

Drawing on the franco-belgian tradition of illustrated comic books (bande dessinée), the colourful and attractive graphical design of all game components has become a distinctive trademark of the publishing house DAYS OF WONDER. Their rise began with the publishing of Ticket to Ride back in the year 2004, and at that time the most esteemed illustrator for German boardgames had been Doris Matthäus who had been asked to create the artwork for many a game. As indicated, DAYS OF WONDER had chosen a different approach with comic-like designs, and even today the artwork of their new game Relic Runners is of the same high quality as all the earlier games. However, from my perspective it is noteworthy that other publishers followed in the wake of DAYS OF WONDER winning the Spiel des Jahres awards with Ticket to Ride, and so the games market has been effectively enriched with new styles of artwork stemming mainly from franco-belgian publishers.

The game Relic Runners takes the players into the depths of the South American jungle, and each player takes the role of an explorer who moves out from the common basecamp in search of the most valuable relics. Ruins and temples can be found in the jungle, and it is the temples where the players will gain victory points in different forms. In the ruins, no victory points can be gained, but instead the exploration of a ruins space allows a player to place a marker of his colour on one of the pathways leading to this space, thus marking it as "explored" and allowing the player a speedy use of this path in the following turns.

Talking about pathways, the movement of the playing pieces is indeed the most peculiar fact which can be found in the rules of this game. The colourful graphics on top of the gamebox may give the impression that the game features a light hunt for hidden treasures, but in fact the movement of the treasure hunters is more tricky than expected. Thus, a player may move his pawn each turn for one SINGLE unexplored pathway, but before OR after this single movement the player is allowed to move his pawn for an unlimited number of linked pathways on which exploration markers of his colour had been placed. Thus, it is sensible to explore ruins and place exploration markers in a way which facilitates quick movement during later turns.

As indicated, the players' movement also may lead to temples, and during setup temples of three different colours had been evenly distributed on the gameboard. Each temple is made up of three levels (tiles stacked on top of each other), and whenever a player visits a temple he is allowed to collect the topmost tile still available. The function and value of the temple tiles depends on the colour of the temples:

  • Most straightforward are the blue temples, since their tiles feature different values of victory points. Whenever a player explores a blue temple, he takes the topmost tile and may secretly look of the tile's value. Then the tile will be stored face-down with the player's other possessions and wait for the final evaluation.
  • Purple temples on the other hand provide mostly in-game benefits. A player may receive some additional rations, or he may be allowed to place or move a toolbox marker on a progression table printed on his explorer's playing chart, and depending on the positioning of the toolboxes on the progression table the player later may gain some other benefits.
  • Most variety can be found in ivory temples, since here the different levels of the temples feature rather different kinds of benefits. So, some permanent-effect tiles can be found on the temples' top level, allowing the players who have taken these tiles to score some victory points for certain actions during the game or some other in-game benefits. The second level of the ivory temples contains tiles with rather strong single-use abilities (special movements, selecting a tile when exploring a temple etc.), and the basement level finally features tiles which give bonuses at the end of the game (for unused rations, explored pathways, collected temple tiles etc.).

As the movement rules require the players to move their pawns on every turn, staying at a temple in order to simply collect one temple-tile per turn is out of the question. Thus, the players will move around on the board, and their movement actually becomes a run whenever the last tile on a ruins or temple space has been explored. If this happens, a shrine will be revealed, and a relic-figure matching the shrine's colour will be placed on that space. These relics open up one of the most efficient ways to collect victory points during the course of the game, since a player who is able to start and end his turn's movement on different spaces featuring a relic of the same colour will be rewarded for such a successful "relic expedition". This player will instantly receive some victory points depending on the number of pathways he has used to make his movement, and in addition he will receive the relic-figure from the space where he ended his movement. When the game is over, each differently coloured relic figure will be worth a bonus of five victory points.

There are some more additional elements in the rules like rations and the progression tables which have just been mentioned above, but it should have become clear that the main mechanisms of the game focus not on adventures á la Indiana Jones but on strategic, planned movements of the players' explorers. Indeed, the game should not be mistaken for a light pastime activity, since the different types of special actions and scoring possibilities take some time to get used to. First time players will feel a bit overwhelmed with the different contents of the temples plus the abilities provided on their progression tables, and it's not too easy to predict sensible placements of exploration tokens in order to help on future relic expeditions. For these reasons the game plays best with a crew of players who share the same experience level, since otherwise the newcomers will have to fight an uneven contest against the more experienced players.

At this point the question remains whether the actual game found in the box of Relic Runners will meet the expectation of the people who have purchased it. There is certainly a lot of "running" on the gameboard, but the game is not as fleet-footed as might be hoped for. Especially when playing with new players there are some periods of downtime when the implications and possibilities of discovered temple tiles will be weighted and when the players try to judge the most sensible route for their next movement. This stands in contrast to the fact that the usefulness of the benefits provided by the temple tiles mostly depends on a player's drawing luck when obtaining such a tile, and so this element luck stands a bit in contrast to the diverse scoring possibilities which can be found in the game.

The morning had passed quickly due to these two playtesting sessions, and for the moment I wants to get a moment of fresh air at the inner courtyard. On my way there I came to the booth if INDIE BOARDS AND CARDS, and there I used the possibility for a short chat with Travis Worthington about the future of the firefighting game Flash Point. Travis had brought two new expansions for the game to the SPIEL '13, Extreme Danger and Dangerous Waters. The former actually contains the long awaited set of personalized firefighter figures, and Travis told me that he was planning to publish more expansions for the game in 2014. The game has found quite a big community of fans, and so Travis doesn't want to disappoint all those people longing for even more interesting challenges.

[SPIEL]

The inner courtyard actually was only a few steps away from INDIE BOARDS AND CARDS, and so I stepped out into the small "Biergarten" wehich had opened there. While I rejoiced in the sun, let's have a look what Ralf was doing today!

[SPIEL]

And again another day of the fair has begun. For me it was a short day, because I had to stay at home until early afternoon. My wife had to work and so it was my time to look after the children, and so I had only time for a few games, but I think I chose some very interesting ones.

The halls were very crowded today. A lot of families had come with their children and so there was much more traffic at the booths of the bigger publishers than in the days before. However some of the small publishers with more complex games had more free tables today. It is always very interesting how the fair changes from one day to another. What I also think to be very remarkable is the fact, that a lot of people seem to visit the fair only for bargain hunting. I must admit, that there are really some great offers. Especially HEIDELBERGER got into the habit of selling older games at the fair for very little money. This year they even had a kind of doorman. Only a limited number of people were allowed to enter the shopping zone at the same time. So each day a long queue formed before the entrance.

[SPIEL]

Having passed this queue I went to the booth of GIOCHIX.IT to meet Michele Quondam again. This time he could spare some time for me and explained his new game.

Introduction: Romolo o Remo (Giochix.it, Booth 1-C123)

Michele's newest game is named after the central characters of Rome's foundation: Romolo o Remo?. Next to the two famous brothers, two more players can take the role of Kings of new cities in the Latium and fight for the control of the whole region and become founders of a new civilization, that will soon after rule the whole world. Well at least that was what I read about the game before and so I wanted quickly to start to find out more.

Michele explained that in the game the territory, in which our fights take place, is formed by hexagonal landscape tiles. For each player number there is a given pattern of the landscape and each player starts with three landscape tiles around his capital already revealed. The rest of the land is hidden, i.e. the landscape tiles lie face-down. As they were randomly drawn at the beginning, no one knows the type of landscape under the hidden tiles. Each player also starts with some workers, a tower, a farm and a warehouse, that he may place on his three landscape tiles as he likes. In the game we can acquire workers, soldiers, mercenaries and explorers. Most of these game pieces have two actions per round. Of course moving is one of the main actions, because it is the only possibility to extend your empire. As said, at the beginning of the game most of the land is unexplored. It must be explored, before anyone can set foot on it. With this exploration we can find different landscape types.

[SPIEL]

When exploring the landscape, there is an interesting rule called the river rule. Whenever a player finds a water tile, he has to check if there is only one other unexplored landscape tile adjacent to this water tile. In that case, this landscape tile is also turned into a water, independent what type of landscape it is (the landscape tile is exchanged for a water tile). If this condition is met again, it can result in the development of a big river. This again can make all former plans to nought. A very clever rule to further develop the country. It seemed that Michele is very proud of this rule.

Next to the movement of your workers, soldiers and mercenaries, you can construct new buildings and product resources. There are many different buildings like a farm, a temple or a quarry. All these buildings give the players a specific bonus like a higher production or a supply of our armies. With the production actions we can produce resources, depending on the type of the landscape tile and altered by buildings, at least if you have any. Those resources can be used to supply our armies, to build specific buildings and also they can be sold or bought at a market. The market prizes are determined at a simple stock exchange and do change by our buying and selling. If you have bought the game you also should check the market app for mobile phones that tracks the actual prizes at the stock at every moment of the game. It is now available for Android, but an Iphone variant should follow soon.

[SPIEL]

After all players have taken their actions a combat phase takes place. In this phase enemy pieces on the same landscape tile can fight against each other. With a simple, but effective mechanism the superior power is determined, altered by a die or a virtual die token (the die is much faster, but the virtual token is more tactical). In the following maintenance phase we must supply our forces. If that is not possible, we loose some of our pieces. The game ends, if only one player is left in play (Michele said that this is the more difficult variant) or if some of the tokens are no longer available at the Bank (because the rest is already in play).

For me Romolo o Remo seemed to be a further development of The forgotten planet. When I confronted Michele with this thesis, he really was surprised. So maybe I am wrong, but I think that if you liked the older game by Michele I am quite sure, that you will love Romolo o Remo. The new game gives the players much more possibilities to perform different actions in their turns. As usual for Michele Quondam Romolo o Remo seems to be highly tactical and probably each decisions can be the fatal mistake that decides the game. As a result I think that the game takes its time. The game box tells us that the duration is about 150 minutes. I would call that an feature-length game. But from my first impression it is really worth to spend this time. Although it is sometimes hard to find fellow players for such games, I am looking forward to play it again and again.

My last stop for today was at the booth of GOLDEN EGG GAMES, where I had an introduction into two new games.

Introduction: Alliances (Golden Egg Games, Booth 3-Q106)

Last year Elad Goldsteem by GOLDEN EGG GAMES had very bad luck. Not only was he prevented at the SPIEL for any reason and had to sent his father and his father in law to present his long-awaited City of Karez. He also had some problems with his pre suppliers and so only very few copies arrived timely for the coverage. As the game was a Kickstarter project, there were many who were promised the game during the show and so frustration could be seen in many faces at the booth of GOLDEN EGG GAMES. This year everything should be better: Two new games were announced for the show. Again both games were Kickstarter projects and so I was curious if this year everything went fine. And yes, it worked. There were plenty of copies for both games, and nobody had to come away empty-handed. As I had some contact with Elad before, but have never met him in person, we started with some small talk. He, like many other publishers liked the the new halls. Much more visitors could be attracted and so Elad is thinking about a cooperation with some other publisher for the next year to have even a bigger booth.

The first game we had a closer look at was the small Alliances. It is a card-driven game in which the players seek for world domination. A speciality is, that Elad had designed three different games in this small box, depending on the number of players. To balance this he has checked a huge amount of other trick-tacking games from of the rest of the world. For example in the four player variant two players form a team. Other in the three player variant in which two players fight against one. Elad said, that it was not too difficult to balance this different type of games, once he had developed the main game mechanisms.

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Although it is a card game, we can find a 4x5 grid of country tiles in the middle of the table. The goal is to gain control over a specific number of countries. This number of countries is determined in a phase, called the state of Nations phase, in which the players bid for the number of countries they want to conquer with their alliance in this campaign round. Next to the number of countries the winning party determines the trump suit for the rest of the campaign. In the following conflict phase, one by one a country is chosen where it comes to a conflict. We are then asked to play cards from our hands. The first player determines the suit and everyone must follow if he can. The trump suit, to take over the trick, can only be played, if the player does not possess any card of the leading suit as in most other card games. When all players have played a card, the power of each alliance is determined and the winning party could take the control of the country. Yes they could, if their power is strong enough(the number of the card which has won the trick nust be higher than the defensive value of the country). Basically that is all, but there are also cards with special powers. So you can find cards that triple the power of a targeted country, or that force to discard all cards of a special suit on the table.

Alliances seems to be a very interesting trick-tacking game. Mainly a card game, but you can also perform some tactical moves on the map. So for example you can block your enemies by winning land adjacent to theirs, because it is only possible to choose a land for a challenge that is adjacent to a land of the challenger. Although the game mechanism is quite simple and strongly reminded me on classical games like skat or bridge, the fighting for the countries seems to be an exciting new element in such a game.

After that we went over to the bigger new game by GOLDEN EGG GAMES.

Introduction: City Council (Golden Egg Games, Booth 3-Q106)

This game is called City Council. It is a game about developing a city. Each player takes the role of a city council, who each regulates his own objectives. Still all players are developing the city together, so that it becomes larger and larger. As a politician you will know that there are a lot of different, alternative wishes from the various groups you have contact with. In the game these influences are given by favour cards. Every player holds always two of these cards in his hand. Whenever one of the conditions is met, he can play the cards, and gets his reward. Most of the influences are positive for the city, but there are also some who demand a specific level of crime level and this is definitely not positive for the city. So there are alternative favour cards in the hands of the players.

Still the city is expanded by all players. In the council meeting phase each player must pitch his plan to develop the city. This can be the erection of a new building from an outlay, relocate or sell a building. Not all plans are carried out. After the pitching, each player must do a vote for another player's plan. Only the pitches, who got enough votes are carried out. But before it can be constructed it must be paid. All payment is done by the city, so no player is involved in this.

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After a building is erected it can be activated in the next phase. In turn order each player chooses which workers he wants to send to which building. Sometimes, for activating a building (for example a firm) additional resources are required. When no more buildings can be activated (either there are not enough resources or not enough workers left), the buildings produce their outcome. This can be new resources, but it also can reduce the crime level or increase the pollution level of the city. Of course it also could earn the city money.

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There are much more details, for example the unemployment rate of the city plays a major role and can influence the crime level. But as I had only an introduction it is quite hard to remember all these details. My first impression of the game was a really great one. There are very few games, in which you persuade the same goal (to develop the city) and on the same time fight against each other. Elad told me, that developing a good balance for the favour cards took him nearly one year. So I am very impatient to play it. I am really interested if this balancing act did work well. From what I saw today, I would say that City Council looks great, is very promising and seems to attract a lot of people. I am really looking forward to my first playtest and I definitely will tell you more about in the next weeks.

With this I am leaving you alone with Frank, because tomorrow I will enjoy the fair with my son and so there will be no more playtesting sessions by me at this SPIEL. See you again next year, or still better stay tuned for our full reviews in the next couple of weeks!

THANKS RALF for your great assistance during this year's SPIEL! With me attending the conference at work, you have been providing some great reports for those people (including me) who could not attend on these two days!

Myself, I still had quite a bit of things I wanted to do, and so I re-entered Hall 3 in order to get to the booth of STRONGHOLD GAMES where I had scheduled a meeting with Anthony Rubbo. He was presenting his new game Space Sheep! here at the SPIEL, and it was the hilarious cover of the game which had first attracted my curiosity. The cover bears a certain resemblance to STAR WARS, but as a big (probably legally required) sticker on the box proclaims it is meant as a parody.

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Introduction: Space Sheep! (Stronghold Games, Booth 3-E106)

In Space Sheep! the united planets of the sheep are under attack by the vicious Wolves, and in order to secure their planets the players jointly try to get the scattered sheep and shepherds back to the matching coloured planets. Thus, Space Sheep! is a cooperative game where the players use coloured movement cards to move the different figures between the Sheep-worlds, either going in single steps or triggering other movement options which are displayed on each planet.

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This would not by too difficult if the players had unlimited time, but here a sand timer comes into play which triggers attacks of the Wolf-ship which is cruising between the planets. If the sand timer runs out before at least one player deals a temporary defeat to the Wolf ship by playing a card of the same colour as the planet currently orbited by the ship, the Wolves will attack and the players will loose some of the cards from the current deck. If this happens too often, the players will run out of cards, thus resulting in a victory of the Wolves.

Quite interesting is the fact that the game has many inbuilt scaling options, allowing for more planets, complex movement patterns and stronger space Wolves. There is a even a traitor rule, putting a player as a wolf in a sheep's clothing.

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After this trip into the wooly part of space I quickly returned to the convention halls here at Essen, and for my next meeting I was up to yet another gaming experience.

Playtesting Session: CV (Granna, Booth 3-H101)

Over the years there have always been game releases which remind me of some old computer games which I have played on my Commodore 64 (the grandfather of all home computers). Looking at the topic alone, the new game CV by Filip Milunski (one of the co-authors of Magnum Sal) is one of these games, since its theme - the creation of a fictional CV - strongly reminds me of the computer classic Alter Ego which was released by ACTIVISION in 1986. Alter Ego was (and in some ways still is) a milestone in the history of computer gaming, since it realized its topic - the creation of a fictional CV - with astonishing complexity. Graphics only played a minor role in this game - most of it was pure written text. The game occupied several 166k Floppy Disks - which was at that time a tremendous amount of data. Even in our modern times of Gigabytes it takes a lot of plain text to get a file size of 166k, and so it's no wonder that the game did not take minutes or hours to play, but it actually took several days (unless - of course - the fictional character found an early end due to an accident or ill health). By the way, Alter Ego was co-developed by psychologist Peter J. Favaro, and so all the texts were not purely fictional, but instead the whole playing experience was arranged in a way to allow the player some interesting reflections about his own personality.

If all this has catched your interest, you may actually try Alter Ego without any major problems, since a browser version and apps of the game has been created. If you have a Google-account, you may even save your browser game and return later. You may follow http://www.playalterego.com/ to start your own Alter Ego, but for the moment it's better if you stay reading this review - otherwise you will be distracted for hours!

After all this has been said, let's not forget that this just has been the introduction for a new boardgame! Indeed, CV challenges the players to create the stories of fictional characters, but all this will be finished within the normal time-frame of a boardgame, and not during long hours of playing in front of a screen. In its core mechanism CV resorts to a dice-rolling mechanism which is similar to Roll through the Ages: a hand of symbol dice is rolled, and the dice may be re-rolled up to two times. An exception are dice showing a "Bad luck" symbol, since these dice are locked for the player's current turn and may not be re-rolled. Apart from this, the other symbols are "Health", "Knowledge", "Relationship", "Money" and "Good luck", and when a player has finished his rolls he will be allowed to invest these symbols into the creation of his path of life.

The cv of each player's character is created through the acquisition of cards belonging to the categories of "Health", "Knowledge", "Relationship", "Work", "Possession" and "Event", and the currently available cards are displayed on a central gameboard. At the beginning of the game each player drafted some one-use "childhood" Event cards which can be used during the game, and all the cards on the central board come from a deck of "early adulthood" cards which will also be used to refill the board when cards have been purchased by the use of dice symbols. When this deck of cards is used up, the next deck will be the "middle age" cards, and this in turn will be followed by another deck of "old age" cards. In a way, this reminds a bit of Through the Ages, since this game also featured decks of cards from different ages which came into play one after the other.

As indicated, the players use their dice to purchase cards from the central board, and all cards available there show their "price" in form of different combinations of symbols. If a player has rolled three "Good luck" symbols, he will be allowed to freely choose one of the available cards, regardless of its original cost. All acquired cards will be sorted by the player into the aforementioned groups, with the cards overlapping each other so that only the topmost card will be fully visible. This arrangement of the cards serves the purpose to show which special abilities are available to a player, since only the special ability of the topmost card of each group in a player's cv will be usable by the player. Most of these abilities give in-game benefits like additional symbols or an additional dice which can be used to make purchases in following rounds.

The game ends when the "old age" deck has been used up, and now each player will calculate his victory points. The cards from the "relationship", "health" and "knowledge" groups now will score victory points depending on the number of cards acquired from each group, whereas all "possessions" will score victory points depending on their individual value. Additional points can be scored by fulfilling the conditions listed on "life goal" cards, some of which some have been secretly assigned to the players at the beginning of the game, whereas others are openly available and will award the player who has fulfilled them best.

All this brings us back to a comparison of CV and Roll through the Ages, since both the handling of the dice and the final scoring offer some palpable similarities. Another factor demonstrating the closeness of both games is player interaction, since the interaction in both games remains mostly indirect because the players just compete for the acquisition of the most useful cards (respectively of the most valuable monuments). However, CV comes with the notable difference that the broad range of available cards offers a much broader choice of useful or valuable additions to a player's CV, and in addition the "life goal" cards give the players some indication where they should focus their efforts in order to score some additional victory points.

Roll through the Ages has been a nominee for the International Gamers Awards and the Spiel des Jahres, but on the long time the game's attractiveness decreased due to the restricted choice of available inventions and monuments. The small expansion Late Bronze Age brought a bit of relief due to some additional inventions and a trading mechanism, but on the long run even this expansion cannot compensate the much broader approach which has been taken by Filip Milunski in CV. As it seems, the visitor here at the SPIEL are thinking along the same lines, since Filip told me that the sales are going well and that the game is really appreciated by many visitors.

Despite the fact that the game shows the mentioned similarities with other games, it brings enough originality to claim its own place on the games market. Even more, Filip actually succeeded in overcoming some of the long-term shortfalls of Roll through the Ages, and so the game can be recommended without reservations to all friends of games featuring dice as part of the playing engine. I will certainly enjoy developing my next cv right after the SPIEL!

The convention day was going on quite well for me, but we are still a bit away from its end! My next meeting was scheduled with Cedrick Caumont, since he had found some time in order to show me the prototype of Babel, the next expansion for 7 Wonders. A prototype naturally does not yet have all elements fixed, but for the moment it looks like Babel actually is going to include two expansions at the same time. One of them will be "The Barbarians", and this expansion introduces a new set of challenge cards from which one is revealed at the beginning of each age. Each challenge board will list a type of cards, and whenever a player plays such a card he may actually invest some more money or resources in order to take a pawn from the challenge board. The number of pawns on the board depends on the number of participating players, and when all pawns have been removed by the players all players who have participated in reaching this goal will receive a reward. If, on the other hand, there are still pawns left on the challenge boards by the end of the age, all players who have not removed at least one pawn will have to suffer some bad consequences as listed on the board.

The other included expansion is "The Tower of Babel", a circular board on which the players will be allowed to place Law tokens which will change many different elements of the game. These Law tokens are drafted at the beginning of the game with each player receiving a total of four tokens, and the players now have a fourth option which they may choose during their turn. When discarding a card, they may now add a Law token to the Tower of Babel instead of taking three coins from the bank. Adding a Law token means that the player will gain some victory points, but he will also activate the effect of the token. As indicated, these effects are manifold, ranging from the disabling of certain production cards to the disabling of free building or an increase of decrease of victory points gains and losses during the conflict phase. All of this may have an immense effect on gameplay and the players' individual strategies, and at least some players will want to deactivate such laws as quickly as possible. This only can be reached by adding new laws to the Tower, and since each new law is placed in a clockwise manner is takes a total of four additional laws in order to cover a particular law.

Cedrick confirmed my observation that "The Tower of Babel" means a great change to the rhythm of the game, and indeed the players will find that precise planning gets more difficult if not even impossible. However, Cedrick told me that many 7 Wonders veterans who playtest the expansion appreciate the fact that the Tower forces them to think along new lines, and furthermore the laws which can be passed by use of the Tower mean an additional and interesting new way of player interaction.

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In return for this sneak preview of the upcoming 7 Wonders - Babel Cedrick asked me which games I could recommend to him. Because of his many meetings he is not able to roam the halls himself, and since he likes games which offer variations of the worker placement mechanism I told him that both Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy and Archon: Glory & Machination would be worth a closer look. In fact, the booth of IELLO was just a few steps away, and they actually have published a French version of Legacy. So, we marched over to the booth, and here I could experience that being a publisher certainly has its benefits, since Cedrick quickly came to terms with the IELLO people for a mutual exchange of their new games. In addition, Cedrick also purchased a copy of CV because he liked the unusual theme, and so he's now well equipped for some gaming sessions back at his home at Belgium.

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I left Cedrick shortly before we reached the booth of REPOS since I had yet another meeting with Fabien from MATAGOT. Luckily I could get off my feet since Fabien took me into a small office, and there he gave me in introduction to two interesting new games from MATAGOT.

Introduction: Corto (Matagot, Booth 3-D102)

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The first game Fabien showed me was Corto, an adaption of the famous French comic book series Corto Maltese. Corto is an adventurer and sailor, and in the game the players have the possibility to join in on some of the adventures known from the books. The game includes a total of six different adventures, but depending on the number of players only three or four adventures will be used for a game.

None of the players controls the character of Corto directly, but instead the players will use cards from decks belonging to the different adventures. Boards for each adventure have been placed adjacent to each other on the table, and the players will use their turns to align cards from their hand on the boards, marking these cards with control tokens or removing control tokens of their opponents. Most of the cards are good and evil characters from each adventure, but some also offer special options which may help the players in order to gain dominance over the different boards in order to score victory points associated with the background of each storyline.

In addition, each adventure also includes some kinds of special event, e.g. one of the adventures features an armoured train which moves along the board and which the players may try to derail in order to further their aims. However, a game bearing his name also needs the appearance of Corto and his arch-enemy Rasputin, and so they may enter the game in order to move along and influence the different adventures. Both of them are represented by some rather beautiful miniature busts.

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Overall, Corto sounded rather intriguing with its unusual approach of allowing the players to play through some adventures found in comic books. The game comes well equipped with background information to each story, and so I will be launching into the exciting adventures of Corto Maltese in the weeks to come.

Introduction: Expedition Northwest Passage (Matagot, Booth 3-D102)

The other new game Fabien showed to me was Expedition Northwest Passage which challenges the players to take control over different ships and their crews who want to find out more about the fate of the Franklin Expedition which had vanished in 1848. So, the players will navigate their ships into the arctic sea, slowly building up the game's map and discovering hints about the vanished expedition.

Victory points in this game can be scored by gathering hints, placement of map tiles and even by discovering the Northwest Passage, but during the game the players will have to deal with the changing seasons which will hamper their passage through the icy northern latitude. With the change of seasons comes the freezing of the ocean waters, and this means that the ships of the players almost certainly will get stuck at some point. Now they may disembark some of their teams to use sleighs to get further, but they need to be careful not to get lost when the ice is melting once more.

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It's amazing to see what what kinds of great concepts the MATAGOT crew is able to come up with each year anew, and with Origin yet another novelty from this year had not yet been mentioned. However, I had already seen the game, and from it's looks I would say that this game will certainly interest Nicole quite a bit. Thus, I will leave Origin for tomorrow, giving me time to visit Servando Carballar, an old friend who is located in Hall 2 this year.

Introduction: Seven Swords (Gen-X Games, Booth 2-D110)

Servando is running the small Spanish publishing house GEN-X GAMES, and some years ago he has published Luna llena - Full Moon, a game about hikers lost in a forest of werewolves which implemented its background stories rather nicely. Now he is back with a Seven Swords, a two player game by Oscar Arevalo which is loosely based on the classic move of Seven Samurai.

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In this game one player takes control of a band of outlaws who wants to raid a rural village, and the other player will try to defend the village with his team of seven samurai warriors. Both players have quite different means at their disposal, with the Samurai player being able to use his Samurai to fight or to use their command abilities in order to cause the villagers to make different kinds of attacks. The outlaw player on the other hand can control a huge number of troops, and despite the fact that they are individually not that strong the greater strength comes from their sheer numbers. In addition, the outlaw player also has some individual options at hand, e.g. he may place traps which might lead to the removal of one or more samurai warriors

Gameplay in Seven Swords is based on an action point system, which the Samurai player may use for fighting, moving and issuing commands with his samurai. warriors All used points will be accumulated by the outlaw player, and so the performance of too many actions by the Samurai player may lead to the outlaw player getting a high point allowance to recruit and use his troops. Based on Servando's explanations the playing mechanism sounds pretty straightforwards and easy to handle, and in addition the asymmetric setup of both players forms an interesting challenge which once again implements a well-chosen background story. As Servando told me, quite a few distributors were convinced of the potential of the game, and so he was happy to announce that he is nearly sold out.

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This actually brings us to the end of the second to last day of the SPIEL '13, and I will have to ask you for a bit of patience concerning the next update. Tomorrow will be Ladies Day and I will visit the show together with my wife Nicole, but we will have to rise early on monday because Nicole is scheduled for some days in a hospital and I will have to drive her on monday morning. Thus, I will not be able to type sunday's final report directly after the show, and so the update probably will follow with a delay of 24 hours.

However, would a SPIEL be complete without a printable special goodie from Kulkmann's Gamebox?

Kulkmann's G@mebox Convention Giveaway!

It's good tradition that a selfmade downloadable mini-expansion for a game is presented each year during my SPIEL-coverage, and once again I was able to secure an extraordinary item for this year's reports. Some of you might remember last year's giveaway, a new race for Ryan Laukat's Empires of the Void. I could win Ryan to create another goodie this year, and so I am proud to present you with a special expansion for Ryan's game

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The game had been kickstarted by Ryan some time ago, and even though it is not available here at the SPIEL Ryan was able to come to terms with 999 GAMES, IELLO, HOBBY WORLD, SCHWERKRAFT-VERLAG and DEVIR to publish different European versions of the game. It's planned for release in November, and so the Mountains Expansion which you can download here should come as a welcome add on.

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Click on image to download!

A big THANKS to Ryan to this great contribution!

See you soon for the grand final of this year's SPIEL reports!

Sunday, 27th of October 2013

How fast can a week go past?

Well, the answer to this question is relative, but surely this SPIEL-week has passed incredibly fast from my perspective. Starting in Neanderthal just about a week ago, I have guided you through the preparation phase and the public days of the SPIEL, and now - after four days of gaming, the SPIEL '13 is history.

However, it's not yet time to be sad, there is still my Sunday report. Today was Ladies' Day, and I have roamed the show together with my wife Nicole. Among one or two titles I still needed to see, Nicole once again pointed out many games which I did not have on my preparation list, and so you can rightly be curious which games will be enclosed in this report. But enough of the preliminary words - here we go!!!

The first booth where we stopped was BRAIN GAMES in Hall 1, and we were attracted to this booth due to a huge banner which displayed a most unusual game-name. Om Nom Nom (which translates to German "Mjam mjam") certainly is a name which I have never heard before, and together with some cute animal pictures the name suggested that the game is somehow concerned with the eating habits of animals.

Playtesting Session: Om Nom Nom (Brain Games, Booth 1-G139)

So, we sat down at a free table and joined Estonian author Meelis Looveer for a round of his new game, and we quickly found out that our first guess was right - the game really is concerned about eating animals. However, it's not just about cheese and carrots which may be consumed by cute mice and rabbits, but it's also about bigger animals munching happily away on smaller ones!

Indeed, the three parts of the gameboard feature three food chains, one of the from cat to mouse to cheese, the next from wolf to rabbit to carrot, and the last from hedgehog to frog to fly. Each player receives an identical set of six cards, featuring always the two first animals from each of the three gameboards. Then, to begin a round of play, a hand of 15 dice is rolled, and the symbols (always the two last animals or other food from each board) are distributed onto their corresponding areas on each gameboard. That's all the preparation needed, so that the first turn can begin right away.

Each player now secretly chooses one of the animal cards on his hand, and then all chosen animals are revealed at once and placed on the board. Then the situation on each board will be evaluated, and a player now may take all the dice from an area if he has played the card of an animal which is one step higher in the food chain, e.g. a player whoe has played a rabbit may take all carrot dice. If more than one player have chosen the same animal, the dice will be evenly distributed among all participating players, with eventually remaining dice staying on the gameboard.

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However, if another player has played an animal which is still a step higher in the food chain, that animal now will consume all the lower animal cards played by the other player(s) and the food on the third step will remain untouched (e.g. a wolf will consume all rabbits so that they cannot eat the carrots). Once again, several hunters will evenly split their prey.

All taken dice and animal cards are openly placed in front of the players who have captured them, together with the animal cards which they have used this turn. When this has been arranged, the next turn begins, which each player once again playing an animal card from his remaining hand. The situation then is resolved in the same fashion and the game continues until all players have used up all six of their cards. Now the scores for captured dice and cards are calculated, noted down and all players get back their hand of six cards. A new roll of the dice begins a new round, and winner will be the player with most points after three rounds.

Om Nom Nom is a great bluffing game where the players try to guess and counter-guess the cards which may be chosen by each other. Sometimes it's better to choose an animal which will plunder an area with few dice because this might not be suspected, but there are also instances in which a greedy player may get away with a high amount of captured dice because no other player was daring enough to send an animal to the same area. However, even though the first cards played each round can hardly be predicted, the remaining hand of available cards decreases with each turn, and so the players actually can develop small tactics which help to decide when a specific animal might be most useful.

Already the first few turns show that the game is highly addictive, and it is even better if played with a group of well-known friends because it's fun to guess at the slyness of the other players round the table. As it turned out, Om Nom Nom is a great game to start or end a gaming session, but if it is brought onto the table right at the beginning there is a high chance that it will stay there for a longer time than originally intended!

This game once again an example for the momentum small publishers may get from participating at the SPIEL. Last year Meelis Loover already had attended with a small cardgame called Food Chain which also focused on eating animals, but it was slightly more complex and fell a bit more into the category of "edutainment games". However, Meelis kept working on a game following broadly the same theme, and Om Nom Nom now is the result of his work. Meelis now was quite happy with the public appreciation of his game here at the SPIEL '13. He had brought 300 copies and did not do any advertising apart from the banners at the booth, but the entertaining gameplay and the cute graphics of Om Nom Nom had convinced enough gamers to take a copy home. Thus, it sold out on Saturday around noon, but Meelis already is planning for a new print run to bring the game back onto the market.

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Resuming our stroll through the halls, Nicole and I next stopped at the booth of the Spanish publisher HOMOLUDICUS which was host and distributor for the even smaller publisher LOOPING GAMES which is run by Perepau Llistosealla. Some weeks ago Nicole and I had seen a documentary in TV about the race of Amundsen and Scott to the South Pole in 1911, and while both of us were shocked by the disastrous failure of Scott's expedition our curiosity still was raised by seeing a game on this topic. So, we stopped at the booth in order to get an introduction to 1911 Amundsen vs Scott.

Introduction: 1911 Amundsen vs Scott (Looping Games, Booth 2-E101)

Taken lead of the Amundsen and Scott expeditions, the players join the race for the South Pole, and in gaming terms this race has been implemented by mechanism of card drawing and hand management. The spaces on each expedition's route to the South Pole are displayed in four colours, and the a player needs to collect and play cards of matching colour if he wants to move his pawn on its route. It is possible to make more than one step during the same turn if a player pays an increased number of cards after his first step, and so a player's maximum hand size of seven cards actually may take his expedition four steps on its way to the Pole. However, going such a high pace does not come without risks, because such a high number of steps will exhaust a player's hand, making him vulnerable for event cards which now may be played by the other player. Such cards make the expedition loose its route, and a player only may return to the route on a space for which he can play a card of the matching colour. This may result in the player waiting for some turns in order to find a card which does not force him to go backwards, but during that time the other player still may come up with more event cards and now these cards may actually result in backward steps.

Respecting the historic equipment and problems of each expedition, the deck contains specific cards which only apply to one player. So, the Amundsen player can use "Greenland Dogs" als colour wildcards, but he may be hampered by "Crevasse" cards played against him by the Scott player. In return, "Mongolian Horses" are wildcards for the Scott player, whilst a "Blizzard" can be used to hold him up. Some other cards may be played by both players, and success in the game highly depends on each player's management of his hand of cards. New cards always are taken from a common display which is openly replenished from the deck, and so the players are informed which cards are taken by their opponent. This means that they can try to plan ahead, and so a combination of intelligent drawing and well-timed movements is needed to be successful in this game.

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The game is the result of yet another crowdfunding-project, but it is a great example for the high value which may be gained from participating in such a project. Whilst the gamebox is small, the graphics on cards and gameboard have been nicely designed, and in addition to the basic game the box contains actually three expansions which can be used to enrich gameplay. The first expansion features "Patron" cards from which each player may receive one at the beginning of the game in order to gain a special advantage, whereas the second expansion focuses on the weather, so that the players will have to consult a deck of special cards and a dice to find out which conditions await them when the cross the parallels on their way to the Pole. Finally, the third expansion can be played on the backside of the gameboards, forcing the players to play not just the race to the Pole but also the arduous way back to their ships, and taken together all these components qualify 1911 Amundsen vs Scott as a ful sized boardgame. Small box - great game!

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Nicole is especially Chinese and Japanese themed games since our working trip to Asia back in 2002, and so her eyes were next attracted to the booth of the new Dutch publisher FABLESMITH where author and publisher Joost Das was presenting his new game Ortus.

Introduction: Ortus (FableSmith, Booth 1-F103)

The name Ortus actually applies to a mystic place where the different energies of the world converge, thus creating wells of sheer energy which can be controlled and channeled to almost any purpose. Having fought many battles, the players are the heads of noble houses who have sent elite warriors to the land of Ortus to take control of these energy wells, and the first player to control five of the eight wells on the board will have won the game.

At the beginning of the game the armies of the players face each other from their starting areas at opposite sides of the arena, and the players take turns to move their figures forwards in order to occupy spaces with energy wells. However, movement is not determined in a chess-like fashion, but instead each player receives a number of action points which he can use to move his soldiers - one point, one step. The number of action points available to each player is determined by the number of energy wells he occupies at the beginning of his turn, and the more wells the player controls the more points he will get.

Battle between the soldiers of both players is possible in three different ways. If a figure starts the player's turn next to an opponent's figure, the active player can spend an action point to do three damage to the enemy. If the active player has one or more archers in the arena, he may spend action points corresponding to the distance to the target in order to do four damage to the enemy, and if the active player has a charger he may spend action points to move the charger next to an opponent's figure and do five damage.

Individual damage to the other player's figures is not possible. Instead, a player who is attacked has to decide whether he wants to remove his figure or whether he wants to defend the figure by compensate the amount of damage done by paying action points leftover from his previous turn. Thus, it is wise not to use up the full allowance of energy points during a player's turn, but instead it should be taken into consideration how much damage the other player may possibly do.

This may tempt a player to try a turtling-strategy, but this will quickly turn out to be ineffective because following such an approach will lead to the fact that this player cannot occupy enough energy wells to fend of all attacks of the enemy. This other player quickly will take advantage of this situation, taking control of more energy wells, and the excess energy then can be used to wrestle the necessary wells from the defensive player and win the game. So, Ortus is a game which forces the players to take a moderately aggressive stance, leaving over just a well-proportioned amount of action points after a turn in order to do just the most important defense actions in the opponent's turn. This is strengthened even further by the fact that no figure leaves the game for good, but instead a taken figure comes back onto the gameboard at the end of its owner's following turn, and so the players will still be in a position to plan a counter-attack.

Ortus comes with a level of abstraction which is not unlike to chess, but it features a totally different approach due to the fact that the players do not move one figure at a time but instead they can chose their actions according to the number of action points received at the beginning of their turn. In addition, the game's pace is increasing rather quickly, because the players will waste no time in order to occupy as many energy wells as possible. Then the battles will start, and even in games where no real progress is made concerning ownership of the wells, the game's end is not too far away because it can also be won by taking eight enemy figures in the course of the game.

The game described above is called "Apprentice Level", and Nicole and I fought a thrilling duel which ultimately led to Nicole's victory. However, all this barely scratched at the real depth of the game, since the sol-called "Master Game" does not just differentiate between archers and chargers, but instead the soldiers of each player will be separated into four different groups, following the paths of wind, earth, water and fire. For every group exists its own special ability, and taken together the game gets much more complex. However, we were told by Joost that the game scale quite well, and so the different paths can be added one at a time while otherwise keeping the rules of the apprentice game.

[SPIEL]

Ortus turned out to be a great chance find, and even after the first game Nicole and I felt challenged to stay seated to have another go. However, having seen barely one third of the booths, we decided to continue with a copy of Ortus securely stowed in our backpack.

[SPIEL]

Time had come for a lunch break, and we decided to leave the main halls for a more quiet place in order to enjoy or sandwiches and a piece of cake, and so we went up to the press showroom which was nearly deserted at this time. There we enjoyed lunch, but we also had some time to check out the components of the new Ginkgopolis expansion.

Introduction: Ginkgopolis - The Experts (Pearl Games, Booth 1-C136)

On tuesday I had presented you my view of Ginkgopolis which was published at the SPIEL '12, and like many publishers PEARL GAMES now has returned to the SPIEL '13 with an expansion set for their game. For this expansion author Xavier Georges has followed a method we know especially from QUEEN GAMES, because the expansion set does not feature one coherent set of new rules, but instead it is split down into a total of six different modules which can be used together with the base game in any combination.

In fact, one of the modules included in this set does not need any additional playing materials, because it just features a new rule for the circulation of the Building cards and Expansion cards between the players. Apart from choosing one card to play, the players now may chose one additional card which they may keep, so that only a hand of two cards will be passed on to the next player. This innovation certainly will give the players some more control on their action for the following turn, but it comes at the price that the gameflow will slow don a bit. Especially deep thinking gamers will take this rule as an opportunity to increase their planning efforts, and this will take a bit of speed out of the game.

Apart from adding everything needed to host a fifth player, the expansion also adds new playing material in the form of buildings. Whereas the highest value of buildings in the basic game was "20", the expansion now increases each colour-group of buildings by five tiles to offer a maximum value of "25". The new buildings are kept apart from the standard Building tiles, and if a player wants to draw such a tile he will have to spend more of his "drawing allowance" because it costs more to acquire such a high-value tile. In fact, the new Building tiles actually belong to two modules, and so the tiles with values from "21" to "23" work pretty much like standard Building tiles, with the exception that they offer new conditions to score victory points in the final scoring. The buildings with value of "24" and "25" are different, because they are considered to be Prestige buildings which cannot be replaced. Thus, a player who has placed such a building cannot be displaced!

The most complex element of this expansion set are the new green Park tiles. They form a separate drawing stack and can be acquired like ordinary Building tiles, but they follow an unique set of rules. Thus, a player may chose to place a Park tile with the "expansion" action, and apart from using the powers of neighboring buildings he will immediately score victory points equal to all Park tiles connected with his newly placed tile. In addition, the Park tiles also will influence the final scoring, since they will be considered for determining the majority in all city districts neighboring a whole Park. This opens up a whole range of new strategic possibilities, but once again this added complexity will have a palpable influence on the flow of the game.

The expansion actually derives its name from the new "Specialist" cards, and just like the Character cards the Specialists will be drafted by the players at the beginning of the game. So, the players now will begin the game with three standard Characters and one Specialist, and in difference to the standard Characters the Specialists will offer the players some rather unique powers will will come to bear either during the game or at the final scoring. It must be conceded that the Specialists really are masters of their trade, because their special abilities will have a considerable impact on the strategy of their owners and of the other players. For example, the "General Counsel" will double the amount of victory points earned by a displaced player, whereas the "Artist" may perform the "heightening" action with lower number Building tiles without facing a penalty. The "Banker" on the other hand may use victory points earned during the game to purchase additional resources, and the "Master Architect" allows an instant two-storey "heightening" action. All of this seems to be quite strong indeed, and it will be interesting to see whether the Specialists really are balanced in a way to avoid the predominance of a player owning a particular Specialist.

Finally, the Specialists-module can be used together with the "Events" module which introduces four different kinds of special events. These new special Events tiles will either be drafted by the players or assigned in consideration of the chosen Specialists. A player may decide to use an Event tile in addition to his normal turn action, and once again these Event tiles may allow some powerful one-time actions which may greatly influence the current situation of the game.

Quite interestingly, the modules included in Ginkgopolis - The Experts cover quite a range of playing tastes, going from the introduction of some moderate randomness to highly strategic elements. As explained in the Ginkgopolis-review, the basic game needs a game or two to be fully mastered, and so the players should refrain from using Ginkgopolis - The Experts until they feel well at home with the basic rules. At this point the variety introduced by the new expansion will be welcomed, and depending on the players' taste the different modules can be introduced in a stepwise fashion in order to experience Ginkgopolis in some rather new ways.

Returning into Hall 3, we next wanted to see whether we could get free seats at the MATAGOT booth to have a go at Origin, but all tables were occupied and so we went over to HURRICAN which was virtually right around the corner.

Playtesting Session: Le Fantôme de'l Opéra (Hurrican, Booth 3-C118)

Some years ago the swiss publisher HURRICAN was able to surprise the gaming market with its two-player game Mr. Jack, a deductive two-player game in which the players took the roles of Jack the Ripper and the Chief of the London Police, and the Police player faced the task of discovering the identity of the Jack player within a total of eight rounds of play. After its initial release in 2006 the game was followed by an expansion, a pocket version and a spin-off which transferred the place of events to New York, but it seems as the game is still inspiring authors Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc to develop even more new games around the main playing mechanism which could be found in Mr. Jack.

Even though I have dug in my memory, I cannot remember having seen any boardgame which was based on Gaston Leroux' classic novel Le Fantôme de'l Opéra, an astonishing fact considering the thrilling plot and the enigmatic character of the Phantom. As it seems, this story simply had been waiting for a boardgame adaption all along, and so HURRICAN now presents us a game which takes us right into the middle of the novel's story, at the point where a lot of strange accidents is happening at the Opera Garnier, one of the two opera houses in Paris 1881.

As indicated, the game operates on a variation of the mechanisms found in Mr. Jack, and so it's once again two players who face each other in a deductive duel. One player will take the role of the evasive Phantom who tries to force La Carlotta, the arrogant star of the opera house, to leave the city by arranging scary accidents, while the other player takes the role of the Police who tries to find out who is behind all these strange happenings in the opera house.

Eight characters are available in the game, and all of them are well known from Leroux' novel. So we will find the young singer Christine Daaé and Vicomte Raoul de Chagny, the concierge Madame Giry and her daughter Meg, opera directors Moncharmin and Richards, Machinist Joseph Buquet and the strange Persian, and all of these characters will begin the game located in different rooms of the opera house. One of these characters will be randomly determined to be the Phantom who has arranged the accidents within the opera house, and - of course - the identity of the Phantom will only be known to the Phantom-player. So, the Police player will face the initial situation that all characters on the board are under suspicion of being the Phantom!

During the course of the game the Police player will have to try to find out the identity of the Phantom by stepwise absolving the characters from the suspicion of being the Phantom. However, the Police player does not have much time to do so, because each round a marker for La Carlotta will be moved a number of steps corresponding to the number of remaining "suspect" characters still available. If La Carlotta reaches the last step on her track, she will be fed up with the strange events at the Opera Garnier and she will flee from Paris, resulting in a win of the Phantom player.

During each round of the game, each player is allowed to activate two characters, and a deck of character cards is used to determine which four characters may be chosen by the players. In the following round, the other four characters will be activated in likewise fashion, and so all eight characters will have been activated after two full rounds have been played. At that point, the character cards are re-shuffled and the players start anew to activate four characters for the next round.

At the end of each round, the Phantom player has to declare whether he can appear or not. He can appear if his character either is alone in a room or if he is in the same room as a "Blackout" token (the dark is hiding his evil doings from suspicious eyes). If the Phantom can appear, La Carlotta is even more scared and is moved one additional step on her track, but regardless of the fact whether the Phantom can appear or not the Police player may use the Phantom player's announcement to gather information about the identity of the Phantom, because all characters who do not correspond with the announcement of the Phantom player now are cleared of the suspicion of being the Phantom. So, by clever movement of the characters, the Phantom player tries to hide the Phantom's identity by having as many characters as possible fulfilling the condition of the announcement, whereas the Police player tries to separate still suspicious characters into both groups in order to narrow down the number of remaining suspects with each round.

When a character is activated, the player may move the character for a number of rooms corresponding to the number of characters in the room where the character has started his movement, and in addition the special ability of the character may be used. Each character has his own special ability, e.g. Christine Daaé may attract characters from neighbouring rooms to her own location, Meg Giry may use the secret passages for movement, Joseph Buquet may move the "Blackout" token etc., and the players will strive to use these abilities to further the aims of catching or hiding the Phantom.

As can be seen, there are some close similarities between Le Fantôme de'l Opéra and Mr. Jack, and just from reading this text you might ask whether an owner of Mr. Jack really should go ahead and purchase this new game as well. The answer to this question is - like so often - based on personal taste. From my perspective, Le Fantôme de'l Opéra offers enough differences to justify its release. Here especially the "La Carlotta" track is an interesting change because it gives the game a somewhat other rhythm. In addition, positioning of the characters on the gameboard works differently due to the focusing on just a handful rooms and the different special abilities of the characters, and so even seasoned Mr. Jack enthusiasts might welcome this change to their long-standing strategies. Finally, and quite important dfrom my perspective, the game offers a very high degree of atmosphere, and taken together these facts definitely go in favour of owning this game!

Checking back at the booth of MATAGOT, we more more lucky this time, since we got a possibility to join a game of Origin at the table which featured the oversized demo copy of the game.

Playtesting Session: Origin (Matagot, Booth 3-D102)

The first announcements about the new MATAGOT game Origin sounded like the game would fall into the class of typical Civilization-games: "The greatest adventure of all time: Mankind's expansion. Starting in Africa, the world's cradle, explore the entire planet, improve your knowledge and progress on the evolution scale." Upon reading this introduction experienced gamers will suspect conflicts, different types of units, technical developments and growing empires, and indeed all these topics are lightly touched by the rules of Origin. However, despite these superficial similarities the game is much more abstract, and so it cannot really be categorized into the same group as games as Civilization, History of the World or Mare Mediterraneum.

The gameboard used in Origin shows a rough drawing of the whole world, with all continents being split into several regions and some connections between the continents. These connections have to be marked with Straits tokens, and some regions on all continents will be assigned a random Hunting token. The map itself is centered on Africa, and here all expansion starts since only one region in the center of Africa is occupied by a small, slim pawn at the beginning of the game. The nature of the pawn has been described here, because the game features pawns of three different colours, sizes and widths. The common pawn stockpile features pawns with all possible combinations of these three attributes, so that a total of 27 different pawns exists. Most of these pawns are unique, with the exception that the 9 medium height pawns are available twice if the game is played with four players.

As indicated, one of the weakest and smallest pawns of a random colour has been placed at central Africa at the beginning of the game, and the players now may use their turns to place one of their villages together with a pawn from the common stockpile into regions neighboring a region which already contains a pawn. This action is called "evolution", and this term describes the action rather well because the newly placed pawn must share at least two characteristics of a pawn in a neighboring region. So, the newly placed pawn may have a different colour, height or width, but not more than one of these characteristics may change. In addition, evolution does not reverse, and so a change of height or width of the new pawn may only lead to an increase of one step, but never to a decrease.

Here it must be kept in mind that this basic action of evolution by nature is limited by the pawns available in the common stockpile, so that the choice of available pawns is more and more restricted as the game goes on. For the players evolution is the key to some different objectives, so that a Hunting token may be taken if they expand into a region featuring such a token, or a Straits token may claimed if a player has placed villages on both sides of a strait. In addition, the colour of each region allows a player who has made a placement there to draw a specific kind of reward, ranging from Innovation tiles to Action cards, Permanent cards and Objective cards which are arranged in face-down piles next to the gameboard.

In order to make the drawing of cards slightly less random, a player who claims cards as a reward always takes three cards from the corresponding drawing pile to his hand, and then he will have to return two cards of the same kind to the bottom of the deck. As can be guessed, the different types of cards can be used for different purposes. So, an Action card allows a one-time benefit during the game, whereas an Objective card lists some conditions which the player may fulfill in order to gain some additional victory points at the end of the game. The Permanent cards offer a lasting benefit, but a player can only activate such a card if he has at least one Innovation tile of the level indicated on the card. This brings us to the Innovation tiles, and despite their name and small graphics of inventions all that matters about these tiles is their level. The players may collect Invention tiles in ascending order, meaning that a new tile only can be taken if it can be placed upon an already acquired tile with a lower level. As indicated, these tiles allow the activation of Permanent cards, but in addition the highest levels of all Invention tiles in a player's possession also will contribute to a player's final score at the end of the game.

So far all developments on the gameboard have been driven simply by the "evolution" action which allowed players to place new villages and pawns into regions neighboring already occupied regions. However, the players also have the possibility of movement (called "migration" in gaming terms), and depending on a pawn's height a player may use his action to move one of his villages together with its pawn for a range of one to three regions. Like evolution, migration also allows the active player to collect the benefits of his newly occupied region, and here some first observations about playing strategies in Origin become visible. So, it may be sensible for a player to place a village with a big (both in height and width) pawn into the borderland region of the gameboard, and from this basis the player may move around in order to collect some benefits from the gameboard. Other players will find it difficult to make a placement by evolution next to this pawn because of the restricted stockpile of pawns, and so they would have to bring in their pawns by movement which might prove to be too time-consuming.

A third type of action available to the players is "swapping", but behind this term hide the real conflicts in the game. So, a player may make a migration-type movement into a region already occupied by a different player's village and pawn, and if the active player has a stronger (bigger in width) pawn than the current inhabitant of the region a swap will be initiated, forcing the village and pawn of the current inhabitant to go back into the region where the active player's pawn came from. This type of action allows a player to get strategic control of important regions, so that the valuable Straits tokens can be collected or continents can be sealed off.

The game ends when the card decks, the Innovation tiles, the pawns or all players' villages have been used up, and now the players will calculate their final scores based on Objective cards, Hunting and Straits tokens, Innovation tiles and Permanent cards.

With the different types of cards and the "strength"-based solution of conflicts Origin reminds slightly of the much older 2-player game Hellas by KOSMOS. However, these similarities are only superficial, since Origin offers a much deeper and more balanced playing experience. Indeed, the challenge found in the game caused MATAGOT to include a set of streamlined "junior" rules, since despite their seemingly manageable volume the full rules feature a game of great strategic depth where the interaction of all elements must be understood properly. As said at the beginning of this review, the level of abstraction in Origin is much higher than in other Civilization-games, but author Andrea Mainini actually succeeded in creating one of these rare gaming gems where an abstract set of rules is carried by enough story elements to satisfy theme-based gamers. With this game MATAGOT is once again living up to its fame of creating unusual boardgames!

We still had not visited the rear part of Hall 3, and so Nicole and I continued past the booths of SCHMIDT SPIELE, NORIS and PEGASUS SPIELE until we reached the booth of French publisher IELLO. Here we came upon a game which I still wanted to see. Even though Titanium Wars had been released ahead of the SPIEL, I had heard some good things about this space combat game, and so we seated ourselves at a free table and gave the game a try.

Playtesting Session: Titanium Wars (IELLO, Booth 3-M109)

Space opera boardgames always have been in high esteem with many a gamer, and this year French publisher IELLO is trying to approach the subject with their new card game Titanium Wars. The game beams the players into a far corner of the Galaxy where deposits of the ultra-rare super-fuel Titanium have been found, and starting from their homeworlds the players try to conquer planets with Titanium deposits until they have gained enough of this resource to subdue the rest of the universe.

Being a cardgame, Titanium Wars does not include a gameboard, and so the game does not focus on any strategic movements of fleets and ships between planets on a map. Instead, the game is played in rounds, and in each round a new planet card is drawn from a deck, and this planet will be the target of the players' offensives in this round's battle. The backsides of the planet cards actually feature some kind of event, and so the revealing of a new planet also will bring up a new event (on the following planet card in the deck), thus listing some special conditions which must be observed during this round.

The primary focus in Titanium Wars is on the battle for the planets, and these battles will be fought by all players who send their fleets in an attempt to conquer the planet. The main part of the players' fleets consists of spaceships, and these ships can be armed with some special weaponry and other devices in order to increase their capabilities. But before turning towards the resolution of a battle (which forms the climax of a round) let's first examine the economic system on which the game is running.

Each player represents an individual race with a unique special ability which comes to bear during combat, but the starting conditions of all player races are equal. So, each player receives 1000 credits starting capital, and their homeworlds feature a production of 1000 credits each round plus four building slots which may be filled with new installations. As indicated, each round begins with the revealing of a new target planet and the players collecting income for all their planets, but before the upcoming battle will start the players will go through an "outfitting" phase in which they can spend their money on new installations for their homeworld and conquered planets and new ships and devices for their fleets.

Among some others, planetary installations range from Spaceports (increasing the maximum size of the player's fleet) to Refineries (increasing income by 150 credits) or Laboratories (increasing the player's tech level), and they can be purchased provided that the player still has available building slots on his planets and that he has reached the appropriate tech level. If these conditions are met, the player pays for the planetary installations and places them under the planet(s) with the free building slots, thus showing only a small part of the installation card which gives a short but efficient summary of the card's powers.

Spaceships are bought in the same manner, with the players observing their tech-levels and the maximum size of their fleets. In addition, just like the planets have building slots, spaceships have a number of upgrade slots depending on their size, and so the players may purchase different upgrade cards like Blast Shields or Hyperdrives and assign them to their ships. Once again, purchased upgrades are placed below the ships equipped with them, showing only a small overview of the upgrade's powers.

All the cards which are available for purchase are arranged in an open arsenal which is available to all players. Apart from each race's unique skill, there are no race-specific spaceships or weapons, and so each of the players is free to purchase any cards he desires (as long as stocks last). The whole outfitting phase is played by all players simultaneously, so downtime during this phase is reduced to an absolute minimum.

When all purchases have been made, the players finally may announce whether they want to enter this round's battle for the target planet, and if a player wants to participate he has to commit his whole fleet to the action. After the players have decided, the battle will be fought in offensives (volleys), and each offensive starts with all players secretly choosing one of their available Tactics cards. At the beginning of the game each player had drawn three random Tactics cards from the corresponding deck, and at the end of each offensive the players will replenish their hand of Tactics cards by drawing replacements for the cards just used. In fact, a player's hand of Tactics cards may be increased by one card for each Command Center installed on his planets, and a bigger hand of cards basically means that the player has a higher chance to draw one or more Tactics cards corresponding to the armament of their fleet.

All Tactics cards list a priority number, and these numbers will be used to determine the order in which the cards will be resolved. When the order has been found, the cards will be resolved one by one, with the players of high-priority cards enjoying the advantage that their Tactics will come to bear before those of the other players. Depending on a player's fleet and weaponry, the player can distribute a number of damage tokens among the fleets of his opponents. This may result in the destruction of some units in other players' fleets, and so it may well happen that these players have lost some of their own attack strength when their Tactics cards finally are resolved.

After all Tactics have been dealt with, the players replenish their hands of Tactics cards and then the players with ships left in their fleets will announce whether they wish to continue the battle. Players may withdraw voluntarily, or they may be forced to quit if their whole fleet has been annihilated in the last offensive, and the battle will be over if only one player remains. This player then may claim the current target planet card and add it to his domain, thus gaining some additional income, building slots and - of course - some quantities of the highly wanted Titanium. Once occupied, all planets remain with their conqueror, and so there will be no possibility to steal a planet from another player. Instead, the end of the current battle marks the beginning of the next round, which is once again started with the revealing of the next planet card.

Without a gameboard Titanium Wars certainly lacks some of the tactical implications which are usual for "space opera" games. However, the real strength of Titanium Wars can be found in the battle phase, since this phase runs quite differently than the usual dice-rolling which is followed by the removal of ships. Instead, the players will be confronted with a quite dynamic, ever changing situation during the battle phases, since the game encourages and actually demands the forging and breaking of temporary alliances. It is quite usual for the other players to pick on the leader who currently owns most Titanium deposits, but in the end all alliances will come to a quick dissolution because all participants of a battle will want the current target planet for themselves.

On the other hand, the leading player is not without some options on his own, and so he may decide to pass on the current round's battle in order to build a bigger stockpile of ships and other equipment, possibly allowing him to face several opponents during the following round. This system of temporary alliances helps to keep the game balanced, and so the competition between the players remains right until the end.

Of course, there is some influence of luck due to the random drawing of the Tactics cards, but the players may chose to mitigate this by acquiring Command Centers and by using the special skills of their races. Overall, Titanium Wars is a quite enjoyable space combat game which is a bit off the usual mainstream, and its high degree of player interaction (coupled with the rather nice artwork) should secure the game a place in my collection.

[SPIEL]

The afternoon had passed quickly with all these interesting games, and after this last playtesting session Nicole accompanied me through the halls while I said goodbye to my friends and re-collected the banners from the International Gamers Awards which are stored at our house. However, gaming surprises for the day were not yet over, and so we came to an unexpected stop at the booth of FERTI where our eyes fell upon Yokai No Mori, a game designed by Madoka Kitao and illustrated by Naiade who has also done the illustrations for Tokaido. Drawn to the gaming table by the game's beautiful graphics, Nicole and I played a quick round of the game which turned out to be a variant of the classic Japanese game Shogi.

Introduction: Yokai No Mori (Ferti, Booth 3-L100)

In the game each player tries to capture the other player's Koropokkuru, an old man of great wisdom, and each player is assisted by a handful of kind spirits who can be moved on the board according to their own unique patterns. However, whenever a spirit is captured, it is not fully out of the game, but instead the player who made the capture may opt to bring him back onto the board as one of his own figures. In addition, some spirits can transform into stronger beings with more movement options when they reach the other player's baseline, and if you aren't familiar to Shogi you now can see that the whole scenario is rather chess-like. However, the game is far less complex, and so the average player time certainly will not exceed 10 to 15 minutes.

We definitely liked the game, but the decision whether to buy it was not easy because it was selling for a comparatively high price of 29 Euros. However, our decision was influenced by the fact the box actually contains two different versions of the game (one with less, one with more figures), and so Nicole and I went ahead and bought the last copy seconds before some people from a neighbouring table were asking for it. Sometimes the SPIEL asks for quick decisions!

[SPIEL]

This finally ended our trips through the halls and brings me to the end of this year's reporting from the SPIEL, but my regular readers will know that one thing still is missing here.

Of course I cannot claim that I have seen and played a representative choice of the games which were available at the SPIEL. In fact, I have just compared all the games I have reported on with the results of this year's visitors' poll at the FAIRPLAY booth, and I had to find out that I have not reported on any of the games which can be found in the FAIRPLAY rankings. It's actually the same situation I get when looking at the results displayed on the BGG GeekBuzz Leaderboard, but in a way these results just confirm my opinion and that I prefer to give you independent and off-mainstream coverage of the SPIEL, telling you about games which otherwise would go below the radar. Of course, it's highly subjective if I now go ahead and chose one of these games as my favourite game of the show, but if you keep the aforementioned things in mind you should be able to balance the value of my recommendation.

Kulkmann's Convention Hit 2013

This year my recommendation goes to Michiel Hendrik's game Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy. Featuring a rather unusual topic, this game had somewhat avoided the inner circle of games which I wanted to buy at the SPIEL. I simply wasn't sure what I should make of a worker-placement variant in which you developed your own family tree. Years ago GAMES WORKSHOP had published Blood Royale, a game in which you had to develop a dynasty, but this also had been a game of military conflict so that some strategic action could be found on the gameboard. This is not present in Legacy: The Testament of Duke de Crecy, and so I was taken by surprise when I found myself drawn into the game's story after the first few rounds. The worker placement mechanism found in the game has been fine-tuned quite well, leaving lots of options to the players while staying well-connected with the general theme. All this contributed to a great playing experience, and if you consider the fact that a visit at the SPIEL is also about finding games you do not expect, I simply have to give my recommendation to this excellent game.

[SPIEL]

All things come to an end, and so you have reached the end of this year's reports. Judging from all the great comments found in my guestbook, many of you have regularly followed my steps through the halls of the SPIEL in previous years, and I am happy and a bit proud to see that you have returned to follow my reports for yet another year. I am thankful for all these comments, and this also goes in the name of my co-author Ralf who has made another great contribution to this year's reports!

One thing is certain - there is going to be a SPIEL next year, and we hope to welcome you back here in October 2014 for yet another week of SPIEL reporting!

So, see you all in 2014!

Cheers!

Frank Schulte-Kulkmann

P.S. The Prize Draw still will be open for a few more days! All winners will be notified!

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 © 2013 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany